In an ideal world everyone will have a “boat butler” – a nice strong person who will lift our beautiful, long, unwieldy sea kayak onto our car at home, unload it at the beach car park, transport it over the dunes or rocks and then be there to meet us at the end of the day when we return happy but tired. They will probably have set up a changing room with hot showers and a cup of tea and will load our kayak for us. When we get home they will rinse our kit, our kayak and put it all away for us. Guess what – this is never, ever going to happen.
So instead, I’ll give you some alternative strategies for dealing with the less glamorous aspects of sea kayaking.
First of all, ask for help and accept it graciously. In my experience, people actually like to be asked to help and they don’t need to be fellow kayakers either – after all, it’s just lift and carry. You don’t need a star award for that. The couple who are sat on the beach will jump at the chance of a close-up look at that sleek canoe-thing. Be prepared for loads of questions and engage with them – they might be paddling with you next year. Get over your desire to show the world that you’re superhuman. It’s the least expensive option and will make someone else feel good too.
Get a trolley – the best you can afford. Money spent here will pay you back every time. Ronnie Weir at Kayak Carrier Systems customised his brilliantly designed Expedition trolley for me, adding some big, low pressure tyres (Wheeleze) bought separately. It is truly a go-anywhere trolley that copes well with the weight of a fully loaded expedition sea kayak. I also have a cheap and cheerful RUK folding trolley for easy launches – it’s good enough if the kayak isn’t too heavy and the surface isn’t soft sand or too bumpy.
Try to choose a vehicle that makes life as easy as possible for you. A van is great for carrying lots of kit. You can sleep in it too. But how easy is it to load your kayak onto the roof? You may also find height restriction barriers stop you from getting close to a launch spot. Often a low estate car will work best, especially if you plan to paddle on your own.
Until recently I used a long wheel base Land Rover Defender. Although it was very tall, the advantage was that I could stand on the reinforced bonnet to load kayaks onto the very strong roof rack. However, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a serious need to go “off-road”.
Ordinary roof bars, padded to protect the kayak is an option. However, you’ve got to get the kayak onto the rack and unless you always have another person around, you will need to have some system to help you. It’s really hard loading on your own. You are trying to lift a long, 25kg sea kayak above your head. You could use a pole sticking out from the side of the vehicle to support one end of the kayak, or there are systems that will attach to your roof rack to help you, such as the Malone or Thule lift assist.
One of the best systems for loading and transporting a sea kayak on a vehicle is a Kari-Tek Easy Load roof rack. It combines supportive cradles with proven side-loading that uses a simple sliding mechanism to take the strain of lifting. You strap the kayak to the rack at a convenient height. It’s not cheap but neither is being unable to work due to a bad back, or alternatively the cost of repairs after you’ve lost your balance. I’m a convert!
Perhaps the ultimate in simplicity and elegance is a sectional or 3-piece sea kayak. It will fit into most cars with folding seats (or a small van) so no need for a roof rack. Carry it in sections from the car to the water’s edge then clip it together and you’re away. You can even pre-pack the front and back compartments in the comfort of your living room. Plus of course, no need for a garage – it can live in the house. Get a nice piece of glass and it can double as a coffee table! Okay, so we are heading off into the realms of kayak fantasy here but you get the point.