Sunday, 24 April 2011

First Paddle

Last weekend I had my first paddle with my Yukon-Yak raft from Alpacka rafts.  Out at my folks place in the country we have a small river that twists and winds its way thru farmland for 20-30 kilometers before finally linking up with the much larger North Saskatchewan river. 

Packed down to the river
First thing I must note is how small and easy to carry the alpacka rafts are.  Even with my relatively small maxpedition backpack I am still able to fit the raft, paddles, and all my camping gear for a 2 day outing.  The only real bulky hard to pack bit of gear is the lifevest.  This river is quite small, moves slow and is very shallow but I still feel the need to wear a lifevest.  I'm a strong swimmer and feel very comfortable in the water but most accidents aren't lifevest it is.

During this test outing my parents walked down to the river (with dogs in tow) to help me with some photo taking and filming.  I had practiced inflating the raft a few times at my apartment in the city and find it easy to get the boat inflated in about 3 minutes.  The silnylon inflation bag is pure genius!  It works amazingly well and lets you transfer a massive quantity of air without becoming light headed.

Topping it off 
  Once the bulk of the filling is done it takes about half a dozen breaths to fill the raft up nice and tight.  Everything on this raft feels very solid and of high quality, the inflation valve is also quick to open and close.

"Tempering" the raft
Once I had fully inflated the yak I let the boat sit on the cold water to help cool the air inside (under the watchful eyes of our labs).  Since the water is still very cold this time of year I thought I would need to add quite a bit more air once the temperatures normalized but I only needed about 1-2 breaths before I was ready to paddle off.

Since I dont plan on running any whitewater with this raft I decided to forgo the skirt to save some $$ and weight.  I stepped into the raft, sat down, placed my backpack in between my legs and "schootched" off the shore.  If I was packing more gear I may have to lash the back to the bow of the boat but with my usual 1-2 day loadout I can easily place the back where it sits in the above photo.

The new hull designs of the rafts track quite well for a flat bottom boat.  Under very hard upstream paddling the boat yaws from side to side but still makes good forward speed.  The sawyer paddle is VERY nice to paddle with and quite adjustable.  For most of my paddling I will keep it quite extended and seem to prefer a 15-20 degree difference between the blades.  Much to my amazement very little water gets into the boat during normal paddling.  The hard upstream paddles would sling a few droplets onto my pack but nothing I would worry about.

Silently floating along
Once I was comfortable with the raft I set out on a 2km float downstream.  From that point I could pack up and make a relatively short hike back home due to the bends in the river.  During my float you could hear the large chunks of ice bump into one another as they passed making a very nice "wind chime" kind of sound.  Floating along with the current silently was nice and relaxing.  The small inflatable seat on the packraft kept me far enough off the water to not notice how cold it was (although the icebergs were constant reminders).

The river is sitting about 2-3 feet above its normal water level which let me float over areas where I would normally have to portage (like the 2 beaver dams I could effortlessly float over).  Its amazing how the photo opportunities change when your sitting on the water moving silently, I'm very much looking forward to some early morning coffee's aboard the raft.

Once I made it to the end of my little adventure I deflated the raft and made the short hike home.  The temperature was sitting at about 5C to 10C with a moderate wind which made fiddling with the silnylon stuff sack a little cold for the fingers but will be a non-issue once the temps climb a little higher.  The next packrafting adventure (while I wait for the lakes ice to melt) will be a longer 2 day paddle along this river...which could possibly be quite a bit more lively that I had planned due to the massive quantity of snow we accumulated this winter!

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