Thursday, July 17, 2014

Big Red

After two years, we upgraded Bug's kayak. The barge was an OK first kayak for introducing a two-year old to paddling, but it was far from a great kayak.
Now that Bug is a little older and more independent, she wants her own seat and we want to get a little more adventurous.
Looking around for an upgraded was frustrating. Most of the double kayaks we saw were firmly in the recreational category. We wanted a touring double. These turned out to be a rare and expensive breed. Seaward makes a few models. NDK makes one model. VCP makes one model. They are all expensive and hard to find. We weren't sure if we could afford the leap, but kept looking.
We visited our local REI to buy a tent on what turned out to be a garage sale day. Sitting on the lawn next to the front door was a big red double sea kayak!! It was a cast off from the previous years training fleet and marked down to $1000!!! A quick inspection showed no obvious damage. A quick online search for information about the make and model, a Wilderness System Northstar, gave us generally positive reviews. It was an offer we could not refuse.
The kayak is deceptively heavy. H insists that it feels lighter than the barge, but at 90lbs it is heavier. The weight is distributed over a longer area. The barge was a pudgy 15 feet long; Big Red is a sleek 19 feet long. Big Red's size and weight make transporting a challenge, but it seems more manageable than the barge was.
Big Red came with a rudder that needed to be reattached. This has been the biggest issue to date with the kayak. It is likely a stupid installer problem, but I cannot seem to find clips for attaching the wires to the rudder that are worth a damn. We have had the kayak on the water twice and both times the clips pulled apart within minutes. The latest set have held well enough so that I could use the rudder for most of the trip, but only just.
Aside from the issues with the rudder, I have found Big Red to be a pleasure to paddle. Bug has her own cockpit up in front that we could put a spray skirt on if we wanted. Both cockpits have comfortable seats with plenty of adjustments. The foot pegs in the rear cockpit are a little squishy, but that is typical with ruddered kayaks.
The hull is slightly swede form and that makes it relatively easy to manage with, or without, the rudder. Both times I have paddled Big Red, I have done so without the rudder for large parts of the trips. It isn't as easy to manage as the Q-boat, but it isn't impossible either. I found that a good sweep turn will suffice for most maneuvering. A stern rudder will keep Big Red straight in most conditions. I even used a "bow" rudder to effect a turn in ideal conditions.
The rudder works well and does make it easier to manage Big Red in cross winds.
Big Red feels stable in leaned turns, but I haven't been too aggressive yet. Bug doesn't have a skirt and we have not spent a lot of time practicing what to do in the case of a capsize. We have been in some minor chop and it felt stable throughout. Bug loved the way the nose felt as it dropped off the waves.
Big Red has three bulkheads, but only two truly dry compartments. The front and rear hatches are walled off from the cockpits by foam bulkheads. The third bulkhead is between the front and rear cockpit. There is a third hatch that opens into a space between the middle bulkhead and the rear cockpit. The space is not fully sealed off, but it does have a nice storage bag in side for holding gear. The hatches have hard plastic covers with neoprene covers underneath. The combination keeps the hatches dry, but the neoprene covers are a PITA.
For a $1000, Big Red is a great kayak. Even at full price it is a good kayak. I'm looking forward to many more years of family adventures in Big Red.

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