Category Archives: Kayaks and Gear

Gear We Love – February 03, 2017

I was cleaning up my gear recently after a 3-day, 2-night paddle and got to thinking about the kayaking gear I and other 5-Star Yak Pak members have settled on over the years.  So here are some of the items that we love and which have stood the test of time for us.


Stohlquist Betsea

Stohlquist BetSea

Stohlquist BetSea PFD
Our favorite PFD.  Designed for “curvy” women, it comes in 3 sizes.  It has multiple straps to get the correct fit.  2 pockets for safety gear and 2 lash tabs for an emergency light and a river knife.  And the bottom 1/3 of the back is mesh which is more comfortable with a lot of the high-backed recreational  seats.


Hat, Tula, Lifeguard

Tula Lifeguard

Tula Lifeguard hat
Our favorite hat because of the 5-inch wide brim for sun and rain, the chin strap for the wind, and the palm fiber material that floats.  If it gets crushed, just get it wet and re-shape it.  If you wish a slightly narrower brim, the Gardener model has a 4-inch brim and the Outback model has a 3.5-inch brim.



Werner Camano paddle

Werner Camano paddle

Werner Camano (kuh – may – no) paddles
At 27 oz, the Camano is a performance low-angle paddle.  With a carbon blend shaft and a fiberglass laminate blade this paddle has a low swing weight and provides a good balance between stiffness and flex as well as light weight and $$$.   It also comes in two different shaft diameters (regular and small) which means it fits people with small hands better.  And it is available with either a straight or a bent shaft.  The ferrule is quick and sure and we have had very few problems with it, as long as we remember to wash the ferrule off with fresh before and after each trip to remove any sand or salt.


Sea to Summit Eclipse paddling glove

Sea to Summit Eclipse paddling glove

Sea to Summit Eclipse paddling gloves
4 sizes means you can find one that fits your hand. They are UPF 50 for sun protection (and your hand are always exposed to the sun).   The spandex back means they flex with your hands and the synthetic leather provides a non-slip surface even when wet. Best of all, in all the pairs we have bought the area between your thumb and forefinger, where the paddle rests, has always been smooth so there is no irritation in the spot where the paddle rests. They machine wash well and one pair will last you several years.  In fact, we generally lose them before they wear out.


Water gun, bilge pump

Stream Machine water gun

Stream Machine water guns
For the narrow spring runs and non-white water rivers that we paddle the vast majority of most of the time, we have replaced our bilge pumps with the water guns.  Not as efficient as a bilge pump (a bilge pump empties water on both the pull and the push stroke, while a water gun fills on the pull stroke and empties on the push stroke) these are lighter and a whole lot more fun.  And unlike a lot of water toys, these are well built and lost a long time.


Half skirt, splash deck, sundeck

Half skirt

Half-skirt, spray-deck, sun deck
For the narrow spring runs and non-white water rivers that we day paddle most of the time, we usually use half-skirts rather than full skirts.   They keep the sun off our legs and the paddle drips out of our laps yet allow a lot of ventilation in our hot and humid weather.



solar-powered lantern

Luci solar-powered lantern

Luci Outdoor solar, inflatable, water-proof lantern
These little lights scrunch down flat for easy packing, then inflate to about 5 inches tall, providing you with enough soft lighting to cook or read by after dark. They can recharge during the day stuck under a deck bungee, then shine all night.  It’s available in clear (our favorite), frosted and several soft colors. Great for camping or even emergency use at home.


UV protection, UV spray

303 UV Protectant

303 Aerospace Protectant Spray
The best stuff out there to protect your rubber, vinyl, fiberglass and plastic gear from UV degradation. Warning: It can be really slippery if you use too much, so we suggest spraying it on a cloth then wiping the surface down, rather than spraying directly onto a surface then wiping dry.  We’ve also found that if you use it to wipe down the seals on your rubber hatch covers it keeps them easier to put on and remove.  Since you use it sparingly, a 12 oz spray bottle is enough for several years, even in sunny Florida.


Sink the Stink

Sink the Stink

Sink the Stink
An amazing bacteria fighter developed by a SCUBA diver that is great for removing that awful mildew smell from neoprene, nylon, fleece, silicone, and rubberized gear as well as synthetic sponges and leather.  Just soak your gear (5 minutes to overnight, depending on the level of stinkiness) in a bathtub with a capful of Sink the Stink then hang to dry.  And it’s 100% natural biodegradable, hypo-allergenic, and non-toxic.  Mirazyme by McNett is a similar product, but we much prefer Sink the Stink.  




Princeon Tec Quad Headlamp

Princeon Tec Tactical Quad Headlamp

Princeton Tec Tactical Quad Headlamp
Florida requires non-motorized boats to carry a white light that can be displayed as needed at night.  Having a waterproof headlamp that will meet that law as well as help guide you into camp in low light situations and that can be used around camp is a big plus. Despite it’s militant name this is a great headlamp, waterproof to a meter so it can handle heavy rain and splashes.






My Kayak Fleet – November 6, 2016

I want to give a shout out to some friends – Pam, Pat and Rick.  About 15 years ago they talked me into doing a 4-day kayak camping trip on the Suwannee River and even loaned me a kayak so I could go along.  I had never even sat in a kayak before, although I had done a lot of canoeing and canoe camping over the years.  Well, it was true love from that first day of paddling, even using a hand-me-down kayak with a horrible seat that put my legs to sleep.  From the first night around the campfire I knew that a kayak was in my future and that trip taught me a lot about what I wanted and didn’t want in a kayak.

So to Pam and Pat and Rick, thanks!  Bunches!  I can never repay any of you for your friendship and your introduction to kayaking.

And here’s an account of my (currently) four kayaks that I have acquired over the years. Perhaps some of my reasoning in selecting these boats will help you decide what boat is right for you.

After that trip I starting looking for a good but relatively inexpensive kayak I could use to do kayak overnights but that wouldn’t be too big for the smaller rivers and creeks here in Florida. About 3 months after that first trip our local kayak shop was having their end-of-season demo and sale.  I tried out almost every boat they had and quickly narrowed it down to an Old Town Cayuga 14.5 and a Necky Manitou 14.  (Going to one demo might not always find you the boat you are looking for, but it can generally eliminate a lot of boats and help you narrow in on the type of boat you want.)  Both were rotomolded, about the same length and width, and they both felt good.  I paddled each of them at least 3 times, going back and forth and back and forth.  Either one would have been a good choice, but I ended up buying the bright yellow Cayuga and named her “Tweety Bird”.  I still have her and we have done many paddles together over the years.  She is not a real speed boat, but then I’m not usually a real speedy paddler either.  The real selling point for me was that I just felt very comfortable in this boat.  A few years later when Old Town upgraded the seats in the Cayuga I bought one of those new seats and made the switch so Tweety is now even more comfortable.  In fact, it’s the most comfortable seat in any of my kayaks.

Tweety Bird (yellow boat) on the Suwannee River

Tweety Bird (yellow boat) on the Suwannee River

Tweety at sunrise on the Suwannee River.

Tweety at sunrise on the Suwannee River.







My next kayak was a Sit-on-Top.  My two water dogs (Lab/Aussie mix) and I had been doing Water Rescue Dog training on a small local lake and they loved going out in the boats and retrieving paddles, pulling them back to shore, etc.  So I started looking for something we all could be happy together in.  Since they both weigh about 60 lbs I needed something stable.  And to distribute the weight well in the boat I need something where there was room for one in the stern and the other in the bow, with me sitting in the middle.  I looked for a long time and just couldn’t find anything that fit that description.  A sit-on-top seemed the right solution as far as stability, but most SOTs have a hatch in the front, not an open well for a large dog to sit.  Then a kayaking friend talked several of us into a road trip up to St Marys, GA where her old kayak shop was having a sale.  And there I saw the FeelFree Mokken 12.   Of course, like most early rotomolded SOTs (and many current ones) it paddles like a barge, but it has two wells, one in the front and one in the back for my two dogs.  A big plus fro a heavy boat is that there is a little built-in wheel on the stern which makes it easy to load in the bed of my pickup truck and pull short distances to the water.  The only thing I didn’t like is that, as a fishing model, it came in a brown camo pattern.  But hey, it was on close-out, and to save several hundred $$$ I could put up with camo.  Somewhere along the line, due to the dogs and the camo coloring, she acquired the name “Mud Puppy”.

Mud Puppy with wet puppies

Mud Puppy with tired wet puppies

Mud Puppy in Water Rescue Dog training

Mud Puppy in Water Rescue Dog training







A few years later, and with a little more money in the bank, I was ready to upgrade my river ride and started looking for a real touring boat for my frequent overnight kayaking trips.  I had been looking at a number of thermoformed boats (kind of a mid-point option between the heavier rotomolded boats and the more expensive fiberglass and carbon).  After demoing several boats I really liked the Delta 14.5 and 15.5 models.  Working with Mary Morgan at A Crystal River Kayak Co. I was able to demo both the Delta 14.5 Sport and Expedition. The Expedition models have the deck raised 1 inch higher than the Sport which gives more room for storage and more room for your feet.  (Here in Florida we camp throughout the winter when the water can be cold, and I wanted a lot of room for big boots.)  Mary did not have a 15.5 Expedition in stock, but she went the extra mile for me and called one of her customers who had purchased one and arranged for me to demo his boat on a local lake.  In spite of the fact that it is not a really fast boat It felt very comfortable and handles choppy waves well, even when heavily loaded.  I think of it as the station wagon of touring kayaks, rather than a sports car.  I returned to A Crystal River Kayak Company the next week and placed my order.  Mary Morgan was even able to find me a blemished boat which saved me a couple of hundred dollars.  This boat I named “Rocinante”, in honor of Don Quixote’s horse, which I figured was a good allusion for a load-hauling touring boat.

Rocinante umbrella under on the Suwannee

Roci umbrella sailing on the Suwannee

Rocinante on the Chassahowitzka River

Rocinante on the Chassahowitzka River







For my fourth, and for now final, boat I wanted something small and nimble for day trips on the small creeks and spring runs we do a lot around here. I wanted something around 12 feet in length to be able to turn easily in narrow runs, yet fairly stable so I could exit and re-enter for snorkeling.  I was also starting to lead kayak day trips, and frequently as a leader you must drop back to the last boat then catch up to the first boat, so I wanted something lively that tracked well.  And also something light, something that I could carry on my shoulder, if necessary, from the truck to the water.  Again after several demos I narrowed it down to the Hurricane Santee and the Eddyline Skylark. I really preferred the Swede-form hull of the Hurricane, but the quality of construction on Eddyline boats finally made the decision for me.  And so my peppermint Skylark joined the fleet.  Sticking with the Don Quixote theme, I named her “Dulcinea” for Quixote’s idealized girlfriend.

Dulcinea in the cypress on the Santa Fe River

Dulcinea in the cypress on the Santa Fe River

Dulcinea at Gissy Spring on the Rainbow River

Dulci at Gissy Spring on the Rainbow River







Is there another addition to the fleet in the offing?  Well, if I were to purchase another boat it would be a true sea kayak.  Something in the 16-17 foot range, thermoform or fiberglass, and fairly narrow to slice through the waves.  But, who knows what the future will bring?  For now my preference is day trips on local spring runs with the occasional overnight on bigger rivers, so “Dulcinae” and “Rocinante” meet my needs 98% of the time.

And the moral of the above story is:
1)  Realize that every boat is a compromise and no one boat is going to be great at doing everything.
2)  Figure out what kind of kayaking you like best or will be doing the most and pick out a boat that best fits those needs/requirements.
3)  Try out as many boats as you can.  Ask friends if you can swap boats for an hour on a paddle, set up demos with local kayak shops, talk to people about what they like or would change on their kayaks.
4)  Take plenty of time doing your demos.  A demo is as much about eliminating boats that look good on the internet but don’t feel good to YOU on the water as it is about finding your perfect boat.  Plus a boat that feels comfortable for 15 minutes may feel horrible after 4 hours.  Use the demos to narrow down your selection then paddle the boats you like several times or try to rent that model for a day trip.  Many shops will apply your rental fee against the purchase of a boat if you buy from them within a specific period of time.
5)  The BEST boat is the one that meets most of your needs and fits your body and skill level. Take your time making your selection and you will be rewarded with many hours of fun, relaxation and adventure.

Naming Your Kayak – November 4, 2016

Someone asked me recently whether my Eddyline kayak was a Skylark or a Dulcinea.  I explained that “Skylark” was the model of the kayak and “Dulcinea” was her name.  The response was:  “You NAME you boats ?!?”  Well, of course.  I name all my boats!  And there are several reasons why I do so.

Dulcinea in the cypress on the Santa Fe River

Dulcinea on the Santa Fe River

Rocinante in day light.

Rocinante in dry dock.







First, since I have four kayaks and two canoes, it’s a lot easier to say, “I think I’ll take Roci out this weekend” than it is to say “I think I’ll take out my Delta 15.5 Expedition kayak out this weekend.”

Second, boats have personalities, just like many other things do.  They are a wonderful combination of materials, design, experiences, and modifications that make each one unique. We name our kids, dogs and cats.  We give many of our friends nick names based on our experiences with them.  Some people even name their homes, cars and guitars.  So why not your boat?

Third, there is a long tradition of naming boats.  Apparently the Egyptians were the first to name their boats, in a ceremony invoking their gods for fair weather and favorable fishing.  I’m sure you can think of many iconic names like the Titanic, the Queen Mary, the Argos, the Mayflower, the Constitution, the Maine, the Lexington, the Bounty, the Santa Maria.  They have entered history and evoke memories and feelings of eras gone by.  By naming your boat you become a part of a long tradition.

Fourth, safety.  Vessels documented by the USCG (commercial vessels and large power boats and sailboats) must be named.  In an emergency, you need to be able to effectively relay your boat’s name to the Coast Guard and you don’t want any confusion.  Why does the same not apply to kayaks and canoes that usually do not have to be registered?

Fifth, security.  Scraping off or painting over all the identifying names and stickers may be more trouble than some thieves are willing to take.  Stealing a relatively plain boat makes more sense than one with several identifying marks.

Sixth, behaviorists have found giving human traits to inanimate objects can inspire more responsible, attentive ownership.  It has been shown statistically that power boat owners who name their boats take better care of them.  Giving something a name makes it seem more person-like than just a number.  And if it moves, it seems even more like an active, living thing that really deserves a name.

Seventh, within the traditions of the sea it is bad luck NOT to name your boat.  Legend has it that an unnamed boat will not be able to find her way back to port.  So if you want to get home for dinner, you better name her!  Legend also has it that the name of every ship that exists or has ever existed is written in a tome called the “Ledger of the Deep” and is therefore known to Neptune, god of the deep.  And Neptune can thus keep an eye out for the safety of the boat and crew.  So, if you want Neptune’s help on your voyages, you better come up with a name.

Eighth, I like to get reflective name decals for my boats.  This makes them most visible in low light situations as well as identifying it.

Ninth, it’s fun!  And the champagne naming ceremony can be even more fun!