We had issues the boat would need to address due to our unique geography. We live, work and play in Alaska. We live on the Gastineau Channel. The water we would be kayaking in has an average temperature of 47 degrees. Today's forecast for the channel is a Southeast wind of 35kt and 7 foot seas, air temperature of 45 degrees and rain. The beaches here have razor clams, mussel beds and are rocky. The tides in this area travel at 2 to 3 Kt and the tidal changes are as big as 25 feet. Those are a lot of hazards.
We basically looked for a boat that we didn't have to learn to use, we are amateurs and I am too old to learn to roll the kayak if I flip it over. We want a stable boat because we don't want to end up in the icy waters of the North Pacific. We are limited on space, our house sits on stilts so we have no storage room. The boat needs to be light weight, My wife and I can't lift a 70-pound kayak onto the roof of our Ford Expedition. We want a large capacity boat, not because we're fat, but we have large dogs that we eventually want to take along with us. It needs to carry a lot of weight. We have endless islands we can paddle to and go camp. In Alaska, you always take plenty of gear, if you're going for the weekend, take enough for a week.
After looking at all the criteria, we settled on the Sea Eagle Explorer series kayak and chose the 420x model. This was their largest in the line.
Here's what they say:
Sea Eagle Explorer Kayaks are great wet or dry boats - they are tough enough for class four whitewater, but stable, dry and comfortable on flat water as well. Computer-aided design and state-of-the-art fabrication (98% welded, double overlapped seams w/ 2% additional super strength reinforced glue finish) allows a reduction in weight (9-12 lbs) while greatly improving structural strength. Now with 16 super-fast self-bailing drain valves that can be left open for wet whitewater and ocean kayaking or closed for high and dry flat-water paddling. The Explorers also feature a removable slide skeg for improved tracking on open water. Pound for pound these new Explorers are champions capable of handling any type of adventure! The 420x, the largest of the versatile Explorer Series, this rugged and durable inflatable kayak weighs only 42 lbs, can handle up to Class IV rapids and is also great on the open-water. If you plan on camping, overnight trips or just plain need the extra storage space. The 420x is the kayak for you!
This is the story of our first outing in a kayak.
We pulled the boat out and set it up on the driveway the first time, it took us about 45 minutes to unpackage it, figure out what everything was, how it went together and inflate and assemble it. We were planning to head across to the mainland later in the day (when it warmed up, it was still around 39 degrees) and take her for a spin around Auke lake. We thought starting with a body of water that didn't have tides would be easier than trying to navigate the ocean. Once together we deflated the boat and put everything in our rig so when we decided to take off, it would be packed and ready to go.
An hour passed and we were ready to take off. We were going to leave the dogs out of the equation for the first voyage, we knew that would be easier and less worrisome for us. We were out of the house and I looked out at the channel, it was about 3 hours until low tide, I told Stacy we should just go ahead and take it down to the channel. The water in the channel was low and getting lower, it was at half tide, so the water was moving slow, that would be a good time to try our hand. Nervously, and asking for reassurance that we would be safe she agreed.
It took us 10 minutes from the time we took the bag out of the rig until it was blown up, seats in, paddles assembled and the life jackets were on. Not bad at all. The foot pump fills all three chambers really fast, the two pontoons (or sides) and the floor. Now the hard part, with it at low tide, we had a 200 plus yard walk to the channel across the wetlands. Stacy grabbed an end and so did I and off we went. In pretty short order Stacy was having trouble carrying it. I expected this so it was no big deal. I simply, started dragging it to the water. This wasn't ideal but with a little effort, it worked. The boat was drug over rocks, barnacles, old dock timbers, muskeg and even sand. The bottom of the boat was unharmed.
We turned the boat on its side and installed the removable skeg and put the boat in the channel. Stacy hopped in and so did I. I turned the boat toward Fritz Cove and we started paddling. After paddling against the tide for a few seconds, Stacy said with amazement, "We are kayaking in the north Pacific Ocean!" The boat paddled easily, it tracked very well and we were moving into the wind, and against the tide at a pretty good clip. I have nothing to compare the speed or the tracking of the boat against but for two people that had never kayaked before, it was doing just fine.
Once we were out of the channel we entered Fritz Cove, this is fairly big water, the wind picked up and we were still going against the tide and had no trouble. The boat handled the small white caps well and was very stable. We actually were trying to catch up with a humpback whale I had spotted right before we entered the big water but we were no match for him. After a mile or so we started to get a little cold, the wind in this area comes down off snow capped mountains and has traveled miles on the 47-degree water when hit us in the face so we turned the boat and headed back toward the channel.
We paddled back to the channel and took a quick stop on a sand bar that had become visible now that the tide was lower. I knew that the channel was going to be real shallow in spots so we took the skeg off and continued back down the channel. We immediately noticed a difference in tracking. It took a while to get the hang of it. The boat really traveled left to right with every stroke. The one advantage was we were traveling with the tide so all we had to do is steer. We only high centered once and that was in ankle deep water, other than that we made it back to our take out point with ease.
Here's what we say:
Definitely get high back seats. They were comfortable and easy to install. We were on the water for 3 hours in rough conditions and we weren't complaining about a back ache.
Get the longer paddles, we got the pro package with them and I can see how shorter paddles would be more difficult. Stacy is 5'3" and I am 5'9", and we felt we still could have benefited from a much longer paddle.
We purchased the inflated high cushion but it hasn't come yet. I think the extra 5" cushion will allow you to hit the sides of the kayak less with every stroke and give you more power. Sitting up higher also would not be a bad thing as far as the view here in Alaska. Sitting up higher would allow you to spot sea life on the surface at greater distances.
Also purchased was the inflatable foot rests. They have not arrived yet either but I can see where it would help with stroke power and comfort. We found ourselves adjusting our butts and legs often and many times I wished I had something that I could put my feet on to allow me to bend my knees while sitting.
This is one stable boat. Not once did either of us feel at risk of tipping over or being swamped by a wave. Which is good since we were in over 300 feet of water that was 47 degrees. The seas were as high as 2 feet at one point and the kayak rolled over each wave like it was nothing giving us a smooth ride.
This is a breeze to set up. There are no real clear instructions but it is easy to figure out. Like I stated, the first set up was 45 minutes. Then we were able to be ready to launch in 10 minutes.
It is light, at 42 pounds, one person can drag this boat anywhere. Like all kayaks, they are awkward for even two people to portage but I would rather be awkward with 42 pounds than the 70 plus pounds of a hard shell equivalent.
For open water paddling the skeg works like a charm. The boat tracks very straight. Without it, it is tricky but this boat will also go where other kayaks won't. Around 6 inches of water was no problem for us.
The drop stitch floor is fantastic. It is so firm you can stand up in the boat without fear of losing your balance.
Not sure what to say about the speed of this boat as we have nothing else to compare it with. I will say so many hard shell owners had me worried because of all their talk about how slow inflatables are. One thing I do know is that to people that have never kayaked before, both of us middle-aged and out of shape just paddled into a headwind of 15 mph against a 2 kt tide and thought we traveled along at a pretty good clip. I don't think we will win any races but at our point in life we know how good it can be to take it slow and take in your surroundings. This journey allowed us to spend 10 minutes with a duck that was trying not to become a meal by dodging diving Bald Eagles. It all happened within 15 yards of us.
Carrying capacity we will eventually put to the test. Between the two of us, dogs and camping gear we should be able to give you a report on how it handles when fully loaded. We have some ideas for trips already in the works.
Overall we are extremely pleased with this boat and would recommend it to anyone looking for an all round kayak. We are looking forward to trying it on some class 3 and 4 rivers in Alaska also, it's nice that one boat is versatile enough for all the various water conditions Alaska has to offer.