Last week I was on a ski trip through the Ardennes. A few days later the snow at my home place started melting. Today winter suddenly seems so far away. An early spring sun in a deep blue sky made the withered reeds along the Kleine Nete river shine like golden sabers. Packraft in my pack, click shoes fixed in the pedals and I raced away to the river. Once on the cold brown water, spring still seemed far away. An often deadly silence along the water reminded me that thriving and twittering nature still will have to awake. Though no worries about cold hands nor feet. I enjoyed this short day trip.
With the last Christmas sales at Alpacka Raft, I bought myself through the freshly established European packrafting-store, a Denali Llama with the new whitewater spray deck. With my open Yukon Yak which is still an older model from 2007, I felt like I was often pushing its limits. Whenever in sections of splashy whitewater I always had to look multiple times for a place to stop, get out of the boat and throw all the water out. Even though I learned quite well how to keep most water out by back paddling as Roman Dial describes in his guide, there is always a limit where after it is impossible to keep all the water out and I often found it frustrating in these circumstances by not having a spray deck to keep me dry and warm as I ended too often sitting chilly in inches of water in the boat. The new design of the rafts with the pointy bow and stern is yet another improvement I’m very pleased about.
After trying Willem’s Yukon Yak with the cruiser spray deck, I didn’t felt very confident with this spray deck design so eventually I chose the new whitewater spray deck instead. Even though I don’t have the intention to search for heavier whitewater now, I feel at least happier with this spray deck as it keeps me drier and I can attach and detach the hatch already fluently without much practice.
Some might say the whitewater spraydeck is a compromise in packraft portability since it makes use of four pieces of aluminum tube to construct a strong base for the hatch opening. These pieces of aluminum tube fit in or on my backpack though I will test first if this remains as portable in use on a long trip before I make a final opinion about it. The small weight increase over the cruiser spray deck is a fact unfortunately. The choice between one of the two spray decks now seems to be one of compromise anyway.
I made my own packtach system from fluorecent dyneema and line loks and made a smaller one on the tiedowns on the stern even though I suppose too much pack weight on the stern will be detrimental to stability and speed. So only lighter gear items might be transported in the backside.
I had the plan to make a rather long winter packraft trip last week, running a river over its whole length in several days, but two weeks of very cold (at least for the region where I live) weather made the rivers freeze up here. So I was bound to play with the boat and the spray deck by sitting in it in the living room. Last Thursday when the ice had just melted away, I finally ran the Kleine Nete river at home while playing and getting the feeling with the slower maneuverability of the pointy design. I must say, this boat with the spray deck is much more comfortable than my Yukon Yak, even though I will keep my Yak for bikerafting and trips where the hiking is more prominent than the boating. With the mild weather expected here over a week, I’m excited to get out here soon with my new boat on a multi day river trip.
Yes! Willem and I pulled out for our first packraft trip together. I set out alone friday evening for the Kleine Nete at the water mill of Retie and paddled till darkness fell to stay overnight under my trailstar at the river bank somewhere at the edge of the forest. Saturday we met at the water mill of Kasterlee. Because Willem has no experience yet with faster moving water, we took the opportunity to play in the currents downstream of each water mill and dam. The river is completely slow moving flat water in between.
Willem’s packraft is the new design of Alpacka from this year, mine is the old one. The difference in performance between the two is enormous. I had all difficulties to follow him at his relaxed paddling speed. The new design paddles so much faster and the bow hardly sweeps anymore! I tried his boat a few times. It looks like it cuts more through the currents like a kayak now without losing too much lateral stability, rather than floating on it with more drag as does the old design. It’s incredible!
Now we’re both ready for more and heavier river stuff, at least as long as Willem doesn’t paddle too fast, don’t you think? So what’s next?