I'm paddling when I should be skiing -- and in a pool, no less, -- buying expensive, new stuff, like a 3 oz Tenkara fly-fishing rod to fit inside a 2 lb Sawyer packrafting paddle, and an airplane ticket to New Zealand. But most importantly I am modifying my boat, working on a Llama to make it the best wilderness whitewater boat in the world.
Now that I have rolled a packraft multiple times (more than a dozen!), and at about 50% success (albeit in a pool,) I wanna do it again and again. It's a fantastic feeling to be upside down and then roll on up, and "plop"! Super satisfying. It's like I have fallen in love with my boat all over again.
Last night four of us rolled over and over again in the APU pool.
Dmitry even rolled on his off-side, Luc rolled six times in a row, I rolled with a 5 pound load strapped between my knees, which, of course, Dmitry was able to do with strapped on his bow. Awesome!
By the way, Luc used Alpacka tie-downs for his thigh straps to save weight (1/4 oz vs. 1 0z) and money ($5 vs $15), but one ripped in half and off the boat last week! Word is they are only good to 300 lbs of force. He's back to the heavy D-ring wide diameter patches the rest of us have.
The Llama I am setting up for a month in New Zealand is a center opening, mid-oughts model (2006? My red boat is a 2005), pre-zipper, pre-backrest, pre-codpiece. Of course, it has thigh straps in the locations proven to work with a roll. The foot end of the thigh strap is near the floor, nine inches from the center bow seam, and the rear attachment is just above the valve, 33 inches away, remarkably similar to the inseam length of the Levi's I wear as I write this, which, as I am 49 years old, do not sag.
These thigh straps weigh a pound stock, so I took a tool to them and clipped off the big plastic buckles and trimmed off the 2-inch webbing, but left the loops that once held the plastic buckles and sliders. To attach the thigh straps I used shortish (like 12 inch) friction buckle accessory straps, 3/4 inch wide. Much lighter, and much more versatile than sewn on 2-inch. The thigh straps now weigh 11 oz. But they lack the quick release mechanism.
Next I set the seat free by cutting the stitches, then sewed the rear tab on the seat to the forward tab on the boat, conveniently moving the seat forward to just below the rear thigh strap attachment.
So what benefits does this give me? First it centers me in the boat making the bandersnatch less likely and allowing me to use a shorter paddle (197 cm, Werner Powerhouse, 37.8 oz, 4 piece), as I now sit forward and paddle over the narrowest part of the boat. The old placement of my seat put me paddling over the WIDEST part of the boat. This way I lighten the rear end of the boat, balancing the boat better, allowing use of a shorter paddle, and opening up gear storage space in back. It should reduce bandersnatching -- I checked this on Six Mile's 2nd and 3rd Canyons a month or so ago with my red boat and it's certainly true -- a centered seat equals a more balanced boat.
Ask anyone about Alpacka design issues and most mention that the Alpacka is too "back-heavy".
There are three typical responses to this design flaw:
(1) "Put weight on/in the bow." I think this is a a sub-optimal solution in whitewater. I need a light boat that responds quickly to my paddle strokes, so I eschew weight in general.
(2) "Make a bigger butt, or better yet, just make an inflatable kayak." I, for one, like the design of rounded bow and stern as the boat spins and turns more quickly and makes for a more novel craft. Besides, I can't afford a new boat.
(3) "Sit forward." Now, that's a solution I can agree with. Check out most other single-person boats and vehicles and see where the driver is located -- in the center.
The problem with the current Alpacka design is that the seat is so far back and glued in, that scooting forward sets up the bum for a bang on the bottom -- OUCH!
But in a standard, stock boat, sliding the seat forward means nothing to push against for the back, so there is no means of wedging yourself into the boat. Wedging into the boat is why Alpacka insists that you get the smallest boat that'll fit. But I find smaller boats are less stable than bigger boats. Still, "swimming" around inside a big boat gives poor control. That's where thigh straps come in.
So now that I am anchored in a big boat and don't need to shove my feet against the bow and my butt against the stern I can center the seat. To extend my legs, I slide off the thigh straps by extending my legs and let my feet go to the bow. Sweet!
So "What about a backrest?" you ask, loving that second toilet seat of your late-oughts model boat. You could either buy a "Fjord Explorer" seat, glue some 2 inch velcro on the boat and seat to keep it behind you as a new, removable backrest, and/or purchase one or two 15 liter P.O.E. WxTex dry bags and fill them with something soft, like your sleeping bag and sleep clothes, then glue in a single "strap plate" to secure the vertically oriented dry bag (glue the plate on the inside center of the rear-most seam).
Two strap plates on the floor of the boat, between the now bent knees held in position by thigh straps also allows a second 15 L POE WXTex dry bag that holding a tent and other camping gear/food to be secured near the center of gravity. The idea is that I am moving my gear off the bow and into the boat. There's still the opportunity for a bow load, but it is a bit smaller and by getting all the gear situated closer to the center of gravity, I can roll a loaded packraft. In the pool I tested this with five pounds and rolled it easily.
I doubt many are still reading such technical esoterica, but very soon I'll sew an additional two inches of velcro on the center opening of the deck making it more water tight. I will also have fixed the chronic Alpacka design flaw of sewing a draw string end to the outside edge of the waist velcro by using a second stitch. More importantly, abstracting the important design feature of the Meiklejohn commerbund, there'll soon be a bigger velcro closure on the top of the deck waist/belly-opening.
Finally, I will install a pair of pockets, one to either side of the waist/belly-opening at the top of the spray skirt. These will hold an air-filled 2 Liter Platypus. These Platypusses act as a water dam, obviating the need for a codpiece and keeping the easier wet (and dry for that matter) entry of a center opening boat.
Alpacka Rafts are now in a new stage of aftermarket design: aftermarket modifications now taking place with groups of individuals experimenting and learning from each other, as Thai Verzone, Hig Higman, Tracey Harmon, and I did last Saturday at Alaska Raft and Kayak (pic above).