D-Ring Placements Thigh straps attach to the boat at D-rings at the foot and the hip. I’d like to move my foot still farther forward in a Super-Llama so that I can push my feet onto the front tube, like I do in a strapless-Yak. But the spraydeck opening for my torso in my stock, center-opening Llama will not allow this. It would be nice if Alpacka would join the revolution and help rectify this, by moving the seat and the spray deck opening maybe six inches or more. If I could move the foot end of the thigh strap, I’d move the hip end forward, too, and get it away from the topping-valve (it’s an old boat) and experiment with high vs. low placement of the hip-end. You see some times when I am upside down, one leg will slip out of the thigh strap and I cannot roll up. I also still do a bit of high-bowing when dropping and so think I need to be even more forward than I am in my Super-Llama.
Alpacka are you listening? Ideally, we need three more boats with variable placement of thigh-straps and then people to try them out, first during pool-sessions to see what rolls easiest, then in Six-Mile, Canyon and Bird Creeks to see what paddles best. These would, of course, be center-opening Llamas (to make it easier to get back in) with “inner-bladder technology” on the waist of the spraydeck (to keep water from coming in over the top of the skirt), plus mondo Velcro (to keep water from coming in through the skirt opening).
Velcro Another drawback to thigh-straps with stock spraydecks is that your knees will be up, not straight or extended, so that the spraydeck may not be wide enough to close solidly. You need to extend the width of the spraydeck with more Velcro. Sure it adds weight, but it will keep it dryer inside the boat, much drier. I think the stock Velcro comes as narrow as one, single inch on some models of spray-deck, which is being ounce-wise and pound-foolish in my opinion.
So if you plan to add Velcro to your spraydeck, be sure to EXTEND the width of the spray deck with it. This means you have to sew some backing on your Velcro.
Escape Loop I have so much Velcro on the spraydeck waist that I worried the original pull loop wouldn’t free me so I had Eric Parsons sew another loop on. This ripped off ehen I grabbed it on some NZ river when I was upside down and freaking out about being swept over the next Class IV+ rapid. So that needs some more work.
Wear and Tear The thigh-strap generated wear at the feet seems to be easily -- and literally -- patched. I got the biggest hole of the trip not at the feet, but when a small gravel pebble slipped between the tube and the bottom deck and wore a ¼ inch hole in the floor before I found it. A future mod may be to take a strip of fabric and glue it around the tube-floor contact area to prevent accumulation of wear-inducing sand/gravel there.
Another mod I’d really like to do is to urethane the bottom and the sides. However, this requires some aggressive fabric treatment and I need to get fabric to test first. It will add more weight to the boat, but for creeking, this weight will make the boat far more durable. I am willing to go to just under ten pounds with a boat. That’s the ceiling for me.
Drying Gear and Boats On the subject of ounce-wise and pound-foolish, it’s really worth it before carrying your boat after boating to dry it thoroughly. This means all your wet clothes too. NZ and Wyoming and Mexico are awesome for drying gear with their sunshine and dry air. When Forrest McCarthy’s doing multi-day trips, he plans his days to end with a boating session and start with a hike, giving him time to dry out the boat. Gordy Vernon likes to stop early enough that his boat dries so he can sleep on it. By the way, with thigh straps you can get a boat bigger than you’d normally use and so it’s long enough to sleep on. My Yak is uncomfortable but my Super-Llama is SUPER for sleeping – it even fits inside my tent.
Like most boaters, I take my throw rope and wrap it round and round with a no-knot on two trees then hang my clothes, LJ, and other wet stuff to dry. Scott Solle says to turn dry-suits inside out and dry them that way and I like that ‘cause it keeps from getting so stinky. I also remove the thigh straps and hang them from the throw rope to dry. Because my Super-Llama has Velcro seat and backrest, I pull those out and inflate them and babysit them in the sun as they dry, while I take the deflated boat and hang that as follows to drip dry first.
Drying the Boat. First I take the uninflated boat and fold it from bow to stern with the bottom floor inside the fold so the inside of the boat is facing out, to allow the water to drain. The water will pool inside where the tubes meet the floor so I pull on the tubes to make it so that the water drains freely and the seam of tube-floor is visible at the fold in the boat. Then I hang this boat that’s folded inside out from the “chicken lines” at the bow and stern so the inside water drains freely out.
Later, I inflate the boat and dry it in the sun, rotating and baby-sitting the boat so it doesn’t get over-inflated by the sun and being sure to get all the moisture out. I stand it on end and use a sponge to get the inside water that didn’t drain during the initial inside-out, folded, hang-dry described above.
All the money you spent on superlight stuff doesn’t matter if the gear is soaked with water, so take the time to dry your stuff before you travel. Your back, feet, and nose will be thankful you did.
More on Paddles A bunch of us bought Werner Powerhouse Paddles in a 4-piece. It has a really large blade area and a few times in NZ I felt – especially when backpaddling in upper Class IV – that it was almost unwieldy, that it grabbed too much water. On the other hand my old Shuna didn’t grab enough water. As for length, I have said this many times before, but if you are moved forward by thighstraps and repositioned seat, a shorter paddle (mine is 197 cm) is easier to use especially in the narrow confines of low water creeking. If you are paddling flat water and kicked back in your boat without thigh straps a long paddle (I like 215 cm) is better.
Back to Ounce-wisdom and Pound-foolishness I am curious why people carry the big fat NRS straps with the honkin buckles? These straps are made for lashing coolers to big rafts and hardshells to roof-tops, not gear to packrafts. Why not get a lightweight, ladder-buckle strap at REI? Similarly, why are people using 1 inch tubular webbing on bow and/or stern as lines for lining? That stuff is twice as thick as needed and soaks up water like a sponge and takes ages to dry out. Those ladder-buckle straps work best (if it helps convince you, these are what Hig and Erin use). And while I am ranting, I am also baffled by the idea of using carabiners to clip dry bags to the tie downs. Carabiners seem not only heavy, but don’t make the load fast (in that it still slops around and your load is better if it’s super static). More importantly if they are not locking, then they sometimes grab things they shouldn’t (like branches) and could actually grab you by a lose loop on your clothing (think drawstrings, shoelaces).
Anyway, these are some thoughts, observations, and experiences I thought I’d share while I have an audience who’s interested.
(Photos by and/or of Gavin Mulvay -- Thanks Gav!)