Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Soft Shells on the Tellico Ledges

January 1 Tim took me out to the local creek of his youth: the Cartecay River here in Northern Georgia.

He paddled Sheri Tingey's latest creation, the "Orca" and I paddled my ten pound packraft. The Orca, like the 2012 Alpackas, has a cowling that holds -- wait for it -- a kayak style spray skirt! While the stock Llamas and Yaks have a thin, tent pole like oval aluminum rim to hold fast the spray skirt, the Orca has one-inch tubing and padded aluminum thigh braces that are adjustable. It also has a Teflon skid plate on the bottom for sliding over rocks while reducing wear.

It was New Year's Day and a local tubing/kayak outfitter was running shuttle to a chili feed and back to the put-in. It sure didn't feel like New Year's. It was a balmy 60 degrees and sunny.

With all the foam and my seat fully inflated I sat high and tipped over immediately, but rolled up easily. Tim followed suit,

"Oh man. This thing rolls so easily. It's not even a packraft anymore." With its narrow profile and 10 inch tubes, its long stern, pointy bow and trimmer, no rocker bow, it rolled easily. For my part the addition of the foot pad at the feet for bracing made all the difference.

We paddled easily off the Class II+ ledges, surfing waves and chatting up other paddlers.

"What is that thing?"

"We call it a soft-shell kayak."

Others asked, "Who makes that?"

"Alpacka Rafts," we answered.

"Wow," one guy said, "I haven't seen them for real. Just in videos of guys up in Alaska walking in and running the snow melt."

We got down to the last "falls" and joined a pack of kayakers surfing the last wave. We surfed and rolled to cheers and hoots. Most were beginner boaters, still working on their own rolls and skills. Indeed almost 15 years ago, Tim had been one of them: a novice local.

Because the water is warm and the air was, too, I enjoyed every opportunity to roll and worked on different foam combinations for riding slides.

That night we picked Luc up in Atlanta and drove back to Tim's family home in the mountains, spent the night outfitting our boats to fit as well as possible and drove north to Tennessee and the Appalachian jewel, Ledges of the Tellico.

The warm weather had been pushed away by a cold front. With frozen ground, ice on the boats, and cold hands it felt more like Alaska in October than the South. Still the half dozen ledges were super fun and we lapped the Baby Falls looking to get it right.

The highlight was the catwalk adventure out to the lower Bald River Falls and its steep slide and Jerrod's Knee, a very Alaskan creek style boulder garden that, as Luc said, "Is like the best of all we have back home."


  1. 50 and sunny here the last few days--and then THIS! Not like I needed even more reason to get in the water...

    Self-filmed roll was a nice touch.

    Looks like Luc's boat is the 'normal' fabric and Tim's is the newest/latest/greatest?

  2. Yep, you got it right: get out and paddle while it's warm, MC. (and yes, Luc's in the stock Alpacka in the Drib Video colors and Tim is paddling the Orca in black)

  3. Wow, pool sessions are not cutting it! This looks like a lot of fun.

    I can't wait to hear word on the Orca. I was about to buy a hardshell but this might change my mind. I hope it is better than the previous whitewater boat. It obviously looks narrower, which I'm sure affects stability.

    Great to see some new vids in an Alaska dead time!

  4. Weight of the Orca?Realy more stiff tube?weight fabric vs standard fabric?

    1. @JF Jobin. Unsure of the weight. Much stiffer boat and the new fabric seems much more durable, not that we have any issue with the tube fabric on the Llamas we paddle.

  5. So with all the cool rivers you all were running back east, why was this the only sighting of the Orca. I`v done my fair share of paddling prototype kayaks and know everyone wants to paddle it when you have it. Why was no one paddling it on any of the other (harder?) runs?? Any thoughts/comments on the absence of rocker in the nose of the boat or the aluminum thigh braces. Thigh braces will always be better than thigh-straps in my opinion, but an aluminum bracket seems overkill when closed cell foam can achieve the same result (just my opinion)
    But I am curious about your thoughts in regard to design compared to the Llima. Sheri emailed me and said it`s coming out this spring, so hope to see it soon.

    1. Kirk,

      can't really speak for the others, but I felt more comfortable in my more familiar boat. My boat is outfitted for me and we didn'tt wantt to expend the effort and time outfitting the Orca properly for each one of us.

      The Orca has some amazing features, features I would like on my next boat. The Orca is a lower volume boat so it boofs better and rolls easier than my 2011 Llama. I am not really contacted by or informed of or even connected to Alpacka the company (except to sell books), so I am not privy to anything they do/are doing/plan to do, so don't know where they are going or what they are doing next to the Orca.

      Why didn't I paddle the Orca more than once? Aside from the fact that I would have had to outfit it in a way that wouldn't suit Tim, the guy to whom Alpacka provided the boat, I am also not a kayaker and the Orca is the most kayak-like packraft yet constructed. I wasn't comfortable using it on unfamiliar creeks at my limits of ability. If I had it to myself, to modify and kit out comfortably, here in AK where I could outfit it and test it on familiar runs and rapids, then I'd have more to say about it.


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