The Kayak on the 17th Floor

By Vladimir Brezina

My last post showed my new 17.5-foot-long kayak completely filling our New York City apartment. And quite a few readers wondered how I was going to get it from the 17th floor down to the street and then to the water…

I suppose I could lower it down from the window on a rope, as some suggested. New York City has laws against most things, but lowering kayaks down the sides of tall buildings is probably not (yet) among them.

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But there is a better way. Here’s how the kayak got to the 17th floor in the first place, and how it’s going to get down again.

A box arrives…

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.… inside the box, a backpack

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… and inside the backpack, a bunch of aluminum tubing and a rolled-up plastic skin

The skin is laid out…

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… and the frame halves assembled.

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The frame is inserted into the skin…

… it’s finally beginning to look like a kayak

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And with a few more accessories, it does!

It’s a skin-on-frame folding kayak. And hopefully it will fold again into its backpack and allow me to take it into the elevator, down to the street, and to the water where I will unfold it once more and launch it…

For years, I kayaked in this way with a series of Feathercraft folding kayaks, which I kept in the closet in my apartment—first a Feathercraft K-Light and then several K1s. This one is a Heron, the latest Feathercraft model—longer, bigger, faster than a K1! I can’t wait to get it out on the water. Stay tuned for the results!

47 responses to “The Kayak on the 17th Floor

  1. And here we were imagining an elaborate journey down 17 floors! The Kayak looks super cool.

  2. Wow. I had no idea such a thing as a folding kayak even existed. Ah, the wonders of the world.

    • Actually, skin-on-frame kayaks were the original kayaks that the Inuit used for centuries, if not millenia, and making them collapsible was then a relatively simple step. In Germany, folding kayaks were popular already almost a hundred years ago. It’s actually the plastic and fiberglass kayaks that are the new kids on the block—it was the introduction of these materials that really popularized kayaking in the US, not that long ago—and the true wonders of the world ;-)

  3. Your blog is great. I have been following it for some time. Great new boat you have there. I have been thinking about a folding boat. Thing is, I am not at all mechanically inclined. How hard is it to assemble one? Imagine some are easier to assemble than others? Also, there probably is a trade-off between assembly time and performance no? Got some recommendations?

    • Hi, Diana,

      Glad you like the blog!

      Before I can recommend any kind of kayak at all, I have to ask you what your kayaking experience is and what kind of kayaking you want to do. Especially the latter. For instance, if you want a quick-to-assemble boat for floating around in your local pond, then an inflatable, rather than a skin-on-frame, boat might be the way to go. But if you expect to go into any kind of wind, an inflatable boat might be hard to handle…. etc. etc. There are indeed trade-offs.

      Let me know so I can help you further. There are also some useful guidelines for selecting kayaks on sites such as Paddling.net and The Folding Kayak Pages.

      • Diana Szatkowski

        Thanks. Links are good but, still like your input. Your waterways are mine afterall so more relevant. What do I do – mostly tool around on the Hudson, Harlem, and East Rivers. Aspire to open waters. Would really like to do the Battery to Sandy Hook trip if I could find an experienced person who would be charitable enough to accompany a newbie. Have paddled Glacier Bay and the Sea of Cortez but, for these kinds of trips just get a boat at my destination. Can’t imagine that I would be that attached to a boat to bring one from nyc (but who knows. certainly wouldn’t leave my paddle behind, my fifth limb). Oh, and aside from performance and ease of assembly, the weight the boat is important to me too. Thanks again. Diana.

        • OK, that gives me something to go on!

          If you aspire to open waters, then I would not recommend an inflatable boat. Unless you buy just the right kind, and know what you are doing, you will probably find it hard to handle the boat in wind, and that will inhibit you from paddling it as often as you would like.

          So, given that you do want a boat that packs small for storage or travel, that leaves a skin-on-frame boat.

          The Feathercrafts are top of the line, but they can be a little tricky to assemble especially when they are new, they tend to be heavier, and they are expensive.

          I would recommend something like a Folbot. The current Folbot designs started off as Feathercraft knock-offs, it seems to me (I hope I don’t get sued for saying this!), but aiming to be less heavy duty and so lighter and cheaper. And by now they incorporate some significant innovations, such as the frame that is assembled entirely outside the skin and then zips into it. I don’t have much experience with particular Folbot models, but here is a handy chart. The Cooper is a very popular and capable model, and the Citibot is a popular, but tiny, recreational boat, but there are other models that might be preferable depending, in particular, on your size and weight. So I would suggest that you take a look at the Folbots!

        • Diana Szatkowski

          Thank you so very much. Now, I can do a more focused search. It is one thing to read the specs but, quite another to have input from someone who gets around on his Feathercraft as much as you do. Also, definitely look forward to hearing how your new boat performs (under different conditions). Thanks again. Diana

  4. Brilliant – how long does it take to assemble the second time around?

    • It gets progressively easier as the skin stretches with repeated cycles of assembly and disassembly. So the second time might still take longer but in a few months I’ll probably get it down to 30-40 minutes or so, without rushing things too much. Some of the other Feathercraft kayaks take only 15-20 minutes but this one has more parts.

  5. Flash kayak! I look forward to hearing more about how it performs on the water. Unfortunately, my budget doesn’t quite stretch to Featherlight folding kayaks :( They really look ace.

    Seeing your new toy in your home makes me really excited about shopping for my inflatable later this year after I get my tax return (given that it’s already June, my tax return isn’t too far away :) )

    • Feathercraft boats are the best, but also the most expensive :-(

      I do plan to report on how the new boat performs on the water. And, since I don’t have a lot of experience with inflatable kayaks, I’ll be very interested to hear in turn how your boat performs when you get it!

  6. Not only did I wonder how one would get it down 17 stories, I wondered where one would keep such a thing in a typical NYC apartment!

  7. How interesting! I never would have thought. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Congratulations on the gorgeous new Heron! I’m a multiple Feathercraft owner as well, (from Kahuna to K-1 to Wisper — I am a bit too small for either the K-1 or Heron).
    For your blog fans who might not have the funds for the FC’s (and for those with less patience for the sometimes tricky assembly), we also own two Pakboat folders, an XT-15 and a Puffin 12. These are about half the price or less of comparable size FC models and easier to put together. The 20 lb Puffin is more of a sheltered water boat (like the Folbot Cooper) but the 39 lb XT-15 paddles favorably similar to a FC Kahuna. The decks on these boats completely separate from the hull so you don’t have to perform “kayak yoga” to get the frame set up inside. I highly recommend them for people looking to start with a folder but unable or unwilling to commit to the cost of a Feathercraft. That said, though I own 9 kayaks at the moment. if I could only keep one of them, it would be the Wisper, hands down.

    • Thanks for this nice minireview, Kerry!

      I think Feathercrafts remain top of the line if you are looking for a hard-core, heavy-duty expedition folding kayak. There’s a reason why all the boats you see in photos of expeditions to remote places (Arctic, Far East) are Feathercrafts.

      That is clearly Feathercraft’s goal, the reason why only the best will do. But that takes them in the opposite direction from the beginning paddler’s idea of a folding boat, that it should be light, almost assemble itself, and inexpensive. Feathercrafts are none of these things.

      So that’s left the market open for quite a number of folding-boat manufacturers, by now, to offer much cheaper and easier-to-deal-with mass-market boats. Folbots, for example, have evolved considerably in recent years (mostly by copying Feathercraft designs, it seems to me—not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and now seem pretty nice (although I don’t have any hands-on experience of them). So, when someone wants a recommendation for just a casual folding boat for some light paddling while traveling, for instance, I recommend that they look into Folbots.

      As you say, Pakboats are another possibility. I’ve been only vaguely aware of them, and certainly should take a more detailed look at what they have to offer!

  9. Beautiful kayak! I helped a friend build a Klepper a few times…are you familiar with those? His mother actually shipped it to Dallas from Germany!

    • Yes, I know quite a bit about Kleppers—at least about the older, beamier, canvas-on-wood-frame types. I’ve paddled in the Klepper double a number of times with friends. It’s the venerable folding kayak design going back to the early years of the 20th century in Germany. Quite different from the Feathercrafts—in fact I think the earliest Feathercraft designs were a reaction to the Klepper, trying to make a folding kayak that wasn’t obviously a folding kayak of the old school, but more like a modern hardshell. But there’s nothing wrong with Kleppers—good for sailing, and they have crossed the Atlantic!

      • yes we had the wooden klepper and then you put the skin on it. a lot of work but fun paddling with a friend. didn’t know they had crossed the Atlantic. cool!

        • Here‘s a capsule summary of the history. In his crossing of the Atlantic, Romer apparently used a custom-built boat, but Lindemann used a standard production Klepper.

          There’s also the epic seven-year voyage, in a Klepper or at least another Klepper-like folding kayak, of Oskar Speck from Germany to Australia in the 1930s. On landing in Australia, Speck was first congratulated and then arrested as an enemy alien, since World War II had started in the meantime…

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  13. That is amazing. I am amazed at what people invent. Very cool. I will have to show this to my brother who lives in NYC too.

  14. This is great, and I chuckled at your mention of lowering the boat outside the building and not having any “anti” regulations in place YET. For years I lived on the 5th floor of a 6 storey building and one day a new neighbor moved in, with a rigid-hull kayak, which he regularly lowered down from his balcony, past mine, and on to his waiting car top. Quite an experience the first times at 5 am.

    Say, non-sequitur question: at one point we engaged in comments about animal intelligence and I shared a link about a green heron using an ever-dwindling piece of bread as bait while fishing. I searched on your blog but couldn’t find that video. I’ve finally gotten around to posting two experiences I’ve observed of herons using tools. In one, the heron is using a feather as bait, and in the other, a twig. In case your interested, here are the links:

    http://babsjeheron.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/who-you-calling-a-birdbrain-great-blue-heron-fishing-with-a-twig/

    http://babsjeheron.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/vaguely-totemic/

    • Kayak: I never thought anybody would actually do it! :-)

      Herons: Very interesting pair of posts, babsje! Worthy complement to that previous video, which is here.

      • Yep, not only did my neighbor rappel up and down his kayak, he also handled his windsurfing kit the same way.

        Thanks for finding that link, I’ve bookmarked it this time. Glad you liked those two herons using tools for fishing. I wonder if the yearling learned that from observing a parent, or maybe it’s just instinctive.

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  17. Enjoyed this article… A Trip down Memory Lane for me… My first kayak was a Folbot… Greenland II… I wanted a sea kayak so bad but my wife and I had no room for storage having been recently married and living in a small apartment. I remember the boat arriving – in the box and dumping it out on the living room floor, amazed at all the telescoping rods and thwarts…. Lots of water was paddled in that boat.. It even made a plane trip from Oregon to Florida to paddle at the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge / Sanibel / Captiva… I am enjoying getting to know the Other Side through your blog…

    • Thanks!! Your blog is a lot of fun, too :-)

      I’ve never paddled a vintage Folbot, but I have paddled vintage Kleppers, so I am familiar with what the old-style folding kayaks are like. Now, of course, everyone is high-tech, although the old design (e.g., Klepper, LongHaul) is still around. Feathercraft was one of the earliest high-tech designs, and so, while it’s still the best once the boat is assembled, some of its technology is becoming a little dated compared to newer designs, I think…

      • My interest in “sea” kayaking began back in the mid-1980’s when my brother-in-law and I worked on restoring /piecing together an old, double, wood-frame / skin folbot. I got excited and bought my “new” Greenland II. I never made it out to Sea (other than Florida Gulf). So these past 5 months has been an amazing journey of learning skills and lots of practice… Wish that I would have started earlier…. Thanks for sojourning with me. Not many paddlers here in this part of Oregon. Other than my mentor, I have never seen another kayak on the water (bay, slough, or sea) at the same time as myself… Crazy Solitude… Still digging through your blog. Lots of good stuff to enjoy..
        Cheers…

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