By Johna Till Johnson
Photographs by Ron Ripple
It was a cold rainy day last May when I bid farewell to Vlad’s beloved folding kayak, the Feathercraft Red Heron, which we called “Red Herring”.
Brian and I had spent two futile weekends attempting to dismantle the boat, but unfortunately the aluminum skeleton had fused, and the boat would no longer come apart. And it had to be moved—New York Kayak Company was shutting its doors at the end of the month after a quarter-century of operations at Pier 40.
So as Brian began to hacksaw the aluminum poles, I cried silently, my tears mingling with the rain. It seemed like the end of everything.
Not just Vlad, but the Red Herring, Feathercraft itself (which went out of business the month Vlad died) and New York Kayak Company were vanishing into history.
Except Red Herring wasn’t vanishing.
It was headed to Oklahoma, where its new owner, a professor named Ron Ripple, wanted it for a trip to Alaska. (He needed a folding boat to take on the plane from Oklahoma.) I’d also sold him the tiny K-Light, Vlad’s first-ever boat, which I had paddled for our first Florida Everglades Challenge shakedown trip. It fit Ron’s wife Ellen perfectly, and I was glad my “Baby Vulcan” had found a happy home in Oklahoma.
I’d kept Ron apprised of the Herring’s state, including that we’d hoped to dismantle it, but if not, we’d ship it as best we could. He hoped he’d be able to machine the missing parts.
That didn’t happen. Ron wasn’t able to get the boat fixed in time for the Alaska trip. But he went anyway, with another boat, and was particularly happy to be able to re-connect with one of his oldest paddling partners.
We stayed in touch sporadically, glad to have found kindred kayaking spirits. I vaguely remembered he’d made plans to paddle with his friend again this year, in Glacier Bay, Alaska. He also said something about having been able to repair the Red Heron.
And then I got these photos, along with a note from Ron:
“Here are a few photos from the trip with the Heron.
The first one is the beach of my first camp site on Esther Island at the mouth of Lisianski Strait while I was solo.
The second is at our camp site in Earl Cove on Inian Island, which sits between Cross Sound and Icy Strait.
And the third is setting out into the fog on our last paddling day heading across Icy Strait from Pt. Adolphus to Gustavus.
While the water appears very calm, there were very dynamic eddies, boils, and swirls that moved our kayaks substantially; about 2/3 of the crossing was in the fog using GPS and deck compasses.
It was a great trip, and the Heron performed exceptionally. I am very happy with the Heron, and we are already planning next year’s trip.”
I cried again, but this time with happiness.
The Heron has found an owner worthy of it—and together they will go on many more exciting adventures.