The Red Herring Rides Again!

Ron Ripple in the Red Herring

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.

Red Heron on Esther Island

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.

Earl Cove on Inian Island

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.”

Red Heron in fog on Icy Strait

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.

Adventures In Glacier Bay (Red pointer marks approximate location of photos)


30 responses to “The Red Herring Rides Again!

  1. What a marvellous story! I lov e it when life throws good things your way….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Johna, I’ve been enjoying Wind Against Current for years now, ever since we met on one of those Lindblad/NatGeo expeditions. We now summer on the Penobscot Bay coast of Maine, and winter near Punta Gorda Florida – so if your adventures take you near those areas we’d love to buy you dinner!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Wow, Suzan, that’s kind of a while now–7 years! I have yet to make it up to Maine since Vlad died, but I spend a fair amount of time in Florida, and have a reason to go to Punta Gorda (it’s where one of the suppliers of waterproof maps is headquartered). I will look you up when I go!

      Thanks for following, and posting!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing, Johna. I must admit, I cried a little, too, when I read this. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Every now and then something comes along that makes you just purely happy.

      Those photos of Red Herring were one of those things… and later, the photo of Ron in the boat.

      Thanks for reading, and posting!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Another beautiful post. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think Vlad would be jealous that he wasn’t plying those Alaska waters in Herring himself Johna but he’d be thrilled she was back exploring. I know it was not easy to write but thank you for sharing. And just for future reference, you can get the aluminum to come apart, I had the same issue having left my boat together at the boathouse for two years. The whole keel was fused. It is time-consuming and tedious to do but you can heat the metal at the connections with a back-packing stove and eventually work them apart. Theory is that the heat causes the outer piece to expand away just enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Hi Davis!

      Yes, Vlad would have dearly loved paddling in Alaska. Sigh. So many “bucket list” things we never got to. (Let that be a lesson… time is short, life is fleeting…)

      Thanks for the tip! In the unlikely event I am ever taking apart another Feathercraft, I’ll keep it in mind. :-) I’m surprised Randy didn’t know the trick, since he was a dealer for a while.

      That said, time was the one thing we didn’t have, there was a lot of pressure to get everything packed up and out.

      Fortunately Ron has friends in the aviation industry who could machine aluminum poles of the required diameter. The Feathercraft design is so brilliantly elegant and simple, you really can make the pieces yourself.

      Do you still keep a Feathercraft at the boathouse? I don’t recall seeing it (but then wasn’t looking..)


  6. No, mine is a Folbot Cooper, the poor man’s Feathercraft but I nonetheless love it, similar internal structure and aluminum or aluminum alloy parts. Alas, they too are out of business. And no, she is now back in her bag, just my big orange C4 paddle board at the BH now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      I never thought of the Folbot as a “poor man’s Feathercraft”! Rather, it is the ORIGINAL folding boat. The Platonic ideal, as it were. All others are knock-offs… :-)

      Hope to see you on the water again yet this season!


  7. You sure have a store of stories, if I can say that, and you tell them so well. I’m glad the Red Herring is sailing again, and in a truly beautiful place.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I got a bit confused with the transition from Herring to Heron . . . renamed?
    Lovely area.
    Pity about the kayak company shutting its doors; surely kayaking hasn’t gone out of fashion?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks for reading and replying, and sorry for the confusion!

      The boat model is the “Heron”, and it’s a red one… hence “Red Heron”. Vlad named his boat “Red Herring”, because it sounded similar, and was funny.

      Ron calls it by its model, not the name (I don’t think he names his boats)

      Kayaking has gone in and out of fashion since it was re-discovered by the Germans in the early 1990s; right now it’s somewhat eclipsed by the sport of paddleboarding.

      NY Kayak Company continues to be sorely missed, though Manhattan Kayak Company (where I keep a boat) is taking up some of the slack. But NY Kayak Company was special…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Diana Szatkowski

    What a touching tale, thank you for sharing it. I had several email conversations with Vlad about folding boats. Feathercrafts are a joy to paddle but oh my that bag of tubes, way more than I could handle. I just got an Oru though after trying out Pat Slaven’s at Lake Sebago last year. I love it. Tales of the foldie in the 17th floor (?) were definitely a source of inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Hi Diana,

      Thanks for reading, and posting!

      Yes, the Oru look really interesting! My concern is how they’d hold up in a wind. Have you any experience thus far?

      And I totally agree with you about that bag of tubes. That’s why I sold Baby Vulcan without a qualm–I loved it but knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d never invest the time in putting it together and taking it apart!


  10. It makes me sad and joyful all in the same breath. Thanks for sharing the story with us Johna.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I still feel tears at yours and ours loss. He was one of the first who followed me. Beautiful photos and memories. Beautiful and sad at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. How lovely that the Red Herring lives on!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Such a lovely journey for the Red Herron. It has found it’s new owner indeed. May it sail on to many adventures and maybe you will keep up with it in photos :)

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I am so glad, thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What a great story – a new chapter

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are most welcome!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s