Long Haul Folding Kayaks. Mark Ekhart has long been known as a Klepper dealer, the preferred Klepper repair shop, and a customizer of boats and maker of specialized accessories. In the last few years he’s been making replacement decks and hulls for Klepper boats, and now he’s making complete frames as well.. Mark’s double hulls and frames are interchangeable with Kleppers (the singles are not), but the construction is somewhat different. The wood used is birch ply and ash, like Klepper, the Nautiraid and other quality wooden framed boats. Rather than the stamped aluminum connectors used by Klepper, though, Mark’s Long Haul kayaks use stainless steel (and a few hardened, corrosion resistant aluminum) fittings that are significantly faster to attach, and yet much tougher and more reliable. (Some claim the Long Haul fittings are slower to assemble; my personal experience is that they’re much less fussy and have fewer alignment problems). The Long Haul coaming is similar to the older Klepper three-piece design, which Mark feels is stronger than the newer hinged design. The seats are Mark’s novel design (see Accessories page) that can be removed from the boat and used as camp seats. And a look at the photo on the web site shows something else new- access hatches built into the skin. The construction of these is similar to the Feathercraft hatches, but rather than a removable ring he uses a sewn-in ring of reinforced vinyl, much like the hoops in his expedition tuck-under spraydecks. The hatches run about $80 and are reportedly a popular option. Having tried them I can say they’re just as convenient as the hatches on my Feathercraftt.
Mark has now been shipping kayaks since December of 2001 and has been signing up more dealers to demo and sell his boats. The basic Long Haul Mk II double sells for $2750, quite an attractive price for a double of this quality. This Summer (2003) he added the Long Haul Mk-I, a single kayak similar to the Klepper Aerius I with with an improved, longer hull design and all the Long Haul improvements at a retail price of $2,434, although as of today (9/29) his web page still lists an introductory price of $2,200. Since introducing these first boats, Mark has introduced two versions of the Ute, a compact and fast-assembling boat for smaller paddlers. There are also special package prices for complete outfits with custom bags, rudder and so forth. The Long Haul web page now has most of the entire catalog, on line, but as of this writing you really need a copy of the printed catalog to see everything Mark has to offer. The printed catalog is an exceptional resource, both for prospective Long Haul owners and for current Klepper owners, as Mark makes an amazing range of accessories for these boats, including replacement skins for a wide variety of current and past Kleppers. If you have a problem with a Klepper or Long Haul boat, he probably has a solution.
See the March/April 2002 issue of the Folding Kayaker for some notes on the Mk-II. (See also the entry for Long Haul on the Dealer’s page) I have some photos and notes of a Mk-II boat I tested and of the newer Mark-I single on the reviews page. One interesting note: The all-black “Commando” version of the Mk-II has rapidly displaced the Klepper Quattro as the preferred choice for military special operations units. (And they can buy pretty much any boat they want.)
[Long Haul Folding Kayaks Mk II]
Nautiraid. A French boat that’s similar to a Klepper (or a Long Haul), with some important differences. The hulls of the Nautiraids are similar to what you’d see on a Klepper Expedition model, but the frames are significantly different from the Klepper frames in construction. More and lighter wood parts are used in the Nautiraids, and the boats are a bit lighter than similarly sized Kleppers. Rather than the anodized aluminum snap fittings of the Klepper, Nautiraid frames connect together via thin hypalon straps that are stretched over frames and onto brass screws; this low-tech method looks simple and crude, but works well enough. Frames are connected together with hinges are made of simple sawn brass channel, and the rudder pintle is a rather rough casting. It’s all very Gallic in conception.
But the boats are exceptionally seaworthy and the frames and longerons are built into subassemblies that speed up assembly- the entire frame for the Raid I single consists of only four subassemblies and one loose rib. When you take the cost of accessories into consideration, Nautiraids are priced at about half the cost of similar Kleppers; for instance, a spraydeck for a Klepper Aerius II double costs about $450 and a rudder and pedal assembly costs $200, while the Nautiraid Raid Double comes complete with these essential accessories. Every Nautiraid owner I’ve spoken with seems to be very happy with their boat.
Klepper and Nautiraid each have their fans, and either group of supporters can give you excellent reasons as to why their favorite is the better choice. People whose experience and opinion I trust have given me good reasons for choosing both boats. I’ll just say don’t rule out one or the other without investigating both. Talk to experts (see the recommended dealers page) before you decide. (Of course the new Long Haul double is going to further complicate the decision.)
Nautiraid makes a wide range of rigid and folding boats and accessories for civilian and military use. Currently eight different folders are being imported, including three doubles, four singles ranging from 14′ to 16′, and a miniboat. (Hot news from the Folding Kayaker newsletter- there are two new aluminum framed boats. See the newsletter for reviews). One of the doubles, the 17′ Grand Raid, is a version of the boat used by the French military. The smaller Raid Double (formerly the Raid II Expedition) is a little smaller at 16-1/2′ , and the Touring Raid is smaller still (15′) with a PVC hull rather than the hypalon of the larger boats. The singles include a 14′ , a 15′ (the recently updated Raid I Mark III) and the 16-1/2′ Greenland. These last two boats share a novel method of assembly detailed in a 1999 issue of the Folding Kayaker newsletter. In addition to Nautiraid’s own web site, there’s information on the sites of Nautiraid importer SEDA Kayaks and the New York Kayak Company and some excellent assembly photos on Richard Mitchell’s site at http://www.brunel.ac.uk/~acsrrrm/kayak/.
Flash: Nautiraid is now offering almost all their wooden-framed boats with an optional aluminum frame for about $200 less. So far it looks like every boat except the two largest doubles will be available with the aluminum frame. There’s nothing on Nautiraid’s home page yet, but you can see the new prices at the web site of the US importer, SEDA Kayaks.
[Nautiraid Raid I MkII]
Oru make a kayak that’s unlike any of the frame-and-skin kayaks that dominate the folding kayak industry. It’s folded into its assembled form from a flat piece of heavy-gauge Coroplast corrugated plastic sheet. The boats are very light, and surprisingly tough, but are essentially non-repairable. Holes in the hull can be patched, but if a hinged section of the hull fails there’s no way to patch it. Oru kayaks have a one year warranty.
Pakboats is the work of Alv Elvestad, a former importer of the Norwegian Ally line of folding canoes. Alv’s boats are similar to the Ally boats, but with some significant differences. There’s been some occasional confusion between Allys and Pakboats (including on this page) but Alv cleared it up for me in a recent correspondance.
Alv worked with Bergans/Ally for a time, and at one time sold Ally boats via his company, then known as Pakboats, but the Pakboats name is now a brand name used by his company for his own boats. Should you come across a Mad Rivers folding canoe, that’s also a Pakboat, as Mad River was for a time the exclusive distributor of Pakboats, under the Mad River name. Of interest to readers of this page are his new “Puffin” kayaks- really more of decked double-paddle canoes- that combine a low price (under $1200 for the single) and weight (22 lbs!). There are two reviews of these boats in the May/June 2000 issue of the Folding Kayaker newsletter- one by Ralph, and one by Bill Longyard. I have not seen the Puffin but I have seen Alv’s earlier canoes and the workmanship is very good. In 2002 the Puffin was lengthened from the original 10.5′ to 12′ while keeping the weight at 22 lbs, making it an even better performing boat.
Pouch. An East German boat, the for many years the Pouch resembled the older Kleppers, though with a reinforced vinyl hull rather than the Hypalon used by Klepper and most other makers. However, Pouch has retooled and redesigned their boats in recent years, with new materials and designs. The new E68 single is available with either vinyl or hypalon hull, and has a frame that assembles outside the hull, not unlike the newer Nautiraid boats. Ralph Hoehn is now importing and selling the newer Pouch kayaks, beginning with the 16-1/2′ E86 single, through his company PouchBoats; see his web page at http://www.PouchBoats.com.
Peter Schwierzke of Klepper West had a few of the older Pouch singles and doubles as of Fall/02, , including some boats brought in by Seyvalor and sometimes sold under that name. I forgot to ask him last time we talked if he has any left. (According to Ralph Hoehn, Seyvalor brought in a total of about 50 boats.)
Marian Gunkel, who has a lot of experience paddling his Pouch around Europe, has created a number of excellent unofficial Pouch web pages with very complete information.
Pouch boats have traditionally been a good value, and the newer generation of boats should carry on that tradition.
Small Volume Kayak Makers These are boats I have not paddled or seen, but that you may encounter:
Trak Kayaks. Trak came on to the scene a few years ago, claiming to be the “First performance folding kayak”, which probably annoyed the people at Feathercraft who have been building narrow, performance folders for decades! Trak also claimed to offer the first variable rocker geometry kayak- something that was offered by at least two other companies prior to Trak. All this hubris did create some skepticism in the folding kayak community, but that side, they do seem to offer a high quality boat. So far, though, I’ve only heard from one person who has actually paddled a Trek, and he has had nothing but glowing reviews for the boat and the company. And while their design does owe much to others in the industry, they do have a number of interesting innovations, like adjustable tracking. Their web site is attractive and informative, and well worth checking out.
Wayland Kayaks A Polish maker of classic wooden framed kayaks dating back to about 1995. Their web page has Polish, English and German text. One brave reader of the forum (D. Gringauz) bought one, sight unseen, and posted a very good review on the Long Reviews page. As of 2013, Wayland is now also producing all Klepper kayaks for the German firm, who have laid off the last of their production staff.
Whalecraft Folding Kayaks. Appears to be defunct. Whalecraft’s one boat, an open-cockpit double with cordura nylon decks and vinyl resembled a pre-1980s Folbot. At an advertised price of $1900 (Feb 2001) for the basic boat, they were one of the least expensive doubles on the market. From what I’ve heard Whalecraft was pretty much a one-man shop, hand making one kayak at a time. I have yet to hear from anyone who has experience with this boat. Their web site has been down for at least two years, and there’s no evidence from other sources that they’re still in business.