We keep traveling to areas with beautiful lakes and bays and other waterways, and I keep thinking how much I would love to have a kayak with us. Our tandem kayak weighs nearly 60 pounds, and I have not found a sensible way to transport this boat on our motorhome.
I’ve looked carefully at the roof, and I’m not sure how to mount a rack and position a kayak in the midst of obstacles like the solar panel, the air conditioner, the TV antenna, and various skylights and vents. Even if I could find space up there, I am intimidated by the prospect of hoisting and securing a 60-pound boat to a roof that is nearly 10 feet off the ground. There are rear hitch-mounted racks that carry a kayak vertically, but these are designed for kayaks much shorter than our tandem; there are many overpasses and gas stations that would not accommodate the necessary 15+ feet of clearance. We could purchase a small trailer for both bike and kayak transportation, but towing a trailer is going to introduce all sorts of other complications related to how easily we can maneuver the van and where we can set up camp.
That’s why I started to look into buying an inflatable tandem kayak. This collapses to fit into a large backpack, and so the storage/transport options are much simpler. There are also foldable tandem kayaks that offer these same advantages, but they tend to be much heavier and take longer to assemble. Inflatables are made for all the same purposes as hard-shelled kayaks, specialized for whitewater, touring expeditions, fishing, etc. Our needs are for relatively calm water (“recreational”) kayaking, and our goal was to find a tandem boat that was not too heavy and was able to maneuver and track like our hard-shelled kayak.
We decided on a Sea Eagle RazorLite 473rl, a lightweight tandem inflatable kayak. It's the first kayak constructed entirely with “drop stitch” technology, which is inflatable material that has an internal matrix of threads connecting the top and bottom layers of fabric. This makes the side walls and floor strong enough to be inflated to much higher pressures than a conventional inflatable kayak, and the resulting rigidity helps the boat perform more like a hard-shelled kayak. The tandem weighs 38 pounds and is 15½ feet long, but it deflates to fit into a backpack (about 3’H x 2’W x 1½’D) that also holds the seats, footrests, and pump.
Our van has no compartments large enough to accommodate that backpack, so I’ve installed the StowAway storage system, a popular choice among motorhome owners. This attaches to the van by a sturdy hitch-mounted carrier that swings away for access to the rear storage area. The cargo box adds 16 cubic feet of storage and was ordered with a built-in lock, a hitch tightener and locking hitch pin, rear taillights, a lighted license plate holder, and wheels to roll the entire assembly away when not in use. It took about 2 hours to assemble completely (thanks to excellent instructions), and I’m impressed with the quality of materials and construction.
There are two significant disadvantages of our solution: First, there is no practical way to bring both the kayak and the bikes on the same long trip, since the hitch can accommodate only the StowAway or the bike rack. For a shorter trip, this is not as much of an issue, since the backpack could sit in the motorhome aisle while driving and the bikes could be mounted outside. Second, the expense: we had to buy both a new boat and a cargo carrier. I’m sure the storage box will come in handy for transporting other things, though we prefer to pack economically so that we can travel as “short” as possible and have the biggest variety of parking options.
Still, it’s nice to have this bike/kayak choice depending on our destination, and the Florida Keys are the perfect place to test this. Based on our previous trip to the Keys, we knew that there would be good kayaking in Key Largo, and we now have Burnhams’ Florida Keys Paddling Atlas to help explore other areas. In my next blog post, I’ll write about our experience with the RazorLite tandem kayak as we check out some of these destinations.