Have boat will travel. But which boat?
Rafts, tenders and belly boats, sea kayaks, sit-ons and Canadian canoes – all inflatable and packing into a suitcase. Having a portable and easy-to-deploy watercraft in your RV has never been easier and so no surprise for many of us nomadic folk they have become a do-not-leave-home-without addition to our list of tools and toys.
Modern inflatable boats are moderately priced – you can get an entry-level one for under a $1000 – they require next to no maintenance and take up little storage room. But once out and inflated, they open up a whole new layer of geography to explore: rivers and lakes, lagoons, estuaries, sheltered coastlines and, if you’re more experience and adventurous, the not-so-sheltered seaside as well. All of which begs the question: just which kind of inflatable boat should you get for your RV?
Ready to upgrade my old rubber boat – big and unwieldy by the standards of latest inflatables which can be backpacked around and taken into an aircraft as cabin baggage – I asked that big question at Incept Marine, a family business operating out of small farming town of Taihape. Since 1989 Incept have been making an impressively full range of inflatable boats, from huge expedition-grade rafts ready for the Himalayan rivers, to kayaks and canoes for the sea and rivers and the shallows where the kids can safely splash about and play Titanic. The company has made the name for itself the hard way: not by cutting corners, using off-shore labour and offering budget deals but by innovation and quality. Their boats are still made in New Zealand, and tested on local waters, like the Rangitikei which has cut a deep and spectacular canyon through the papa country around Taihape. Their boats may not be the cheapest ones around but, as the company owners the Booth family will tell you with home-grown pride, when you buy an Incept boat, you’re buying the best there is.
“You ask which boat?” said Martin Straka, the sales manager at Incept. “You really need to turn this question around and ask yourself what kind of things you want to do with it.” Some soul searching is required first. Do you mainly fish from the boat or do you want to play in whitewater? Alone or with a partner or friends? To be used mainly for day trips or multi-day cruises? Do you need a performance vessel to handle any water anywhere or just something to float about on a sunny day and read? “These are all critical questions to answer to yourself first,” Martin concluded, “because there is no one boat that can do it all. But whatever you want to do, we have the right boat for it.”
At the bottom end of the Incept range there are the Gumotex recreational sit-on kayaks, single and double, like Twist, Helios and Safari, designed for lakes, bays and sheltered inshore waters though the Safari can handle moderate whitewater and surf as well. Among these, the Twist single, for example, weighs only six kg, packs next to nothing, takes minutes to inflate and, like the others and you can have a breakdown paddle with it. The Twist has an extremely stable hull with comfortable back and foot rests, and secure cargo space for dry-bag and gear. A kayak in a handbag? Well, not far from it. It is certainly the lightest inflatable kayak made of decent re-inforced materials, and all for around $1100.
Then there are inflatable sea kayaks, single and double, with which you can enact your own Happy Isles of Oceania, as Paul Theroux did years ago. The early inflatable sea kayaks used to have a wooden skeleton and a rubber skin which you put over the ribs and inflated, and I remember they were a nightmare of a puzzle to put up. Thankfully, the modern ones are a simple “roll out and inflate” jobs but they are just as seaworthy, stable and hard-wearing as rigid-hull boats, and a lot more easier to handle. In fact, the Incept K40 Tasman and K50 Pacific tandem kayak can handle big seas and survive impacts which would break rigid hulls, Martin Straka said, and they eliminate the need for trailers or roof racks. For motorhome users this last point is a major advantage. I once help to lower two plastic sea kayaks from the roof of my friends’ 10m bus and it was a precarious and potentially back-pain-causing exercise. Putting the wretched and unwieldy things back up was even worse so the idea of being able to just deflate the kayaks, roll them up and put them into the ground-level cargo hold is extremely appealing.
My favourites in the Incept range of boats are the inflatable Canadian canoes Whakapapa (2-3 people) and Wanganui (3-4 people) which can comfortably handle moderate whitewater but also allow you to stretch your legs, fish from and carry a lot of luggage, say, a deer you happen across on your dawn paddle. Both canoes feature an optional but ingenious outboard motor bracket which mounts on the side and takes an engine up to 2HP.
Incept also make a range of rafts in all sizes, tenders, boating accessories like dry bags and pumps, and a customised fishing boat they call Water Strider which is a well thought-out combination of a belly boat and small raft. You can propel it with fins, oars or walk around wearing it if you come aground. This is an ideal vessel to fish shallow lakes like the Otomangakau or Aniwhenua where stealthy approach to the fish is essential and yet Water Strider can handle fair grades of whitewater too. In 2007, a middle-aged Wanaganui fly fisherman Bill Grice took his Water Strider down the headwaters of the Rangitikei River in Kaimanawa Forest Park. In four days of rafting he only flipped it twice.
New Zealand is a boat-lovers’ nation and, apart from Incept, there are several other manufacturers of inflatable boats – like Aakron, Aquapro, Terminator, Euro, Quicksilver, Maxxon, and Caribe – though I hope the brief review above gives you an idea of what’s available on the market. Whichever one you choose, an inflatable boat will add a whole new dimension to you RVing. I’ve come to carry mine by habit and prudence, the way I’d never drive anywhere without the spare wheel.