Of Kayaks and Snowshoes

The idea of taking skills learned from one craft and applying them to another is basic to creative thinking. One example of this cross-pollination of skills is the seat in my single hatch kayak,  Selkie.         
             Selkie has a removable seat that pivots, drains, and even allows wet shorts to dry. The idea for this, like many good ideas, is not new. I came up with it after making my first few sets of snowshoes. first sets of snowshoesAs I learned to weave different materials, rawhide, and then rope, and then quarter inch webbing, I was struck by the sheer ingenuity, and the variety of different weaving patterns. I began to wonder where else I could apply this newfound craft. Then I came across an old Old folding camp chairmodel of a folding camp chair that LL Bean and a few other companies used to make and sell before the advent of ubiquitous foam and plastics. The by-product of these to experiences was the seat for the Selkie. Made of bentwood with a woven seat surface, my kayak seat may be more elaborate than need be, but is comfortable and dry.

   Cockpit of the Selkie  Kayak seat  

        I emphasize the word dry because of all of the hopelessly befuddled, poorly thought out examples of shoddy design; the solid molded kayak seat has to rank as one of the shoddiest.
             It is virtually impossible to get into a sea kayak without dripping water onto the seat, if the seat has no way to drain, then the paddler has no choice but to sit in a puddle every time he or she enters their boat. One might think that this piece of knowledge would be so basic that designing a modern sea kayak without a self-draining seat would be as rare as designing a modern automobile with no reverse gear. Not so, too many boats I have seen have a solid piece of plastic or fiberglass shaped to conform to the anatomy of the human posterior-with no drain. A perfect birdbath, only you get to sit in it.
             The consequence of sitting in a continual puddle is more than just a little uncomfortable. There is even a condition called in the common vernacular “kayak but”, basically it is trench foot, only it is not on your feet. If you don’t think that’s a big deal go to this excerpt (reprinted with permission) from the 2005 January/February issue of the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter.

Trenchfoot Article WMN 2005

             I spoke with Dr. Murray Hamlet who was one of the consulting editors for this article in the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter, he confirmed that “kayak but” is essentially the first stages of immersion foot (trench foot). I asked him if, like trench foot, this is a permanent injury. He said he had not followed enough cases to say definitively, but since this is a preventable injury, it was not something to test.
             Clearly, there is more than one possible solution; paddlers who always wear a full dry suit have a barrier between themselves and puddles. Another solution Dr. Hamlet suggested was to get a good piece of astro-turf and sit on that. The astro-turf allows air to circulate and water to drain. Sound strange? Perhaps, but then I built a terrific seat based on a snowshoe.


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