Skin-on-Frame Kayaks...  
By Joel Fleischer - Marquette, Michigan - USA

... On the Mississippi River

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Even the longest journey begins with the first step.

It was two days before we were supposed to join Kayak4AKure for the first stage of their Mississippi River trip. Two days, and our Cerberus 21 Tandem/Triple skin on frame kayak wasn't finished. I left Marquette, Michigan and arrived at the Black Dog Kayaks shop in Bloomer, Wisconsin to find that there were still stringers to be installed before we could sand the frame, seal the wood, and skin the kayak. Filling orders and finishing the kit for Kayak4AKure had taken up all the time, so that, "the cobblers children had no shoes."

Putting the finishing touches on the frame.

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This is where the fuselage construction style of the kayak really shone. It was Saturday morning and we had to leave on Saturday night in order to make it to Itasca, Minnesota for the trip down the Mississippi. Stringers were laid into place then glued and screwed, the frame was sanded, Thompson Water Seal was applied to the frame, and the kayak was skinned and deck rigging applied, leaving us with a couple of hours to pack up the truck.

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We were supposed to be on the road by now!

 
Arrival at Bert's Cabins.

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We finally hit the road after midnight and we arrived in Itasca at 6am. We pulled into Bert's Cabins in Itasca, Minnesota to find that the rudder and the Sea Dog rudder pedals on the Kayak4AKure kayak still needed to be installed.

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Installing the Rudder Pedals.

After a breakfast meeting with Louis and John it was decided that Sunday would be a training day. We would finish setting up the kayak, shake down our gear, and give the kayaks a good open water test on Lake Itasca and get a good night's sleep before we finally hit the water on Monday morning.

Installing sea socks on the training day.

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Monday morning began as casually as Sunday. Gear was loaded, kayaks were set up and loaded onto the Kayak4AKure chase truck, and we headed for the Mary Gibbs Center and the Headwaters for the opening photo op.

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Ready to go!

 
Louis and John prepare to take the first step.

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Joel and Mark at the Headwaters

It was decided that we would put in at Gulsvig Landing, on the other side of the culvert that goes beneath the highway. Photos were taken, ticker tape fell from the sky, and we were finally on the water. The first step of a 2400+ mile trip.

Last minute adjustments at Gulsvig Landing.

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Launch!

 
Navigating the twisty Mississippi.

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The current was strong and the paddling was easy, as we kayaked down what is called the "Mighty Mississippi," but what really amounted to a large creek.

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At the first portage on the River.

Twelve miles later we were at the first portage of the trip, around a waterfall, and into Class 1 rapids. Class 1 rapids are nothing to talk about, except that the water gets very shallow and the rocks take bites out of the bottom of the kayak. We were very pleased to see that the polyester/vinyl skin on the kayaks took the hits and still kept the water out.

Eventually the water became too shallow for us to paddle. Ropes were tied to the bow and stern of each of the kayaks and we walked the kayaks for five miles, walking on the shore as we let the kayaks float down the river by themselves. Camp was in a marshy clearing just on the other side of the highway on a cold May evening.

Sleep while you can.

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The discussion around the campfire centered around the river downstream. Would we have more miles of walking? Or, would we get to paddle?

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Breaking camp on Day 2.

The next morning coffee was brewed and a couple of small patches were applied to the yellow Kayak4AKure kayak. After we broke camp, we walked a half-mile and found that we could actually ride in the kayaks again. However, that only lasted another five miles before the Mighty "Mississippi" split up into a dozen tiny creeks, barely the width of our kayaks.

The Mighty Mississippi?

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Portage on the swampy plains.

After fighting deadfalls, we got fed up and walked ahead a quarter mile or so to find deeper water. The kayaks were skidded through the tall grass, allowed to float by themselves another few hundred yards, and we were back in the kayaks for a twisty, turny ride down the river. Somewhere during that five miles the skies opened up and poured rain, hail, and cold wind on us. No sooner had we put on our wetsuits and paddling jackets under the shelter of a bridge, than the clouds broke and the sun beat down on us again. Five miles later and we were at Coffee Pot Landing, just north of Bemidji, Minnesota.

Coffee Pot Landing (Photo by Mark Hammond)

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John at Coffee Pot Landing

At Coffee Pot, we decided that it was time to call it a day. Kayak4Akure set up camp and we loaded our kayak on the chase truck for the trip back to Bert's Cabins to pick up our vehicle and to head back to Wisconsin.

Black Dog Kayaks packs up to go home. (Photo by Mark Hammond)

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Kayak4AKure continued down the Mississippi River the next day and, thirty days later, pulled their kayaks out at the end of the Mississippi. 2400 miles is a real torture test for any kayak, and, although the Cerberus 21 kayak took some hard knocks and needed some repairs along the way, John and Louis made it in what is a very long trip in any kind of boat.".

Mark and I, i.e., Black Dog Kayaks, had a great time with Louis and John from Kayak4AKure. Thanks to Deb for driving us around in the chase vehicle! Black Dog Kayaks does plan to return to the River to pick up where we left off, paddling from Bemidji and going until we get tired, then pulling out until the next year. We can't afford the time to do the River all in one shot, but who's to say that we can't do it in stages?

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Kayak4AKure - John and Louis; Black Dog Kayaks - Joel and Mark

You can see more photos of the Kayak4AKure trip at:

http://www.blackdogkayaks.com/

http://www.kayak4akure.org/

http://blog.kayak4akure.com/

SAILS

EPOXY

GEAR