Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The discussion on kayak-cockpit-design continues...

Keyhole-cockpit of the Valley Qajariaq compared to the ocean-cockpit of the Valley Anas Acuta seakayak.

Last weekend Paul asked me for advise about choosing a new seakayak. High upon his wish-list was a roomy cockpit to get in and out comfortably. This reminded me of a discussion I had with René lately about some of my recent statements on kayak-cockpit-design in this weblog. I think it's a pity to have René's opinion hidden deep in the comment-section. So I quote some parts of our discussion:

René said…
....In my testreports I often ask for smaller cockpits and more perimeterlines (behind) the cockpit; but I am afraid the builders/designers listen first to "signals" from the paddlers asking for easy entrance in the cockpit.
Probably this has something to do with the way the modern, average seapaddler (worldwide) is paddling, avoiding the rough stuff. Probably the modern paddlers have problems with small cockpits because they are also less flexible, less trained and heavier. ;-)
Reading the Norwegian magazine "paddling" this weekend it struck me that they had a good article on surfing and tailorfitting the cockpit of a seakayak for surf conditions. The tailorfitting itself was perfect, just identically to what I am advising about this subject.
The only thing is: why only tailorfitting a kayak for surf?? The better handling with such an improved kayak gives so much more confidence and safety, that the "inconvenience(?)" of a smaller cockpit looks only like a very small price to me.

Hans said…
....About the kayak-cockpits: I love the small ocean-cockpits on my Pintail and Anas Acuta. Of course that's because I like the rough stuff and I am "very flexible, well trained and not heavy" ;-) Nevertheless there are also some kayaks on the market with excellent modern style roomy cockpits that offer perfect control - which have their advantages (in my opinion) also on safety - not only for the "less flexible, less trained and heavier paddlers" ;-).

René said…
...About the cockpits: you are right of course that there are big cockpits with excellent knee-grip. Still I regard the smaller, ocean cockpits as more reliable and practical because:
- Minimal risk for imploding sprayskirts. Of course there are very tight fitting skirts for big cockpits but these require quite a lot of force to close them which is unhandy when you are tired or want to close quickly
- Better view on maps on your cart-table.
- Less risk of dislocating your knees form there position under deck in heavy dumping waves or with laybacks.
- A small cockpit is easier for tailorfitting than a bigger cockpit: important when the fit is not perfect for yourself.
- More perimeter lines along the kayak. For a rescuer it’s easier to grip a rope instead of a slippery cockpit-rim during a x-rescue.
Of course the big cockpits offer much comfort (for instance entering under difficult conditions), but this still does not appeal to me comparing with the safe feeling an ocean cockpit gives to me. I guess that I have seen and experienced too much of the heavy stuff in my kayaking career, for just to trust a big cockpit.
I am serious saying that whenever I need to buy a kayak that has a big cockpit because it’s not available with an ocean cockpit, I am going to close the forward part, rebuilding the big cockpit to an ocean cockpit.
Of course this is a very personal point-of-view.

René gives some solid arguments for the ocean cockpit. I want to add once more, in defence of the keyhole cockpit: a smartly designed keyhole cockpit with good places tigh grips can offer perfect boat control - and there are conditions when an easy and fast access or exit is a safety issue. I have no hesitations in advising someone to go for the keyhole. I even dare to say that most seakayakers are probably better of with a keyhole-cockpit! Especially for the large group of new seakayakers a far way over 50 years old - and I know it's risky to say this, but - you probably buy a new kayak to use it for a long time, perhaps 10 years or more ? - the chance you get more flexible isn't very big...

Personally to this "propagandist of the keyhole-cockpit" ;-) : the latest two seakayaks I bought are outfitted with an ocean-style cockpit... Which was a deliberate decision that I don't regret!

PS: add it to the list of important arguments: a small cockpit looks so sexy on a sleek long kayak!

Lifting the knees: try it with an ocean cockpit!

Taking a nap in a keyhole - cockpit: forget it with the ocean cockpit?

Ok: with some flexibility you can do the same in an ocean-cockpit.


René said...

Good idea of bringing the disccusion about cockpits from commentlevel to the front.

Good arguments for the keyhole cockpit, Hans.

Still, I am not always happy in such a cockpit. Yes of course in nice weather it is very comfortable. But when conditions turn out to be a bit nasty it is difficult for me to twist in a big cockpit for an highbrace to the backside (prevent looping) or do laybacks without slipping my knee out of the gripping position.
I can appreciate the convenience of a big cockpit. But that´s ONLY convenience: Safety is for me a much bigger issue.

But let me finish this discussion by saying that this inconvinience is due to the personal "construction" of my legs with bumpy kneecaps and my legs being not very thick.
A know of some collegue paddlers, being bigger-heavier with longer and thicker legs, that they have no problems at all with the kneegrip in big cockpits, simply because there is no room for the knees to move sideways.

So may be the best advice for kayak-buying-paddlers is to look for a cockpit where they fit in comfortable and where the knee can not slip out of position while doing all kind of strange movements. I guess this will lead to a kind of natural selection between big and lean persons choosing for big or small cockpits.

Jimmy said...

Hello, I just happened upon this topic by chance. I am a paddler from Canada, and the norm here are the keyhole cockpits. I have loooong legs (92cm inseam) and like to have as much room to get them in as possible, expecially during a re-entry (I haven't got my roll yet).

A question for the ocean cockpit lovers...please excuse my ignorance, but how the heck do you get in?? Sit on the back deck, insert legs, and slide forward? What about during a re-entry when stability is more of an issue than at the beach?

I'm not saying one type of cockpit is better than another (because I've never tried an ocean cockpit), I'm just curious. I do know that smaller cockpits are popular on "british-style" or "greenland-style" kayaks, and I can see the benefits of a tighter cockpit.

Gus said...

peeing in a bottle wearing a wetsuit on long trips is easier in a big cockpit :-)

Hans Heupink said...

Hi Jimmy!
It's all a matter of flexibility and balance - re-entering a ocean cockpit shouldn't be a problem.
Gus' operation is always a messy job. Not my favorite. In Dutch: "voorkomen is beter dan genezen" ;-)

Anonymous said...

I regard the small cockpit as a design safety deficiency. I've been paddleing since 1968 and I've seen the trends come and go, but keyhole cockpits are not just more comfortable, but safer, with less chance for entrapment. You may not have to jump out as much in an ocean kayak to scout stuff as folks in creek boats sometimes have to, but sea kayaks still sometimes have to get in and out quickly when launching and making a landing in some conditions. Large cockpits are better for this than small ones.

As far as better fitting - with thighpads, adjustable back bands, and adjustable foot braces/rudder pegs, one usually has all the support one needs to roll a kayak if one learns how to roll in the first place, so a small cockpit is no big advantage today. If you need more sprayskirt implosion protection, you can always fashion an implosion bar. We occasionally did that even with the old small cockpits in the 70's when we were doing hundreds of popups and enders a day while playing around.

One design feature I do like to see is a paddle shaft depression and bungie lacing behind the cockpit to make it easier to "lock" in a paddle and paddle float for self rescues for those who are out of their boats.

I teach beginners how to self rescue with and without paddle floats, so they know they have multiple ways of getting back into the boat, but I also stress how it is almost always better to roll, and to learn how to roll and how it must be practiced on a regular basis if you want to keep it. I liken self rescues as learning how to "go around" (wave off) when learning how to fly. You need to know how to do it safely and be prepared to do one, but beyond practicing one occasionally, all most all the emphasis in flying is on how to land safely and reliably. I try to move on quickly to actual rolls as that is what is preferable to do. Having them pump out a sea kayak a few times is usually enough to give them incentive to learn how to roll.

I'm a grey haired 56 year old fart who is getting stiffer and has had athritus for 26 years, but I paddle 5 miles or more 100-140 days and nights per year to stay in shape. I do sprints when by my self to push myself and 13-18 miles paddles regularly. I see just as many young folks who are as stiff and inflexible as I am and they are hotdog playboaters, boatballers and creekers.

Hans Heupink said...

Hi anonymous!
Thanks for your supplement on the discussion. You find a big supporter in me regarding your opinion that a good design keyhole cockpit is not only a matter of comfort but also a safety issue!

René said...

Yesterday night I tried the cockpits of a Romany S PE and a Cetus, both with the keyhole cockpit.
What a difference between the two:
- In the Romany S I will not trust my knees to stay in the required position without having to think. Actually, they slip out of position whenever you relax a bit.
- In the Cetus the grip for my knees was quite comfortable. Yeah, this cockpit I could trust maybe, I think.

So what´s the lesson: I protest to qualify keyhole cockpits having a safety advantage pursang.
Please add in the description about the safety issue: "unless the keyhole cockpit of a certain kayak fits you well".
So, if the design of the cockpit is OK, this does not always mean that it´s good for you.

Hans Heupink said...

Hi René!
This quote must be very familiar to you ;-) :
"* Test a kayak always yourself before buying it.
* You must feel comfortable in the cockpit; you are the only person to decide how that feels."
Wise words of a well reputated Dutch kayak tester! (www.zeekajak.info). And though a GOOD design keyhole cockpit may fit quit a wide range of kayakers - your advise is essential!

pinkandgeek said...

@Gus - I am about to go on an 11 day trip. A cockpit large enough to pee in a bottle was a big concern :-). This blog is awesome, btw.
Check me out at www.sethdent.com

Ed said...
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Ed said...
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Anonymous said...

I learned long ago, never to get INTO something, I can't get out of in a quick hurry if I need to.

One issue I haven't seen addressed, is those of us who are tall, have a very tough time with small cockpits. Not enough joints in the legs to make it work.