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:
....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.
....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" ;-).
...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!