I had an interesting discussion with a kayaker the other day who shared with me a tale of woe that I thought worth sharing. This particular kayaker (lets call him Bob, because Bob is a cool name... you can spell it the same normally or back to front) owns a Hobie Outfitter and until I explained to him the error of his ways, seemed to be wanting to blame the kayak for this incident in question.
Bob had prepared for an early start in alpine waters and upon launching discovered that due to a heavy layer of frost that had blanketed the yak, had to force the tiller handle to unfreeze the rudder lines from the end cap of the rudder line tubes. What he hadn't anticipated (or checked) was that in doing so, the end caps popped out from the tubes. The kayak in question is the Hobie Outfitter, which he was using solo, perched in the rear seat. I already knew what was coming next upon hearing this information, because without the end caps firmly in position the tube ends will not be watertight where they exit the hull.
To make matters hairier, the Outfitter does not have a great deal of freeboard and those rudder lines are relatively close to the waterline at the best of times (note the picture above, with two users of average weight). With approx 100kg weighed into the rear seat without any weight in the front seat (he was going solo), as you might imagine, this unbalances the Outfitter somewhat, pushing the stern down closer to the waterline. Obviously this puts the rudder lines precariously close to the waterline. Consequently, water started to spill in through the unsealed rudder line outlet holes and over the course of a couple of hours, the hull started to take on water. The more water it took on the worse the problem became, as all of this water came to rest at the rear of the yak.
It wasn't until Bob noticed that the bow was poking into the air more than usual and that he was sitting in a puddle that he realized that a problem was developing. With the stern increasingly weighing down into the water propulsion and stability gradually deteriated. Bob seemed to be surprised at this result, but as I informed him at this point in the story, that was always going to be the case. A number of questions had formed in my mind at this stage but I waited to hear the end of the story before asking them.
Bob went on to say that fearing the worst, he picked up the paddle and started paddling as well as pedaling in order to get back to camp as soon as possible. Soon afterwards the kayak tipped over and he ended up in icy cold waters and was unable to get back in. At this point his only option was to swim the kayak to the river bank. Luckily, he said, he was wearing a life jacket. He then explained that he was surprised and disappointed at how the kayak performed with some 20 litres of water banked up in the rear. I'd heard enough at this stage and decided it was time to ask some questions.
Question 1: Did you have a bilge pump?
Question 2: Did you have a bailing bucket or sponge?
Question 3: Did you consider just heading towards the river bank as soon as you discovered a problem?
Question 4: Did you have anything positioned up at the front seat to balance out the kayak?
I then asked him if he always uses the Outfitter solo, to which he replied that yes, these days he does. Originally he had bought it to be used with his sons but they had since moved on and that he now only ever used it solo. Thats when I explained to him that as a tandem kayak he should never expect optimal performance from it when being used solo, and then went on to explain that this was especially true of the Outfitter model, particularly when the user weighs around the 100kg mark. The Outfitter doesn't have a lot of freeboard or weight carrying capacity and because of this, if all of the weight on deck is positioned towards the rear, the stern will always be pushed down towards the waterline.
With some 20 litres of water having breached the hull, this is adding an extra 20kgs of weight that in this scenario, is always going to settle at the rear. Obviously (I would have thought) this is going to off-balance the kayak even more and as such, performance is going to suffer. With the stern weighed down and the bow poking into the air, the boat-length waterline is going to be reduced significantly, resulting in a notable loss of performance in propulsion and stability.
As the conversation continued I suggested that perhaps he should give serious consideration to selling his Outfitter and replacing it with an Outback (for example), which is a similarly styled solo model, which not only has a lot more freeboard, would also provide a much more balanced paddling position for a solo user. While the Outfitter probably was the ideal kayak for his intended usage scenario when he purchased it, since then his usage scenario had changed and that because of this he should really think about changing his kayak to suit.
Of course, I also suggested that he should really think about including a bilge pump, if not bailing sponge or bucket into his load out (regardless of the kayak model in question), particularly if he planned to continue doing solo trips in isolated backcountry alpine waters.
Although it had been a harrowing experience for Bob, he came out OK and is now a little wiser about kayaking safety. There's a bunch of lessons that could be gleaned from this story, most of which have been covered in detail on this website repeatedly. What hasn't been covered at great lengths, however, is the truism that while you can get away with using most tandem kayaks solo, they are infact designed to be used with two users. If you find yourself with a tandem kayak that is only being used by yourself, it's high time you think about selling off or trading in the tandem and getting into a more suitable solo model. It'll be easier to manage both on and off the water and your user experience will be that much better for it.