Mark 1 Folding Kayak My Choice for Arctic Solo Expedition Paddling

Gail Ferris

The Mark 1 folding single kayak is my choice for Arctic solo expedition paddling.  The risks are narrow but this kayak is the best for me. 

Just by chance in 1999 while visiting a dear friend another arctic expedition paddler to help him plan his trip on the Back River, I asked him if he knew Dieter Stiller.  To my utter amazement my friend not only knew Dieter but indeed my friend had just seen him that very day selling folding kayaks at the Small Boat Shop boat show in Greenwich.

Dieter Stiller sold Kleppers in NYC for many years.  He sold me a Klepper and most amazing of all, with Dieter selling Kleppers was not just a job it was a passion.  First and foremost Dieter wanted to know what was I buying a Klepper for and so, I told him that this was to be used on my first trip in the Arctic at Pond Inlet 

I prodded Dieter with my incessant questions as what might he know about the area, Pond Inlet.  I asked him if he knew anybody who had been there and what was it like I found that I became a member of the family when I bought my folding kayak.  He nurtured my intense desire to use these kayaks to explore the Arctic.  I always found that talking with Dieter in person seemed to electrify me to once again go on another quest in the Arctic.

I had for years used a Klepper Aerius I expedition for my solo arctic explorations because at the time this was the only boat which had a wood frame and inflatable sponsons in the hull making it easy to assemble and disassemble in cold conditions.   However there were major drawbacks with the Klepper both in design and materials. 

On a cold February afternoon in 2001, I attended the Small Boat Shop boat show in Greenwich to have a chat with my old friend Dieter and to see this new folding kayak made in the US.

I anxiously rushed into the show paying the entry fee and ignoring all else but where to find Dieter.  I was on a mission.  I thought to myself, “Who cares about all those other kayaks:  For me it has to be a folding kayak for expeditions”.

And there was Dieter once again as always selling kayaks only this time he was selling the new folding kayak, the Mark 1I and merely displaying the Klepper. 

Hardly had I said hello to Dieter when he instantly said to me “Gail this is your new kayak for your next expedition”. That was it, and I knew it.  My choice for the Mark 1 folding single kayak came immediately.  All I had to wait for was for Mark Eckhart the designer and builder to design a single for me. 

I thought to myself how wonderful to have a kayak designed and built by a company here in the US.  If I have a problem or question I can talk with the designer directly.  How well I knew the impossibilities of ever getting anything changed or improved on the Klepper, much less even being listened to, by the manufacturer in Austria.

Dieter went through all the specifications of the Mark 1I comparing it to the Klepper.  Every drawback or problem with the Klepper had been addressed and solved in the best way possible.  But best of all if I had a specific problem I could just call  Mark Eckhart , Long Haul Products, 1685-2075 Drive, Cedaredge, CO 81413 Voice: 970 856 3662  Fax: 970 856 3663

I spent most of the afternoon with Dieter talking about the details of the Mark 1.  In my mind I had a complete list and was planning my next expedition back to the cold waters among the icebergs of Upernavik again, another epic adventure.  It was going to be another solo expedition and I wanted to be sure of my boat.

We looked over in great detail every aspect of the Mark 1, indeed every aspect of the kayak was planned for open water expedition situations where anything not designed well would break and anything not attached would become lost some time or another.  Mark had worked for over a decade repairing Kleppers he had heard every story and seen every possible breakage and failure. 

The Mark 1 is 15 feet 10 inches long being 10 inches longer than the Klepper Aerius I.  This was music to my ears because I had felt the Klepper was too short a boat for the load I usually carried making the boat sluggish and plow water.  I looked forward to experiencing this longer hull.  Mark added equally onto both bow and stern to retain the same balance to the hull.  When I paddled the kayak I found it moved elegantly and more efficiently through the water in open water conditions, however I do not know how this boat might perform in whitewater.

The overall design of the Mark 1 is the same as the Klepper with its primary and secondary stability hulls in one hull created by the sponsons, but finer ends.  This makes for a faster hull but with more stability in heavy seas.  I knew from experience in Arctic Bay that this hull shape is excellent for most situations even unpredictable catabatic wind situations.

In 2003 I bought the Mark 1 folding single kayak for my solo expedition in the Upernavik area of Greenland in 2003.  I ordered a red deck with black hull, expedition spray skirt:  I had Mark add extra tie down loops on the deck for securing sail rig or a kite and or firearm.  At Dieter Stiller’s suggestion I always take an alternative form of propulsion.  I take a shotgun to those areas of Canada Nunavut where a firearm is required for polar bear protection.  These items have to be readily accessible from the bow deck by the paddler while underway.

I had Mark Eckhart use my preference of black nylon D rings rather than SS rings on the deck to save weight and eliminate the glinting brightness of stainless steel, which might alarm animals.

I also had Mark add more bungie line on the rear deck for my solar panel and on the front deck to hold my maps and other things like GPS.  If I had been dealing with Klepper such requests would have been impossible.

With a skin boat of this type I can adjust the roundness of the hull by adding an air mattress beneath the floorboards if necessary and stiffen the hull by inflating the air sponsons more fully.

The air sponsons were made of much better urethane-coated nylon.  The sponsons can be fitted inflated by the paddler in the cockpit because they have with 24 inch long inflation tubes with twist close Roberts valves commonly used on flotation bags.  The sponsons have Velcro attachments to attach the sponson to the end of the tube in the hull so that they will not shift or reposition themselves during assembling the hull. 

The tubes for holding the sponsons were highest quality fabric hemmed and stitched, whereas with my brand new Klepper the sponson tubes became damaged the first time I installed the frame into the hull skin.

The hardware was redesigned of stainless steel bayonet fittings secured with lanyarded spring cotter pin clips.  The choices of metals Mark uses are will not corrode in salt water.  I was never pleased with the Klepper spring loaded clips of pot metal because when any of the many springs failed the fitting was broke and there was always corrosion taking place in aluminum based pot metal in salt water.  I had seen that happen and replacing those parts is not all the easy. 

The stitching on the deck was much sturdier and the grab loops with comfortable diameter wood handles were designed to carry the boat loaded.  I know we did this in Kangersuatsiaq Greenland.  The moment I landed the whole town was there to greet me.  As soon as I got out of my kayak and retrieved a few items the guys came down and picked up my kayak and carried it to a grassy spot a couple hundred yards away.  Believe me I was glad to know from Mark that he had specifically designed those grab loops to withstand that kind of stress.

The frame was the same high quality varnished birch ply and ash wood as the Klepper.  The bow and stern is much easier to assemble being like the Foldboat.  The cockpit rim is carefully designed to be much stronger than the Klepper.

The design of the two-piece expedition spray skirt is excellent.  I knew I wanted the spray skirt to tuck under the coaming and wear the inner spray skirt on my waist making the spray skirt similar to the spray skirt on a fiberglass kaayk.  I found it easy to install on the coaming and wear the inner sprayskirt.  Both parts attached very firmly to withstand waves on the deck.  I always have in mind that when I get on the water I never know exactly when I may be able to get off the water. 

I knew the seas in Upernavik from past paddles in my Klepper.  This time in Upernavik I got on the water with a 15-knot wind and following sea of three to four foot waves so with this sea condition there really were no places to get off the water for many miles.  I knew it and felt very confident in this spray skirt design because Mark and I had discussed this specific design in terms of how easy it would be to install and what seas it could handle.

At Upernavik on my journey south with following seas the motor boaters advised me not to take the outside exposed route.  I can tell you that when I set off from Upernavik the boaters told me you don’t want to take the outside it is too rough. 

I knew my kayak was well designed to handle this condition I choose the outside route.  I wanted to enjoy the free ride I would get from the following seas and wind.  I knew the Mark 1 was designed with its longer waterline, hybrid rudder and expedition spray skirt to handle these waves.  Nothing like a good ride in the waves in an absolutely comfortable boat, I made 25 miles the first day in total comfort.  The waves bunched up in the restrictions between the islands, which made me perk up and take notice.  I put my camera away and closed up my spray skirt.  It was time to experience my kayak showing her colors.

After a long open stretch as I was padding between a couple islands I had one moment when a large wave grabbed me.  I felt the kayak rear up on a steep angle lunging down the face of the wave.  I felt the kayak going for a pearl or going for an ender.  From all my years of paddling both open water and whitewater slalom I instinctively I leaned out on my flattened paddle in a low brace toward the oncoming wave.  My kayak responded nicely by slowing down to let the rip snorting wave pass under my hull.  That was a little touchy moment.  The waves had built up with just enough momentum to make things a little too interesting. 

For a motorboat this would have been a very threatening situation because the wave would have possibly breached the transom.  I knew the motor boaters would not want to be out in these following seas, but this kayak, the Mark 1, is built for just such seas.  Indeed she was showing her colors.

Earlier in the journey when chaotic following seas began building and I could feel the need for more helm control I readjusted my rudder depth to give me more grab, I really didn’t want to go for a broach.  The rudder adjusted perfectly smoothly while all was chaos around me.  I thought to myself “Nothing like a good rudder”. 

This was my first kayak with through deck loading port hatches.  I was concerned about the safety of the design because any failure of one of these ports would be disaster.  I talked with Mark Eckert about the ports’ design.  He told me that these deck ports are both sewn and glued into the fabric to make them as secure and watertight as possible.  The ports have an inner waterproof fold over Velcro closing seal as is used on drybags and the outer hatch covers are carefully constructed with edges to fit firmly over the ports complete with nylon strap lanyards to prevent their possible loss of these hatch covers.

Everything about this kayak the Mark 1 is designed to take into account that on an expedition conditions are rough and to reduce the possibility of loss of any fitting should it be even a simple clip.  The deck from bow to stern has a lifeline standard issue. So should the ultimate happen with the paddler going out of the kayak into the water the paddler can just grab the kayak anywhere along the deck.

The new Mark 1 had the manufacturer install the loading ports in bow and stern on the port side.  I was so glad to have the option of choosing which side or alternate sides to position the loading ports. 

I know my habits and loading hatches on the port side of the deck are best for me.  This comes from my being right handed and bringing the boat bow up on the beach.

Loading the kayak through these ports was a dream.  It was so much easier and I could not just adjust and reposition the load but micro-adjust the load.  All the dry bags standard 6 inch diameter bags fed through the ports perfectly so easily and quickly that I almost became dizzy because loading was too fast and too easy.  I remembered the horrible project of loading a Klepper and better yet the exhaustion of unloading a Klepper.  Logistics 101 perish the thought and then how do you reposition various things that are just beyond your reach, so there you are scrabbling away standing on your head in the cockpit and you also have to take off the entire sprayskirt to even begin to reach the load in the bow and stern sheets.

One major reason why I did not want a kayak with aluminum tubular frame was that an aluminum frame can become impossible to break down because the build up of aluminum oxide within the telescoping fittings making them impossible to slide apart.  Also aluminum tubing may be subject to catastrophic fatigue failure.  Tubular framing is much more difficult to repair than wood.  With my Mark 1, I had not been planning on flat freshwater paddling.

I was pleased to talk with Mark and to learn that the hull skin was best quality Hypalon with complete keel strips installed by the manufacturer.  I fully tested the keel stripping on granite in Greenland the stripping saved the hull from slashes and gouges.  In the Arctic, on a once in a life expedition, having a damaged hull is grim thought.

I had a moment in Upernavik Icefjord when a chunk of ice dissolved free from the base of a bergie bit and erupted the surface just off my port side.  I had no possible chance to avoid this 2 x 3 foot bit of solid sharply jagged bit.  Luckily I was not directly above this piece of ice as it surfaced.  The ice did not touch my hull but the sight of its knife sharp-fingered edges could rip a hole in a kayak hull. The ice slamming to the surface could have upset a kayak and I was glad that this kayak has especially high secondary stability.

When paddling among icebergs all sorts of very threatening possibilities are always lurking.  The possibilities can range from entrapment among the ice as it closes around you to large steep waves coming from a catastrophic collapse of a berg forcing you to surf to survive.  I chose the Mark 1 because it offers the best margin of safety through its design and materials.

The seat was adjustable with an adjustable aircushion on the bottom and a foam back solid plywood back and base much more comfortable than the Klepper.  The seat was so much more comfortable than any other kayak I have ever used, that I found myself paddling for 10 to 12 hours a day in complete comfort

At the boat show, I looked at the rudder and then by phone talked extensively with Mark about its unique design.  This standard rudder for the Mark 1 was designed to be much more versatile and efficient as a hybrid between a barndoor and a sailing rudder.  The rudder is 2 inches longer than the Klepper barndoor rudder.

I was assured that it would be perfect for paddling and I found out the rudder certainly was.  The rudder was just as effective in following seas and chaos with less frictional resistance, so it handled the seas very well without slowing the boat down nearly as much as the barndoor on the Klepper would have.

The depth of the rudder was easily and smoothly adjustable from within the cockpit even in serious wind and chaos.  This was very important to me.  Fiddling with an uncooperative rudder that won’t drop in big waves is not for me.

I inadvertently wound up testing the rudder to its fullest.  I was feeling a little like taking on the world the water and wind didn’t seem all that bad at first but then I wound up paddling in a very nasty wind and sea it was a 25 knot broadside situation so you can imagine the seas as well.  I got to the point where all I could do was paddle in place.  I had to turn around.

In 25 knot seas and wind with that rudder I was able to maintain the bow, reverse direction when I found I was beat, head back down broadside to the wind, turn around and head into the wind in a good 25 knots of wind.  I was only able to propel the boat using my maximum strength output in these conditions and if the rudder had not worked I would have been become exhausted and completely helpless.

In these conditions I was using a 150 mm Werner Wenatchee whitewater paddle, which has a large blade, so I had plenty of paddle blade to propel the boat with.

For serious expeditions in arctic this is my choice Gail Ferris, 1 203 481 4539 contact me with any questions you have about the Mark 1 or solo arctic expedition paddling, thanks. 1 18 04

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