Florida couple hit the road with Sea Eagle’s 437ps Paddleski™.
Ask Marc Gelbke and Leslie Pedreira how they’re doing these days and they’ll tell you they are “living the life” – the RV life that is. The fun-loving yet focused couple sold their traditional style home in Clermont Florida nearly three years ago and went all-in on the RV lifestyle hoping it would better suit their thirst for adventure and love of exploring. By all appearances, it seems to have been a smart decision. Especially once they got their hands on a Sea Eagle 437ps Paddleski™ Inflatable Catamaran Boat.
“Going full-time RV (recreational vehicle) has been a great choice for us,” explains Leslie, a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in her early 50’s. “We already owned a small Class C RV motorhome, and we went camping a lot, so we knew this was a way of life we would probably enjoy.”
“The RV world suits us just fine,” agrees Marc, 52, who works in Asset Management. “We found homeownership to be expensive and neither of us looked forward to weekends of non-stop yardwork. Now, any day we want can start our next adventure. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Their first two years of full-time RVing were spent moving around every three weeks or so, checking out different campgrounds, resorts, parks, etc. Eventually, they came upon a place in Titusville, Florida, called The Great Outdoors (TGO). “It’s an RV resort where you own your site instead of renting it,” explains Marc. “We purchased a beautiful spot on a small lake that’s now our home base. When we don’t want to travel, this is where we stay put.”
As you might have guessed, central to Marc and Leslie’s idea of outdoor fun is being around the water. The couple, who have been together nearly 12 years, enjoy freshwater bass fishing, lazy river floats and checking out pristine springs. Most recently, they discovered the beauty, fish and wildlife of the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) and its mix of brackish and saltwater environments only 30 minutes from their RV site. Luckily, a You-Tube video by Kayak Cliff turned them on to the Sea Eagle 437ps Paddleski™ Inflatable Catamaran Boat – the perfect venue for expanding their outdoors horizons even further.
“Although we both like to kayak, we had some specific points in mind when it came to buying a means to spend more time on the water,” continues Marc. “We wanted something versatile, rugged and easily portable that would fit in our RV for longer trips, or in our SUV for local adventures. It had to be big enough to accommodate the two of us and our gear. It also needed to be exceptionally stable. After watching that video, which also highlighted motor options, it wasn’t long before we were on board with the Sea Eagle Paddleski™. We pretty much ended up with the whole package, including a Suzuki 2.5 hp motor that can push us at up to 10 mph, a 54-lb. thrust Watersnake® trolling motor for when we want to fish, slow down or just poke around, an electric air pump to easily inflate our boat, and a Sun and Rain Canopy.”
The couple also grabbed a Sea Eagle® EZ-Cart™ to easily transport their vehicle to the water’s edge. “Yeah, we pretty much ended up with everything you can put on that boat in terms of equipment, but we use it in every way. It’s really been worth the investment in our case,” adds Leslie. “We love that we can enjoy it as an inflatable kayak, inflatable boat or even an inflatable paddle board – it’s just so versatile.”
Indeed, Marc and Leslie enjoy fishing for largemouth bass and their Sea Eagle Paddleski™ covers their sweetwater options quickly enough that they can hit unpressured waters far from the dock. It also has a shallow draft enabling them to reach areas that are out of bounds for larger, heavier craft. On larger waters, like the ICW, the stability and dry ride allows them to explore open water, push up on the flats and get in tight to mangrove patches, docks, bridges and additional structure where redfish, snook, sea trout, sheepshead and other hard-fighting, tasty treats await their lures and baits. With paddling and the trolling motor, the couple might cover five to eight miles in a day. With their gas-efficient 2.5 hp, they’ll sometimes roam twice that distance.
“I use the Paddleski™ pretty much every day I’m off,” reveals Marc, “mostly for fishing but for a lot of adventures, too. We enjoy simple kayaking and cruising as much as casting for trophies. I even bought an SUP paddle and now I paddleboard from it as well. We especially enjoy going out on Florida’s pristine freshwater springs, and we recently completed a 12-day trip to stunning Devils Fork State Park in South Carolina – our first out of state experience with the Paddleski™. Later this summer, we are headed for Silver Springs in Ocala, Florida, and that’s going to be a pure kayaking trip on the Withlacoochee and Rainbow rivers. We’ll paddle and use our electric trolling motor on that adventure. No fishing, just plenty of relaxing and exploring.”
The world’s most versatile inflatable watercraft, the Paddleski’s unique 4-in-1 hull design allows it to be used as a kayak, paddleboard, fishing boat or cruising platform. Supported by five chambers (two port, two starboard and floor), it’s 1000 Denier inflatable tubes and a drop-stitch 1000 Denier reinforced floor ensure it’s rugged as can be and stable enough to allow stand-up casting and paddling, a bump against the rocks or even a few pokes from tree branches. With a 14’ 4” length, 4’ beam and load capacity of two people or 855 lbs., there’s no need to leave any gear behind whether camping, fishing, touring or sailing. Using a Sea Eagle EZ-Cart makes rolling it to and from the water a simple task.
Weighing just 68 pounds, including the detachable transom, the Sea Eagle Paddleski™ folds into a neat 36” x 21” by 12” package that takes only ten minutes to inflate with an electric pump. Rig it to the nines with helpful options including Scotty® Fishing accessories, up to a 6-HP gas engine that can run at 16 mph, and a trolling motor (up to 70 lbs. thrust) to quietly slip into casting range without spooking the big ones. In addition to the optional Sun & Rain Canopy, there’s even a Sun/Rain Solar Canopy. Using a Sea Eagle EZ-Cart makes rolling Paddleski™ to and from the water a simple task.
That South Carolina trip was the first time Leslie and Marc stored their Paddleski™ in their RV storage space. “It fit perfectly,” noted Leslie. “we cleared out one compartment and packed everything inside – motor, boat, seats, transom and two-piece paddles. The boat was deflated, of course, and the transom detached, but it all went in and came out nice and easy. People with larger RVs that have slide out trays can easily fit a Paddleski™ without removing the transom. Normally, if we’re just heading to a nearby spot, we leave the transom on, roll the Paddleski™ up and put it in the back of our SUV.
In terms of performance, both Marc and Leslie agree their Sea Eagle Paddleski™, which they’ve named “Ducky,” has exceeded expectations. “It’s tough, quick, smooth-riding and able to get us where we want to go at whatever pace we choose,” says Leslie. “We feel both comfortable and safe whenever we push off the shore.”
“I stand in it, fish in it, and control the trolling motor with foot pedals,” adds Marc. “We also love its self-bailing design. Who wouldn’t? Pull it out of the water and it’s dry as a bone. Just wipe it down, pack it up and head for home or, in our case, the RV.”
What lies ahead for Marc and Leslie in terms of the RV lifestyle and their love of being outdoors and on the water? “Well, we’ve been sharing our experiences on YouTube, hoping people will take a virtual ride with us as we go exploring, review new products, strive for adventure and discover great places to visit,” states Marc.
From Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge to Florida’s Withlacoochee River, Sea Eagle’s inflatable TC16 helps outdoor fans make the most of every trip.
By Tom Schlichter
Ask Clif Edwards his ideas about being on the water and he’ll tell you that since 1988 he has considered himself a canoe kind of guy, paddling a variety of traditional canoes. In 2018, however, his dad convinced him to give the Sea Eagle TC16 a try after seeing it in a catalog.
Although skeptical of an inflatable canoe and its claims of great performance, versatility and durability, the thought of not needing to hoist it onto a van-top roof rack – where it would suffer UV damage and reduce gas mileage during transport – certainly piqued his interest. The lack of storage issues when the canoe was not in use, along with eliminating the risk for back strain when loading the canoe, also helped sell him on the idea. It didn’t take long before his experiences with the TC16 made him a convert.
“The first time I paddled in Class III whitewater was in my TC16 on the Green River in Wyoming and it performed superbly, as it also did on a whitewater stretch of the Chattooga River in South Carolina. Another time, on a beautiful Father’s Day, Darlene and I were paddling the Flaming Gorge of Wyoming when a sudden wind event put us in dire straits. I was glad I had put the removable skeg on and we rode the wind event out without capsizing. The TC16 proved very seaworthy in the white-capped waves,” says the 67-year-old former Park Ranger who served in three marine wilderness parks.
As to the versatility of the TC16, Clif certainly has put it to the test. “I have no regrets,” he states. “I’ve solo canoe-camped out of it, camped out of it for multiple nights with my partner, Darlene Staudacher, and day paddled with three aboard. Personally, I like the inflatable seats over the web seats as they provide different seating positions,” he adds. “That’s a nice touch when you are paddling 19 miles over a 7-hour period.”
Indeed, paddling has been a family affair for Clif and 61-year-old Darlene, a retired law enforcement officer, daughter Tiffany Wright, 40, who recently retired from the Coast Guard, and granddaughter Skyler Wright, 14. Darlene and Tiffany are big fans, while Skyler is still learning the ropes. Just last year, the trio embarked on a three-generation, 15-mile paddle down Florida’s meandering Withlacoochee River and things couldn’t have gone better.
“It was just a lot of fun making memories with my granddaughter and daughter,” recalls Darlene. Tiffany agreed the trip turned out great, noting they spotted several alligators and other wildlife along the way. “It was just something we wanted to do together. I’m so glad the Sea Eagle helped make it happen,” she says enthusiastically.
“There really is plenty to like about this canoe,” says Clif. “Being an inflatable, the TC16 is lightweight at just 65 pounds. It fits easily in the trunk of a small car – or what we call the ‘garage area’ of our van. It is fast enough, too, allowing average sustained paddling speeds of 3-4 mph, and it’s easy to maneuver. We find inflating the hull and getting it ready takes about 15 minutes. That may be slightly more than with a traditional canoe, but you won’t injure your back by putting it on the roof, taking it off, or carrying it to the water’s edge and back. Overall, the Sea Eagle TC16 is both affordable and a great fit for our outdoor lifestyle. As for backing their product, I’ve been very impressed with the company. Any issues we’ve had along the way, Sea Eagle has made it right with 100% satisfaction.”
Available in both two- and three-person configurations, the fully inflated Sea Eagle Travel Canoe 16 measures 16’ long, 38” wide (at center), and 20” deep at its highest points. With a max load capacity of 915 lbs., it’s spacious and packs down to a mere 40” x 24” x 16” rectangle that fits into its own bag for easy storage and transport.
Completely buoyant and unsinkable, the TC16 is also easy to upright and re-enter from the water, and 33% lighter than comparable canoes. Far more stable than traditional canoes (you can actually stand in it), it’s designed with a bow that slices through the water and a body that features a full-length flat-planing surface area for extra speed. A full-length double-chine system and removable rear skeg enhance tracking and increase stability while the 3-inch-thick high-pressure, patented All Drop Stitch Constructed gunwales and floor provide amazing stability. Three separate air chambers further ensure safety as reflected by The TC16’s Class IV whitewater rafting.
It’s hard to find more beautiful water than what you’ll see while paddling in Rainbow Springs State Park. Photo courtesy of Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon, FL.
“Skyler, Darlene and I can vouch for the TC16’s easy re-entry from the water,” states Clif. “When Skyler was 11, the three of us intentionally tipped over the canoe on Florida’s Rainbow River. I can tell you that self-rescue in that canoe is much easier than in a traditional rigid hull. We found it lighter, easier to flip back over, drain and climb back aboard than is the case with conventional canoes.”
On their most recent trip, Clif and Darlene took a paddle with another set of Sea Eagle fans. Putting in near White Springs at Steven Foster State Park, the couples worked their way to Suwannee River State Park. “When we first met,” explains Darlene, “we started to justify to them why we had an inflatable canoe, but they interrupted us to say they had a Sea Eagle kayak and loved it. Since then, we’ve been on three paddling trips together. I can’t wait to plan the next one.”
Regular readers of our Sea Eagle Blog know how good it makes us feel to see people having a great time in any of our inflatable kayaks. The only thing better, from our point of view, is when our products double as a way of improving the world in which we live. That’s exactly why we’re so intrigued by the work of Richard Storey and his use of the Sea Eagle 330, our lightest, most portable kayak. Weighing just 26 pounds, it’s rugged, holds two people or 500 lbs., and is easily carried and paddled by a single person.
“Those are the parameters that make it so valuable to my efforts on the lakes of Pokhara Valley, Nepal,” says Storey. “I’m a freshwater ecologist, and most of my work in the past had centered on the water quality and invertebrates (insects, snails, crustaceans, etc.) of streams and rivers. I’ve done studies on the basic ecology of these creatures, but also, more practically, on how people can use them along with other measures of water quality, and the surrounding physical habitat, to assess the health of specific streams and rivers.”
In recent years, Storey, 51, worked for a government research institute providing science mostly for water resource managers, but he’s also developed some tools for “citizen scientists” (farmers, school groups, environmental care groups) to monitor their own streams. Most of his effort took place in his native New Zealand, but his work and education have also taken him to faraway places.
“I did my graduate studies at University of Toronto in Canada, and after that worked for two years with a conservation group called A Rocha in Lebanon,” reveals Storey. “Now I’m working in Nepal, a country in South Asia nestled between China and India. It’s a beautiful place, lying along the southern slopes of the Himalayan Mountains. Catching the monsoon rains coming up from India, it has some amazing lakes.”
Arriving in Nepal about two-and-a-half years ago, his wife and two kids in tow, Storey had been invited to help start a new university, but his plans changed a bit with arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic and he ended up joining Kathmandu University as a postdoctoral fellow. “Things have worked out quite well, overall,” says Storey. “I live in a town called Pokhara, in a beautiful valley below the Annapurna mountain range, which has some peaks topping out at over 8,000 meters. There are nine lakes in the valley, the largest being 1,000-acre Phewa Lake, which is a big tourist attraction for Nepal, and also a source of fish for many local residents. An amazing number of flora and fauna make their home in and around these waters,” continues Storey, “including over 40 species of water birds, and possibly two species of otter. The high biodiversity and other natural values here are widely recognized, and protected under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.”
Although the lakes are highly valuable to their surrounding communities and are protected to a degree by the government, they are all slowly degrading due to silt washing down from the hillsides, excess nutrients coming from expanding urban areas, and various other human disturbances, explains the ecologist. Wise use and good management of the lakes really needs to start with monitoring of the water quality, he states, which provides baseline data from which resource managers can come to a better understanding of how healthy each lake is, and whether it’s getting better or worse.
“Unfortunately, water quality monitoring takes a lot of time and resources, which our local institutions don’t have,” points out Storey. “That makes it unlikely there will ever be a more traditional type of lake monitoring system administered here, which is why I’ve focused on developing a system that uses satellite images of the lakes to monitor their water quality. Once the software is up and running, it should be easy for water resource managers to check the water quality of any lake in our survey. But to start with, we need lots of water quality measurements from each lake to match up with the photos. The end goal is to be able to convert the information in satellite photos to estimates of water quality, based on field measurements we’ve matched to them, to get a better feel for the health of the waters being studied both now and in the future.”
To that end, Storey visits seven local lakes once every 10 – 15 days to collect water samples. The timing matches with when the Copernicus Sentinel 2 satellite passes over Nepal, which is once every five days. “We mainly measure water clarity, total suspended solids, water temperature and chlorophyll-a (a measure of how much algae are in the water.)” clarifies Storey. “These are things we can match directly with the satellite photos, and they relate to the main environmental pressures on the lakes such as silt from the hillsides turning the water brown, nutrients turning the lakes green with algae, and climate change raising the water temperature.”
Storey says he and his Masters student are halfway through the water sample collection at this point. They have samples from spring and monsoon season but still need to collect post-monsoon and winter samples. After that, they will match-up the corresponding satellite photos and build equations that can calculate suspended solids, temperature and chlorophyll from future satellite photos. “Sadly, the data we’ve gathered so far shows the lakes are becoming browner (more silt), greener (more algae), and warmer than they were a few years ago – but we expect to get more precise than that with our modelling.”
According to Storey, his Sea Eagle 330 has been a big help with this project. “It’s lightweight and small enough to fit into a backpack I can wear while I’m riding my scooter,” he said. “It’s also super-easy to inflate. From the time I arrive at a lake, I can be on the water in under 10 minutes – and it’s just as fast to pack up after I get back to shore. I have seven lakes to visit each day in the field, with a total travelling distance of over 50 km, and I can do that (just barely) using my scooter and Sea Eagle kayak. The only thing that slows me down is that every time I unpack it, local people gather around, ask lots of questions, and sometimes want to go for a paddle in my boat! It’s fun to chat, and occasionally I take kids for a ride, but I also have to keep moving.”
Storey adds that the Sea Eagle 330 sports a great design, noting the open floor features of the Sea Eagle’s inflatable I-beam construction and has plenty of space for his gear. He also appreciates that it is exceptionally stable on the water, so there’s no risk of losing any equipment overboard. Built for two, the 11’ 2” vessel has plenty of room for an assistant when needed. “So far it’s holding up well,” he concludes.
When this project is finished, Storey hopes to leave the people of Nepal with a tool that can be easily used to check water quality on the lakes surveyed to see if they are improving or getting worse over time. With that kind of reliable scientific knowledge, he believes, they should be able to make better decisions about how to care for the lakes. “Once we’ve developed this tool for the local lakes in Pokhara Valley, I hope we can extend it to monitor Nepal’s high-altitude lakes. Those are very sensitive to climate change, and they are also difficult to reach for traditional water monitoring. This tool could be especially useful for monitoring how they are coping with a fast-changing environment.”
With a lot of hard work, and a little luck, Storey thinks he can have all the loose ends wrapped-up within a few months. “I’d love to stay longer,” he reveals. “My family and I really enjoy it here, and our kids are picking up the language which makes it even more fun. That said, my daughter is nearly ready for high school, so we’d like to head back home by the end of 2023. By then, the lake monitoring system should be finished, but I may have to hand over some other projects.”
Currently, Storey is looking for corporate sponsors to help the water quality program continue to grow, and to start new projects such as using eDNA to see if otters still exist around the lakes. “With a small amount of funding we would be able to collect many more samples, involve local students who could develop these studies further, communicate our findings to government and local residents, and extend the program to other lakes in Nepal. For the people of the region, and its vibrant lakes, a little bit of backing for these projects could make a meaningful positive difference down the line.”
It really doesn’t sound like much of an effort, to hear Bob Luce explain it, but the humble 76-year-old retired IT specialist is quietly making a big difference in his little corner of the planet. Luce, you see, loves to paddle the freshwater rivers that roll through Tampa Bay, FL, and he silently cleans up the waterways from his Sea Eagle 300x Explorer while enjoying the sights and wildlife that abound along its flow.
“I’m not one to challenge whitewater rapids or crazy currents,” says Luce. “For me, kayaking is a way to relax and get close to nature. I see all sorts of flora and fauna when I head out on my Sea Eagles. There are many species of waterfowl and birds like egrets, pelicans, black-bellied whistling ducks, wood stalks, roseate spoonbill and diving anhinga. Plenty of other creatures cross my bow as well, including a variety of turtle species, frogs and alligators – some topping eight feet in length.”
A photo buff at heart, Luce is always looking for his next great wildlife shot. The problem, he says, is that he’s also framing a lot of garbage floating on the water and littering the banks in some of the captures he takes. “There’s enough trash along my favorite stretches of river that it seriously detracts from the experience,” he laments. “Rather than complain about it, I just clean it up. That’s how I got into kayaking.”
Originally, Luce viewed most of his river corridor wildlife from shore. It was in 2011, he says, that he started picking up litter along the shoreline of a small creek that ran behind his Tampa Bay townhouse, and from the Hillsborough River around Temple Crest Park. As he began removing more and more trash from the riverbanks, he soon realized he needed a way to both haul the debris and gather more of it from areas he couldn’t access by foot.
“I couldn’t believe how much trash was in the water in what could be beautiful places,” he recalls. “I figured the city, county or state would clean it up at some point, but some of that stuff was decades old. No one was taking responsibility for picking it up, so I decided to do it myself.”
Investing in a pair of chest waders, litter grabbers and 18- and 42-gallon garbage bags helped Luce reach and remove more junk but came with an assortment of pitfalls. “I couldn’t carry everything I could gather, and there were drop-offs in the river where I might flood my waders,” he explains. “Then there were the alligators. It’s not a good idea to be in the water with them, especially if Momma suspects you are intruding on her nest.”
Eventually, Luce added a 16-foot extendable pool pole to his clean-up arsenal, but it still wasn’t long enough to reach all the litter he wanted to grab. That’s when he decided to give kayaking a try. “I’ve had tremendous success with Sea Eagle inflatable kayaks,” he says. “In fact, several different models have served me well over the years. Each was chosen for its toughness, the amount of trash it could transport, and the degree of maneuverability I needed during the time of its use. Being lightweight, easy to inflate and relatively inexpensive were also big selling points, as was the ability to smoothly and quietly approach wildlife on the rivers while creating as little disturbance as possible.”
Luce began his prospecting with a two-person, 11’ 2”, 500-pound capacity Sea Eagle SE330. From there, he stepped up to the three-person, 12’ 6”, 635-pound capacity FastTrack™ 385ft. Next came the Explorer 380x, a three-person inflatable with an impressive maximum load capacity of 750 pounds. Recently, he stepped back down to a one-person, 9’ 10” Explorer 300x with a 395-pound load capacity.
“I liked that Sea Eagle kayaks are built tough and feature three or four air chambers depending on the model,” continues Luce. “Their stability, 1000 Denier reinforced material, and the removeable high pressure drop-stitch floor on some models, also add to their overall performance. For me, though, the toughness, multiple chambers and load capacity have been key since I haul a lot of junk and frequently push up against shorelines with broken branches, cypress knees and who knows what sharp-edge debris might be lurking in the shallow water.”
Once, Luce stepped into his FastTrack 385ft without knowing a shard of glass was stuck in the bottom of his boot. He punctured the floor on that vessel but was impressed that, with three separate air chambers, he had no problem paddling back to the launch ramp even with a heavy boatload of trash. “I patched that kayak and it was ready go again almost immediately,” he says with a chuckle.
Overall, the ability of the 380x to carry a lot of gear and haul a load of trash made it Luce’s favorite overall Sea Eagle inflatable choice, but as he became more enthralled with photographing alligators, he decided to trade the extra load capacity for the additional speed and extra maneuverability afforded by the 300x.
“I needed something that could back up and get me out of trouble quickly if I was going to be taking more photos of the big reptiles,” he explains. “It’s important to keep a safe buffer between you and the creatures but even then, you’ll sometimes want to get out of Dodge should a ‘gator seem overly annoyed or aggressive. The 300x responds quickly to your paddle strokes, turns on a dime, and still has ample load capacity. I pile on my litter grabbers, extendable pool pole, tubs and bags for the junk I gather, and also carry a cooler with water and something to eat, plus my camera gear. Sometimes, as I paddle home, it’s hard to see over all the trash I pile onto that ‘yak.”
The types of trash Luce has gathered from Tampa Bay’s river systems over the years is extensive. Most surprising, he reveals, was the loaded pistol he found and turned over to the police. Other items include television sets, shopping carts, tires, discarded electronic equipment and fire extinguishers. The most common articles include plastic water bottles, plastic bags, beer cans, Styrofoam, and all kinds like paper plates, cups and packaging. He’s never actually weighed a haul of trash removed from the rivers, but does suspect his heaviest included several large trash bags of trash plus three car tires balanced on his bow.
“People see me cleaning up the shoreline and sometimes offer to help, but I prefer to work alone,” reveals Luce. “It gets two chatty to capture good wildlife photos when other people join in. I do, however, encourage people anywhere to clean up their own waters if they feel so inclined. I just like to keep my own efforts generally under the radar.”
Press him on the subject and Luce will admit Father Time is slowing him down a bit. Still, as long as he can continue to get close to the wildlife on the rivers he loves, he plans to keep heading out, cleaning up and taking photos.
“Some days, it’s like a religious experience that refreshes my soul, he states. “When it’s nice and quiet, I can get some really great shots of birds in their nests, alligators, turtles, frogs, dragonflies and more,” he adds with soft-spoken pride. “It is, after all, the wildlife – not the junk – that draws me to the water.”
I have been testing electric motors with solar panels on inflatable boats for over 15 years and while I have made steady improvements in using solar panels with electric motors and inflatable boats, I have not been able to reach, until recently, the Holy Grail of using solar power with electric motors. What is the Holy Grail of Solar Power with electric motors? It is simply to have the ability to motor without limits perpetually without ever having to recharge the battery with a plug-in battery charger.
The solar powered inflatable boat above recharges itself by converting sunlight into electrical current and charging the battery whenever there is some sunlight. That is accomplished by the 4 175-watt Renogy flexible solar panels shown on the custom canopy. With the Cruise 2 Torqeedo® electric motor the FastCat™ 14.4 can go perpetually, as long as there is sunlight, at 4 to 5 miles an hour without using any battery power. The top speed of this solar boat configuration at max throttle power is only 6 to 7 mph. So, in truth, there is not much difference between cruising strictly on sunlight and going at full throttle and using some battery power.
This FastCat™ 14.4 has been tied up to a dock at my house for the last five months and I have been testing this special Solar Powered Boat configuration literally four to six days a week. I am lucky in that I live on a tidal bay called Little Bay. It is appropriately named because it is little – only about 1/2 a mile across and 3/4 quarters of a mile long. Little Bay leads out to Setauket Harbor and that leads into Port Jefferson Harbor. If you go left when you come out of Setauket Harbor and follow that for about a mile, you can take another left into Conscience Bay. The point I want to make here is that I have direct access to four different bays and Long Island Sound beyond.
Now living on a tidal bay is often not understood by folks not familiar with the coming and going of tides. The actual fact is that my entire bay completely empties twice a day, which means that my boat is either floating in water or sitting on mud. I am fond of saying that I have 9 feet of water or 9 feet of mud. In truth, since the tide is always coming or going, the level of the water or the lack of water is always changing and depends completely on where the tide is. At my house the tide is generally out for 3 and half hours twice a day and in for 8 and a half hours twice a day. That allows plenty of time to go boating.
I have now gotten to test and use this boat configuration for over 5 months and I can say that the combination of 4 175-watt Renogy flexible solar panels, the Cruise 2 Torqeedo® Motor, a Torqeedo® Solar Controller, and FastCat™ 14.4 really works in what I would call a “Holy Grail” manner. That is, this boat can be powered perpetually as long as there is sunlight and that allows you to motor it wherever you wish without ever having to charge it yourself.
I consider this a lifetime dream of practical, perpetual solar power come true. And while I have tested numerous other configurations of solar panels, electric motors, and inflatable boats, this is the first solar boat configuration that delivers “perpetual solar power”.
Let me count the ways this is wonderful:
You never have to charge the battery because the solar panels do that for you. So this is a boat that literally powers itself.
An electric motor under power is far quieter than a gas motor. In my case, I carry on board a small bluetooth speaker to listen to music. Because the electric motor is incredibly quiet, you can really listen to the music as you and any family or friends cruise the different waterways.
There is no smell of gas or oil fumes and no pollution created by motoring with this solar boat configuration no matter how far you go.
You do not need to worry about filling up a gas tank or having gas and oil spills because electric motors do not use gas or oil. So not only is an electric motor far quieter and less odorous, it costs zero for gas and it is far less messy.
Starting an electric motor is far easier – turn the master switch on, push the power button on, turn and twist the throttle – away you go!
Because solar panels automatically charge the battery, there is no need to drag the battery to a 110-volt outlet to plug in an electronic charger. And for those of you who do not know, batteries tend to be heavy (the Torqeedo® lithium battery weighs 62 lbs.), so moving a battery involves strong arms, strong legs, and a strong back. Having the battery in the boat with solar panels automatically charging the battery eliminates the need to move the battery to a place to plug the electronic into an electrical outlet.
Of course, I have to admit this is only practical if you already live on a lake or bay where you can moor your boat or have it tied up to a dock. However, it is also practical to leave solar panels on a boat that you either trailer back and forth to the water or park outside on a lawn where there is sunlight.
Perhaps the most important benefit is the fact that you can, if you have to, go hundreds of miles for hours on end with no cost for fuel or electrical power.
If one compares the cost of a solar powered boat to a gas powered boat, generally the initial cost is far lower for a gas powered boat, but when one compares the long-term need to continually fill up a gas powered boat and the yearly upkeep to tune-up a gas motor and keep it in good repair, solar power does pay off within several years.
What Are The Limitations Of A Solar Powered Boat?
Outfitting electric motors & batteries with solar panels generally works best with smaller electric motors and that generally restricts your maximum speed to under 10 miles per hour. I would expect that to change as solar panels, batteries and electric motors become more powerful and more efficient. In the future it will be more practical to recharge larger electric motors and that will deliver higher speeds.
It is also true that mating solar panels with smaller electric motors will provide the best economic comparison to gas outboards in terms of overall cost.
In outfitting a boat with solar panels, you have to have a convenient, out of the way place to put solar panels. That is why we made an aluminum frame canopy to hold the panels – the panels sit above the passengers, they do not get in the way of needed space and they provide a shelter from sun and rain. A true win, win. That is also why we offer solar panels that conveniently fit on our sun/rain canopies.
A solar powered boat will provide unlimited power AS LONG AS THE SUN IS OUT at a slow speed, depending on the solar panels used. As mentioned earlier, the FastCat™ 14.4 will cruise just on sunlight at 4 or 5 miles per hour indefinitely as long as the sun is out.
However, if it is cloudy or early in morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is at a low angle, solar power is greatly reduced. And that is even more true if it is raining for one or more days.
In the times that the sun is not recharging the battery, you will be using up battery power when motoring, and that will naturally limit your range.
So, while solar panels can provide perpetual power that can allow you to go really long distances if the sun is not shining, you will have to rely on power in the battery or you will have to recharge it using an electrical charger plugged into an electrical outlet.
With the present Custom Solar Configuration for FastCat™ 14.4 that I am showing in this blog story, there are inherent drawbacks. The Cruise 2 Torqeedo® electric motor only goes 7 mph at max speed, so if you have a need for speed, you are out of luck. I would note here that the Cruise 2 Torqeedo® has now been replaced with a newer model, the Cruise 3 Torqeedo®. The newer motor goes a little faster, about 8.5 mph with our FastCat™ 14.4, and the battery now has about 1/3 more power, so that also enhances the distances you go when your use exceeds the power of incoming sunlight. The new battery weighs 62 lbs. and the Cruise 3 motor weighs 38 lbs., so on a weight only basis it is about the same as a gas 9.9 outboard. Being under 100 lbs., both are reasonably easy for one person to manage, but having the motor and battery separate certainly makes it easier to put on and off of a boat.
However, cost-wise, electric motors are far more expensive to buy. The Cruise 3 motor (the new model that replaces the Cruise 2 we are using) costs $4299 for the motor and $2999 for the battery. We sell a far more powerful 9.9 Honda for $3,079. It will motor 3 people on the FastCat™ 14.4 at 14 miles per hour, so it is not only way cheaper to buy, it pushes that boat far faster. So, if you choose a Cruise 3 motor, you have to love the benefits of electric power because economically it is going to take a long time for your investment to pay off.
My own conclusion is that solar power does not presently make economic sense for higher power electric motors, especially when combined with the very reasonable costs of inflatable boats. That said, I must also say that the landscape for electric outboards is changing rapidly, There are presently only a few companies offering higher power electric motors, but Mercury and many other outboard brands are rushing electric motor models to the marketplace and no doubt, pricing, electric motor propulsion, battery efficiency and the efficiency of solar panels will all get better in the near future.
I can say that the custom model boat configuration that we have made up and described here is a totally practical use of solar power with electric motors. It is fairly expensive to do this with a 6 hp electric outboard. And if cost is the main consideration, the best immediately available benefit is with smaller electric trolling motors like the WaterSnake® Asp 24, Venom 34, Advance 70 and Minnkota® 30, and Minnkota® 55 motors that we sell. At the bottom of this story, you will find a link to the present solar boat packages we offer.
As a company, we presently sell all those models in Solar Boat Packages with PowerFilm 50 and 110 watt solar panels. The advantage of those packages is that they are still reasonable in price and you can hook up that Powerfilm Solar Panels to any 12 volt lead acid, AGM, Gel or Lithium battery (in the case of our Advance 70 WaterSnake® electric motor) on a “plug and play” basis. That is one solar panel with one electric motor with built-in solar controller and built-in fuse.
We are presently in the process of developing solar boat packages for Torqeedo® motors. The first motor we will have a solar boat package on with be the Torqeedo® 1103 Travel Motor. This is a somewhat smaller motor delivering the equivalent of 3 hp. Like other Torqeedo® motors, it is not cheap. Presently, that model costs $2,999. A nice feature of the 1103 is that it weighs a total of 39 lbs. with the built-in lithium battery that comes equipped with a built-in solar controller. We will shortly be offering that model with a 165 watt Solgo solar panel with a special Torqeedo® connector to ensure no problems. This will be a true “plug and play” solar boat package.
In the case of the Custom Solar Boat Package that we constructed for purposes of testing and achieving “My Solar Power Dream”, we are also putting together the same kind of “plug and play” solar boat package for that Cruise 3.
Now, people who wish to make their own solar boat packages can go ahead and recreate a solar boat packages with more solar panels similar to the package I created for this blog story. But they should only do that if they have electrical knowledge and are comfortable with matching up lithium batteries with multiple solar panels and a solar controller. If you decide to do that and you want to use Torqeedo® electric motors, you also should know that Torqeedo® will not warranty their products unless you use a Torqeedo® solar controller.
And then there is the cost to consider: For the purposes of this experiment, we used an old Cruise 2 Torqeedo® motor that we had bought 8 years ago and married that with a 4 year lithium battery.
For solar panels, we bought 4 Renogy 175 watt panels and connected them in a series. Because the Renogy panels were flexible and because they blocked out the sun, I got the bright idea to mount the panels side by side on a special square tube frame. That provided an out of the way place for the panels and a UV proof canopy at the same time.
Now, it must be said, that while this same configuration can be re-created by anyone buying one our Sea Eagle® FastCat™ 14.4s, recreating this particular solar boat package will require the following:
A custom built canopy frame to hold the 4 solar panels – this would require some skills to build a custom canopy frame, as well as various nuts, bolts, and parts to attach the panel into a single frame. In the near future, that should not be much of a problem because we are planning to offer a larger canopy which can hold 4 solar panels. In the meantime, our wide Sun/Rain Canopy will hold 3 Renogy or similar size solar panels, so with our standard wide canopy, you could have 3 solar panel solution. That might not be as much solar power as the configuration, but surely, it will be more than enough solar power for regular use of a Cruise 3 Torqeedo®.
The above solution would still leave you with the task of buying flexible, solar panels – you should figure $200 to $300 per solar panel and $1,300 for a Torqeedo® solar controller. As mentioned above, the solar controller is a must if you want Torqeedo to uphold its standard warranties. Torqeedo® does offer a fairly reasonable cost solar controller for the Cruise 3 motor, but that is limited to a single solar panel with an output of 8 amps or less. If you wish to have more solar panels, you have to go for the higher end solar controller which costs a hefty $1299. Strangely, that controller is only rated at IP 51, which means it is not truly waterproof. That means you have to have some way to keep the controller out of direct exposure to rain. My solution to that problem was simple: a $4 plastic wastepaper basket that fits neatly over the controller. That works, but it is not the most beautiful solution. Strangely, the cheaper solar controller for one solar panel / 8 amp max is IP67 rated, so that is completely waterproof.
Next, you cannot forget the motor and the battery – a Torqeedo® Cruise 3 costs a cool $4299 for the motor only. Then there is the battery. That costs $2999 for the lithium battery. So, when you add all of the above costs, including the cost of our FastCat™ 14.4 you are really in for about $12,000. In short, you have to have a real love of electrical power to choose to create this particular solar boat package. Frankly, no matter how much gas you use on 10 or 20 hp gas motor and how many times you repair or tune-up a gas motor, it will take a long time to justify your purchase of this solar boat configuration just on economics.
In summary, you are probably not going to want to re-create this particular solar boat package. As mentioned in this bog story at the beginning, this was always an experimental solar boat package to give us a true understanding of what can be done with solar boat packages. As such, I believe this configuration has given me a true understanding of what is presently possible.
As mentioned above, we already offer 10 solar boat packages with our Sea Eagle® boats and WaterSnake® electric motors. And yes, because WaterSnake® motors do not draw a lot of electrical power, these solar boat packages do work well and are very reasonable in cost.
For those who wish to use larger electric motors, we will shortly be offering solar boat packages with the Torqeedo® 1103c Travel Motor (the equivalent of 3hp gas motor) and the Torqeedo® Cruise 3 motor (the equivalent of a 6 hp gas motor). Those packages will come with canopies to hold the solar panels and will offer what we think will be the most practical and economic configurations for solar boats.
For more information on solar panels, why to go solar, and how to choose the right one for your Sea Eagle, check out this video.
For those of you interested in the present solar boat pack packages, click here to see them.
Sea Eagle fans will tell you that having a high-quality inflatable kayak can really be a plus when it comes to transporting your kayak and gaining access to hard to reach or shallow stretches of fishy rivers, lakes and ponds. Still, Sea Eagle FastTrack™ 385fta owner Joe Furman has taken things to the extreme to really get the most out of his ‘yakking experiences. He transports his FastTrack™ to some really out of the way places in his 1986 Porsche 911 Targa.
“I used to have a plastic kayak that I tied on the roof of my Subaru,” reveals Furman, 60, from Huston, Texas. “It looked like I was one of the Clempetts from The Beverly Hillbillies as I drove down the road with that setup. These days, I like to go in style, so I pack my FastTrack™ into my seats and head off wherever I want at full speed without ever worrying about my kayak shifting on the roof as I travel.”
To be sure, even Furman was amazed that the 385fta fit in his Porsche. After all, this sporty model is as compact a car as you’ll ever see. “I love my car, but it has a tiny trunk and hardly any room in the back for someone to sit comfortably. Inflated, my 12’ 6” Sea Eagle is actually longer than the car. Still, when I was researching it, I thought the 385fta broke down so nicely that it just might fit if I put some components in the back seat and some in the front. When I first got it, I was thrilled to see that it actually did – and not just the duffel bag that contains the boat, but the collapsible paddles, seats, motor, battery – the whole dang thing. Awesome!”.
Furman is also impressed with the Fasttrack™ 385fta light weight, stability and tracking. At just 45 pounds deflated, it folds into a 36″ x 15″ x 20″ package, can seat three passengers, and handles any reasonable water you might want to sample. It’s also sleek and tough with quadruple overlapped seams, 1,000 Denier-reinforced material, a removeable high pressure drop stitch floor, and a curved touring shape with a state-of-the-art NeedleKnife Keel that ensures rigid, safe and stable kayak performance while maintaining all the benefits of an inflatable.
“This really is an impressive inflatable kayak,” continues Furman, who uses his FastTrack™ for fishing, touring and wildlife viewing. I love to fish in freshwater rivers, lakes and creeks, and I like to push back into the brush or fish in isolated waters others wouldn’t dare to test. I’ve even taken it in the ocean and on trips as far away as Iowa. I am conscious of not puncturing the hull, of course, but I’ve yet to have a problem. I’m not fragile, and neither is my 385fta. It’s a real boat, made for a real guy that isn’t afraid to push the limits, especially when fishing. I go where the bass boats can’t.”
One thing Furman really enjoys is attaching his Torqeedo T245 motor and powering upstream when river fishing. That way, he can drift all the way back to the launch sight casting away or simply taking in the scenery while only making small adjustments in course. “It’s such an incredible feeling,” he says, “In fact, that’s what I’m planning to do right after we wrap up this interview.”
As for the occasional comments and strange looks he gets while packing and unpacking his kayak in a Porsche, Furman takes it all in stride. “A lot of people think it’s hilarious,” he says with a chuckle, “but it takes me about the same time as it takes the bass boat crew to launch or haul their boats at the ramp. I can have this inflated or deflated in less than 15 minutes. A lot of serious boat anglers tell me they wish they had bought a kayak like mine rather than a bigger boat because there’s so few repairs, less maintenance, less stress and less investment.”
Furman usually agrees with a smile, and then drives off in his bright red sporty car – all the while planning his next Sea Eagle adventure.
We’ve seen some interesting ways to put Sea Eagle kayaks to good use, but this one from Jay Santos, of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is truly unique. Santos uses his Sea Eagle 300x Explorer inflatable kayak to catch Dungeness crabs, which he then sells to co-workers and friends.
“I actually got started when a buddy told me he enjoyed catching crabs in tidal waters from his paddleboard” explains Santos. “One day we went out for a paddle and he showed me how it’s done. He offered to lend me one of his crab traps to give it a try and I pulled six shorts and two keepers on my first haul. I’ve been hooked on crabbing from my Explorer 300x ever since.”
At first, Santos worried that it might be too much work to lower and raise the hoop-style traps in the 50- to 80-foot depths where he’s had the most success. He was also concerned that sitting so low to the water might make the task even more difficult by taking away the leverage advantage of standing that his friend had on the paddle board. But things went smoothly right from the start said the 56-year-old store coordinator of medical supplies at Vancouver Hospital, who now has a regular route of acquaintances awaiting his deliveries. Interestingly, Santos isn’t a seafood lover himself, which, he says with a chuckle, makes it easy to part with his catch at day’s end.
“The combination of crabbing and paddling has really made a difference in my life,” reveals Santos. “It’s been a great way to get outdoors and have some fun, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. All the work and exercise has helped me melt away a few pounds, too. I don’t even realize the weight is coming off while I’m crabbing or covering water on my kayak, and the workouts make it easy for me to sleep at night. So, this has been more than a business venture, it’s really a life-style choice. When I called and placed my order with Sea Eagle, the salesperson told me: ‘You won’t regret this,’ and he was absolutely right. I’m definitely satisfied with my purchase.”
To be sure, Santos was interested in buying an inflatable kayak before he thought about crabbing, and he eventually took the plunge after doing considerable research online. He described his first purchase, from another manufacturer, as “boring” since it had been designed mostly for getting out on placid ponds. Eventually, he discovered Sea Eagle and was immediately intrigued by the 300x Explorer because it seemed rugged, stable and river ready. Additionally, it was rated for tackling up to class 4 rapids, and some reviews even mentioned using it for surfing. “I watched a ton of You-Tube videos on this model,” he stated, “and it just looked like a true multi-purpose kayak that could be a lot of fun.”
Santos does his crabbing along the Vancouver coast, spending time around Jericho Beach, Burrard Inlet and at Deep Cove in the Indian Arm waterway. “I love it,” he says, “but this is hard work. I use Promar Ambush, 32” diameter hoop style crab pots and they weigh about 5 pounds each. When you pull the rope, the sides rise up and the crabs tumble to the center of the pot. I check my traps every 30 or 40 minutes. We’re only allowed to use two crab traps at a time, and a license is required. While my traps soak, I head for the nearest beach or cove.”
That down time between pulls is what Santos calls his special time. “Exploring is what having a kayak is all about. I love looking at maps and deciding which new places to check out. We bring folding chairs, which is fine because the 300x has plenty of room for those, plus my pots and provisions. I put the pots in the bow where they receive good support from the deep pontoons. I never feel squeezed in this kayak because it has lots of leg room. It’s also exceptionally rigid and stable, and it tracks easily in the water thanks to its removeable skeg.”
Another plus for Santos is the Explorer’s toughness. He’s scraped it on barnacles, dragged it across rocks, and bumped it against docks and says it holds up remarkedly well in rugged conditions. It sports self-draining valves – which are key for running rapids or paddling on the ocean – and has D-rings for securing gear. “I attach my paddle leash to a D-ring so I can simply dump the paddle on the side of the kayak when I need to pull a trap,” he says.
Of course, like most who own Sea Eagle inflatables, Santos appreciates that the Sea Eagle 300x inflates in less than 10 minutes and can be left inflated for several days if necessary. They’ll fit easily in a closet or garage and can be placed in a car trunk or on a car roof for transport. In fact, Santos often leaves his kayak inflated for the ride back home so it dries before he gets back. At that point, a good wipe-down is all it needs before being deflated and stored.
“There’s one other thing I really love about this ‘yak,” concludes Santos. “It’s great to loan to friends. Most are hesitant to try it at first but once they see its’ easy to get in and out, and has plenty of leg room, they hop aboard and head right off. It’s a great feeling to see them paddle out and start having fun.”
Mike M. isn’t one of those guys that was born with kayaking in his blood. In fact, it was just in the past few years that the retired auto mechanic, an Arkansas resident, first realized he really liked paddling.
“I got into kayaking because my girlfriend liked it,” says Mike. “We took a trip together down the Buffalo National River in a canoe a couple of years ago and I graduated from there. When it came time to buy my own kayak, I purchased a Sea Eagle 370 inflatable kayak. Now I absolutely love it. We started with some short and easy local flat-water trips and eventually progressed to more challenging, longer trips. At this point, I can tell you that I’m really putting my SE370 to good use. I’ll head out with my girlfriend or my dog, and often spend a full day or more on the water.”
How did Mike end up in a Sea Eagle Sport Kayak? He did his homework before making his purchase. “I liked what I read about the 370 being stable, rugged and having a 650-lb. load capacity,” he says. “At just 32 pounds, it’s also very portable -and it won’t stick out the back of my truck like a hardshell kayak would. That lightweight and extra portability are key factors for me as I have a bad back. I also like that this kayak is easy to blow up. In fact, you can do it in less than ten minutes because it has a one-way valve that prevents the air from coming back out as you pump it up. It also fit my budget, which is usually pretty tight. It’s a three-person kayak, so I can bring my girlfriend and my grandson along when I want, but mostly I go with my dog.”
Mike isn’t a serious angler or thrill-seeker, although he does enjoy riverbank camping. While he’ll challenge himself with an occasional run that sports class I or II rapids, he generally prefers to paddle and drift along while breathing in some fresh air, checking out the sights and taking pictures of wildlife. Given a choice, he tends to head for places where there isn’t too much traffic on the water, and really appreciates having the ability to get off the beaten track when feeling the need for a change of scenery to help him relax.
“I got my 12’ 6” Sea Eagle 370 Inflatable Kayak last June when a lot of the rivers around here were still pretty low, so I kept things local in the beginning,” says Mike. “Eventually, though, I moved up to some bigger waters like Big Piney Creek, the Mulberry River, and then the Buffalo National River. That last spot is where I did two different trips recently. The first one covered 31 miles in two days and the second saw me go 43 miles in three days. It was just me and my black lab, Sassy, on those trips. Both ventures were nice, quiet, and relaxed. The 370 is terrific for these longer trips because you can load it up with plenty of gear. I’m a big guy and I tend to pack heavy with a dry box and a couple of duffel bags, but my Sea Eagle is always up to the task.”
In terms of the 370’s toughness, Mike noted that he has on several occasions run it through or dragged it along shallow, rocky waters and he even tested it in class three rapids. “There are two passages through the Sacroiliac Rapids on the Mulberry River,” he explains. “On one trip there, the safer (suggested) route was too shallow and rocky, so I decided to go through the rapids. The current put me right up against a big boulder but I managed to push away unharmed. My 370 really did a great job with that brush-up and I’m thankful I didn’t flip. I later found out a kayaker died there a year ago so next time I encounter a similar situation, you can bet I’ll shoulder my vessel and walk around.” Two other features of the Sea Eagle 370 Inflatable Kayak that Mike enjoys are its ability to track exceptionally well and speed along at a fast clip. He made good use of both abilities on his last venture down the Buffalo National River when it started to get a little busy.
“There were a lot of kayaks on the water since it was over Memorial Day weekend,” recalls Mike. “Some people had boom boxes blaring, too. I just paddled right past a bunch of them – even a few in long, skinny hardshells designed for speed. In just a few minutes, I managed to put some distance between myself and the crowd and was off to find some quieter waters. That actually turned out to be fun, passing all those other paddlers. I must have been moving at three or four miles per hour. That’s rather good for any kind of recreational kayak on a flat-water stretch.”
Most recently, Mike headed out on a yet another Buffalo National River trip, this one starting in north Arkansas, at the Lower Buffalo Wilderness area, which is the most remote part of the river and includes some rapids near Clabber Creek. The entire run, says Mike, covered 30 miles.
“That trip took three days because I didn’t get on the river until 5 p.m. and had to camp after about four miles. Still, it was pretty easy to do 17 miles the next day, and then finish up the trip in the morning on day three. I can cover 15 miles a day with no problem in my Sea Eagle 370.”
Mike reported that his top speed on this adventure was just over 8 mph in the faster flows, and 3 to 5 mph in the calmer waters and flat stretches. His average speed for the full trip was 3.5 mph according to the GPS and total run time was 8.5 hours.
“I don’t think I could expect any better from a paddle-powered vessel,” reveals Mike. “The 370 handled the rapids very well. It’s very forgiving and makes me feel safe when I’m out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service and little chance of rescue if something goes wrong. I think Sassy feels safe on these trips now too, as she doesn’t rock the boat and stays right in the middle of her seat most of the time. She is becoming quite the river dog.”
As for the future, Mike says he plans to continue exploring bigger and more challenging waters, and that he’s really looking forward to seeing what each holds in terms of wildlife along its banks. So far, he’s covered nearly 250 miles in his Sea Eagle.
“Some neat things happen when you kayak,” he reveals. “I see a lot of eagles, and I recently had a heron fly by me with a snake in its mouth. Too bad I wasn’t holding my camera for that one. It would have made one heck of a show.”
March 14th – As I paddle out into Port Jefferson Bay the morning sun is blocked by a cloud bank. Soon the clouds will clear and the sky will be blue. I consider myself lucky to be out on the water enjoying all this while a Pandemic makes its way across America.
By Cecil Hoge
March 14, 2020
On this Saturday, I took the opportunity to go for an early morning paddle. That is easy for me because I live by the water and have a dock about 100 feet from my back door. So all I have to do is walk out of my living room onto my back porch, walk down a few stairs and go another 100 feet. I am then on my dock where I have several inflatable boats at my disposal. On this day, the water on the bay is flat and glassy, the sky is still and has a large bank of clouds off to the Northeast. The temperature is around 45 degrees Fahrenheit and the sky is still reflected in the shimmering tones on the glassy water.
Today, I choose to paddle my RazorLite kayak. I have a choice: on my dock, I have a kayak and a rowing craft, I also have a solar-powered electric motor craft I call the TriTiki. I use the TriTiki to cruise around our bays on warmer days. Today is not one of those days.
When I use my kayak on chilly days, I also use a kayak blanket that we sell for that occasion. I like to be warm when paddling a kayak and since my legs do not move when paddling that blanket comes in mighty handy for when I want to be toasty warm.
Out on the water in my kayak, the air is clean and wonderful to breathe. Soon, I know, the winds will pick up out of the Northwest. Then the clouds will move out and the sky will be fully clear. And with the sun will come some extra warmth. No matter, I am well dressed for the occasion with gloves, a windproof fleece-lined nylon jacket, and a warm wool hat with earmuffs. I am, as always, totally warm and comfortable.
I paddle out past the old stone bulwark that used to lead to a wood bridge that spanned my bay (Little Bay) and leads to Setauket Bay. The wood bridge is gone since 1898 when I assume it was washed away by a ferocious storm. On this tranquil morning, I am wondering if I am paddling in an allusion – if this calm and beautiful scene is but a dream. Perhaps, in reality, I am paddling in an unseen and silent storm.
The broken-down stone bulwark is still quite close to where I started, so I do not feel that I have exerted much effort. It is the beginning of my paddle. I am in no hurry. A little further along a line of 7 Canada geese proceed out in front of me from the shore. I steer a little further out in order to give them space and time to figure what they want to do. I know either they will get all excited and start barking at me or they will change course and paddle their webbed feet back towards shore.
I am hoping they will not get excited because they make a terrible noise and the end is always foreseeable. They start barking, then their barking becomes louder and occurs faster and then they all fly away barking as they go. But on this day, they have wisely chosen to change course, stay silent and cruise back toward the shore.
March 15th, 2020
Here is my prototype rowing craft, rigged with all the comforts of home, thermo-bag with seltzers, cushion for the seat, mirror to have an idea of where I am rowing and a life jacket.
On this day in old Setauket (it was first settled in 1665), the weather is clear and reasonably warm for the time of year. I choose to use my rowing craft this day. This happens to be a prototype of a new kind of inflatable boat that I am tentatively calling the GoSkiff. Originally, I designed it to accommodate a sail, which I tested at the end of last summer. It sailed quite well, but with the advent of colder weather and winter, I converted it to a rowing craft, using my friend Urs Wunderli’s sliding rigger arm. I have been using this sliding rigger arm for 5 years now. Urs calls it “Row Board” and sells it on his website: DiscoverRowing.com. I consider “RowBoard” an uninspired name, but the product is truly great. I have told Urs to rename it the “Wunderli Rower”. So far, Urs has ignored my suggestion.
A sliding rigger arm is similar to a sliding seat, except instead of the seat going back and forth, the rigger arm holding the oars goes back and forth. In truth, a sliding rigger arm is actually more efficient. I won’t go into all the details. Both systems improve the ability to row. What I like about rowing is that it provides a total body exercise. That is because your arms, your legs, your hips, your stomach, your back are all in motion. Rowing provides another advantage over paddling in that you are naturally warmer because all parts of the body are moving…so no need for my trusty kayak blanket.
Rowing is different from paddling in that you see where you have been, rather than where you are going. It also is a form of exercise that seems to feed on itself. Simply put, there is NOT a tendency to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Rowing seems to promote an exercise rhythm that becomes addictive. Once you start rowing you really do not feel like stopping. That does not mean you do not take in the sites…you do. The difference is that you usually row steadily for a long time, not wanting to slow down, but still seeing the sites as they pass into vision. And yes, after rowing steadily for two miles or so, I do stop and secure my oars. I then float silently on the water as the wind blows me where it wishes and I take in the sites while I chug down a seltzer. The sparkling water is surprisingly refreshing after rowing 2 miles.
I characterize paddling as lollygagging whereas I characterize rowing as rowing. Paddling is lollygagging in the sense that there is always the temptation to stop paddling, take a deep breath and take in the scenery that is always in front of you. And in fact, that is one of the most pleasurable aspects of paddling.
On my many paddling or rowing journeys, I see many interesting sites…loons diving for fish, hawks circling high in the sky, seagulls clustering over a school of minnows, elegant white swans cruising nearby with young brown-tinted smaller and younger swans in tow, a seal popping his or her head out the water to check you out. Now, these sites occur at different times of the year and some are far more often than others. I see seals only a couple of times in the year, always in the dead of winter, although two years ago a baby seal took up residence on my dock – see below:
Here is an overnight guest that came one winter day. I did not charge this youngster a residence fee for the night.
On this Sunday I take my rowing craft, tentatively called the GoSkiff 14. As I mentioned, with rowing you see where you have been. Now I have to confess that I cheat. I have installed a mirror on my rowing craft. It allows me to see most of where I am going – my mirror does not have Xray vision through my body so I have to be careful. That still does not prevent me from occasionally running into a buoy or a boat. At this time of year, all buoys and boats have been removed from the harbor except for one rather large fishing vessel named the “Lisa Jean” that floats by itself in Setauket Harbor as a reminder of the fishing fleet that once was moored there.
So, off I go, rowing as I wish through the different bays. Paddling or rowing these days is practicing social distancing in the extreme. There are no other paddlers, rowers or boaters on this day or, for that matter, on most of the days during the late fall or winter. So, I usually have all the bays to myself. When I go rowing in the winter, I wear fleece-lined pants which keep my legs toasty as they push back and forth. As I have mentioned, I like to be warm and, if you dress properly, you always are. I would mention here for those concerned about my safety and boating regulations I always wear or carry a life jacket, so worry not, I am safely ready for my journeys on the sea.
It is another wondrous day on the water even though there is a chilly breeze. I carry other equipment with me that I consider vital. If it is an early morning, I carry hot coffee in a Yeti mug. If it is later in the day, I carry a couple of seltzers in a thermo-lined bag. At this time of year, the thermo-lining is not required, but the bag makes it convenient to carry the seltzers. So, on this sunny and clear March day, I row out past Little Bay, past Setauket Bay and into Port Jefferson Bay, the largest of our four bays. Here I can take a break, pull out a seltzer and take in the view. It is a good day to be alive.
Social Distancing at its Best
March 16th, 2020
And so, while America deals with closing schools, bars and restaurants, I intend to paddle or row the waterways of America. From my dock, I can paddle into a small bay appropriately called Little Bay. From Little Bay, I can paddle to the Atlantic Ocean.
Of course, paddling from my house to the Atlantic Ocean is something of a jaunt. Long Island Sound is about 5 miles from my house, but the Atlantic Ocean is another 60 miles to the East or the West. One has a choice when coming out through the inlet into Long Island Sound to go West towards New York City through the East River into the Hudson River into the Atlantic Ocean with New Jersey just on your right. That’s a good choice if you want to paddle on to Miami. If you decide to go East, all you have do is paddle 60 miles East and pass Montauk Point and then you can head to Block Island or further north to Maine if that is your fancy.
Needless to say, I restrict my paddling to the 4 bays that are most directly accessible from my dock. I failed to mention the fourth bay which is called Conscience Bay. It is off to the right as I come out into Port Jefferson Bay. Anyway, I think you get the idea that I have a lot of options, even if I don’t take them all. But paddling or rowing are the main options that I choose to ward off the sad events of the Coronavirus in America.
March 18th, 2020
I go for a very early morning row. It is mostly dark when I leave at 5:45 am. The water on the bay is a flat black glass. The moon is still out and it sports an unusual halo this early morning. I do not know what the halo portends. It seems strange. In the distance, there are lights from the surrounding houses that circle my different bays. In the dark, I hear garbage trucks making dinosaur screeches as they stop and pick up cans. Today is plastic day. The town of Brookhaven (our township) has announced that it can no longer recycle the plastic they are picking up. I wonder where the plastics will go.
Here is what I see on the bay:
The darkness before the dawn is fading. Soon the sun will erase the moon and spread its light over all.
I row out of Little Bay into Setauket Bay and then into Port Jefferson Bay. The dim light of the day gives way to a clear blue expansive sky and soon I can feel the first warmth from the sun. The wind is out of the Northwest about 10 mph and as I come out of Setauket Bay, it pushes against my back as I row forward. When I get to the mouth of Port Jefferson Bay, I take a break, put up my oars, sip my still hot coffee and ponder the new day.
After a few minutes of contemplation, I pick up my oars and resume my journey. It is easier to row back since the wind is now pushing me in that direction. As I come around the bend in Setauket Bay, I row along the Strong’s Neck shoreline. I am now protected from the wind because I am in the “Lee of the Land”. And while I always dress warmly, the extra warmth that comes from the rising sun in an area protected from the wind is much appreciated.
March 20th, 2020
This day is sunny and warm, with temperatures making into the 60s. I take the opportunity to go for a morning paddle.
March 21, 2020
Since the weather is sunny and a pretty comfortable 52 degrees, I head out for a paddle on the bay. I encounter no other paddlers. It is still early for most kayakers to get out on the water. I take my trusty kayak blanket to keep my legs warm and dry. The dry part is an especially handy feature because of “paddle drip”. This is something that most kayakers never mention, but water tends to make its way down the shaft of a paddle blade and drip into the cockpit of the kayak. But no worries for me, my trusty, toasty waterproof kayak blanket keeps me both warm and dry. It is a good day for a paddle and I come back feeling refreshed and happy at the news that we can continue operating.
March 27, 2020
The weather on Friday was clear and in the low 50s. I take the opportunity to go for a paddle and ponder the state the world with a wide expanse of blue water in front of me.
It was a beautiful day and a wonderful paddle. The air was fresh and clear and I saw no one during my paddle. It was just me, some seagulls twirling around in the sky, some swans cruising elegantly by me, some great blue herons standing on the shore looking on at me in disapproval. I can tell you from experience herons, especially great blue herons, don’t like humans. They consider us interlopers on this earth.
The weekend comes and with it some nasty, rainy, cold weather. I stay home and light a fire. It gives a cozy and toasty feeling for me and my family.
March 31st, 2020
This Tuesday morning I choose to go for a row. That is both practical and smart. It is a cloudy, cool morning with a heavy bank of clouds stretching above as far as the eye can see. The temperature is around 40. The wind is out of the Northeast blowing at steady, cold and unforgiving 10 to 15 mph. My decision to row rather than paddle is practical because my kayak has gathered about 3” of water since I last used it. When I go down the dock, the first thing that I do is undo one of the drain valves on my kayak and drain out the water. Then I close the drain valve and flip the kayak upside down so no more rain can come in and the kayak will dry out.
“The Fleet” at my dock – a water filled Sea Eagle RazorLite to the left, a prototype “GoSkiff 14” on the right, a prototype “TriTiki” on the far side of the dock. The “”TriTiki” is 16’ long, holds up 4 people and features 2 solar panels, 2 lithium batteries, 2 electric motors. The solar panels charge the batteries, the batteries power the electric motors. The Green Revolution is in place at my dock.
My decision to go for a row is also smart because the kayak seat, having rested in 3” of water, is not going to be either warm or dry. So I then get on the other floating dock holding my rowing craft, slide it off that dock and get on my “GoSkiff” after I place a dry seat cushion on it. Fully prepared now, I begin my row out of Turtle Cove (my name for my little cove) and ply my oars into Little Bay. As mentioned above the temperature is still pretty chilly, the wind right nippy coming out of the unforgiving Northeast. Someone forgot to tell this March that it was supposed to go out like a lamb.
In Little Bay, I hug the shoreline which means closely passing by the cemetery that is at the end of the road my house is on. Appropriately, my road is called Cemetery Lane. The cemetery houses many folks from the Revolutionary War. Strong’s Neck, where I live, was settled in 1655 by the Smith and Strong families. And many family members are now buried in this nearby cemetery. I stay close to the cemetery and the shoreline because it keeps me in the “Lee of the Land” and thus I am sheltered from the nagging Northeast Wind.
I ply my way along the shoreline on this gray and cloudy day, happy almost instantly to be out in the clean refreshing air. I come around the stone embankment and pass into Setauket Bay & Harbor. Immediately, I run into the 10 to 15 mph Northeast wind. Now I can row quite easily through that. Because I am rowing directly into the wind and my back is facing the wind, I am quite shielded, thanks to my trusty Duluth Nylon fleece-lined jacket. I can plow through winds pretty efficiently up to 25 mph, but after that, I prefer to let others try it. Rowing in 25+ mph winds is a younger man’s game.
I read that Teddy Roosevelt when he was a boy, loved to row in Long Island Sound in high winds. Teddy was a sickly child and not strong, but as he got a little older he took up outdoor exercise with great relish, his theory being that outdoor exercise would help him overcome his early sickly disposition. It seemed to work. He went on to become a very energetic President of the United States. Teddy grew up in Oyster Bay about 21 miles west of here.
Here be the “Lisa Jean”. Maybe the last of her kind in Setauket Harbor. Two crows sit at the stern on this cloudy and chilly day. Here the wind is sheltered by the land on both sides of the bay. Just seconds before there was a seagull on the bow. He or she flew away, perhaps, afraid that I might digitally capture their soul.
I am not rowing in high winds on Long Island Sound today. Good thing too, because it would probably mean rowing against sizable whitecaps. I am rowing in brisk Northeast winds as I ply my way through Setauket Bay and Harbor. Pretty soon, as I row into the narrows of Setauket Bay, I come up to the one boat that is still moored in the harbor. It is the “Lisa Jean”. She stands as a lonely reminder this once was a working harbor, a place from which whalers set out into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in search of whales and whale oil, a place where fisherman and clammers and oystermen once made their living.
The “Lisa Jean” is moored about a half-mile from Port Jefferson Bay, so this is about a one and half mile row from my house. I take a picture of the venerable fishing craft and row my way around it and head back home. It is not my longest row by any means, but it is enough of a row to get a full slug of fresh air and to be reminded that the real world is outside, not inside. I am hoping, like Theodore Roosevelt, that my paddling and rowing activities will bring me true peace of mind and strengthen my body. While I am at it, I also hope that it will protect me against the Coronavirus.
Back on my dock, I walk up my dock gangplank and look back over my little cove and the bay beyond. I cannot help but think it is a beautiful morning.
Author’s Note: The above story is an abridged version of a longer blog published on my personal blog site. The longer version discusses in addition to paddling and rowing, the progression of the Coronavirus, and other political and economic conditions. Should you be interested to read the full version, click on TangledTalesofanAmericanFamily.com
At the end of part 2 of this history, our Sea Eagle boat business had already been in business for 30 years and gone through many changes. By 1998 we had re-built our Sea Eagle boat business and had found new ways to sell more inflatable boats through our new Sea Eagle website. In doing so, we expanded our range of products to include transom boats, whitewater & camping kayaks, fishing boats and a new kind of inflatable catamaran kayak called the Sea Eagle PaddleSki.
From our earliest beginnings in 1968 to the present, our goal was always to produce the best inflatable boats of their kind. In doing that, we always tried to offer products that were different and better from what was on the market, whether it be a kayak, a fishing boat or a transom boat.
So, for example, when I developed the FastTrack shown above, it had several unique features not found on inflatable kayaks. Its most unique feature was the patented outside drop stitch inflatable keel. That gave the FastTrack special paddling benefits. As the name implies, it paddled faster and tracked better than other inflatable kayaks.
There were other differences in the FastTrack that made it unique: it had a drop stitch inflatable floor inside, on top of an outside fabric floor. That provided rigidity and great puncture protection. It had an asymmetric shape – tapered at the bow, wider at the stern. This allowed the kayak to go through wind and waves easier and still hold the weight of two people comfortably. It had an outside removable skeg to further improve tracking. These design features made the Sea Eagle FastTrack our best paddling inflatable kayak for open water ever.
As we moved into the internet age, the goal of the company remained the same: produce the best inflatable boats of their kind.
Unlike our Panther Martin fishing lure business, which had enjoyed continuous growth from 1958 to 1998, Sea Eagle Boats had both up and down years from 1968, the year we started in the inflatable boat business, through 1998. These ups and downs were mostly caused by external factors such as suppliers going out of business or big swings in foreign currencies or dramatic price rises in the price of petroleum. The price of oil was always a major factor in our business because inflatable boats are made from petroleum based fabrics and parts.
I have to point out that we have always worked with foreign suppliers to make inflatable boats because there has never been an inflatable boat industry in the United States. We did make two experiments with production of inflatable boats in the U.S. We had a Michigan company produce some transom boats for us for a short period and a Delaware company produce some kayaks for us. The transom boats made in Michigan were actually pretty good and almost succeeded, but we were defeated when the company went bankrupt, primarily because they had grossly miscalculated their true costs.
The kayaks made by the Delaware company were an interesting case since that company happened to produce the space suits that were used for the first trips to the moon. I assume this company was and still is an excellent producer of space suits. I believe they are still the main supplier of space suits to NASA. Unfortunately, they proved to be a terrible producer of inflatable kayaks.
The Sea Eagle Explorer Kayaks that they made for us in the late 1970s turned out to suffer from slow seam leaks. Admittedly, the leaks were so slow that it took weeks for a kayak to become soft. And it actually took some time after receiving the first kayaks to understand that there was a slow seam leak problem. We probably could have solved that problem in future productions, but another more difficult issue arose.
This particular company was used to selling to the government and within a few weeks of starting production of our kayaks, they found making kayaks took far longer than they thought. So, they did what they always did with the government. They announced to us the necessity of immediately increasing the price. They had a hard time understanding why we were unable to accept a 60% price increase mid-production during the first run of 200 kayaks. They also had a hard time calculating the time, labor and material costs involved in inflatable boat production.
That is because inflatable boat production requires an extensive manufacturing experience and the local availability of parts, materials and machinery. The inflatable boat industry, which first arose in Europe and then migrated to Asia, has a long history of manufacturing and extensive infrastructures in Europe and Asia to support it. To duplicate a factory in the United States capable of making inflatable boats would require an inherent understanding of manufacturing techniques that are unique to the inflatable boat industry and a network of supplier companies to provide parts and materials needed for production.
As a small family owned company, we have always wanted to produce our boats in the United States, but every time we researched what was necessary to create an inflatable boat factory here we came to the conclusion that the startup costs were far more than potential sale of boats that we could expect.
Why is it so difficult to manufacture inflatable boats in this country? First, and this is a pretty big first, there are no real producers of inflatable boat material in the United States. Yes, there are a couple of companies producing fabrics that say their materials are suitable for inflatable boat production, but the cost of the hull material is usually 5 to 6 times a similar hull material in Asia or Europe and the actual characteristics of the material are not suitable for inflatable boat use. For example, PVC/Polyester, the most used material for inflatable boat production, the U.S. version of the material had a tendency to be too rigid to easily roll up. An interesting alternative material, Urethane/Polyester, tended stick to itself and be 10 times more expensive than PVC/Polyester.
So, problem number 1 is finding a U.S. company able to produce a suitable hull material at an economical price and as far as I know that does not exist.
The second problem is finding parts suitable for inflatable boat production. And that is also an almost impossible problem, because there are no companies making the valves, the grommets, the carry handles, the multitude of fittings you need to outfit inflatable boats. Again you need all those parts and fittings in order to make an inflatable boat. An inflatable transom boat, for example, without the molded parts to glue the wooden transom on, is not an inflatable transom boat. It is like a fishing lure without a hook.
This is also the case with inflatable kayaks, where for example, D-rings and drain valves are important parts, or inflatable standup paddle boards (SUPs), where drop stitch material is necessary in order to achieve the required rigidity of a SUP.
Drop stitch construction is a particularly interesting example. It is a relatively new development in inflatable boats, kayaks and SUPs that allow you to make flat, rectangular shapes with high pressure. This new material greatly widens the shapes and kinds of boats, kayaks and SUPs that you can make.
Drop stitch material consists of two layers of fabric with hundreds of thousands of threads going from the bottom layer to the top layer. When inflated the threads prevent the material from becoming a round shape. Without the hundreds of thousands of threads between two layers of fabric, the fabric, when glued together, will want to become a round shape when inflated, which while very useful for many purposes, limits the shapes you can make. Thus, the advent of drop stitch manufacturing technology is an important advance in inflatable boat production because it allows you to create unique new shapes previously not possible. This type of construction permits much higher air pressures making drop stitch products far more rigid than other inflatables.
This is our patented 16′ Sea Eagle Travel Canoe – drop stitch technology makes it possible to achieve shapes previously impossible.
This technology is not very new. I first saw it being used in France about 45 years ago. At that time, the technology was quite unreliable and subject to defects…so having a basketball shape suddenly appear in the middle of what was supposed to be a flat shape is not very good. In the last 10 years the technology of making drop stitch materials has advanced enormously and today it is probably the greatest innovation in inflatable production in the last 50 years. As such, it is pretty necessary to have the ability to produce drop stitch constructed inflatable products.
Unfortunately, there is no American producer of drop stitch material. If you want to use this type of material and make boats in the U.S., you must import the drop stitch material. The only countries that can make drop stitch hull fabric for inflatables are Germany, Japan, Taiwan & China. Of these countries, China produces both the best quality drop stitch material and best priced drop stitch material. Sad but true.
So, for the above reasons, we have always worked with foreign companies to produce inflatable boats and as time went on, those companies were generally located either in Korea or China.
By the late 1990s, as mentioned above, we were producing Korean and Chinese made inflatable boats made to our specifications and design. Our supported fabric boats were made in Korea – those boats use a fabric re-inforced PVC/Polyester material. Our unsupported PVC boats were made in China – we use a special formulation, extra thick PVC material we call PolyKrylar™ for our Sea Eagle 330, 370, 9 and PF7.
By the late 1990s, because of the advent of the internet, our inflatable boat sales assumed a steady and growing pattern of increases year after year. So unlike our early sales from the 60s to the mid 90s, where sales on any given year could be up or down, sales from 1997 on went in just one direction: Up.
Our website, SeaEagle.com, and the internet introduced many new possibilities. As mentioned in Part 2 of this history, we started very simply on the internet in 1996. Just a few display pages and an 800# that customers could call. It did not take us long to realize that having an order cart was important, both for orders during the day and for orders at night. By 1998 we had an order cart and internet sales, along with overall sales, were growing rapidly.
The internet allowed us to also explain products in ways previously not possible. Not only could we put far more content on the internet about a given product, but we also could show videos. This was a giant jump for us because for the first time customers could actually see our boats in motion.
Previously we had made various videos, but they were to show on a TV program or in TV 60 second commercial or on a TV screen at a boat show. There were limited places we could use these videos. But now that we had a website, we could post videos permanently on the website and those videos would stay up as long as we were selling the product. And, given our history, that turned out to be a long time.
The background of increasing sales was a new and wonderful aspect of our business. It meant then that we could introduce many new models, put them up on the internet and have sales of new products pretty much as soon as they arrived in this country. And, because we still were making and printing catalogs showing the same products, this in turn supported the new and additional side of the business coming from the internet.
This is our patented Sea Eagle FoldCat – a roll-up fishing boat that you can assemble and inflate in less than 10 minutes. In the background — the breathtaking Grand Tetons.
So after successfully introducing transom boats (our Sea Eagle 10.6, 12.6 and 14 models), we went on to design and introduce FoldCats and PaddleSkis. These were two truly unique boats. The FoldCat being a patented two man fishing boat that could be set up in less than 10 minutes and the PaddleSki being a catamaran kayak that could be motored, sailed, paddled or rowed. Each of these new models did extremely well, selling hundreds and then thousands.
In addition to introducing new models, we also were able to bring back older classic sellers such as our Sea Eagle Explorer kayaks. These were great whitewater, camping, all around kayaks that I had first developed in the late 1970s. Because our Korean supplier had access to better materials and new manufacturing techniques, we could remake this series, improving both the original design and the original materials.
By the 2000s, we had fallen into what I would call a “virtuous circle”. We could grow sales of our products with print advertising, catalogs and the internet and when we added new products we could add new sales to existing sales. This meant that in those years we basically quadrupled our sales.
Through these marketing techniques, we were able to become the first company on Google when you typed in “inflatable kayaks” and generally in the first five companies when you typed in “inflatable boats.” All of our marketing efforts were tied together, so print ads listed an 800# and our website, catalogs gave our in house order telephone # and our website and our website also gave our in house order telephone number and had a place to request printed catalogs.
So you can say our success was a combination of constantly introducing interesting and unique new products and then using print advertising to tell the public about those new products, and then using the internet and catalogs to show those new products and being able to take orders night or day on the internet and being able to answer any and all customer questions or take orders on our in house 800 phone number. It was indeed a virtuous circle.
As we got into the 2010s, things got a little more muddy, a little more complex, but basically the same situation pertained. Sales grew. We advertised and promoted products and sales grew more. We introduced new products, some patented, some not, but all unique and filling what I would call holes in the market.
This was the first shape we developed for our patented Sea Eagle FastTrack – that took me 5 years to come to the symmetrical shape shown above.
Some of the new products took a lot longer than others. It took me about 5 years to develop the first FastTrack kayaks and I tried an ungodly number of experiments to make better tracking, better paddling kayaks. For example, I made a kayak with an aluminum frame inside instead of an inflatable floor. I found that to be heavy, hard to assemble and a general pain, even if it did paddle pretty fast.
After making and selling a few thousand of the original shape FastTrack (shown above), I decided it could be improved. So I made a slimmer and more tapered version. See below:
3 years later we changed to an asymmetrical shape to paddle even faster!
Another really difficult kayak to develop was our Sea Eagle RazorLite, which is surprising since the final product is so truly simple. But not for me. I went through 14 prototypes and 5 years of testing before I ended up choosing the final product, which, in the end, was quite simple. Along the way I had tried a lot of weird and wonderful solutions, none of which worked the way I wanted. I made it into a fabric covered kayak with two side zippers so you could use the kayak enclosed or open. It worked well, but there was not enough room for your feet to be upright, something I thought pretty important. I made a drop stitch top deck for the RazorLite – that looked great, but was heavy, 3″ thick and also did not allow enough space for your feet.
This was an early prototype of the RazorLite – I loved the zipper spray skirt even if I could not get my feet comfortably under it. The spray skirts could be rolled back and secured for easy access to bow or stern cockpit areas. This was also before I added sharp bow and stern molds. The new bow and stern molds greatly improved the speed and tracking of the Razorlite.
I knew of course that I could increase the height of the sides, but that would make the kayak more susceptible to high winds. I can say modestly that I went through about 6 prototypes deciding on just how high the sides had be – my choices ranged from 5″ to 12″ before settling on 8.5″ for the solo 393rl model and 10″ for the tandem 473rl. Most sides were either too high or too low. If it was too low, water would come in over the sides. If it was too high, the sides would act like a sail, allowing the kayak to be blown around.
I tried the kayak without bow molds and with bow molds. It quickly became apparent that the bow molds made a huge difference in the paddling performance.
Such a simple shape, but not so easy to come to – 5 years & 14 prototypes!
In the end the solution was simple and elegant. An open kayak with 8.5″ high drop stitch inflatable sides at the center and sharp pointed molds at the bow and the stern. And the result was great, we created a true high performance inflatable paddling kayak. I am extremely proud of the RazorLite kayaks. Recently, thanks to a design my brother made, we were able to add adjustable footrests for both our 393 and 473 RazorLites. Those footrests provide really secure footing and adjust to most humans on the planet. Sometimes, things that look simple are the hardest to develop.
In the last 20 years, we have developed many new inflatable boat designs. Our 285 Frameless Pontoon Fishing Boat for one angler, our StealthStalker fishing boat for two anglers, and our Sea Eagle PackFish 7 for one angler. All of these small fishing boats had distinct differences and advantages over other inflatable craft on the market.
Here is our Sea Eagle FishSkiff 16 rigged with a canopy, a solar panel and an electric motor. Used this way, the FishSkiff will automatically recharge the battery whenever you run down the battery. This is the first inflatable skiff in the world to use all drop stitch construction. With a 6 hp gas motor, this boat will propel one or two anglers at 15 to 17 mph.
As time has gone on, the design of boats has become more of a collaborative activity. Today, my brother shares with me many of the design responsibilities. He is fluent in a design application called Fusion 360, allowing him to make very precise 3D drawings for new products. I make my drawings on iPad Pro using Graphic, a simpler, but very fast and easy drawing program.
In the case of our Sea Eagle FishSkiff 16, Dan Dejkunchorn, one of our employees and a fanatical fisherman, came to me and showed me a 14′ solo fiberglass skiff that was made to take a 5 hp motor. I had seen this particular boat a couple of months before at a trade show. I had thought it was an interesting design, but had done nothing about it.
Dan thought this kind of a boat had a number of advantages for fishermen and it would be great if we could come up with some inflatable alternative. After all, a fiberglass skiff, even one just 14′ long, is quite heavy and does not fit into a car trunk. So, we embarked on an effort to create an inflatable fishing skiff that had the good features and advantages of a small fiberglass skiff without the weight and difficulty of transport.
Dan knew what he wanted as fisherman and I knew how to make an inflatable boat with the features he wanted. Dan is my go to consultant on anything to do with fishing. It took only 6 months to develop the FishSkiff and unlike some other products we were able to come to a final design with a minimum of prototypes (3) and within a year, this skiff became our second best selling product.
So, developing new products can be fast or slow. Perhaps, the fastest example of developing a product is our Sea Eagle NeeddleNose Standup Paddle Board. I was at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. We had already developed a couple models of Standup Paddle Boards and I happened to pass by a booth with a rigid fiberglass board using what they were calling a “wave piercing” design – it had a straight pointed V bow. I thought that was an interesting concept and I wondered how we might make a inflatable SUP with the same abilities.
I went back to my booth, pulled out my iPad and made a drawing in about 20 minutes. I realized a round bow at the front would not work, so I drew a drawing of a sharp wave piercing bow mold that could fit over the rounded inflatable bow. That was to achieve a “wave piercing design”. It so happened our Korean supplier was present at the show. A few minutes later, when he came by the booth, I showed him the design and asked if he saw any problems with the idea. He said he thought it was all practical. Accordingly, I e-mailed the drawing to him and the production manager of the company immediately.
The Sea Eagle NeedleNose was an example of fast product development – just 3 months from concept to selling products.
Within 3 weeks they made up a prototype. Within two weeks of that we had received, tested and approved the prototype. Within 3 months we were in production and had started our first NeedleNose SUPs. Within 6 months we had sold our first several hundred units. This is not the typical case of design, but sometimes things do work right from the first moment and sometimes things do go smoothly.
As we got into the 2010s, the internet began to change the world around it. Print advertising, and generally the small or medium size print ads that we used to explain the virtues of a new product, began to work less and less. Simply put, people began to read magazines less and less. This caused something of a crisis for us because print ads had been our best medium to explain and introduce new products. Now that medium was being closed off to us or at the very least becoming less and less effective.
This meant pursuing other avenues of promotion, but nothing immediately replaced the function of being able to explain a new product in print. Of course, we could still explain new products in our catalogs and on our website, but that was limited by the number visitors to our website and by the number of people we sent catalogs to. That universe was not so small. We have over one million visitors to our website each year and we mail 50,000 to 70,000 print catalogs 3 to 5 times a year. Nevertheless, this is still a limited universe.
We are, like many other companies, active on Facebook and Instagram. We use different search engines such as Google and Bing. But there is a downside to all of the channels of media that we use and that that is that each is fundamentally limited. The world does not necessarily beat a path to your website or request a catalog or find out about you in Google, Facebook, Bing or Instagram, even if you do have a better mousetrap. This caused us some hard thinking and has resulted in us making many marketing experiments, many of which failed.
Of course, advertising, marketing, multi-channel promotion is always a mixture of failures and successes. The trick is to have more successes than failures.
Today, as we are entering the 2020s, I can say that we are finding new ways to present and explain our products…through FaceBook, Instagram, Google, Bing etc. We are also finding new ways to use e-mails, digital ads, catalogs. And I can say there are still some print media that are effective. For example, some of the coastal fishing magazines, some RV and Motorhome magazines are still healthy. Those publications have dedicated groups of readers and some people still respond positively to print ads.
It seems to me for a company to be successful, there are many important pillars to a business and they must all work together. A method of promoting and explaining products is important, but that is totally meaningless unless your products do not live up to your promotional abilities. And having good promotion and good products is also meaningless unless you have a good system to buy, receive and ship the products you have. Many businesses have good promotion, many businesses have good products, but if they are not able to deliver those products, it serves them nothing.
I can say that because of our family background in previous businesses, we understood from our very beginning, the need for good promotion and for having good products and for having inventory of those products and for shipping promptly. Our father, Cecil C. Hoge, Sr., had a long history in business that dated back many years before he had gotten into the inflatable boat business. Those businesses covered a wide array of different kinds of products. To name a few…art painting courses, dance lessons, pocket adding and subtracting machines, paint brushes, fishing lures, fishing rods, fishing reels, garden and lawn fertilizer, TV repair books…the list goes on and on.
When I first started working in the business, my father had just bought an inflatable boat company that had been failing. At that time, we were still selling pocket adding and subtracting machines, paint brushes, fishing rods, etc. It was still the early years of our Panther Martin fishing lures, but that business was gradually growing while the other businesses were gradually failing. By this time, my step-mother had married my father and she, being German, had instilled into our little business the importance of earning a profit on all goods and the importance of shipping goods precisely and on time.
So, by the time, I came into the business, we had already established a culture (if you can say that a little business of about 25 people could have a culture) of good promotion, good products, of keeping all goods in stock and of shipping all orders out precisely and on time. So this was already the history I and my brother inherited.
After I came into the business, I added a few weird products myself…good luck bracelets, outdoor hats, exercise equipment, fly and mosquito repellent and several other kinds of products, many of which failed, but some of which we sold hundreds of thousands of. In every case, it was always important that the product was good, that we had excellent methods of promotion, that it was in stock and that we shipped it out promptly.
As I have mentioned in Part 1 of our Sea Eagle History, early on, my father stepped back from the business and gave full ownership of the business over to my step-mother and me. In 1971, my brother John was born, and ultimately he would become my partner. But that was in the future. What I can say is, from the very moment I came into this business, it was always important to have good promotion and good products. And it always was important to keep goods in stock and ship products out promptly.
In my time at this business, we have seen multiple recessions, multiple booms, stock market crashes, new stock market highs, weather calamities, oil crises, inflation, deflation, new highs in unemployment, new highs in employment and various epidemics. Through it all we have survived and thrived. That is not to say it was easy. It was not.
As mentioned at the beginning of this blog story, our goal is to make the best inflatable products of their kind in the world. The world is too complex, I think, to produce or claim you can make the best of everything, but it’s still obtainable to make products that really are the best of their kind. So, whatever model of inflatable boat, kayak or standup paddle board we make, I would like to think it is the best of its kind.
This is our new Rescue 14 – a special model, made heavier and re-inforced to make it super tough – it features a re-inforced drop stitch floor to be able to take a 30 hp outboard motor.
I cannot say what the future history of Sea Eagle shall be. We are trying to branch out into new fields of endeavor. For example, one of our new focuses will be flood control boats. We have already sold 500 or 600 boats for use in fire/rescue/flood work. Now we are developing new models to to be used specifically as flood rescue boats. We think these boats will be, yes, the best inflatable boats of their kind. Those products are shown on Rescue.SeaEagle.com.
I am also thinking of new kinds of inflatable transom boats…new kinds of fishing boats… new kinds of paddle kayaks…new kinds of standup paddle boards. Products that will be lighter and easier to assemble, boats that will motor faster, boats that will have a smoother ride through waves, kayaks that will be easier to transport or paddle, paddle boards that can be better used in the surf.
One of the great features of inflatable boats is there is not a huge mold cost to pay for before you can make something. With inflatable boats you can start with an idea. That idea may be good or bad, but it does not cost a lot of money to find out. And sometimes, just sometimes, you create something truly great.
So, we start and end with that dream and we hope to provide many more unique, different and great Sea Eagle designs in the future.