By Tom Schlichter
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
“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.”