December 21, 2020

Oru Bay ST folding kayak.
Oru Bay ST folding kayak.

The temperature was 46 degrees Fahrenheit, a lowering sky and a wind 5-10 MPH from the north. Like all north winds, it had an edge brittle as broken glass. I was paddling up Chocowinity Bay to Sidney Creek, across to Chocowinity Creek, then back down the bay to Cypress Landing. It was the cockleshell’s maiden voyage.

I’ve paddled this route many times before but always in a NuCanoe Frontier, a hybrid kayak stable as a gunboat and almost as heavy. Hauling 76 pounds up the steep embankment to our house had become problematic for an old man. The cockleshell weighs only 28 pounds soaking wet.

Technically, it’s an Oru Bay ST but cockleshell fits. I bought it not only because it’s light but because it folds to the size of a suitcase. I needed something small to take on extended vacations. I can also haul it across steep embankments and punishing riprap that’s the only access to many of the blackwater rivers in North Carolina.

The transition from gunboat to cockleshell was interesting. I swear I could dance a hornpipe on the deck of the Frontier without serious risk of upset. (To be honest, I don’t know how to dance.) The Oru is less forgiving. If your head gets out of alignment with your torso, you know immediately. It’s a remarkable training aid for aligning your body and sinking your chi.

I was a professional sailor for 15 years. I’ve sailed both of the U.S. continental coasts, one end to the other, and Hawaii to San Francisco several times. I thought I was a good boatman. I should have remembered that pride comes before a fall and a soaking follows arrogance.

Like flying an airplane, takeoff and landing are the troublesome moments. Getting in and out of the Oru required skills I hadn’t developed sailing boats across oceans. What resulted was the sort of physical comedy that made Charlie Chaplin famous.

Since my initial trial, the weather has been mean and unrelenting. Today was the first day it hasn’t been raining or blowing a gale so I struggled into my Frogg Toggs, neoprene booties, raincoat, and CO2 inflatable life vest to go for a casual paddle while my wife worried she would be left a widow. (She can’t imagine how I’ll ever get back into the kayak if I capsize.)

A folding kayak is still a novelty on the sounds and rivers of North Carolina. I expect I’ll have some explaining to do but today there was no one else on the water. I took a few pictures, not because I expect they’ll have any aesthetic value, just to prove I was there.

2 Responses

  1. It’s a wonderful concept…a kayak that folds up to a suitcase size package. Would like to hear more of your thoughts on its performance, as you gain more perspective.
    It looks too little to be comfortable or efficient. Not meant to be a criticism, just an observation based on your photo.
    To me, a kayak needs to be comfortable as it is easy to spend hours on the watercourses here. I like the idea of only having a suitcase to lug about instead of a 16 foot long barge that weighs a ton and needs a trailer to haul.

    1. Glen, there are compromises, certainly, but the photo makes the cockpit look more constricted than it actually is. (I hadn’t yet extended my legs into the kayak’s forward section.) I intend to publish a series of articles about kayaking places I find interesting in North Carolina, the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Three Sisters Swamp on the Black River among them. I’ll include my experience with the cockleshell in those posts.

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