The Pacboat Puffins

-- Last Updated: Jul-11-12 4:10 PM EST --

Any thoughts on whether a Pakboat Puffin Saco is right size or undersized for a stocky female paddler...5'6" and 230 lbs? Would I be better paddling the Puffin Saranac as a solo kayak?

Other suggestions?

I need a folding kayak that is very light in weight and has a very large cockpit. My goal is to paddle on ponds and small lakes, for fitness and pleasure.

The Pacboats appealed to me because they are wide, light and open.

I'd consider something more costly, if there's good value in it, but keep in mind that I'd get stuck like a cork in a the cockpits of most sea kayaks.

good question

– Last Updated: Jul-12-12 12:32 AM EST –

I've got a older Pakboat Puffin 12 in the fleet (same basic frame and dimensions as the Saco but with a simpler deck). If you're ever in my neck of the woods (Pittsburgh, PA) you'd be welcome to try it out on the water and see how it feels. Max capacity is 280 but I don't know how it would perform. I'm 5' 5" and 160 # and find entering the cockpit awkward, not so much because of the size (it is pretty generous) but because you can't sit on the back deck and slide in as you can with a hardshell. I have found I have to straddle it in the shallows, plunk my butt in and then wrestle one leg at a time in by folding it towards my chest.

But it is perfectly comfortable with the deck off and a whole lot easier to enter. And if you were paddling with friends you could probably have them help you put the deck on after you seated yourself in the boat if conditions were such that you wanted a deck cover. I could even envision having someone (like a shop that did shoe and luggage repairs) enlarge the cockpit and modify the coaming if you wanted it larger. After looking at how it is made I think I could do that myself since I have an old treadle sewing machine that would handle the deck fabric.

It's a shame these nice boats are not more widely distributed so people could test them out in person. I started paddling with folders (Feathercraft) so I have always been partial to them but I admit I was skeptical about Pakboats until I took a leap of faith and bought one sight unseen (an XT-15 we got before the Puffin). They are really quite nice performing boats for the price and a lot easier to assemble than my Feathercrafts have ever been. It really is a pleasure to have a kayak under 25 lbs.

A higher end option would be the Feathercraft Big Kahuna. A Kahuna was my first boat and at 34 pounds was quite manageable. The Big Kahuna is the same but has a larger cockpit -- my 5'7" and 220 lb male friend actually could paddle my regular Kahuna but the cockpit was snug on him. Only drawback is a new one costs 3 times what a similar length Pakboat Saranac would. They do turn up for sale for under $2000 sometimes, but they are harder to assemble and you can't remove the deck.

It can only get better
Im going to order the Saco from REI and give it a test paddle.

Do you recall if you have the 29 or 36 in cockpit length on your Puffin? I’m not sure when they enlarged it, maybe with the Saco? I think they alsomade the deck a lot more structured at that time, so I don’t know if it is still as easy to mod.

I’ll post my experiencesnin a couple of weeks, and may move on to looking at a Big Kahuna if this doesn’t work out well.

Thanks for your feedback.

good idea
REI stands by their 100% return policy if it doesn’t work for you. The new decks are nicer, like the one on our XT-15. Hope the boat works and you enjoy it!

Sounds good
I’ll be interested to hear your review, I’ve been interested in this boat for a while and there is a lack of info on it.

I’ll review it soon too
I’ll post a review as soon as I get some more seat time in mine. So far I’ve only had it for 3 weeks and the only real outing has been loaning it to a friend for our Fourth of July fireworks paddle. She’s an athlete and a decent paddler and had no trouble keeping up with the rest of the group in pretty rough water and wind for the 4 mile round trip. I gave her a 230 cm tapered narrow blade paddle since the kayak is a little beamier than most of my others.

The rest of us were in hardshell sea kayaks, two 15’ and one 17’, and a Feathercraft Wisper (one of the fastest folders). I was suitably impressed with how well it performed for her. She tends to have lower back issues in kayaks but reportedly was comfortable in it (we inflated the seat to the max and she added a small Thermarest lumbar “bone” cushion.) I had also added an inflatable cushion she could place under her thighs and a chunk of pool noodle strung on rope tied across the frame for a foot brace. I stuffed float bags under the stern and bow decks, just in case.

She kept a steady pace and the Puffin not seem to be having any trouble with windcocking or handling the crossed waves and powerboat wakes. At one point while we were preparing to raft together along the “seawall” to watch the fireworks my friend needed to climb out and use the rest rooms – I steadied the boat against the wall and she was able to stand in the cockpit and climb out, then return the same way: testimony to the structural integrity and rigidity of the frame and skin design.

My observation was that the Puffin 12 could be paddled at least as fast as the 14’ Feathercraft Kahuna I used to have. I’ll be able to comment further on that once I have taken it out myself, I hope within the next week or two. I must say the thing is a joy to transport. I wish all kayaks weighed 24 lbs.

I’ve been continually impressed with the Pakboat XT-15 we bought for my beau two years ago. The Pakboats are deceptive – I notice how people seem skeptical about their sort of rough appearance (the deck and hull fabric often look rumpled and the frame assembly looks flimsy at first glance.) But they are really comfortable, strong and seaworthy boats. The trade-off in performance for their lightness and storage simplicity is not as much as you might think.

I finally had a chance to take the Puffin Saco out for a paddle, and it suits my needs very well.

It is not difficult to put together. The secret is…spray some silicone into the sleeves for the gunwales, and they will slide in with ease.

I paddled about 2 miles around a local lake, and thought it handled as easily as various rec boats I’ve rented. Keep in mind that it is broad and stable, not long and nimble. I’m not out for speed or distance, just a bit of exercise and fresh air.

The only downside to buying it from REI is that they do not stock the two accessories that I think are mandatory–the deck and the foot brace. I will be ordering them from Pakboats tomorrow, now that I know I am keeping the Puffin. I used an improvised foot brace today, made from a section of pool noodle and some rope.

If you get one, be prepared to become an instant ambassador for folding kayaks. While I was assembling and disassembling it on shore, I got questions from a jogger, a man walking his dog, and even one of the park rangers. And the park was fairly deserted today…

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I’m so glad to hear that the Saco worked for you. Welcome to the world of folding kayaks! (and, as you have already experienced, everywhere you go you will attract curious attention.)

A suggestion when you get the deck: slip both the stern and bow ends over the ends BEFORE trying to fasten down the velcro along the gunwales. It’s a pain if you don’t do the ends first. I think you’ll like the deck – the newer design and ripstop fabric for the Saco is nicer than the vinyl on my older Puffin. It is the same as they use on the XT’s.

I ordered the inflatable foot brace too, and it came last week. Nicely made, I think, and it should add to the ease of paddling. There is a company called Wayfair that stocks the accessories – I was ordering some other items and got free shipping for it.