If I ever won the lottery — an unlikely occurrence since I never buy tickets — my principal indulgence would be the acquisition of assorted waterfront properties, where I would store sea kayaks, whitewater play boats, standup paddle boards and other such toys.
That way I’d never again have to strap three kayaks, including an unwieldy 22-footer, onto my 15-foot-long car and drive more than 300 miles to a lake in upstate New York, a bay in Maine or river in New Hampshire.
I would simply call ahead: “Jeeves, prepare the sea kayak for an outing on Muscongus Bay,” and when my charter seaplane landed near Port Clyde I’d step off the pontoon into the cockpit and start paddling.
I’ve had a few misadventures involving roof racks over the years, and wish today’s cars still had rain gutters that made it easy and inexpensive to install one-size-fits-all load bars. The modern aircraft-style gutters require an array of rack systems and fit kits, depending on the car model and what you plan to carry.
An ongoing struggle has been lifting a great white whale of a tandem, which weighs nearly 100 pounds, and placing it in the roof rack cradles.
The task is daunting enough for two people, and nearly impossible for one — until I invented and constructed the Fagin One-Man Kayak Hoist, which you can view in the accompanying photographs.
Here’s how it works: Using pressure-treated two-by-fours I built a box-like frame that includes two cross beams wide and high enough to drive my car under. You could secure the four corner uprights using cement, but instead I added angle braces and cross pieces that rest on the ground to enhance stability.
I use a cart to roll the vessel beneath the frame and rig two slings with ratcheted pulleys connected to hooks screwed to the bottom of the cross beams.
I then slide the slings beneath both ends of the kayak and start cranking on the pulleys, one at a time, until the boat is suspended about 6 feet in the air. Next, I drive under the boat, get out of the car and lower the kayak into the cradle. Then I secure the boat with straps and bow and stern lines, back the loaded car out and hit the road.
The whole operation takes about 15 minutes. To remove the kayak, I simply reverse the process.
I used the Fagin One-Man Kayak Hoist the other day when loading the tandem for a paddle to Fishers Island, and it marked a sad milestone: the final journey for my 16-year-old Honda Civic hatchback, which has transported me and my boats faithfully for nearly a quarter-million miles. Though the engine still runs like a top rust has permeated the frame and suspension, and my mechanic friend warns me that at any time the whole chassis could crash to the ground.
Sadly, Honda no longer makes a Civic hatchback, so I’ve had to switch brands to find a comparable compact model that gets great gas mileage and is built low enough so I can continue using my homemade hoist system. I’m not in the business of making product endorsements so I’ll leave it at that, except to add that I’ve never understood why active outdoor enthusiasts insist they need an SUV or off-road vehicle to haul all their gear. Have you ever tried lifting a heavy kayak onto an SUV roof?
I’ve often carried three long kayaks on my tiny hatchback’s roof rack, and once or twice even managed to lash on four, and also have had bikes hanging from a rear rack.
In addition, my compact car has bounced along thousands of miles on dirt roads. I don’t want a Hummer or Land Rover capable of tearing over muddy, rocky terrain because except in emergencies vehicles don’t belong in the wilderness. Besides, if any of my friends saw me driving one of those behemoths I’d never live it down. It would be like if they came into our house and saw a stuffed moose head on the wall.
One final note: For the most part I paddle, hike and bike close to home. There’s nothing eco-friendly about driving hundreds of miles for recreation when there are so many great places nearby.
And, speaking from experience, make sure you double-check those lines before driving off.