Hitting the Road with Your Kayak – Not Literally, I Hope

Step 1: Roll the kayak to hoisting frame.

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.

Step 2: Use a ratchet pulley to hoist the boat.
Step 2: Use a ratchet pulley to hoist the boat.
Step 3: Drive car under frame and lower kayak into roof rack cradle.
Step 3: Drive car under frame and lower kayak into roof rack cradle.
Step 4: Hit the road! (Note: Make sure you strap boat down and secure bow and stern lines.)
Step 4: Hit the road! (Note: Make sure you strap boat down and secure bow and stern lines.)

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Surf’s Up! Hanging Ten In A Kayak

All right, technically my buddy Spyros "Spy" Barres and I weren’t hanging 10 toes off the end off boards while riding waves at Westerly’s Fenway Beach on Thursday, but we were surfing.

I'm Always Chasing Rainbows

All of us who have ventured atop mountains, out to sea, or simply into a nearby park have occasionally faced Mother Nature’s wrath – a sudden thunderstorm, pounding blizzard, gale-force winds, locusts …

Loading Your Backpack: Less Is (Usually) More

Some years ago, preparing to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness – the final stretch of the fabled Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, I stuffed my backpack with what I initially considered to be the absolute bare minimum for a week in...

Sun, Sun, Sun Here It Comes (Enough Already!)

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was one of the year’s high holy days, right up there with Halloween and the last day of school, because that was when my parents took my sister and me to the beach for the annual fireworks...

How To Build An Adirondack Chair Out Of Skis In 14,387 Easy Steps

Many people I know share my passion for outdoor recreation but I also have a little secret: Between rounds of kayaking, hiking, gardening, wood-splitting and other activities I also savor the simple act of lounging quietly on a sunny day in a...

A Comedy – And Nearly A Tragedy – Of Errors On Maine's Saddleback Mountain: In The Age Of Cellphones, A Failure To Communicate

A refreshing breeze cooled me despite a blazing late-afternoon sun as I scrambled up the final rocky slope to the 4,121-foot summit of Maine’s Saddleback Mountain earlier this week, but I paused for only a moment to gaze at the glorious,...

Gardening Is Simple! Just Stick Stuff In The Ground And Voila! A Cornucopia Of Fresh Veggies! (Right)

Anyone who has ever attempted to grow vegetables soon realizes it is a true labor of love, with particular emphasis on the labor.

An Explorer’s Guide To The Great Indoors: Hotels Designed For ‘Adventurers’

During decades of traipsing through the wilderness I’ve slept, or attempted to sleep, in every conceivable indoor and outdoor quarters: in freshly dug snow caves; alongside bug-infested swamps; during thunderstorms with no tent; in the...

Alligators, Gorillas, Bears, Snakes, Even Cows: Danger Lurks Where You Least Expect It

The awful story this week about a 2-year-old boy who witnesses said was pulled by an alligator into a lagoon near a Walt Disney World hotel in Orlando, Florida and later found dead serves as a reminder that danger lurks even in "The...

This Bud’s For You: The Unofficial King Of Beer Litter

While kayaking the other morning I spotted a small, dark object poking above the lake surface 100 yards or so ahead, and I was pretty sure it was the head of a turtle until I drew closer and realized the sad truth: just another beer...

Chaotic Fun At The Essex River Race

Shortly before the start of the late-great Rose Arts Road Race several years ago, a 10.47-mile running competition over the hills of Norwich considered one of New England’s toughest courses, my friend Bob and I decided to jog a couple miles...

Tom And Steve’s Excellent Adventures In The Northwest Part III: Kayaking Off The Oregon Coast And Columbia River Gorge; Hiking On Mount Saint Helens

Propelled by the sound of crashing surf, my son Tom and I scrambled over a low dune and then gazed in awe.