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You could just stuff it

August 24, 2004|Scott Doggett

No matter how heavy-duty your trailer hitch, it's not always convenient to have a 22-foot Boston Whaler or two tiers of Jet Skis stalking your every sprint to the beach or mountains. Yet if you set out for an alpine island in just your SUV, you'll probably drown. That's why boats that tuck inside your Escalade (or in some cases your Neon) are such a good idea. With help from a pair of portable-boat sellers (pictured), Scott Doggett spent a day plying the back bay at Newport Dunes in a flatboat, a dinghy, two kayaks and a catamaran.


Sevylor Sit-on-Top Flatboat

This eye-catching inflatable borrows a Polynesian design used for high-seas travel. Its surfboard shape is reportedly good for wave riding, and its bottom boasts slots for the three skegs that come with the craft.

The skegs help a lot with direction control. Without them the flatboat is about as roll-resistant as a log. This thing's supposed to max out under a 250-pound paddler, but that's what I weigh and I sat high in the water (a good thing).

Part of the boat's impressive buoyancy results from the outer hull's brawny material, the same heavy-duty, cold-resistant PVC used in the inner hull and polyester decking. This lets paddlers pump the boat to a taut 2.8 psi.The $199 price includes a repair kit and a detachable hip pack, making it a real bargain. (800) 821-4645,

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 28, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Portable kayak -- The Gear column in the Outdoors section Tuesday reported that the Advanced Elements DragonFly 2 inflatable two-person kayak retailed for $499 and was available at It retails for about $329 and is not available on the REI website.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 31, 2004 Home Edition Outdoors Part F Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Portable kayak -- The Gear column in the Aug. 24 Outdoors section reported that the Advanced Elements DragonFly 2 inflatable two-person kayak retailed for $499 and is available at It retails for about $329 and is not available on the REI website.

Aqualine SD290 Dinghy

One glance at a Zodiac and I swoon. For years, I viewed them as the creme de la inflatable dinghies. So I became as happy as a puppy in the shore break while test-piloting this one.

It's Zodiac-sized but sports an even beefier tube and metal transom for a burlier motor to power heavier loads.

The model I tested spanned 9 1/2 feet, weighed a mere 89 pounds and could handle a 15-horsepower outboard.

Add a deep and rigid inflatable keel and you've got the ocean equivalent of a Kawasaki Ninja. At $995 with oars and oarlocks, two removable wooden seats and a repair kit, it's yet another bargain. (800) 500-2404,

Klepper Aerius II Expedition

The Aerius II Expedition is to the DragonFly 2 what a '97 Ferrari 355 F1 is to a '67 Beetle. The shark-sleek, skin-on-frame Expedition stretches 17 feet and had scarcely any drag. Two full-length water-level air sponsons minimize roll -- and a mere 22 breaths (11 on each side) inflate them.

The folks at Klepper HQ in Rosenheim, Germany, have been making skin-on-frame kayaks since 1907. They've perfected the art. The laminated-birch-and-ash frame, held together with hardened-aluminum fasteners, shows the sort of precision engineering touted by that other Bavarian fun factory, BMW.

The seats are soft yet firm, with adjustable lumbar support. Although the Aerius II was designed to accommodate two people, it lent itself superbly to one.

The hull is composed of Hypalon with additional reinforcement under the keel. The finely woven cotton deck is breathable, yet water beaded on its surface.

Paddle holders and luggage tie-downs add to the craft's ample storage space at bow and stern.

Available in eight colors. A bargain at $5,200 (price includes rudder assembly and spray cover). (800) 500-2404,

Advanced Elements DragonFly 2

If looks could kill, this eye-catching inflatable two-person kayak would be a public menace. I took it out for a joy ride but returned less than joyful. The thin elastic PVC floor allowed pooling (think wet buttocks), and then there was the mystery of an underside bulge that remained after my underside found another seat. Also, the advertised "tracking fin" at the helm left the water.

In fairness, the DragonFly 2 was genetically engineered for parties of two, and by the time I tested this one, I was all alone. Outdoors twosomes had already tested it on Huntington Lake, Mono Lake and at Doheny State Beach and say that although it flopped (literally) when stroked into small waves, it cruised sweetly along shorelines -- even when the person in the stern seat spent more time with a fly rod than with a paddle.

The $499 price strikes me as high. (800) 426-4840,

Grabner Happy Cat SL

This new Austrian-made catamaran tacked well even in low-wind conditions. And stabilizing fins near its center let enable it to pivot like a ballerina with each shove of the arm connected to its dual stern rudders.

The SL's full racing-style Barton rigging made one-handed sailing pleasantly uneventful, and the 16 1/4 -foot-long drum-tight tubes gave it barracuda speed.

Each tube is dual-chambered to assure buoyancy in the event the boat bangs coral, followed by a disconcerting hiss -- unlikely given that six layers of Hypalon protect these tubes.

For the cross bar, seat bench and other parts, the manufacturer uses Baltic birch, Russian spruce and ash that it says has been air-dried for eight years before being milled.

Dacron-reinforced sails cover an impressive nine square meters, and the Chinese junk look of the main sail is particularly attractive.

The extra-large viewing window in the jib let me see without ducking to peer under the sail, and a bow trampoline fended off spray. Catalina Island would be a cakewalk for a Happy Cat SL and an experienced sailor.

The price ($5,330 for the package tested above) includes pump, paddles and bow trampoline. (800) 500-2404,

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