Glory of Green
Stories from the Great Outdoors
Bon voyage number 1
Don’t you think the word Itiwit somehow resembles Titanic? Lots of t’s and i’s there? Yes? No? Anyway – our first test run with inflatable kayaks hit ice, but unlike Titanic we overcame / gave up in time and tried another not very successful route. Sometimes you honestly can’t say you have been on a trip from A to B. There was a lot of fog, mud, ice, branches, logs, carrying of kayaks – and some delightful moments of beauty – within a very small geographical area for some hours this Saturday in late January. We had fun.
Rolling the dice
To be frank we have no previous experience with inflatable kayaks – and so our verdict is based on a comparison with sturdy family-friendly non-inflatable ones. Still, it’s possible for us to figure out what works for us and what doesn’t. The not entirely ideal conditions might be an advantage for the test. I guess it’s like wine – everything tastes good as long as the sun is shining and you have good company… (I’m not complaining about the company, by the way). So, here’s our honest to God verdict over the Itiwit 2/3-person kayak from Dechatlon.
After checking out the web-site in both French and Flemish, I was pretty sure I would find kayaks at Dechatlon La Luviere. Meeting up there, though, I was told to order online. Thank you, Frank Canova at IBM, for inventing the smartphone back in 1992, which made me able to physically show the salesman their Internet-page, where it clearly stated that it was not possible to order online and that I had to get it in the shop. They were supposed to have three.
This thankfully caused more investigation and two kayaks showing up in front of us. Then we had to ask if they had any paddles. And then if they had a pump. And life-wests and water-proof bags. Belgians don’t exactly offer it up to you, but they are not unfriendly either, and finally I guess they came up with what we needed. Although considering what comes next, I’m not absolutely certain.
Happy Queen of Green with new kayak-in-a-bag
Inflating the kayaks
Surprisingly, it was utterly impossible to adhere the pump to the vent, which is a rather mayor issue when there is no kayak without air being somehow pushed into it (and that could not have happened by human lungs unless you need experience with fainting).
We eventually had to unscrew the entire thing where the vent was fastened and press the pump hard into the opening not to let air out while we pumped. Then we had to be superhumanly fast and get the thing-plus-vent-plus-screw back on before the whole thing deflated.
Don't know what to do? Getting very frustrated? Having a set of perfectly fine pliers at your disposal? Let's just break it!
This naturally caused a lot of argument, us looking for a possibly missing part in a severely untidy car (thinking it must be some part we had forgot to ask for), Audun breaking of a part of the pump with a set of pliers in desperation (if we can only get off this thing I’m sure it will work!), more loud arguments because of men’s need to use brute force, and me using YouTube and thinking that the pump looks right even though it definitely doesn’t seem to function right. JEEEEESUS!
I’m not sure if they have changed the vents and given us an old pump – or if we got a new pump to go with last year’s vents – or if we need a missing piece – or if we just didn’t understand it. In any case: This was not a good start for the Itiwit. On the positive side: The kayaks inflated rapidly and stayed firm during the whole shebang – although it was impossible to be sure about the correct air pressure due to the pump/vent misfit.
Comfort and functionality
The kayaks are quite light (17 kg), which makes them a dream to manoeuvre on land compared to the non-inflatables that we have rented here and there – mixed with well-placed handles that gives you good control when launching the kayak (I do wish for one extra pair for the rougher situations, though).
Of-course the pump did not fit the inflatable seats at all – we blew them up by mouth and had the same problem with air leaving the second you let go of the piece.
The backrest was not the best and the seat should have been a bit higher, but we’ll ponder upon how to adjust this better until next time – a proper pump and vent will probably do wonders.
There’s a lot of room in the kayak for storing your belongings – and it’s able to carry up to 230 kg, which means we can bring a lot of gear for longer trips.
On water, the kayaks moved a bit less smoothly than what we are used to – they felt slightly clumsy, but at the same time very sturdy. No fear of having to learn the Eskimo-roll (anyway, they are open).
The feeling of clumsiness might also stem from the fact that the Itiwit paddles that goes with the kayaks are terrible. We’ll actually need to buy better ones. Both the blades shape and size made them a bit ineffective. In addition, I was afraid that both blade and the paddle itself would break. I look forward to trying the kayak with a better paddle that might make it easier to steer.
It’s hard to make a final judgement yet – we need to figure out what’s going on with the vent/pump, adjust the seats better and get new paddles. Despite our troubles, my general impression is promising. I think they will work well when we get all this stuff sorted out.
Give me a river
As we bought the kayaks at La Louviere and the clock had been ticking, we needed to find a small canal or river not so far away. We ended up doing our test on a side branch of the Brussel-Charleroi canal.
The landscape of the side canal was beautiful, with swans (photographed by Erla), ducks and quaint old locks, but the water level turned out to be totally unsuitable (more mud than water). Plastic and rubbish turned up almost everywhere and a black dead bird floated beside us in the brown water… Then we hit ice, discovered it was too tick for paddling trough, and started the search for another waterway.
An even smaller canal went parallel – we climbed out and started carrying the kayaks to find a new place to launch them.
Finally back on track, we paddled for a little while – still with an eerie feeling to it - a (probably) blue bull bellowing somewhere into the rain, but the flow was a lot better. Branches and trees gave us some fun manoeuvring, but then it all came to a halt again when a giant log blocked the way and there was no way around it. Carrying the kayaks around it was not a possibility due to the situation on the flanks.
We turned and went as far as we could before entering upon a fall, carried the kayaks back to the canal where we had started and headed back to the car. Darkness creeping upon us.
The fun of Belgian rules and regulations
As in many other parts of our lives, there are unknown rules and regulations to discover in a new and very different country – and in no fragment of our lives is this more apparent than when it comes to outdoors activities. It seems we were on the wrong side of legality, paddling these small canals. I even think there are certain hours limiting the kayaking – and they seem to vary during the year. Consulting the Internet, I got immensely confused.
Finally, I started calling around, and a helpful soul called Joanna, in the Vlamse Kano & Kajak Federatie, told me we had to join a club to paddle on the “non-navigable” waterways in Wallonia – then she (bless her soul) sent me a map over navigable waterways that also shows some possibilities in Wallonia.
First step is therefore to join a club. Then hopefully the club will sell us some stickers that we need to put on our kayaks - and then we’ll have to bring a printed text of some sort. Yes – that’s right – a specific printed text must be with you on your trip. In addition, you must notify a responsible person – each river has its own watch-person, and then you might be allowed to paddle the river you have in mind. Belgians are so spontaneous! I got the list of the people we’ll have to ask for permission from Joanna. Knowing all of this I feel so competent - and at the same time very overwhelmed.
And here comes the best part: I Flandern you can go everywhere. No club, no text, no sticker, no notification. Joanna tells me the regulations are for protecting the environment, but by the look of these rivers, I think a little additional use could make people more aware of the state of them. There are plastic bottles and other kinds of rubbish everywhere. If you’re out there, in nature, it makes you want to take care of it.
Thankfully – more is needed to deter this family from paddling, and we will try again – both on navigable and non-navigable waterways. Starting in Flandern (and on the navigable waterways of Wallonia) until we’ve got all the necessary documents in place and are free to explore every creek. At least I get to know this strange country we live in a lot better when I make us navigate it all. Both nature and culture. Bon voyage!
Questions? Wanting to share? Duke of Edinburgh or plain Jane? Feel free to contact me.