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Sit on top canoes / kayaks on a California

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cwriggy

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Having spent months lurking and absorbing all the great information on this forum, I finally got my own Cali in March. One of the things I'd been looking forward to with the cali was having a good base to come back to after a little paddle out in the country. It gives a whole new point of view to just walking / cycling on land. Having gleaned lots of useful information from many other people I thought I ought to add my experience in case it helps others who are going through the same process.

As a child I'd grown up with camping holidays to the coast and mostly Ullswater with a sailing dinghy. Our first canoeing experience as a family was in my dads inflatable Sevylor Colorado inflatable back on Ullswater. With all the seats out we managed to paddle this with all 4 of in Canadian style and had a great time. Spurred on by this and after the usual browsing we ended up buying a Perception Gemini double sit on top. The next trip we had made us realise how badly inflatable canoes paddle. Heading into the wind I physically couldn't make any head way at all - it was fairly windy but not extreme. Coming back with the wind behind us just made the canoe spin so was no better. At the same time my wife was paddling serenely around in the Gemini wondering what my problem was.

We did some capsize practice to make sure we could get back on if need be. The hardest part turned out to be capsizing the canoes as they are very stable. You can easily stand up on them and rock from side to side quite violently. We partly chose sit on tops as we weren't intending to do anything too extreme or long and the ability to climb back on appealed for messing around. They are reasonably heavy for carrying to the water, at a push I can carry one on my head for a hundred yards or so but it's much easier with two. The moulded hand holds help for carrying but the front one is too small to get your hand in and is quite sharp. Carrying from the side is possible but it does tend to pitch up or down which can be awkward to control especially in a wind.

So the next trip out we had 2 perception Geminis it seems canoes are almost as bad as bikes for the number that you need to own. The problem then of course is how to store them and how to carry them. Until the cali arrived carrying was on top of a Skoda Octavia. This worked pretty well but with all camping gear and now two teenagers the suspension was truly tested and any bumps in access roads sounded like we were leaving half the car behind. Having tried several arrangements I'd settled on carrying them upside down one on top of the other.

Seats are essential - I pity anyone who rents a canoe and isn't given the seat with a backrest. Some may be flexible enough to sit there with no support but not I. An optional extra for flat water is a set of bungs to prevent water slopping up the drain holes. In my case these are essential. I'm about six foot and 14 stone and, although with an 8 stone slave harnessed in the front we are well below the capacity of the boat, I sink it below the level where water would come into the seat area. At sea you need to remove the drains to allow the inevitable water ingress to escape. I think the seats in a Gemini are moulded lower than some others which makes them more stable and easy to paddle (even for quite young children). We do notice that the efficiency of the boat goes down as the load increases. It can't be that my wife has better technique than me!

Deciding how to carry them on the cali was the next challenge. It was obvious that stacking them was going to be difficult and possibly dangerous until the top one was secured due to the height. So my approach was to strap them upside down side by side. At 80cm wide this seemed to be easily possible within the body width of the cali though the widest point is obviously much lower than the roof. It was just a case of deciding how well we could reach onto the top and how wide to get bars.

From a search on the net it seemed that all the recommended bars were much narrower than the 160cm that would be required as a minimum. The only obvious options were
  1. Thule Square bars. 160 or 200 cm
    • Luckily they had some of these in Halfords they are a solid bar without the slot needed for the foot pack we need. Options would have been to cut a slot to mount the foot pack or strap them to another roof bar using U bolts - a few people have done this on canoe forums but not my preferred solution
  2. Kari-Tek easy load system with special wide build
    • The Kari-Tek solution looks great especially for sea canoes but is expensive and I wasn't sure about hanging two very large canoes off the side of a lifting roof. My boats are too wide to fit in the normal supports and to put them flat would have required a specially wide loading system and it wasn't really clear how to hold the boats in place until they are strapped
  3. Thule 393 Professional Pro bars 175cm
    • This is what I went for. The slot underneath goes the full length of the bar so positioning the foot pack in the correct place is easy. They have rubber inserts for the top which help grip the boat when it's strapped on. The section is quite deep so it seems strong enough to cope with the slightly long overhang (looking up T5 with fix point Thule suggest 150cm for this type of bar). If you are interested in these bars they appeared to be special order in all the places I contacted so leave yourself plenty of time before a trip - mine only just made it in time.
The usual footpack for calis is the 751 which is quite tall. I was looking to see if I could load the canoes without ladders/platforms so decided to check if the new 753 low profile foot pack would work. Email to Thule suggested not as apparently it's not compatible with the adapter pack. I couldn't believe this as they looked so similar and I'd ordered some before the email came. All appeared to be fine until it came to fitting the cover plates after mounting the bars. It's possible I over tightened the footpack to the fixpoint slots as the rubber adapter packs squashed out a little preventing the covers being locked in place. Not a problem for me as I'll be fitting the bars only when taking canoes and they only provide a bit of weather proofing, looks and streamlining. Going to play around with this more - it might just have been paranoia drove me to over tighten them.

So at just shy of 6ft and my son a few inches shorter we can lift the boats into place on the roof. Though you do have to be reasonably strong as it involves lifting the boat above your head as far as possible before manoeuvring the boat over the cali. I like to tie the loose ends of the cam straps quite tightly, as a safety and to prevent flapping. Hence I actually prefer having a work platform, as some others have suggested, to make it easer to reach, otherwise I end up with my hands above my head too long.

The fix point track is great for setting a really big spread to the roof bars making the canoes very stable. Though if set too wide apart it means you are strapping the paddle blades to the bars rather than the paddle shafts, something I may adjust next time.

As a carry vehicle it was superb 4 people for a couple of days camping with canoeing gear, walking gear and a suitcase for 3 days in a hotel. Canoes travelled well and quietly with just front and rear straps for each canoe. I initially put and extra front and rear strap over both boats but this started to drum at about 40mph so was quickly removed. No scrapes on the campsite access track which was amazing. I wouldn't want to lift the roof with it all on though. It would be over 50kg and add more windage to the roof.

Well from a few pointers to help people choose roof bars - this has turned into something of a novel!!
All that's left are a few images to set the scene, and hopefully reward anyone that had the patience to read this far.

the basic setup:


And with canoes:




And finally why it's all worth it. A cali, two canoes and some fantastic weather made even more enjoyable with a diesel heater for the frosty nights (click through to see the full glory of these panoramas):


 
rich-s

rich-s

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Great write up. Trying to decide myself about best way to carry a Canadian canoe. Tending towards the Karitek, they have good reviews, but I don't really like the appearance of them.
 
Vanalli

Vanalli

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Thanks for a great post. At least I know it is possible. I am thinking of getting two single sit on tops for two adults and two small children (4&5).

Does anyone know if one adult and one 5 year old would be ok on a single sit on top?
 
C

cwriggy

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Great write up. Trying to decide myself about best way to carry a Canadian canoe. Tending towards the Karitek, they have good reviews, but I don't really like the appearance of them.
I know what you mean about the appearance, they are a little "industrial". I guess that's the problem of niche products when we are so used to mass produced ones where the cost of tooling and production of special parts can be spread out.

As you say they do seem to get excellent reviews and recommendations from owners and backup form Karitek is also supposed to be good. They replied quickly to my query and I may well have pursued that option if it hadn't been possible to load the canoes straight up. With two canoes the price of the easy load system and all the brackets to hold the canoes in place while loading was adding up too. I hadn't found any brackets that looked like they would particularly suit the rounded edges of the Geminis.

I can't remember how the easy load system dismounts. I seem to remember people saying that getting the roof bars parallel is critical. Because the T track footpack slides in backwards from the front and forwards from the back it might be hard to mount and dismount the system while still attached to the roofbars. It's easy to slacken the footpack (one nut on each foot) but whether you could slide the whole system forwards to the entry exit point and then slide it back with the front t bolts out of the track I don't know. If the easy load system releases from the roofbars then some careful measurements / marking would be needed to make sure you put them back on parallel as the T track allows quite a lot of movement. As I say I'm not entirely sure how it mounts so may have this wrong and it will depend how often you would be wanting to take the bars on and off. With just the roof bars it's grab the work bench, undo 4 nuts, pivot the far side along the track to the exit point, slide the near side to the exit point and lift off. Putting them on is pretty much the same but you have to set the t bolts in line and try not to knock them out of line as you drop them into the track - worse case you have to go to the other side and straighten it.

And of course there is storage when you've taken them off. Just having roof bars doesn't take up too much valuable bike storage space.

I should say that the other advantage of the 175cm bars is that the projection towards the edge of cali makes you a bit more confident you aren't going to drop it down the side as you put it up. There doesn't seem to be much danger of striking objects / people to the side as they are still inside the width of the main body and well within the width of the mirrors. But on narrow Lakeland passes you do become more aware of overhanging branches.
 
C

cwriggy

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Thanks for a great post. At least I know it is possible. I am thinking of getting two single sit on tops for two adults and two small children (4&5).

Does anyone know if one adult and one 5 year old would be ok on a single sit on top?
I think a lot will depend on what you want to do, how small / adventurous they are and whether you all want to be on the water together. It is likely that if it does work this year you'll be needing more space soon.

When we first started the kids were 7 and 5. The five year old wanted to sit on the front of the canoes dangling her feet in the water. This was fine if you are happy to just potter around in a calm area but does affect the handling of the boat in wind/current.

If they sit with you then only one of you can paddle and your paddle stroke will be restricted. Their comfort will depend on the mouldings in the hull. If they aren't paddling then your time out will depend on the weather you are experiencing as they are more likely to get bored / cold. Having islands, beaches, streams or ice cream shops helps to keep the interest up, as does paddling to a picnic.

We've found the doubles great as the kids can paddle as much as they like or stop and play while you keep going and you are ultimately in control - most of the time. Though they do cost more, weigh more and take up more space.

We recently looked into whether we should replace one of the doubles with a couple of singles as we.d noticed that my boat was a bit slower due to the high loading. However, we found that the singles are much slower than the doubles and it feels a bit more like you are doing something together in the doubles. It's also awesome when the turbo kicks in on the front engine. So with the kids at 15 and 13 we are still getting use out of them. We actually rented a demonstrator single from a local canoe shop and tried it on the local canal. This could well be a good first step or visit one of the many bodies of water that have canoe hire.
 
ArunAlec

ArunAlec

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I use a Karitek on my car to carry Canadian canoes and it's excellent but it is heavy. Fitting it to the car does require a bit of care and the set up does have to be precise. My reservations as far as using on a Cali (I'm still looking for one) are the additional weight and height (although I believe they sell a lower profile version for vehicles with roof tracks, mine fits onto roof bars). The other concern would be the amount of strain put on the roof when loading. All the weight of the load hanging on one side of the roof. I would be interested in looking at the commercial van roof rack systems with a roller set up allowing canoes to be "slid
 
ArunAlec

ArunAlec

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I use a Karitek on my car to carry Canadian canoes and it's excellent but it is heavy. Fitting it to the car does require a bit of care and the set up does have to be precise. My reservations as far as using on a Cali (I'm still looking for one) are the additional weight and height (although I believe they sell a lower profile version for vehicles with roof tracks, mine fits onto roof bars). The other concern would be the amount of strain put on the roof when loading. All the weight of the load hanging on one side of the roof. I would be interested in looking at the commercial van roof rack systems with a roller set up allowing canoes to be "slid" onto roof from rear of van.
 
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cwriggy

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Lol I bet we've all read the same posts and watched the same videos then wondered how those ideas can be applied to the cali. I looked at a few options for rollers. Some of the videos I watched had chosen this option to enable a solo paddler to load the canoe themselves. I think the potential problem with this is the angle the boat makes with the top of the cali. The T Track does not allow fitting a bar before about 65cm from the rear of the hatch.


With the height of the cali I think this might be too far back to clear the hatch unless you hold or prop up the rear end of the canoe to get a shallower angle. As you continue to load the boat you end up with more and more projecting up into the air in front of the roller, this would become more difficult to control and any cross wind may make it unsafe especially when working above head height.

I have seen some rollers that stick on with a suction cup but there is not much flat space at the back of the roof and I am not at all sure I'd want to put load anywhere other than through the T Track. Applying gentle pressure between the T Track on the main roof it is quite flexible it is the T Track that has the rigidity and spreads the load safely.

In case anyone hasn't seen the T Track system. The footpack is tightened on by sliding a flat rectangular headed bolt through the black plastic section in the photo into the aluminium T Track section. This bolt passes through the footpack and is tightened on from above with a single nut.
 
Vanalli

Vanalli

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Thanks for the advice on the sit on tops, seems like I should invest in the two seaters. Not sure where to store them yet!
 
Sp0_0k

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Not sure why you are so against the inflatables )
Tested inflatable canoe in Norway's fjords. Fishing and cruising. Pretty good. Though I run it with electric motor so helps paddling for hours against winds and currents. Just 27kg total weight and packs pretty small.
It is made in Czech.
 
ArunAlec

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Not sure why you are so against the inflatables )
Tested inflatable canoe in Norway's fjords. Fishing and cruising. Pretty good. Though I run it with electric motor so helps paddling for hours against winds and currents. Just 27kg total weight and packs pretty small.
It is made in Czech.
I have a couple of "solid" Canadian canoes but don't fancy loading on the Cali roof so have been looking at alternatives. There are a couple of really good but pricey folding canoes on the market, so I am seriously looking at Gumotex, the Palava which is a pretty good compromise. Packs away into a small back pack but paddles pretty well, so I'm told!
 
Sp0_0k

Sp0_0k

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Yea Gumotex are one of the best made in Europe.
Had a Ruby just one season but pretty impressed with a build.
 
sbmcd

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We have a 2 man Tarpon 130T sit on top which fits nicely on a set of Thule roof bars and is light enough for the roof to operate when it is still strapped on. I did look at the Karitek but it is a bit too industrial and heavy for my liking.
P6110647a.jpg apped on.
 
MattBW

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We have a Bic Trinidad 2 man sit on top, havent used it yet, but hoping it will work ok with the VW roof bars. V has put the allen key away somewhere so until we find it I can't try it.

The loader thing above is a really good idea and has maybe solved a problem we hadn't addressed yet :D
 
Tigger

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We have a 2 man Tarpon 130T sit on top which fits nicely on a set of Thule roof bars and is light enough for the roof to operate when it is still strapped on. I did look at the Karitek but it is a bit too industrial and heavy for my liking.
View attachment 14010 apped on.

Hi sbmcd,

We're contemplating taking a 2 man sit on top kayak on a 3 week jaunt to west scotland. It weighs 28Kg and the rack is Thule aero wing on 753. I'm a bit worried about the roof going up/being up with the weight - has anyone got experience with raising the roof with a kayak on? I've tried it and it seems ok, but.... we don't want to take it if we'll need to take it off the roof most nights!

We're in a 65 plate T6 Ocean.

Thanks
Tigs
 
sbmcd

sbmcd

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Hi sbmcd,

We're contemplating taking a 2 man sit on top kayak on a 3 week jaunt to west scotland. It weighs 28Kg and the rack is Thule aero wing on 753. I'm a bit worried about the roof going up/being up with the weight - has anyone got experience with raising the roof with a kayak on? I've tried it and it seems ok, but.... we don't want to take it if we'll need to take it off the roof most nights!

We're in a 65 plate T6 Ocean.

Thanks
Tigs
We keep our on the roof when it goes up, only time we tske it off is when we are using it, or if it is very windy.
 
Tigger

Tigger

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Great, and I was just about to ask how heavy yours is, when I spotted that it the blue version of ours!

What's it like on the motorway? I imagine you feel the wind a bit more and there's some noise, but otherwise fine?

Have you had the roof up many times with it on? (still need to convince my wife that it'll be fine...)!

Thanks again
Tigs
 
sbmcd

sbmcd

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Great, and I was just about to ask how heavy yours is, when I spotted that it the blue version of ours!

What's it like on the motorway? I imagine you feel the wind a bit more and there's some noise, but otherwise fine?

Have you had the roof up many times with it on? (still need to convince my wife that it'll be fine...)!

Thanks again
Tigs
Flat side down is very aerodynamic so no impact on drag, 80 mph no issues. I will post some pictures of how we tie it on and how we secure the tie down strap ends. We had ours on, and off, the roof for three weeks on a rour of the Isles.I always run the engine when putting the roof up or down, even with no Kayak. Pm me your phone number if you would like to discuss.
 
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