Regarded as the "father" of the sit-on-top kayak, designer Tim Niemier put his imagination to the test when asked to invent a rig to trace the drainage of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia for a TV Doucmentary by the Outdoor Life Network called the Traverse of the Bolivian Altiplano.
Although Niemier sold his young company, Ocean Kayak, his sit-on-top designs are still setting the pace for the rest of the industry; The ever popular Scupper Classic & Pro, Rrapido, The Ambush and countless others. So what did the man who started it all come up with for Bolivia?
TIM: "The first hurdle that I saw was getting kayaks down to Bolivia," remarked Tim. "Anything over 12 feet is very hard to get on an airplane so we talked Sandro, an Ocean Kayak dealer in Santiago Chile into taking 4 Cabo's which is Ocean Kayak's big cruising double."
Taking the variety of terrain into account, from wind and currents to sandbars and quick sand he designed two "Catayaks" for his crew of seven.
South America's second largest lake, Titicaca, is one of the most prominent features of the Bolivian Peruvian Altiplano. It is the geographic feature with which most people are familiar. The Suches River comes into the North East End of Lake Titicaca from high in the Apolobomba Andes. The Rio Desaguadero drains out the other side, traveling south. Unable to reach the Pacific Ocean the Desaguadero dissipates into huge salt flats. Formerly home to Inca and pre-Inca peoples, these high dry lands are dotted with numerous ancient ruins. But now there are few people and even fewer roads in the region.
This new kinetic form of amphibious travel demands inventiveness: using the imagination to create a craft that will not only negotiate white-water but sail across lakes, salt flats, and deserts.
The catamarans were made up of two-man kayaks connected together. They had sails and detachable wheels and harnesses that allowed the boats to be pulled by mules or kayakers. The boats were self-contained, carrying all the camping gear and food necessary to survive on the high, cold Altiplano for several weeks.
There were two four-man crafts. Arlene Burns, a renowned adventure traveler, was the expedition leader. Expert windsurfer and inventor Nathan Salter was her partner. The second team consisted of extreme kayaker Michael Powers. Archaeologist Johan Reinhard was his partner. Bolivian renowned mountain climber Jose Camarlinghi operated the third boat with kayak designer Tim Niemier.
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