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TopKayaker.Net's Guide To Kayak Designers

Penak Over Hang,ThailandDesigning A Kayak For Caving - John Gray
Includes excerpts from "Sea Caves As I Know Them"
All photos by John Gray


John "Caveman" Gray started tropical kayaking in 1983 & currently runs a guide service out of Thailand called John Gray's Sea Canoe. Lava sea caves h
ighlighted Gray's Hawai'i trips, and the 1985 "Moloka'i's Forgotten Frontier" documentary won an Emmy, the first of many Awards. In 1999, National Geographic Adventure named Caveman's SeaCanoe Vietnam itineraries a World Top 25 Adventure.

I'm addicted to weird challenges, so I'm always looking for the longest, smallest, most beautiful and complex sea caves I can find. I don't know of anybody else who has studied or spent as much time exploring, logging, surveying, playing and kayaking in sea caves. "Caveman's" caving adventures were first brought to public light in the 1985 EMMY-Award winning documentary, "Moloka'i's Forgotten Frontier."

At Sea Canoe, sea cave kayaking is science. South-East Asia's tropical waters are filled with limestone islands, and limestone means caves. Unlike the simple surf-battered sea caves of North America and volcanic Polynesia, Asia's caves can extend for miles, with complex stalactite-filled off-branches, high ceilings and low overhangs that open and close with the tides.

Egrets, Bat Cave ThailandIf you paddle short, high, wide open caves in calm water, a decked hard-shell is OK. However, I've found that for serious sea cave explorations, an extra-tough inflatable is essential. In an inflatable, I can lean from side to side, or lie down flat on the inflatable's floor and inch under a low ceiling handhold by handhold. When surf fills one of those "simple" caves with crashing foam that bounces your kayak off the rocks and sucks you into a whirlpool, I'd just as soon have the inflatable's stability and positive buoyancy.

Unfortunately, there aren't any stock inflatables tough enough to trust with my life or my customers' welfare in dark, tight caverns filled with oysters and jagged rocks. A year into my international explorations, I realized that if I wanted a quality inflatable kayak that could do the crazy things I want to do, I had to design it myself: the world's first self-bailing inflatable sea kayak.

I needed a kayak that is fast, stable, easy to operate, tough enough to surf over reefs with expedition payload, low profile to minimize windage, etc. Coincidentally, the same requirements work in caves. I presently work exclusively with Glenn Lewman of SOTAR.

Haeng Toi Viet NamWe beefed up the material and flattened the bottom to create Sea Canoe's signature model "Sea Explorer" kayaks. Since then, "Sea Explorers" have logged more time in sea caves than any other boat in the world.

The triple-layer Sea Explorer is the toughest inflatable around. I can explore the darkest holes, laying flat on my back inching my way into the unknown, in complete confidence that I won't puncture the boat and take a swim in totally dark unknown waters. (Some Fiberglass boys tried to follow us into an "easy" cave once, and actually cut up their boats!)

jg logoYou can read more of John Gray's adventures & conservation projects, as well as view his excellent photos or sign up for one of his trips at John Gray's Sea Canoe

RESOURCES

TopKayaker.Net's Guide To Inflatable Kayaks

KAYAK CAVING IN HAWAII & ASIA - By John Gray - John speaks from his expert background as a veteran kayak caver sharing paddling skills necessary to enjoy this thrilling sport.

Index To Kayak Caving - Provides links to all our articles, including those below, for the kayak caving enthusiast.

Exploring Caves By Kayak by Tom Holtey
Tom discusses Sea Cave safety and prerequisites for enjoying this exciting aspect of sea kayaking.

Sea Cave Basics by David Bunnell - Dave has explored and surveyed over 500 sea caves, and written two books on them. Here he gives kayak cavers an overview with great photos and links to more information.

Basic Surfing Techniques - Contributed by the British Canoe Union Surf Committee. This is a beautifully done manual on surfing manoeuvres Originally published at The Watershed-UK.

John Gray's Sea Canoe - You can read more of John Gray's adventures & conservation projects, as well as view his excellent photos and sign up for one of his trips.

 

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