We have often been heard to say that Paul's designs "...threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the industry." In the mid '90's his Hop On Top fiberglass and composite sit-on-top designs took the popular kayak concept into a new evolution of the sport.
A naval architect, Paul Cronin is a graduate of one of Maine's prestigious boat design schools - Yacht Design Institute in Castine Maine on the Maine Maritime campus from 1985-87. His east coast background, love and experience with sailing the Atlantic, and engineering expertise, translated into beautiful, fast, touring sit-on-tops with a uniqueness only dreamed about by others in this growing industry.
But then in 1997 veteran kayaker and entrepreneur, Hol Whitney bought Paul's budding company and patent rights. Could the Hop On Top designs hold up in performance as mass produced rotomolded clones?
Hol kept Paul Cronin on as president of the newly named "Heritage Kayaks." The Heritage Shearwater touring kayak showed the competitive possibilities of the sit-on-top when it won first place in the Virginia Beach Paddle For The Bay Race.
So for the first few years more fiberglass and Kevlar designs continued to be hand made on a quality controlled production line under Paul's supervision. The Expedition was added to the fleet: a unique looking, Greenland style kayak.
But production was expensive. The kayaks were priced much higher than their polyethylene counterparts: $2,000 to $3,000 more. Despite the cost, they were selling nation wide, but damages resulting from conventional shipping methods soared.
So the idea of a rotomolded, virtually indestructible version of Paul's designs began to take hold on the company.
Unfortunately for the paddling public in 2001, as the plastic kayaks proved successful, Heritage's board of directors decided to discontinue the fiberglass and composite models all together.
Yes, the polyethylene models may lack the romance of the designer's passion for the sea; but they are wonderfully affordable, hi-tech sit-on-tops, still setting a pace in the industry.
As for Paul, while taking a tour of the Rhode Island facility in the Spring of 2001 with him as our guide, we learned that he was also leaving Heritage.
Paul now devotes his time to the designing of sailing craft and video photography. A long time participant in the AmeriCup Yacht Races, he is still at work with the sea through his company PC Sailing. He also does custom kayak designs for individuals.
Eventually, we were able to secure two of Paul's models for ourselves: a Kevlar Expedition, and the fiberglass Nomad II.
It has never happened, when being out and about with them, or when posting a photo on the website, that we haven't been bombarded with inquiries as to where they can be purchased.
Perhaps someday we'll see these hand made beauties as new productions again, but for now we suggest scouting out the forgotten warehouses of east coast shops and kayak dealers.
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