Written in Water, Summer Art Scene, Alice the Kayak, Saving Silver Creek, Summer Events Calendar
(page 4 of 5)
A KAYAK NAMED ALICE
Valley local designs the world’s lightest backpack kayak
When Chuck Corwin decided to design and build a boat back in the late ’90s, he never imagined it would become a project that would take more than a decade of his life to complete and would result in something nobody believed was possible.
Now 79, Chuck had wanted to build a boat since he was a kid, but hadn’t had the time or money until he retired 13 years ago. Upon retiring from his position as a civil engineer and, prior to that, from 20 years as a U.S. Aviation Cadet Navigator, Chuck finally began the project he had dreamed about for years.
Chuck said he had never been set on what type of boat to build until he and his wife, Barbara, moved to the Valley in 1975. He said living in the area and seeing the alpine lakes in the nearby mountain ranges gave him the desire to design a kayak he could carry up to those lakes—but not just any kayak—Chuck wanted to design a collapsible kayak that would weigh no more than 10 pounds.
“I can really get my kicks on Alturas or Pettit, but (alpine lakes) are just special. I mean, you’re not going to meet anybody out there on the water. You’ve got the whole lake to yourself,” Chuck said.
Although collapsible kayaks have existed for over 100 years, Chuck said the ones available when he started his project all weighed at least 30 pounds. In his mind, the idea of having to lug a 30-plus-pound pack up to an alpine lake negated the fun of it. He never wanted to have to carry more than 20 pounds total and figured a day hiker’s backpack requires room for about 10 pounds of food and supplies. So with the goal of two 10-pound foldable kayaks, one for him and one for his wife Barbara, Chuck got to work.
“I, for some reason, wanted to start with a totally clean slate and not be influenced by anything else,” Chuck said. “Starting with a clean slate in retrospect was kind of dumb. Personality flaw, I guess,” he chuckled.
Chuck worked his way through foam models, wooden frames (most of which he said later ended up in the fireplace), different hull designs and eventually settled on a single-hulled frame constructed of carbon tubes. He then perfected the waterproof, zipper-free fabric skin that snugly covers the frame and continued tweaking his design.
Barbara said she often doubted Chuck would ever fully finish the boat. For over a decade, he spent hours hidden in their home working on the boat he would eventually name Alice, after an alpine lake in the Sawtooth Mountains.
In 2010, Chuck finally finished his boat. Alice 4.2, the most current model, weighs 10 pounds, unfolds to be a 12-foot-long, 2-foot- wide, single-person kayak and packs into a 28-by-18-inch bundle that can fit into an average-sized backpack. Other commercially sold foldable kayaks of similar length average between 17 and 35 pounds.
And although Chuck’s production of one of the lightest foldable kayaks available took him so long that he can no longer physically make the trek to Alice Lake, he said he doesn’t regret anything.
“Hey, I had a good time,” Chuck said. “I was doing what I liked to do. This is recreation for me. There were certain things I could’ve done quicker and more efficiently, but I don’t have any regrets about any of that—I just had a good time.”
Chuck now sells the boat design to people interested in building their own Alices for $100 (email@example.com) and the Corwins take a day almost every week in the summer to float Pettit or Alturas on their kayaks.
“In the last two years, we have been enjoying the fruits of Alice,” Barbara said. “It is like riding on a feather. With just a couple of flicks, you’re moving forward very quickly, and it’s so quiet that we slip right up on shorebirds.” -Hailey Tucker