Sometime around the spring of 2020, Steve tossed out an idea: we should buy kayaks as a fifteenth anniversary gift to each other. (This conversation probably took place while hiking, since that’s where we do most of our crazy talk.) That milestone was approaching in August 2020, and we were on the lookout for something special to do – something a little outlandish, but that would feel very “us.” Kayaking is something that we both love to do; I’ve been paddling since I was fifteen and Steve picked the sport up as an adult but quickly grew to love it. Our kayak ecotour adventure to the San Juan Islands had been less than a year ago and was still fresh in our minds. Buying our own kayaks – kayaks that we could use for another fifteen years, exploring the bays and waterways around our area – felt right.
In the San Juans, we had paddled a double touring kayak – a beast of a boat. We’d loved the way it sliced through the water, and how confident we felt in the cockpits. Storage space was a nice premium, too – we agreed that it would be cool to have a couple of holds to store gear, so we could go out on some longer paddles and overnight trips.
Over the next few months, we discussed what we wanted in our hypothetical kayaks. We quickly agreed that we didn’t want recreational kayaks. We both wanted to stretch our paddling skills and pick up new techniques, and we wanted more efficient paddling machines that would be our allies in our goal to paddle bigger water and make distance. (No shade to recreational kayaks, which are a great option – just not for us.) I dove into the research and sent Steve a long email detailing what I thought we were looking for in the kayaks we wanted; a few brands and models that I thought would suit each of us particularly well; and a list of places to paddle nearby when we finally did make the purchase. He took my list as a starting point for his own research, and he started forming his opinions about what boats he was interested in trying out, as soon as the weather warmed up a bit.
And then we ran headlong into a brick wall: COVID-19. With indoor activities off the menu and the water starting to warm up, it seemed like everyone and their mom had discovered outdoor sports. The rush of new demand, coupled with ramped-down production as outdoor gear companies (like everyone else) grappled with social distancing in the workplace, meant that there wasn’t a kayak to be had for love or money. (It wasn’t just kayaks. It took me over a year of looking to replace my old mountain bike before I found something.) We swallowed our disappointment, rented a pair of heavy sit-on-top recreational kayaks, and tooled around the Potomac.
Our anniversary came and went without new kayaks. Instead, we promised each other we’d make it happen – next year. As summer turned to fall we tabled the kayak conversations, since even if we could find a boat to demo it was getting too cold, and the boathouses were closing up shop for the winter. 2021 rolled around, and as soon as the weather started to improve, I began calling around to boathouses, asking if they had demo models available. Struck out everywhere – and one boathouse, in Annapolis, told me gloomily that Current Designs (the manufacturer that made the model Steve was most interested in, and a couple of other models I thought might work for me) was completely sold out and wouldn’t have anything until 2022. Sad trombone.
We hiked a lot, and I got my prodigious paddling energies out via my paddleboard – a Christmas gift from Steve. When we decided to spend a few weeks hanging out and working in upstate New York over the summer, I half-heartedly researched boathouses in the Adirondacks – but I figured if I was striking out all around the Chesapeake, the Adirondacks would be more of the same. Until… I called over to a boathouse with locations in Saratoga and Old Forge, and learned that they had Current Designs models – including the Solstice GT, which Steve was pretty sure he wanted, and the Solstice GTS (the low-volume version) and Equinox (a slightly shorter Solstice) – that I was interested in trying out. We knew we couldn’t ask them to hold the models, so we crossed our fingers extra-tightly that they would still have what we were already thinking of as “our” boats in stock by the time we were able to get to the boathouse.
It wasn’t to be. On July 30, I called the boathouse during downtime in the middle of my cousin’s wedding rehearsal, to confirm the boats were still in stock and available for demo. They still had the Solstice (the model Steve wanted), they assured me – but the Solstice GTS and the Equinox? Both gone. Womp, womp. With literally nothing going my way, I called over to one other boathouse I knew – the Lake George Kayak Company – and asked them what they had available. The owner’s wife, who answered the phone, dropped a bombshell on me: they had P&H Cetus LVs. Two of them. A blue/yellow model, and an orange/yellow model. Yes, I was welcome to demo either or both.
When I was researching kayaks, the P&H Cetus LV was my dream model – efficient, a little edgy, and built for petite paddlers. (It didn’t hurt that P&H, which names all of its boats after constellations, had named this one after my favorite – Cetus, the Whale. Not that I made my decision based on that. But it did rather feel like an omen.) Basically, it had my name written all over it. The problem was that P&H is a British boatbuilder, and their kayaks aren’t all that easy to find in the United States. I had pretty much given up on finding one and turned my attention to the low volume options from Current Designs (a Canadian brand that’s much easier to come by here – usually). But here was the Lake George Kayak Company telling me they had two of my dream kayaks in stock.
Steve and I quickly reshuffled our plans, deciding to drive up to Lake George super early on Saturday morning, with enough time for me to demo the Cetus and get back for my cousin’s wedding. And then on Sunday we would head to Old Forge and – hopefully – pick up the Solstice for Steve. But when we got to Lake George, another surprise was waiting for us – a Solstice GT, used but pristine, on the showroom floor. We were glad Steve wore his bathing suit, just in case.
I had a decision to make. While the boathouse staff carried the Solstice to the dock for Steve, I was mulling over blue or orange. (Either would have been fine, really. But I was so shocked to see the Cetus at all, I wasn’t really prepared to decide on a color.) I really wanted an orange kayak and had no interest in blue. Since I first started looking at touring kayaks, I pictured myself in an orange boat. But when it came down to it, I didn’t love the look of the yellow trim against the orange. The blue and yellow, meanwhile, looked sharp next to the red Solstice Steve was eyeing, and it had a newer, redesigned seat. Hesitantly, I asked to demo the blue kayak.
It was a bit choppy and windy on the lake, which the boathouse staff assured us was good – it would give us a feel for how our boats handled in a bit of rough water. (Not too rough. This was Lake George, after all.) We each slipped in and paddled into the small cove in which the boathouse had its dock.
Steve loved the Solstice immediately. He compared it to the kayak version of a racecar. It sliced through the water and continued to coast even after he stopped paddling.
As for me, I was getting used to the Cetus. Although I’d paddled my share of touring kayaks, the Cetus was the edgiest boat I’d ever tried. (Steve’s Aunt Susan had wished me good kayak hunting with the admonition “Don’t fall out in front of everybody,” and that was starting to feel alarmingly prescient.) I consider myself a strong paddler, and I have a lot of experience… but the Cetus was a very different boat, and it took me a few turns around the bay to start feeling comfortable.
Ultimately, I decided that the Cetus was what I had been looking for – a boat that would stretch my paddling skills and open up new opportunities for exploring the water. Back on shore, I told the boathouse employees that I was definitely settled on the Cetus, but still waffling between blue and orange.
I went with blue. Just really liked that cool new seat. And the blue looked pretty next to Steve’s red Solstice. Even the yellow keyhole was starting to grow on me; Steve’s Solstice had one too, serendipitously, so it looked intentional. Meant to be 🙂
We drove our new darlings home very carefully and showed them off to my skeptical parents. Happy fifteenth anniversary, fifty weeks late, to us! The boats have already hit the water and had some adventures, so do stay tuned because there’s more paddling shenanigans to come.
Have you ever made a big purchase that your family thought was completely bonkers?