A few definitions to begin…
Aquanaut – an inflatable warehouse boat, the kind kids play with in the pool on a hot summers day, yeh you know the ones with the blue and yellow paddles! Brands now also include the bright orange challenger etc.
Aquanauting – sport undertaken by the OUTC which involves taking aquanauts places, starting with harmless fun of chilling on a lake, proceeds to traversing said lake near the shore, then traversing lakes with cliffs as shores, lakes may or may not have ice, to use on open water, commonly Fiordland and for the brave down rivers. Generally involves at least one boat getting a puncture, even when checked before use. Also commonly involves hypothermia, generally no lifejackets and may or may not generate a safety debate.
Packrafting – Safe aquanauting? Bigger better adventure?
I have to admit I was not the most prolific aquanauting in the OUTC, I never used one on a lake with cliffs, or a lake with ice or a river (at least not while I was a member of OUTC), so will leave you to deduce what I have done with an aquanaut. The real enthusiasm for a packraft came one Easter while trying to plan a trip in Southern Fiordland in a limited time frame. So naturally as soon as I had some money and a convenient excuse (GODZone) it was high on the list of things making me broke again. Conveniently around the same time I was able to get a scholarship so as to use how to safely use my new toy. Because rivers were a whole new beast, me in a kayak in a river generally = swimming! Besides the point was to extend the tramping adventure right?! Cross the lake or Fiord to avoid an expensive boat or a tricky time consuming climb around?
To that end, with the exception of GODZone, most of my packrafting adventures to date have involved carrying the boat, aptly named ‘Ladybug’, to remote locations for aesthetic value.
Most people think I might have missed the point but not only does a boat on the summit make a great couch, the photos are also an excellent talking point! I hope also that this approach will inspire more people around me to get packrafts, so more and more packrafting trips will become possible. So far only one other member of that Easter trip has purchased a raft, which a poor show from the other three!
Jokes aside, it quickly became apparent most packrafters own boats to paddle rivers, rather than tackle tricky bits of tramping country. Much like ski touring that, some people think it’s a way to explore new country, but really it’s a way to have more epic ski runs. All about the downhill, now that I can relate to!
So while I’m still very much a guppie on a river, I will make the following observations. It’s way better to be a guppie in a packraft than a kayak. The stability is fantastic it’s actually fairly hard to go over even when you do the wrong thing. And when you do go over it’s actually fairly easy to sort yourself out, none of this being trapped upside down underwater wondering if anyone has noticed and is coming to rescue you. You can also get back in your boat while on the river, no need to find a bank to sort yourself out, just keep going! This has lead to be paddling several easy rivers with other similarly experienced and actually feeling fairly confident. In a kayak, no way! I’d need a guide (experienced-awesome-friend-with-whom-I-can-trade-ski-lessons-for-kayak-lessons! Really vacancy, please apply) and would have swum about 5 times as often! So whole new world!
I can safely conclude that packrafting is indeed a wee bit different from an aquanaut. Although there is something to be said for the feeling you get crossing Milford sound in a rapidly deflating boat, paddling for your life for the nearest land where you can re-inflate. Or that literal sinking feeling when your tow strap pulls tears a piece of boat off the aquanaut you were towing and you have to dive into the water to save all the gear. Great times also to be had when trying to bail one out with a holy croc. But that sense of being alive when you manage not to puncture your boat crossing an icy vertically sided lake with your ice axe in hand… or when you against all odds survive taking one down a river!
Great as the feeling of near death or epic sketchiness adrenaline is. I think I probably won’t replace my last aquanaut. I will just have to look for more exciting adventures with my shiny safer packraft! (I think my Dad prefers this plan too!)
Visit the club website to learn more about OUTC. Penzy was one of the recipient of FMC’s Packrafting Safety Scholarship, as part of the Outdoor Community campaign for 2017/18. To learn more about Packrafting, check out the other articles on Wilderlife, or visit the Packrafting Association of NZ’s webpage; www.packrafting.org.nz