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New toys are rad! I recently received my new toy, the Karma UL. With the arrival of my new toy I am taking the opportunity to offer up some ideas and guidance for boaters looking to get into their first long boat as well as general information for long boat enthusiasts to get an idea about the UL. First I will share a little of my back ground so you will have an idea of where my preferences and ideas are coming from. My boating life started when all boats were 4M long and my first few years were spent exclusively in glass boats until I got a shiny new dancer. I spent a good part of my youth paddling a slalom boat with the BCE on the Potomac with a group of great coaches and a strong peer group, and as a result we took long boats of all types down great falls, creek runs, and we played in them as well. Over the years boat design evolved, things got short, and we started to develop specific boat styles. At the end of the day shorter boats are easier to paddle for just about all WW kayakers in most settings. A few years ago long boats came back into vogue, and new generations of boaters were offered their first real opportunity to give them a try. Unfortunately I came across a number of boaters that purchased their new boat and took it to their standard top of their skill level creek or river run and had bad experiences. A good number of these folks sold those boats right away, and this was not at all the fault of the boat but rather the expectations they had for it. That is why I am writing this. Expect that it will be different and work your way into learning its differences and you will be pleasantly surprised. It is not your sub 9 foot creek boat and some things will be different. However, when you return to your normal creek, river, or play boat I bet that you will be surprised at how much more precise you will become in them. In addition you will have a whole new way to run some of your favorite runs.
Anyone who knows me will confirm that I am total geek on outfitting my personal boats. Outfitting is key in all boats and the UL is no different. Seat position is going to be the first step in getting you dialed in. A great way to start is to sit in the boat on dry land and set the seat where your knees fit the best into the deck and has the best amount of thigh contact that you can achieve. After that it is time to get it wet. I took mine to the WW Park and played with the position while doing some very basic ferries, peal outs, and front surfing. You should pay attention to how much the bow responds to edging of varying intensity as well as how well it can spin with a sweep while you focus on keeping the hull flat. As a general rule if you find that the bow wants to wander all over the place try moving forward, and if it tends to railroad and is hard to break out of a carve move the seat back. Ultimately your personal preference is going to be the most important factor here.

Now that our seat position is decided it is time to get our bulkhead dialed in. The unishock makes things super easy. The UL will come with a 3” thick foam pad for each side. I have very long legs so I will explain how I do things a tiny bit different to accommodate that. The unishock has different plate sizes and I like to use the biggest plate possible. With the foam removed I will now sit in the boat and tighten the back band and push out with my legs. In the UL I am able to keep the full sized plate, even with my 36” inseam and size 13 feet, but I cannot do that with the full 3” thick foam. I simply butterfly one of the bulkhead pieces and this allows me to get the benefits of the cushioning of the foam as well as the secure feeling that it provides when wedged in the bow. Now I have two full sized pieces of 1.5” foam that need a tiny bit of love. The butterfly is the only difference from the normal process for long legs. The key to getting this right is to cut small amounts more times to achieve a snug fit! Push that foam on the bulkhead to get an idea of where you need to trim and get started. Your goal is to end up with the foam piece being just a tiny bit bigger than fits.

Now that you have that shape take your blade and cut a 45-degree angle around the outer edge of the foam piece on the side that faces the bow. The vertical side that matches up to the bow wall does not need to get the 45-degree cut. Thread back the bungee cord and simply push hard with your feet to wedge it back into place and you will be in business. In addition to setting up the bulkhead I cut an arch out of the bow wall so that my heels can come together to give me a bit more foot room, so that I can wear full creek boots in the boat. Normal sized boaters will not need to worry about this and please remember that if you modify your boat it is your decision and could void your warranty.

Last but not least it is time to get your hip pads set. Simply add shims until you get a snug fit, but there are a few things I like to do to enhance the fit from the standard hip pads. Once I determine how many shims I need on each side I will take and extra and cut it in half. I will then take each half and put it as high up in the pocket on the back of the hip pads so that it forces the hook shape a bit further out into the middle of the boat. I really like how this gives me a more aggressive top hook while not changing the width of the seat below. If you find that you need a full shim but would like a little bit wider leg splay simply cut a quarter moon shape on the forward edge of the hip pad on the vertical axis and you can have the best of both worlds.

In addition to the stock outfitting I really like to add some thigh blocks to my boats. I take a 3” think block of minicell that is 8” long and 6” high. I contour the back of this to match the side of the hull and glue it in backed up to the seat arm. Shave a little bit at a time so that you create a channel that your leg sits in. The ideal fit is so that when you relax your legs they do not fall to the outside edge of the boat, and ensure that they are not pushing your legs into the middle of the boat. These give you a ton of extra surface area to push with when you are aggressively edging the boat.

As with all my boats I need to get some floatation in this boat, and over the years I have truly come to love the creek floats for their simple design and the secure fit they get in the boat. As you can imagine we can not reach around the aft end of the stern wall like we would do in a shorter design, so I cut a tiny arch 30” back on the stern wall and was able to slide a creek float under that. It provides the secure fit I have come to expect and was super simple to add.
Remember that with the standard JK outfitting you can do all of these steps in a few minutes. The only exception would be the addition of the thigh blocks, and that is not a huge deal. Stay tuned for my next installment on the UL and it will be time to start boating some real WW with it.

Later; Colin
Team JK