The comment in brackets was mine. I’d towed my son, and other bigger people, in kayaks. Every time, the jerking, start-and-stop motion of their boat coming tight on the tow line or from wave action left my back and shoulders hurt and stay sore. The bungee was a great idea – but what bungee to use?
I picked up the phone and called Bill Bragman at Yak-Gear in Houston, TX. Bill makes a bunch of different size and style bungees for all different kayaking uses, and sells “raw” bungee cord by the foot. I figured I’d pick Bill’s brain about the possible applications, and see if any of his products would be right for the task. A few days later, a box of different Yak-Gear leashes and bungees arrived in the mail, and we were off into testing mode. At least, I thought we were off. Weather, travel, a shoulder injury, more travel and weather made it take almost eight months before we could get the photos I wanted and I was ready to finalize my thoughts.
Of all the bungees Bill sells, the one I thought worked best for towing is the “Baja” paddle leash. This is a heavy-duty ¼” bungee cord that is sheathed and end-sealed into a length of 1” tubular webbing. It stretches, then gets to the fixed length of the webbing and comes taut. I used it by clipping a carabiner into one end of the leash, then into the front handle of the towed boat. The other end of the bungee gets clipped into a carabiner on the end of a tow line, hooked to my kayak. I found it easiest to run the tow line through my zig-zag anchor cleat, near my left elbow. It put the line of pull a little off the centerline of the kayak, but was much easier to connect and disconnect and didn’t interfere with my rudder.
My first test was with my son and his Wilderness “Tarpon 140”. JuniorFlyReel isn’t all that heavy, so I had him drag a paddle blade to add some more tow weight. I moved forward slowly to bring the line out of the water, then stroked hard to see what happened. The bungee stretched a bit as the Tarpon started came up to speed, then slacked as we moved forward. Instead of the usual “jerk-jerk-jerk” as I paddled and the towed boat tried to keep up, the bungee kept the energy transfers smooth for everyone involved. When we turned diagonally into the wind so I could see how the bungee handled wave slap on the towed boat, the result was the same – a smooth ride for both tow-er and tow-ee. A few photo passes, and I thought we were good to go for this article…
Until at a Heroes on the Water event a couple weeks later, the pedal drive chain on my buddy ZeroSix’s Hobie “Mirage Pro Angler 14” broke. He had given his paddle to his son in another kayak, and was dead in the water over half a mile from the launch, with the wind right in our teeth to get back. For those not familiar with the Pro Angler 14, Hobie says its rigged weight is 138 lbs. – without angler and all the fishing gear. Short of towing a Bayliner, this would be the ultimate test. I whipped out the Baja leash, clipped on to ZeroSix’s bow, and headed for the launch. The no-break (I’m tough…) paddle into the wind was a workout, but it didn’t hurt. There was no yanking my kayak back and forth, even with a very heavy tow load and a little chop to paddle into.
There is another issue I have that I believe this setup will address, as well. When I get out and wade fish, I pull the kayak behind me with the bow line hooked to the back of my belt. If it’s breezy, the constant jerking of the kayak makes my low back hurt in very short order. I plan to attach one of Bill’s bungees between my bow line and the kayak as a shock absorber - I’m sure that will help.
As a result of the tests and conversations with Bill, Yak-Gear is tweaking the concept and releasing a new product. The “Tow Bungee” will be a 5’ bungee with a webbing sheath that will stretch to 7’, then come tight against the webbing – in my mind, the ideal setup. The $19.95 price tag will include two carabiners, and the product should hit Yak-Gear.com the second week in September. It’s not just for kayaking with kids – you never know when a buddy will become mechanically or physically disabled on the water and need a tow to safety, possibly in less than optimum conditions. In my book, this will be a worthwhile addition to every kayaker’s safety bag, in there with the extra length of line, knife, flashlight and throw bag.