22.02.2012

Visiting Alpacka

I love the humble setting, so un-American ;)
The reason for a trip to Alpacka is pretty obvious. What role Alpacka plays in the packraft evolution is well known and shall yet be covered in the coming Part III of the History series. They did not invent the concept, but resemble a modern synonym with many inventive steps. 
The purpose for seeing Alpacka in real live simply was to get to know the crew, the people behind the tubes. In order to drive the packrafting road partly together we wanted to exchange ideas and learn on the workflow and workmanship. Many things needed to be covered in decent talks and practises impossible over the phone. This was to alter into a collaborating relation. Reflections on change of status beyond this blog are to come in a following post. As a European outpost we want to share our impressions and give a short outlook.  We feel being intermediates.

Alpacka farm

Workshop impressions

Main hall for assembling the boats.
Despite the complex nature of building a boat, Alpacka very much resembles the cottage style of manufacturing. The factory contains of multiple buildings (e.g. for cutting, glueing and assembling), yet isn’t anything close to fully automated. It is a small farm, a handful people with lots of resourcefulness. Top quality comes from attention to detail, not mass. Anyways, machinery and workmanship is very different from those in the classic cottages of the backpacking world.  You need a certain stock of people. A single sewing machine and some tape isn’t enough. Material and composition is demanding. One reason Alpacka got stuck between the outdoor industry and cottage world. Neither of them wanted to take on the challenge obviously. It is an unfriendly market for producers. 

Trainings and practise

Marc on Taping machine
This for sure was worth enough the trip. Marc might be able to build a boat himself out of limited material in a simple construction (MYOB, all my respect), but proper workmanship goes beyond ;)  First, witnessing the regular construction helped understanding the boats in order to evaluate issues. Seeing the complete workflow from design, cutting, sewing, glueing, welding and finish gave a good comprehension. Second, both (Sheri of Alpacka and ourselves) wanted us to be able to fulfil basic services. Two major things had to be learned: 
  • retrofitting spray decks: putting decks on used boats, respectively exchanging old by current spray decks
  • repairs and modification: such as main and secondary valve replacements

Valve replacement
Retrofitting a  spraydeck
Purpose to take them practise home simply was to be able to offer this service in Europe to avoid time-consuming shippment overseas for European packrafter in need. Still, this will be a relatively rare occasion, I guess. 



New products

A packraft or a packyak? The Orca! Note: braces not fitted.
You gear guys spotted this section to read the first, right ;)? Well, we can assure, there is things in the pipeline. Yet, the traditional, well proven line will remain.  Not so much of a surprise, we have seen the new white water boat (prototype name the Orca). This will come for sure. Question is, if this still resembles a packraft? It is going to be below 4 kg and will be very much packable, so yes, taking such criteria it is.  However, its intentional design is not for classic packrafting as combination of hiking and boating, rather be a white water travel boat. It is not meant to take a pack for example. Uhh, kayaking folks don’t hike anyway ;) If you have seen Wayatt's great video with it in Costa Rica, you know what I mean. It has its heritage in the packrafting evolution nevertheless. Hard facts are: 

  • it contains a massive frame of coaming
  • with strong thigh braces
  • made of special material (no stretch)
  • for maximum tube pressure (pump required)
  • has extra slide protection on the bottom
Other than that, there is the long awaited drysuits. We have seen them, even worn, but can’t share any pictures before they go into contract. There will be a super light, add on version (~500g) for taking along and boating only as well as a semi dry, heavy duty one (>1kg), where you can skip rain gear, respectively go hiking with. They will come in the typical price range for drysuits. The fact I like the most is the innovative opening/sizing combination. One fits nearly all. Truly adaptive. 

Development talks

Bringing our European perspective into attention, we also talked on special developments. Lacking the backcountry and wilderness features on the continent, we feel there is a market for ‘back to the root’ boats, thus looking at older designs with modern features. The result could be a train traveller or day tripper or simply be 'The peoples raft'. A second desire of ours was to address the two person theme beyond the Double duck, at least a question we get all the time. This is more a matter of promotion and approval, yet there is some things which can be enhanced. Stay tuned!

Sheri scissorhands

While developing a new seat configuration together, we got a special insight on the design process at Alpacka. Sheri Tingey is the mind behind it. Forget computerized patterns and paper drawing, but imagine cutting a hedge, more so like a sculptor. It is an incredible trial and error process out of fabric, scissor, tape and imaginations. “I ve been doing patterns all my live to know the effects on a two dimensional change into the figure”. We are especially proud at least to have given the impulse for it.



Socialising & Tour

Scramble in Paria
It is a long way over the Atlantic (34h door to door commuting:). Though not the purpose of the journey, we wanted to take advantage of some of the sights. Once again, it was to be learned: the National Parks are not for us. All the regulations restrict the feeling of discovery and freedom. Moreover, a night in Zion cost us the same as in a Motel the previous night. It is consumption, not (re)creation. In contrast, we got good experiences with Wilderness Area of Paria Canyon. There are no developed trails or designated campsites - lovely. Find our own way and experience authentic nature. All in all we spend three nights outdoors. More pictures on that you will find in our gallery

Finally, there is to say a big thank you to Alpacka for hosting us and share their knowledge. We are overwhelmed by the impressions and results. It is a privilege to have this relation.  More pictures from our visit you will find below and in the German short version of the post.  

A good relation with Nancy of  administration is important ;)


The design process starts

Alpacka crew




Kommentare:

  1. Repair services in Europe would be a big improvement, although I think would rarely be used. It's also cool that you've talked about geographical diffecences between US and Europe with the Alpacka crew. My Yak feels a little bit overkill here in southern Finland.

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  2. Thank you so much for this insight. Lovely.

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  3. Awesome work boys. Good to see a fledgling relationship with the 'mother ship' being developed. Customer service has always been outstanding with Alpacka but having a European hub will help things run even smoother, quicker and hopefully a little cheaper (although living in Norway means the tax man will always be lying in wait...).

    The new drysuit in particular will be welcomed. It's been a long time in development. Any clue as to expected availability?

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    1. Joe, I feel a bit sorry for you! Norway not being in the EU is a real bummer. At least you have Christan over there. In case of an issue, we can sure work something out. As for the drysuits, I don't wanna lay out of the window to much, but feel comfortable saying this season. The prototypes are ready, but as said they need to go into production on a contract.

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  4. Interesting read, thanks for sharing! Also nice to see the faces behind Alpacka Raft. :-)

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  5. Weight of the orca?
    Thanks

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