Oversized Gal Kayaking Clackamette on a Tarpon 120

trying out the Tarpon 120 and Tsunami 125

Get Ready

BF picked up or rental kayaks at REI Friday night and we planned to head out first thing Saturday morning. We rented the Wilderness System Tarpon 120 (ride-on, for me) and the Tsunami 125 (sit-in, for BF). I’m about 330 pounds and the max capacity for the Tarpon is 350. It’s a ride-on, so it’s supposed to be easier in terms of getting in/out (or is that on/off?).

The first thing I did was check out the cockpit on the Tsunami. The opening was only 16”, and that’s just not going to work in terms of trading kayaks and trying them both. I think I might be able to squeeze past a 20” opening on a good day – but that would be as snug as I think I want to try considering I’d also have to get out of the boat at some point.

Get Nervous

I planned to go to bed early, but spent several hours looking for reviews about the Tarpon and kayaking at Clackamette park. BF looked at the river there and saw a wide flat bit of water we could go out on. I saw a big-ass river that might have stronger currents than you think.

While I’d love to go out on a big river someday and run some rapids – I know I’m a beginner and I don’t want to have a bad experience.

Speaking of which, one of the reviews of the Tarpon suggested that the max capacity might be a bit exaggerated and maybe a 350 pound rider would not be a good idea. But we have the boat on top of the car already… so I figured I’d at least find out everything I could about the spot we have picked and what I might be getting into.

We have been to the park several times and seen people out on boats under the bridge. My hope was to get up just past the bridge and check out Clackamette Cove, which looked like a nice quiet lake – much more my speed. But sure, let’s see what a little current feels like.

There is also a “paddle trail” on the Willamette that looks interesting, but we didn’t make it there…

Try to be More Ready

I dressed in layers: swim suit, stretch pants, long-sleeve t-shirt, short-sleeve t-shit, safety vest (for visibility just because I found it before the long-sleeve T). BF had a helmet for mountain climbing, but I made do with a knit cap. I double-wrapped my phone in ziplock baggies hoping I could take a photo or two from the river.

I’ve got a life vest that is really more of a “life-scarf” on me as it only fastens around my neck. (Do they make life vests for oversized gals like me? I’ve seen one I’d like to try, but even Prime won’t get it here in time for our ride today.)

We are MUCH more prepared than we were last week. Last week, we rented a kayak on the spur-of the moment with nothing more than the equipment the rental place provided. This time we had extras: paddle leashes, dry bags, paddle floats (what the heck do you use that for…?), warmer clothes, etc.

Go!!!

We drove over to the park pretty early. There were a LOT of fishing boats on the Willamette side, only a couple fishermen on the shore on the Clackamas side. We found a place to park and got the kayaks off the roof of the car. (A first for both of us as the folks at REI put them up there when BF picked them up.)

BF is the immortal one – he’s ready to jump in the river right away. I’m a little more cautious. Let’s see how this seat adjusts and how these hatches open and close first – okay?

When I felt like I had all the parts figured out we carried the two boats down together – I had the front and BF took the back of both boats. It was a short walk and the weight seemed manageable enough. (Tsunami = 51# and the Tarpon = 63#).

Unlike last week when we had a nice launcher to place the boats on the water, this time we set them down at the end of the boat ramp kind of half in the water and then pushed off once we were seated.

Tarpon = Easy On

I got in the boat much easier this time. It’s hard to tell how much of the improvement was because it was a ride on. Even though they call this a sit-on kayak, there is a well that you actually sit IN. It just doesn’t have a cover/cockpit over your legs. It was much easier to get into the boat when it was on the same level as the ground I was standing on than when I was trying to step down 2ft or so into the boat.

It took quite a bit of scooting to get the boat far enough into the water to start floating. By the time I had it out there, the current had already gotten hold of the front and turned me almost 180 degrees from the direction I planned to launch.

I was also taking on water. There are holes in the bottom of the kayak that are supposed to allow any water that splashes onto the boat to drain out. In my case it was letting water INTO the boat!

That was the first sign that things were not going to go quite so smoothly as last weekend.

Look, Ma! It’s a current!!!

So that nice flat looking water? Yeah, not so peaceful as it looked. We started out toward the bridge and I was having trouble paddling. I think the paddle was too short for the kayak (and/or for me). BF made decent headway in the Tsunami, but I was paddling as hard as I dared and barely moving at all.

Speaking of paddling. This kayak did not feel even a little bit stable. It really felt like sitting on a bike when it’s not moving – as if I didn’t put a foot down to balance it I’d fall right off. And I was VERY tempted to stick a foot in the water!

At some point, maybe 10 feet down the river, I couldn’t get any further. I managed to turn downstream for a bit and then turn around and make another run at it. But again, at about 10′ past the ramp – I was dead in the water, spinning my gears paddling and just sitting still while BF was off half-way to that bridge.

Giving Up

I know when I’m beat. So that’s a current. Okay, I’m ready to get back to that boat ramp and maybe try somewhere else. I turned, I paddled, and then I got caught in the current again and turned sideways…

Tarpon 120: Easy Off!!!

And in I go! It’s easier to swim with this boat than stay on top of it. (At least if you are approaching that max capacity – maybe a lighter paddler would have a better experience.)

Getting Rescued?

I went in. I got my head up and grabbed the boat before it floated off. I was trying to push it toward shore and get out of the current.

When BF caught up to me he offers to hold the boat while I try to get back on, and I’m like: NO. Just help me get out of the river! Yes, it’s pretty cold (53 degrees), and my first priority was to get out of the water before the cold became a real problem for me in my t-shirt and stretch pants.

At some point BF actually ended up between me and the shore – pushing me back out into the river. We did not plan anything about what if someone falls in the water, and I think we should have considered what we would do if something went wrong before we launched.

Eventually (it felt like 5-10 minutes to me) he told me to let the boat go. BF went after the boat while I swam for the shore. Much better plan: without the boat to tow, I got to shore quickly in tow and out of the water in what felt like seconds.

BF, bless his heart, rescued the boat, my missing shoe, my PHONE (thank you, so much), my jacket (which had fallen out of the compartment, possibly because I didn’t latch it correctly), and even my water bottle. He got everything!

Reentry

BF towed the kayak to where I was waiting on shore and held the boat on the water while I got in. I got caught on the back of the seat and pulled it down under me. It took quite a while to try to scoot forward enough forward to allow it to pop back up. BF had his work cut out for him keeping the kayak wedged against the rocks while I shifted around trying to get back to a normal sitting position. Meantime, the water is coming in the scuppers, but only on the right side, to the kayak is leaning almost to the tipping point again by the time I’m sitting up.

Thanks to the rocks along the shore, I was able to hold on while I shifted enough to get the water evened out, This time I paddled very close to the shore. I scared a pair of ducks and chased them to a flat beachy area where I could get the kayak out of the river.

Meanwhile, BF is off in his Tsunami and all the way back to the boat ramp. He had his kayak out and was able to get down to the beach on foot in the time it took me to paddle back against the current.

Exiting the Tarpon 120 on Shore

I got some help from BF – one final tug to make sure the kayak is firmly beached and then start that fun process of trying to get my fat ass out of another kayak.

Falling off is really easy, I’m still looking for a good way for an extremely heavy, moderately older woman with bad knees to get out of one of these things.

I got my feet over the side and onto the ground, but this is WAY lower than a squat. Honestly, I have trouble getting off the couch most days unless I have a little boost. BF gave me a hand and a little tug and that got me high enough to grab a nearby (large) rock and pull myself up the rest of the way.

It was just a little bit more graceful than last week’s attempt. If last week was a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 – this one might have been a 3. I can’t see any real advantage for getting off of a ride-on kayak at my size.

Would I Purchase a Tarpon 120?

No. Hell, no. It’s not the right kayak for a big girl like me. This was a really bad experience. The best part of the morning was swimming in 53-degree water.

BF asked if this experience made me less interested in running rapids in the future. He seemed surprised when I said no. If anything, I am more interested in learning how to kayak on a moving river. But in a better boat, with a better paddle, and, I think, this is not going to be a DIY adventure for me. I want to take some kayak classes and learn how to read a river and roll a boat.

And for goodness sake, how to rescue someone who gets dumped in the river! It could have been BF who went swimming and I’d have been completely useless at helping him get his boat or gear – I’d just as likely run over him with my kayak.

And I want to get some advice from real kayakers (sorry, honey) about the kind of boat and paddle and stuff that would work for someone my size… and where the best places (for beginners) are around here.

Conclusion

If anything going swimming has only made me want to do this thing more than before. I want to do it safely though. Falling off and making it out of the water was actually reassuring. There’s a little bit less to be afraid of – but there’s also some more preparation that I want to make so we can be safer next time.

As far as I could tell, I still would prefer a sit-in to a sit-on. We are planning to go back to the coast and go out at the Siltcos River Trail again next week. This time I’ll pay more attention to the equipment they rented us that seemed to work so much better.

About Karen 116 Articles
Hi! I'm Karen. I live near Portland, OR with my partner (BF). I have two grown children, and two adult cats: Shiva & Havoc. I am a former truck driver and programmer. These days I'm semi-retired and earn a living from websites I build and maintain.