Photographer Kayak: Necky Elias ____ 2014/04

Necky Elias sea kayak
Necky Elias sea kayak, 15′-6″ x 22-1/4″
I’ve been paddling a fiberglass Necky Elias for a year now and I’m constantly reminded of its suitability for photographers. Our needs are a bit different from other paddlers; those needs include ample stowage, ample hatch and cockpit openings, and maneuverability. Speed is rarely an issue. Open ocean suitability is a plus. The Necky Elias scores on all that counts. It’s a Honda Fit of sea kayaks.

Full disclosure, Necky Kayaks gave me the kayak last year at my request in exchange for some images.

Necky is marketing the Elias as a companion to their successful “women’s” kayak, the Eliza, which I also own (I reviewed the Eliza for extended outings in “Packing a Small Sea Kayak” in 2008). That photo tip argues that the Eliza can be a practical choice for multi-day, or much longer, adventures. The Eliza’s narrow beam and small cockpit, though, make it of limited value for a photographer. The Elias adds 3” to the Eliza’s length, to 15’6”. It also adds over an inch to the beam, 22¼” vs 21”, and about an inch to the depth throughout. The cockpit has been extended almost 4”, and, being deeper, allows easy access to your camera if you stow it as I do below deck. The Elias also has a bit more rocker, with excellent maneuverability. At 47 lbs (43 in carbon), the weight is reasonable, much less weight than British heavies on the performance end or plastic boats on the “limited-utility” other. Like the Honda Fit, the Elias has suitable — much more than it looks — stowage, especially for a short sea kayak, but lacks the “horsepower” for a fast pace or sprint. At a brisk but normal paddling pace of 3.5 to 4 knots, the Elias — like the Eliza — keeps up with moderate effort. Pushing faster to keep pace with big boy long boats, the under-horsepowered Elias won’t keep up. Too, like the Fit, the Elias has its “magic seat” — in this case the most comfortable seat I’ve had the delight to sit in hours on end (same seat as the Eliza).

Photographer stowage needs include space for tripod and hard case(s). I’ll cover that below. First, as noted in the Eliza article, here are my general sea kayak packing guidelines:

• put the heaviest items centered behind the cockpit
• keep heavy stuff low
• distribute the weight 40% forward and 60% aft
• pack everything you don’t want wet in a dry bag
• keep the deck clean

 Necky Elias packed for a week-long photo adventure.
Necky Elias packed for adventure.
I laid out my gear for a multiday trip with the Elias in the diagram left. Stowage volume for the Elias is 199.2 liters (52.6 gal., 12,155 in3). For comparison, the Eliza has 132.2 liters stowage. Extra depth and volume allows the Elias to carry more and bulkier items. I easily found room in the stern for my 500mm f/4 housed in a waterproof Sagebrush Dry Midship bag. I found my big Gitzo tripod fit in the bow or the stern. My medium Pelican box 1400 only fit in the bow. I could also fit two large bear canisters (BV-500) in the bow, but only one if I also packed the Pelican 1400. Alternately, for a trip length more than a week where I needed all my camera gear (small Pelican, medium Pelican, 500mm f/4 lens, big tripod) , I could skip the bear vault and pack food in three dry bags: separate breakfast, snack and dinner bags, with ample room for everything.

There were some additional changes from the way I packed the Eliza. I moved the repair kit from the front of the bow to be more accessible, but still in the bow. I moved the relatively heavy kitchen to the stern because it easily fit there, leaving lighter items like sleeping bag, clothing and sleeping pad in the bow. Overall, there’s simply more room for stowage; I could take even more gear if I felt the need.

I’m still using the dry bags I made with heat-sealable Seattle Fabric for specialty items: large tripod, book, pointy and chart (again, see my Eliza tip). I’m also using numerous sil-nylon dry bags from Sea to Summit or Outdoor Research, because they pack small. With the Elias this is no longer a necessity. The tougher, more conventional vinyl or other dry bags would make sense for durability.

Water is stowed behind the seat, except for a day use bottle that stows forward in the cockpit.

Long trip gear stowage solved, here’s some other advantages of the Elias for photographers.
• The kayak is superbly maneuverable, so a single paddle stroke is often all that’s needed to quickly turn the kayak to line up for a shot; then a drop of the skeg keeps you lined up.
• The Elias is excellent for bird photography: I can shoot my 500mm f/4 from the cockpit, without entrapment worries when the big gun is stowed between my legs while underway. I retrieve and stow my Canon 5D III with a 500mm f/4 and 1.4x attached with little difficulty.
• Coupled with a standard neoprene spray skirt to block water spray, the Elias is perfectly capable for swift current, surf or open ocean environments.
• The short length reduces windage and helps it surf well. The skeg helps too; it’s an easy boat to control.
• The hull is efficient at a moderate pace; the only drawback is if you do have the power to push a long boat (most of us don’t), you’ll be slowed some by the short-waterline hull speed of the Elias.

I like this boat. For a photographer, or for many, many other paddlers, the Necky Elias is a versatile, Fit kayak that delivers on utility and pleasure.