You might not find them on AIRE’s website or your typical REI catalog, but if you’re an avid catarafter looking for a leg up on safety, ask about their “Cataroller,” an ingenious device making it easier to upright a flipped boat.
AIRE Cataroller: Duh, Why Didn’t I Think of That?
“We don’t make a lot them because they’re expensive, but they do make it easier to get a cataraft back over and protect you equipment from bashing on rocks,” says AIRE co-founder and co-owner Alan Hamilton, who uses the contraption whenever rowing more difficult runs. “They’re especially valuable on trips like the South Fork of the Salmon when carrying gear; it’s pretty difficult to flip a loaded cat back over by yourself.”
The concept is simple: it’s a large, inflatable, thwart-like cylinder strapped in behind the rower onto the cataraft frame, lengthwise or parallel to the cataraft tubes. If you flip, the device makes the upside-down craft list to one side, off-kilter, making it easier to flip back upright. It also protects the seat, oar pins and other gear from hitting rocks while upside-down.
The concept isn’t necessarily new. “It’s been around in some form for almost 35 years,” says Hamilton, crediting the original idea to Argonaut Cataraft founder Kris Walker, who used to strap a 50-gal. plastic barrel to the back of his cataraft for the same purpose. “He came up with the idea, using the barrels.” Hamilton later brought back a couple 30-gal. plastic barrels from Germany for the purpose.
Hamilton and his hairboating cronies would go on to produce their “Great White Hunters” video, using the improvised barrel when rowing such Class V classics as Idaho’s North Fork Payette. “A friend flipped in the Lower Five and didn’t have one, and when we got it back over his seat was gone and pins were bent,” he says. “As well as helping you roll it back over easier, it also protects your equipment.”
Call it an airbag for your boat, if you will.
While some catarafters have improvised further by strapping raft thwarts behind their seats to accomplish the same task, Hamilton began tinkering with making his own inflatable “catarollers” once some of his Class V cararafting buddies started asking about them. “I had a couple of people approach me about making them, so we did,” he says, adding production models cost about $400. So far, he says AIRE has “a dozen or so” being used. Hamilton adds that a passenger can also ride on top of one behind the rower, “sitting on it and holding onto a strap like riding a horse.”
But it takes a certain person — and mindset — to want one. AIRE made one for Mark Cramer, who has catarafted the notorious Triple Crown: The Grand Canyon of the Stikine, Turnback Canyon on the Alsek and Devil’s Canyon on the Susitna.
Still, if you’re of that adrenaline-filled ilk, the results speak for themselves. When Hamilton once flipped his cataraft on Pipeline Rapid on Idaho’s Lochsa River — rowing a 13-footer with a narrower frame — a kayaker was able to paddle up and re-right it while still in his boat. Hamilton adds that nowadays his crew of catarafters also employ internal flip lines, consisting of tubular webbing with bungee cord attached to the tubes’ interiors, to also make the re-righting process easier.
Admittedly, the market’s not huge — it’s really only for those boaters brazen enough to regularly row Class V. But why not give yourself every advantage you can?
“On runs like the North Fork, you want to get your boat flipped back over and get back up on it as quickly as possible,” he says. As for someone calling and asking to get one, “Why would we say no?”
For More Info on this innovative AIRE Catarollers: www.aire.com
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