So many kayaks, so little space in the truck bed. Photos: Ben Duchesney
So many kayaks, so little space in the truck bed.

Talk about winning the Golden Ticket! Last week, I spent a day touring the Johnson Outdoors Watercraft factory in Old Town, Maine with the guys who design some of the sweetest boats and accessories. Not only that, but I took a peek at the new Ocean Kayak’s new Prowler Big Game II, which is going to be a really tasty ride.

Johnson Outdoors, the makers of Ocean Kayak, also produce Old Town Canoe and Kayak, Necky Kayaks and paddling gear like Extrasport and Carlisle Paddles.

After meeting the crew and swapping pizza for fish stories, I grabbed brand director, David Hadden and went on a tour of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. He led me through a canyon of kayaks to the Bubble Room.

The first stop on our tour was the shop where Old Town’s thermoformed canoes are put together. As luck would have it, a canoe had just finished being molded and another sheet of material was ready to go into the mold. “The materials are placed under the mold and then air sucks them up inside,” explained Hadden.

Old Town Visit body 1

After the giant machine clamped down on the raw plastic sheet, Hadden led me over to it. Holding his hand over the machine, he said, “You can feel the heat coming off the plastic.” He explained that the oven joins the layers the layers of plastic before molding them. We looked at a canoe almost finished and examined each layer of plastic layered like rings on an old tree. It was extra special to see this process, because it will be discontinued in four months with the death of Royalex. Even though Royalex will no longer be available, Hadden assured me that they are already testing alternative materials.

We dodged speeding forklifts and navigated a labyrinth of machines and watercraft until we reached the assembly line that stretched the length of the huge building. “This is where all of the accessories are installed onto the kayaks,” said Hadden, “everything from bungees to dry hatch covers.”

Old Town Visit body 2

At the end of the line, there is a giant tank of water with big arms floating above it. “This is our water testing tank,” he said. “We put the kayaks in and push them under to make sure they are completely watertight. There are quality control computers at every station and on each machine. “At any point along the line a boat can get rejected if it isn’t up to spec,” Hadden explained.

Old Town Visit body 3

Then Hadden took me into the design department where I immediately spotted a foam plug for a new boat. “You can’t see that boat, yet,” Hadden half-joked, “you’ll have to wait until ICAST.”

Passing through the stacks of kayaks, I turned to Hadden and said, “So, let’s start loading these in my truck!” He laughed, but who said I was joking? Being surrounded by so many tasty treats makes an angler very hungry.

Old Town Visit body 5

 

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