A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity row a Creature Craft down California’s North Fork of the Smith River. These unique inflatable boats were inspired by an unflippable Russian whitewater boat known as the Bublik (Russian “bagel”). The Bublik has two large bagel shaped tubes separated by a wood frame that is typically crafted at put-in.
This unflippable Russian boat design allows Russians explorers to run many of the large volume, continuous rivers found in Siberia. The Bublik has the ability to go into big holes and recover but also has somewhat limited maneuverability.
The Creature Craft combines the general concept of the Bublik with the modern catarafts. Both use a seatbelt system to restrain the paddlers as well as the ability to right the boat after flipping. The Creature Craft incorporates an overhead apparatus that acts as a roll cage making it look drastically different from the Bublik. This apparatus keeps it from flipping upside down and allows the passenger(s) to flip it back up mid-rapid.
My First Creature Craft Experience
After watching YouTube videos of the Creature Craft I assumed they are not very maneuverable. My first goal was to test this assumption, so I immediately caught every eddy I could and ferried back and forth through the first few rapids. I was initially impressed by the maneuverability. While they weren’t as nimble as a raft or kayak they were more maneuverable than I expected.
My biggest revelation came at Ledge Rapid. This nearly river wide ledge hole can be avoided by powering through a breaking lateral wave on the far left side. Unfortunately I was unable to power through the lateral and was "typewritered" into the ledge hole which held on to me for about 30 seconds. In a raft, cataraft, or kayak I would have likely powered the through the lateral wave. In the Creature Craft, the large frontal surface area stopped the boat and surfed me into the hole.
"You give up some maneuverability and punching power and gain the ability to flirt with big holes"
While surfing the hole in Ledge Raid I was surprisingly relaxed and it was actually quite fun. If I had been in a raft, cataraft, or kayak it would have been a more stressful and exhausting experience that would have likely have ended in a swim. After about 30 seconds of hole riding I popped out and the Creature Craft ended up on it’s side.
To flip the Creature Craft back up I remained strapped in the boat and repositioned my body and righted the boat with some help from a decent sized wave.
After finishing the North Fork of the Smith we decided to continue down through Oregon Hole Gorge, a solid step up from the North Fork.
I had a similar experience while trying to power through a right side lateral to miss a nearly river wide hole in the entrance of the canyon. After being unable to power through I was again "typewritered" into a larger hole and flipped end over end a couple times. After coming out of the hole, I righted the Creature Craft and made it the rest of the way down the canyon.
I found that Creature Crafts to have less "punching power" for waves and holes as well as less maneuverability than traditional inflatable rafts. For high volume and continuous whitewater rivers I’m comfortable giving up some maneuverability and punching power to gain the ability to surf in big hole and reflip.
The ability to ride out big holes and reflip is partially due to the "seatbelt" system Creature Crafts use to keep passengers in the boat. This is something I was wary about since tying yourself into a raft is generally a really bad idea. The "seatbelt" system is actually a well conceived velcro strap that is fairly easy to release. It’s easier to release from the strap than to pull a skirt from a kayak so I felt comfortable being strapped in.
A few more key revelations are:
- Getting surfed in a hole and flipping isn’t all that bad
- The roll cage does inspire quite a bit of confidence
- It’s a lot of fun rowing these through big water
Since they are more difficult to maneuver than traditional boats, they actually require more skill to operate well. In the hands of a solid boater, a Creature Craft is a ton of fun and can open up some sections of high volume whitewater that would otherwise be generally avoided in rafts and catarafts.
I had a great time paddling the Creature Craft and hope to own one someday.
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