The Hornbeck 10 Foot Blackjack
A Canoe/Kayak hybrid:
I spent the better part of the summer of 2011 trying out different kayaks and boats that allowed me to easily access and use my photography gear. I tried regular and large cockpit kayaks. I tried to use a Jon boat with and electric motor. The kayaks did not provide enough room to maneuver gear and the Jon boat was way too heavy and cumbersome.
A friend of mine had a Kevlar Hornbeck 10′ (14lbs), which I tested. I decided that this is the boat that would fit my needs, though I decided to go with the Carbon Fiber 10′ Blackjack. The reason for this was that the Blackjack weighed a mere 12lbs and did not have the wooden gunnels of the Kevlar boat. To buy the boat, I ended up driving from northern Vermont to Olmstedville, New York last fall–a 3 + hour trip to Hornbeck’s workshop. This is the only place you can get the boats, though he will ship for a fee.
Now that I have used the boat for a season (spring, summer 2012), here is my review.
The boat is amazingly light. It is so easy for me to put on my car by myself. When I have to carry photo gear and the boat to a boat access or portage, it is still such a delight. Some of my friends have kayaks that require a person on each of the boat while portaging, but I can carry my boat easily, by my side with one hand, plus a photo backpack on my back and a tripod in the other hand. The boat is not fast, but it tracks well when you are not actively paddling. In the above picture, I have 2 tripod legs extended over the side and one leg extended into the front of the boat. I mount the Nikon 600mm on a “Whimberly Head”.
Mounting a camera in the boat:
To mount the above set-up in the boat. I lay a small pillow in the bottom of the boat and lay my Nikon 600mm with attached camera (Nikon D700) across the pillow so that the pillow is supporting the weight of the lens and relieving any pressure on the camera body. I next set up my tripod, making sure all the knobs on the Whimberly Head are tightened. Then very, very carefully I mount the camera and lens. I then slowly loosen the Wimberly head, but still keep a good amount of tension so that the camera does not swing freely. When using this canoe/ camera configuration it does make the set-up somewhat top heavy, so you want to be close to your destination and in fairly calm water when you set up for shooting. It is a good idea to throw down some life jackets underneath the canoe and give this a dry land try out first. This will help you establish a system that works for you and get a sense of your own tripod height preferences.
To get this boat to be so lightweight, there is a trade off, not so much in strength, but in scratch resistance. The boat is a gel coat only without the addition of Kevlar to protect the shell (though Hornbeck does make a Carbon/ Kevlar combo which will weigh more). What this means is that this is a “wet entry” Kayak that should not be run up on shore or left in the sun when not in use. Even when trying not to scratch the boat, it does sustain scratches easily when going through streams where you might be encountering branches and underwater debris. If seriously damaged on a rock in swift water, it will not be easy to repair. Therefore, my recommendation is to use this boat on lakes and streams, not fast moving water.
Despite the limitations sited above, I still love this boat for what it can do for me and what I can do with it. If weight in not a concern for you, but you like this design for carrying your photo gear, perhaps a carbon/Kevlar combo would be the choice. For me as a woman, the weight and size of the 10′ Blackjack is perfect for me.