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In Praise of the Coaster

On the western edge of North America there is one small kayak which has become almost legendary. First produced commercially by Matt and Cam Broze of Mariner Kayaks in Seattle, the Mariner Coaster has achieved this status not because it has been used on expeditions but because it was, for many years, virtually the only sea kayak playboat suitable for rock gardens and surf as well as being fast enough to carry a kayaker and some gear to suitable spots to play in.

The Mariner Coaster as pictured in a review by Sea Kayaker Magazine, Summer of 1994

The genesis for the Coaster was a little boat designed and built by Robert Livingston. As Matt Broze says in his history of Mariner Kayaks (www.marinerkayaks.com) Robert brought his little Ursa Micro along on a trip to Cape Flattery (the most NW’ly

Robert Livingston's wife in his Ursa Micro, the inspiration for the Mariner Coaster. Note the spiffy PFD.

point of mainland USA) back in the middle 1980s.  Back then a 13.5-foot sea kayak was unusual to say the least (even white water kayaks tended to be 11-feet long or longer) but the Ursa Micro was surprisingly fast (due to low wetted surface) and incredibly maneuverable. Matt and Cam were so taken with the boat that they asked Robert if they could use his design in a production boat.

Robert had designed the Ursa Micro using his new design program “BearboatSP” for a trip along the coast of Portugal. Back then you could not rent kayaks so his idea was to make a boat that could be taken apart into three pieces and transported with his luggage. (Robert is still designing, building and paddling boats and his tastes still runs towards smaller kayaks; except that he still likes his Mariner I.)

The Broze brothers changed some of the characteristics of the Ursa Micro in the metamorphoses into the Coaster. They removed the turtle-back after deck, changed some of the hull shapes and shortened the cockpit opening. They kept the wide, buoyant forward

My Coaster on the community beach near Freeland, Whidbey Island, WA

section that kept the bow from perling in steep surf and the stubby bow. Once they had the design completed and a boat built Cam took the first boat to the Washington coast during the weekend of the West Coast Sea Kayak Seminar leaving Matt to explain to potential buyers the virtues of the new boat.

The Coaster was many things but one of them was not “pretty”. It looked short and stubby and the center section was not curved but straight curving suddenly to a point at the bow and stern. But Sea Kayaker Magazine, which did a review of the Coaster in the summer of 1994 said that it drew raves for its stability, quick acceleration, maneuverability, and balance in wind and sea. But by this time the Coaster was well known in the circles where such attributes were highly valued. In fact several of the famous San Francisco-based Tsunami Rangers paddled Coasters and the boat figured prominently in at least one book and several videos featuring the group.

The Coaster, unlike many “performance” kayaks, never feels tippy or twitchy even to novice paddlers. In fact my own Coaster was the favorite ride of  six year old Hailey

Hailey seated in the cockpit of "her" Coaster at age six. A Mariner Express in the background.

who paddled it many times on Moses Lake and referred to it as “my kayak”. At age six she sometimes found the boat a handful in wind but she never felt unstable and, in fact, learned to edge the boat to make it turn easily all on her own!

Coasters can be found all over the world. In fact if you search for “coaster kayak” on YouTube one of the videos is a paddler in Sweden rolling his Coaster in a tidal pool in the middle of a rock garden. But they seem to be most at home in the coastal waters of North America and most often the western and northwestern coasts.

The end of the production Coasters came in 2008 when Cam and Matt finally closed the line down. A short few months later, in February of 2009, my shop burned up along with my Coaster. I found myself without a Coaster and no way to get a new one. Of course there is always Craigslist but Coasters remain so popular that the prices of used boats often rival those of the new boats and a paddler who wanted one had to act fast when an ad appeared.

Then I remembered Brian Schulz who had received permission from the Broze brothers to build a copy of the Coaster in skin-on-frame construction. Brian had posted

Pam checking the fit of her F-1, a skin-on-frame version of the Mariner Coaster during the build seminar at Cape Falcon Kayak in Manzanita, Oregon

photos on his web page (www.capefalconkayak.com) of the SC-1 (as he called it) in use out on the rough waters of the Pacific beaches of Oregon.  By the time I had lost my Coaster Brian had refined the SC-1 into the F-1 and was offering build seminars at his headquarters. My friend Pam and I signed up for one of these and by the end of May, 2009 I had an SOF version of the Coaster.

I had found the Coaster to be an almost perfect boat except that, for me, the cockpit opening and the seat was just slightly too small. Once I was inside everything was fine but getting in was a struggle. Getting back out, especially with the bow uphill on a dumpy beach was even worse. Brian had devised a method of building the F-1 in three sizes. A standard size (almost a copy of the Coaster), one size slightly smaller, and one size slightly larger. Pam build the slightly smaller version and I built the slightly larger version.

The original Coasters weighed somewhere between 35 and 40 pounds depending upon the materials used. The F-1 weighs between 28 and 30 pounds depending upon the size.

My F-1 sitting on my dock at Moses Lake, WA ready to paddle. Note the hard chines aft.

When we built ours there were three other F-1s being built at the same time. I don’t know exactly how many boats have been built but Brian has conducted seminars all over the USA in addition to his home base in Manzanita, Oregon and has even guided paddlers through building their F-1 in Australia and Tasmania!

So a design idea conceived and produced by an amateur (but highly skilled) designer and builder in Seattle morphed into a legendary kayak in the hands of the Broze brothers at Mariner Kayaks and still lives on as a very popular skin-on-frame design by Brian Schulz. Last year Matt and Cam dropped by my house in Moses Lake and took a look at my F-1 sitting on my dock. The resemblance was amazing. Cam thought that the after rocker was somewhat less but Matt wasn’t so sure. Last year at the West Coast Sea Kayak Seminar in Port Townsend an old friend of Matt’s took one look at my F-1 sitting in a rack on top of my pickup truck and said, almost in amazement:

“That’s a Coaster!”

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