Henry David Thoreau - writer, visionary naturalist, and one of the more famous canoeists of the Concord, Mass., area - would have been proud of the boat company named for his favorite pond. Walden Paddlers Inc. of Concord is making a splash in the recreational boating market with its 12-foot Walden Vision cruising kayak made from 100 percent recycled high density polyethylene detergent bottles.
But the fact that the boat is not made of composites or fiberglass like its pricier competitors, and its environmental friendliness are not the only extraordinary things about the Walden Vision.
It is also the only kayak on the market that is thermoformed, instead of rotomolded, said Dale Vetter, Walden's operation manager.
Composite or fiberglass boats could cost four to five times as much,'' Vetter said in a telephone interview. At $700-$800 ours is affordable for the kayaker who is interested in cruising or touring, as opposed to the white-water, or deep-water paddlers.''
Necessity was the mother of invention for Walden when it came to producing the Vision, which has been on the market about one year. Vetter said Hardig Industries, the South Deerfield, Mass., rotomolder that was making Walden's other post-consu-mer HDPE model, the 10-foot Naturalist, did not have the capacity to handle the new 12-foot boat.
It's our company's policy to use post-consumer recycled material wherever it is possible, Vetter said. ``We looked around and found a thermoformer that thought he could do it. Joe Peters, president of Universal Plastics Inc., a Chicopee, Mass., thermoformer, said he was so sold on the kayak that he dedicated 10,000 square feet of his 80,000-square-foot Holyoke plant to Walden's product.
We were used to heavy-gauge thermoforming, Peters said. ``The other products we make are things like aircraft engine housings, industrial subassemblies, and some containers, so when this came along, we wanted to try it.
Peters said using recycled material was not a problem.
We got a good supplier, who gets most of the material from detergent bottles,'' he said. There really isn't much difference in the way it processes, once it's in sheet form.''
The Vision boat is thermoformed in three pieces: upper and lower halves; and a seat pan that serves as a structural connector and support, which strengthens the design. Peters used three-sixteenths-inch HDPE sheet for the hull halves, and five-thirty-seconds-inch sheet for the seat pan. The parts are welded together.
One advantage of thermoforming is that the boat can be two-tone in color, just like the more-expensive composite and fiberglass boats, Peters said. ``The rotational molders can't do the two-tone boats. Peters and Vetter said the firm plans to produce about 3,000 of the boats this year. Last year Walden made about 1,000; Peters said it was a year of perfecting the design and the production process.
This is a very stable boat,'' Vetter said. ``It's not for the guy who wants to go in the white water, but it's ideal for lakes and rivers.''
Vetter said there has been an increase in interest in kayaking and outdoor water sports in general in recent years, and hopes that interest and the boat's environmental correctness will be appealing.
Walden Paddlers Inc. photo