Have you ever been hiking and come upon a beautiful river and thought to yourself, I wish I had a raft so I could follow this river for a few miles!? Thats exactly what Alpacka Rafts makes a lightweight raft that you can inflate yourself, use for a little while, and then deflate to put back in your pack.
Necessity being the mother of invention, Sheri Tingey, the owner and designer of Alpacka Rafts, came up with the design using all the things that she DIDNT want in a raft. With the help of her son, Thor, and the friends of hers who have used rafts over the years, she came up with a wish list of qualities that a good raft should provide.
Ive always wanted to build a boat that I dont have to patch all the time and can run rivers with, Tingey said.
Tingey, who originally comes from Phoenix, began her outdoor odyssey in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in the 1970s when she designed her own outdoor clothing skiing and climbing. She discovered whitewater rafting and kayaking while she was there, and then, after much repairing and lugging a heavy raft around, decided she could do much better by designing her own craft.
A packraft, by definition, is a boat that is small, light, and portable enough that you can personally carry or move without significant exertion or special equipment, or carry while riding a bike around town, according to the Alpacka website.
The concept of a pack raft one that can be packed easily in a backpack has been around for a long time, before World War II, but nothing designed to float on rivers, she said.
Her son, especially, needed a light, tough, high-buoyancy raft that would carry himself and 50 pounds of gear along remote rivers, including rocky shallows, bushwhacks and whitewater. When he wasnt in the water, it needed to be light for him to carry on his back. As a passionate fly-fisherman, he also wanted something that could get him into tight fishing spots.
So Alpacka Rafts was created.
This is the 11th season for Alpacka Rafts, Tingey said, and the fourth year here in the Mancos area. For the first six years of the business, she outsourced much of her manufacturing, but that didnt work out as well as she thought it would.
I decided that I couldnt control the quality that way, Tingey said.
Now, the manufacturing, along with research and development, management, and administrative work, goes on in a place just outside Mancos. The shop is cluttered with boats in various stages of production, machinery that welds and sews, and numerous dogs wandering around that belong to Tingey and the employees. There are four full-time and four part-time employees.
She spent one year designing the rafts. She started in the fall of 2000, tested it in May 2001, and finished it in the summer.
I really didnt know what I wanted in the fabric, but I talked to a lot of people who pointed me in the right direction.
The company she now uses was her second choice after much discussion with the people.
I wouldnt have been as successful as Ive been without designing it with the company, she said.
Since kayaking is a passion of mine, Ive always wanted to build a boat that I dont have to patch and light enough to carry and can run rivers with, Tingey said.
She talked to a lot of people and asked them, What is important to you? The most talked about thing was no repair. They didnt want to spend half their time repairing the holes. They also needed to be able to carry it with them, so it should be 3 to 5 pounds. Plus ... it needed to be fun on the river! she said.
Alpacka Rafts designs different sizes of boats. The Alpaca, the Yukon Yak and the Denali Llama, are the three main types. The parts are all standard and can be bought anywhere, she said, and there are very few repairs.
The boats are expensive to make, labor intensive and very involved, but you end up with a good boat. The boat should last you 20 years, she said. They are all the same basic boat, but you want it to fit like a glove.
They all weigh less than 5 pounds each. These boats cross the bridge between backpacking and boating, Tingey said. People who buy these boats are backpackers, adventurers, older people and bicyclists not hard-core boaters.
Its a fabulous travel boat, she said. You can stow it in your gear with your paddle and your personal flotation device, and its lightweight.
The fabric she uses is a urethane-coated nylon, and they use a radio frequency welder to put in the grabbed loops and other equipment on the boat. There are spray decks, floor pads, inflation bags, a carrying bag and lots of other accessories that you can choose to go with your boat.
Tingey also likes to provide good customer service along with the boats.
I love our customers because theyre looking for a new way to enjoy the outdoors, she said.
Alpacka Rafts sales are all conducted over the Internet or by phone, and the customers come from all over the world.
We get a lot of customers from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, Tingey said.
Tingey does whatever she has to in order to keep the customer happy, such as replacing a faulty boat, taking returns for repairs or giving advice on the phone.
She started her business when the Internet businesses were taking off.
I couldnt have done it any other way, she said. Its a niche business, and the Internet gives you a way to get the product out there without going through the retail chains.
Its really worked out well here, said Tingey, who lives across the road from the shop. As soon as I cross the road, Im at work, and when I go home, I dont bring work with me.
I want people to buy from us because they want to, not because theyre just looking for a boat, she said. People are really informed about their choices, and thats what we want.
The website for the rafts can be found at www.alpackaraft.com. There is a lot of information for the prospective buyer or looker about the boats, how to use them and what to do in every situation.