Then I sat back and held on as an “autopilot” kayak shot me through the water at a pace that left me no choice but to laugh like a movie villain.
Paddling is for suckers. I know that now, and interestingly it was the folks at Old Town Canoes & Kayaks who taught me. They are the beloved Maine company that has been making people fall in love with paddling since 1898. Until they became electric.
In 2020, they introduced the Autopilot line of kayaks, which retails between $3,999 and $4,499 and is powered by a Minn Kota trolling motor that takes the paddle out of the equation and amazingly allows you to do so without an actual anchor to anchor. The release of Autopilot immediately took the internet by storm, with breathless reviewers dubbing it the future (or death) of kayaking.
I’d grinned at the videos – everyone seemed fixated on the idea that you could pilot it like a remote-controlled drone without ever actually having to get in it – but I lied to myself and pretended to be too purist, to ever put them down my paddle. Until the next time I tried paddling against the current and reminded myself it’s about as fun as my annual job review.
So I persuaded the folks in Old Town to let me borrow one for the day – they’re sold out until next year – and after checking in at Clammer’s Beach in Essex I drove straight across the swamp to the top of Crane Beach in Ipswich, on direct route to the best test I could think of.
The sandy tip has a reliably strong current and when I was pulled in I reached down and dropped the anchor.
And by that I mean I push a button on the remote control because the anchor is digital in this future.
The anchor button activated Spot Lock, a feature that promises to use the trolling motor to keep the boat within a five-foot radius of where you launch it. In a split second, the trolling motor spun up and turned the boat around, pointing it straight into the current while the algorithm constantly adjusted power and direction. I won’t pretend to know what was going on, but I’ll tell you what happened: It held like a magnet as the emptying swamp tried to shoot me towards Portugal.
After a few moments of shouting, “Did you see that? to absolutely no one, I was so confident that I did something absurd: I got up and started fishing.
The Autopilot is technically a fishing kayak and an evolution of the pedal fishing kayaks that Old Town and others have been developing in recent years. Pedal kayaks were faster than their ancestors and required less energy to operate, but the great revolution came in freeing the angler’s hands to wield a rod.
The pedal kayak was undoubtedly a game changer, but when you stood you floated. And less energy is not no energy. Enter the autopilot.
Old Town, based in the Maine town of the same name, is now owned by Johnson, a big name in outdoor products that also owns Minn Kota trolling motors. Marrying the two was a natural decision, especially after Spot Lock became a revolution for boat owners. Being able to lock in place without dropping an actual anchor is a great advantage for anglers; ditto the cruise control setting, which allows you to troll slowly through an area or amble past boats anchored off the back of Crane Beach, arms crossed behind their heads and shouting at people who don’t care, “I’m on a boat.” “.
The autopilot’s motor is relatively small, reminding me of a motorized cormorant that fit snugly into a rectangular opening in the fuselage, craning its neck as it strode along below. There are two ways to steer, either using the remote control to turn the motor yourself, or using foot pedals to control a rudder, which saves battery, although that wasn’t my goal. No, I tried to see what it would take to kill it, and after more than four hours, most of it at or near full power, the autopilot still had a quarter tank when I reluctantly gave it to the Old Town rep returned .
My only complaint about my time on autopilot is that I didn’t quite understand what the rep was trying to tell me when we spoke on the phone the night before when he said, “There’s room behind your seat for a full – Cooler.” So I spent the day being taunted by the two drink holders sitting on either side of me with no beers, whispering “amateur.” Obviously in this future I didn’t understand how unnecessary I would be.
Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram @billy_baker.