A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Test paddling the Bullitt

May 22, 2021
Emilie Phillips

Our Bullitt is a two person (tandem) racing kayak. We bought it when we were just a couple. Isaac has ridden in the tandem as a passenger. This year, we want to try using it on the wild coast of Maine to extend our range for camping trips. That means Tyson and Isaac need to practice rough water skills, and Isaac needs to be safe in a spray skirt. The Nashua River in Groton is our favorite local practice spot, so we headed there for another quick afternoon paddle. The spray skirt almost canceled our trip.

Isaac and Tyson going full speed in the Bullitt

Isaac has had no problems pulling the spray skirt off his old skin on frame and his new hand me down skin on frame. So I didn’t expect a problem with the Bullitt. Just to be sure, at the put-in, we had Isaac sit in his cockpit and try to pop the skirt off. The Bullitt cockpits are enormous compared to the Greenland style boats. Isaac could barely reach the pull loop and he utterly couldn’t pull forward then up. The spray skirt wouldn’t budge for him. That would leave Isaac trapped in the boat if it flipped over in waves.

Tyson suggested that Isaac try leaving the spray skirt on the boat and squirm out the tunnel. It was my spray skirt, so it is loose on him. That worked. He can get out fine. It’s a little cumbersome getting back in.

Tyson and Isaac attempting to roll the Bullitt

Next up, was some fun. Tyson and Isaac set off full speed with me trying to keep up. The two of them in a racing tandem easily outpaced me in my shorter kayak with hard chines. Isaac thought that was great. He enjoyed getting to rest while I caught up. I enjoyed the exercise. Despite that, we didn’t pass any of the other kayakers on the river. We kept stopping to practice other safety techniques. Tyson and Isaac attempted one roll. Isaac’s job was to hold tight to the boat and keep his nose to the front deck. Tyson’s job was to roll the boat back upright. Isaac did his job well. Tyson flubbed the roll, wet exited, popped his head up, noticed Isaac still holding tight, and then flipped the boat and Isaac back upright. Isaac couldn’t believe he could hold his breath that long. Tyson says he needs to practice rolling in his solo Anas Acuta. The photo shows Tyson’s shoulders knife edge vertical rather than flat to the water.

We paddled upstream until the first bridge. I remember it being a barricaded rusty metal frame that teenagers liked to jump from. We found people jumping, but now it is a nice pedestrian bridge with parking on both shores.

Isaac trying to tip Mom over

For our last bit of play/practice we tried tipping each other over and resisting with low braces. Isaac tipped me over after a bunch of tries. I tipped Isaac and Tyson over a bit quicker. When we did our rescues afterwards, several kayakers paddling by looked at us puzzled and asked if we needed help. We also got some puzzled looks when Tyson and Isaac took up splashing each other rather than paddling. In a tandem, you can’t get away from your attacker.

Even with everyone out on the water, we spotted some wildlife. A great blue heron sat on a stick near the bank while 4 boats went by. The pair of ducks swam away when they spotted us. A hefty beaver came crashing out of the woods right next to me, trying to get to its lodge before I did.


Some of Isaac’s earlier trips in the Bullitt

The builder of the Bullitt, Doug Bushnell, retired in 2020. He closed down West Side Boat Shop which made the Bullitt and many other custom racing kayaks. According to Dave The Kayaker, the molds are for sale if anyone else wants to continue the business. It was inevitable, but it’s too bad no one else can now buy these fun boats.

All Photos

GPS Track


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Comments (4)

    • When Tyson failed the tandem roll, we did a rescue. You are probably thinking of the type of rescue where I would pull the Bullitt over my boat to empty the water. We didn’t do that. Isaac was already in the boat and upright. So I held the boat while Tyson climbed in. Then Tyson pumped the water out.

    • The coaming lip is really deep. The front of the spray skirt won’t come off unless you pull forward. Tyson is thinking we could add some padding to the front lip to make it possible to pull the skirt off by pulling back. Then we can try your suggestion of adding a handle on the side.