Fujita 480EX Product Rreview By Ralph Diaz
Courtesy of Folding Kayaker Newsletter , New York, USA
has been producing folding kayaks for quite awhile but for the most part,
they have been rarely seen outside of their home market. That is until
now, at least in the US, where a number of models made by Fujita are being
imported by FoldingCraft (Folding Kayaker, March/April 2002).
Fujita is the leading manufacturer of folding kayaks in Japan and offers both aluminum models and ones that combine wooden crossribs with fiberglass rods. The latter type is what FoldingCraft and Fujita consider more rugged Touring models. In discussions with Randy King who runs FoldingCraft, I decided to take a look at the Touring 480.
Japanese folding kayaks have had a so-so reputation from those whom I have spoken with who are knowledgeable about folding kayaks. The kayaks were not supposed to be particularly well made. Materials were considered skimpy. So I was looking forward to seeing and testing my first one to find out how it would stack up against other brands that I am very familiar with.
At just shy of 16 feet long, the 480 is neatly positioned between several full-length folding kayaks (Folbot Kodiak, Klepper Aerius I and Nautiraid Raid 1 at around 15 feet and Feathercraft K-1 and Nautiraid Greenlander at around 16.5 feet long). So with this model, I would also have a good set of benchmarks for comparison.
The frame is beefy, make no mistake about it. A high grade of marine plywood with 3 coats of varnish is used for the cross ribs and is substantial in both thickness and profile dimensions, nothing spindly about them. It would be hard to crack one of this cross ribs; it looks as strong as the best of the brands that employ wooden frames.
Like Nautiraids, whole sections of the frame long pieces and cross ribs already come connected to each other. Cross ribs pivot into position to mate with the long pieces or longerons that are bungeed. These longerons are made of fiberglass that is thick walled and of a sizable dimension. About the only question I have are the cotter pins and rivets that hold the pre-assemblies together. They are likely strong enough but I have no track record to work from on this. The positive side is that this involves just holding pre-assembled parts together and could easily be field-repaired if necessary.
The deck of the 480 is urethane laminated to polyester core with a textured urethane outer coating. The Expedition hull, which I tested, has a polyester/Kevlar core to which is laminated a PVC coating. It has several keel strips for added protection. Everything on the hull is electronically welded. However, the hull and deck are just sewn together and you can get some leakage through this. In some places the stitching looks a bit coarse. It is a boat you will want to seam seal.
The deck sports two hatches with a double cover of a neoprene inner cap and coated outer cap. You also get a full set of bungee tie downs and perimeter safety line.
There are 3 subassemblies to each frame half that are marked A, B, C. Connect those together and you have a complete frame half. It is intuitive, just connect chine to chine, keel to keel, gunwale to gunwale and that is it, as they can only go one way. The cross ribs can be spun to face in either direction but they are obvious not meant to be that way, as you do want the angle pieces on the cross ribs to go into U brackets on the gunwales in a certain direction. I first tried following a pattern of having the English identifying label on each of these face in a certain direction (toward the cockpit) but could see that it was not meant to be that way for the crossrib nearest the cockpit. So I switched to have the side with the Japanese characters facing the cockpit and that worked (obviously one crossrib had the English on the wrong side).
The pieces used to extend the two frame halves at the cockpit looked flimsy, just small hinged fiberglass tubes at the gunwales and keel. They work like the horseshoe and block, kind of, on Kleppers and Folbots. But despite the Fujita version being of light looking parts it actually should work out okay. The reason for this is that these built-in levering devices are not required to bear a lot of load in the eventual assembly. The chine bars do that as do a special, substantial extra set of bars in the cockpit area. As for the keel connection, it is covered by a two-piece floorboard, which also acts to beef up and bolster the boat in the cockpit area.
The coaming is built into the deck. So no need to lose any time assembling parts and pieces for this part of the boat. Overall assembly is therefore speedy. Once you get the knack, it should not take more than 15 minutes to assemble the basic boat. You only need a bit of force in a few areas (a few of the rib connections to the gunwales and that is likely to loosen up over time and not need muscle. However, many of the long pieces have popup buttons like those on a two-piece paddle, albeit smaller. It is all intuitive but you have to keep feeling the long pieces to see which parts of the connections use the popup buttons. However, the reverse process, i.e. disassembly, takes longer than one might expect. You have to pop down each of those buttons and there are many of them, as I said. I also wonder what those buttons would do if the boat is left assembled along time. These buttons have been known to corrode closed on 2 and 4 piece paddles. My suggestion is that you lube them all with a good anti-corrosion lubricant or spray.
On The Water
It is very easy to relax in this kayak when things are acting wildly around you. I am not sure how a hardsheller would feel about the 480, but folding kayakers used to lots of stability will feel right at home.
The boat has a 320 pound capacity including you. It looks to be enough for quite a bit of camping. The opening in the cross ribs can take fairly large dry bags. And the hatches help you move around the cargo by reaching your hand through. The length of each compartment between crossribs allows you to put in fairly long objects such as a luggage cart or tents that don't break down into small pole sections. If you want more capacity and room, you can opt for the Fujita 500 model, which is about a half foot longer with a slightly higher deck. The foot pedals are Keepers. They adjust easily but do not have much travel. If you are over 5 ft 11 in. or so, you will find your knees tucked up. Again the 500 model would work better. But you could also probably modify even the 480 foot pedal setup to suit taller paddlers.
The seat is reasonably comfortable although you may want to add a bit of padding on the bottom. Give it a try first. The boat comes with a cushioned footpad that rests beneath your heels. Good for barefoot paddling but more importantly less likely for sand covered neoprene boats or sandals wearing away at the inside of the hull. Even some fiberglass kayaks have been known to wear dangerously thin where abrasive heels rub on the inside of the hull.