Fujita 480EX Product Rreview By Ralph Diaz

Courtesy of Folding Kayaker Newsletter , New York, USA

Japan 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.

First Impressions
The Fujita 480 was not at all what I expected much to my delight. First thing was the carry bag, which after all is part and parcel of the portability of a folding kayak. Then the frame parts and skin, all of which emerged to be a good deal better than I had been led to believe. The boat fits into just one bag, which is very well thought out and constructed. It has a full backpack harness that is padded at both the shoulder straps and the hip belt. It also has lifter straps at the top of the shoulder straps that allow you to pull the load in close to your spine for best carry. The only other folding kayak company with good carry bags is Feathercraft. The Fujita bag is not adjustable for different torso lengths the way a good backpack and the Feathercraft one are. But it is far better than the bag(s) offered with other singles. The bag has numerous straps and tie-on spots to add gear if you so desire. The compression and other straps also facilitate placing the bag on a normal luggage cart to ease your movement through public transportation; and the collapsed cart fits easily inside the boat when on the water.

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.

The kayak I got had just one single sheet of paper for assembly instructions with no illustrations. Included was a booklet that had some illustrations and greater detail; unfortunately it was in Japanese! But, hey, here is the surprise. The kayak made almost intuitive sense following the scant English instructions.

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
The overall impression of the Fujita 480 is solidness, stability and speed. At just under 16 feet long and a long waterline it is a good touring boat. The deck height is lower than on many other single folding kayaks and so paddling is easier to do. Let's look at individual traits:

Rock solid even though the beam is 24 inches; somewhat less than most other folding kayaks. The sponsons are big and this helps but even with these not inflated rock hard, you still enjoy good initial stability. You simply are not going to feel tippy in this boat. Even when being hit by rapid wakes on your beam, the 480 hardly wiggles in terms of tipping to one side. Secondary stability is good in that you can lean the boat on its side and not feel you are reaching some sudden tipping point.

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.

Since you can lean this boat easily, you will be able to carve turns. Leaning is facilitated by the fact that those extra bars in the cockpit area that add rigidity also provide a handy place to brace your knees under. The boat appears to be very responsive to turning strokes and does not take long to turn sharply.

Interesting situation. The 480 appears to track well with beam winds and waves hitting it. It doesn't tend to turn into them much, even with pretty stiff winds. But a following sea or wind does have you needing to apply ruddering strokes. In its defense other kayaks in such conditions often are likely to act the same. FoldingCraft has used a Feathercraft strap-on skeg in heavy wind conditions and reports that this has helped tracking with little drag.

The kayak moves quickly through the water. In part this is a function of length and width. In part it is attributable to its long waterline with little overhang at bow or stern. But you also get nice speed because of how sharply tapered the boat is at the front, i.e. a slim bow entry. The lower cockpit position mentioned above helps you paddle more efficiently especially for shorter paddlers.

Other Considerations
The 480 has a built in coaming as mentioned above. The coaming is an interesting device in that it is articulated. It is made of a flat sleeve covering material in which are flat pieces of plastic or fiberglass. The pieces are in sections on both sides of the cockpit. When you put on the sprayskirt, you don't have to do much tugging as you can just pull up, for instance, on the front of the coaming to meet the sprayskirt hem part way. The same along the sides and back. The coaming does hold the sprayskirt quite well because you have so much flat surface of contact between them.

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.