VW T5 Campervan and Sea Kayaking Pt2

Right from the start we knew this campervan would be used for sea kayaking.

So the first question we asked converters was, “can we put kayaks on the roof”.

We’d wondered whether we’d have to buy a trailer, something we were keen to avoid.

We were delighted when Simon Poole from Jerba Campervans told us, “Yes, no problem. I carry kayaks on a pop up roof and it’s fine. It’s designed to take a much heavier load than 2 kayak”.

Sorted. Until that awful May day when we realised our roof was collapsing. Two Cetus had been on the roof for two days, and a definite ‘dish’ had appeared on one side. It seemed the edge of the roof was slipping off the side of the van and, unsupported, collapsing.

Take a look at the photo. You can see the bend in the roof from the inside. If you look at the one above, you'll also see how the edge of the roof has slid off the van and is touching the door.


Before you go any further, please read the first part of the story. You’ll see we love the van as a base for kayaking and we had this problem resolved with very little effort by ourselves.

Simon Poole at Jerba Campervans was utterly superb. That's him below with the spanners. I'd buy another van off him any time and would highly recommend him to anyone.

I drove the vehicle down to Edinburgh, where he realigned the roof. He explained it would be a temporary fix to allow us to enjoy our holiday in the Western Isles, but not a long term solution.

Initially, I suspect the roof manufacturers, a German firm called Reimo, tried to back-pedal on the weight limitations of their roofs.

But then Simon got through to the right person who clearly said something like, “come on - this is a duff roof. Bring it back and send them a new one. And make it strong”. In German.

I admit, I’m guessing. I have not had to deal with Reimo at all.

Simon has done all that negotiation. Reimo were keen to explain how tough their roofs are. Vehicles have rolled off roads and their roofs have been intact. The company is proud of their strong roofs.

Yet here was mine. Dished.

No-one has fully explained what went wrong. My guess is that it was built slightly out of shape.

The roof is meant to be narrower in the middle, ‘waisted’ like a ski, not to turn, but to sit on the metal edges on the top of the van.

Ours wasn’t. So under load it splayed out and one edge slid off the van.

The new Reimo roof is a different design. You’ll notice it now has a nose-cone, which might help keep it in place. I was told the roof would also be specially strengthened, but I’m not sure that happened.

We’ve driven around locally with kayaks up there, and left two Nordkapps on the roof for an entire week. No hint of bending yet.

We’ve yet to try a long trip with the roof and kayaks, but that will come soon. I’m heading up to Skye shortly to start filming for the second Volume of Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown and I’ll probably take a kayak.

Just to test the roof.

[edit - as of Sept 2012 (read long term test) we have had no problems whatsoever from our new roof.  If I was planning to buy a VW campervan and carry sea kayaks on the roof, I would not go anywhere other than Jerba, as they now have the expertise which, I suspect, other converters might lack]


Jerryseadog said...

2 really useful articles - I have two kayaks and want a VW T5 LWB Camper. Got to find somewhere in reach of Pembrokeshire though as Simon is a long way away! Jerryseadog

HikerBikerKiker said...

2 really useful articles indeed! I am currently considering the options for a compact camper of some sort for two people, for a few nights away but with the capacity to carry two kayaks and two bicycles.

I presumed the way to go would be a bike rack at the back, maybe a tow-bar mount, and a roof carrier for the kayaks. My concern was that it wouldn't be possible however that is not the case, I just need to specify that the roof is capable of holding them.

If I may therefore ask you a few associated questions?

I presume to raise the roof the kayaks have to come off. Does the rack have to come off too?

How do you get the kayaks up there? Is there a ladder at the back or do you carry a couple of stepladders?

All in all sounds very promising though. Thanks again!

Simon Willis said...

Hi HikerBikerKiker

Glad you found the articles useful - let me answer your specific questions.

Our kayak carrier is a KariTek system. The VW has two channels which run the length of the roof. The first part of the KariTek system is two bars - like a regular roof rack - which fix onto the vehicle by clamping into the two channels. This leaves us with two 'roof rack' bars running across the van and these we leave on pretty much all the time. I took them off for long trips to Europe to improve fuel economy but otherwise they stay on the roof.

The second part of the KariTek system is a rectangular frame which slides onto that roof rack. The kayaks sit in it, and when you want them off, you slide the frame off the side where it is lowered on a hinge - check the KariTek website and this will make sense. http://www.karitek.co.uk/index.php?page=shop.browse&category_id=149&vmcchk=1&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=5

So no, you don't need ladders etc to get the kayaks up - the video on that page shows how it all works.

When there are no kayaks sitting on the carrying frame it bangs and rattles on top of the roof rack bars making driving noisy. However, this frame can easily be removed with four bolts, so I tend to keep this with the kayaks and fit it when needed - it takes less than a minute.

Yes the kayaks have to be removed before the roof can be lifted. It would be too heavy otherwise.

But no, neither the roof rack bars, nor the bars plus kayak carrying frame have to be removed. The gas starts which hold the roof in an elevated position are strong enough to hold the weight of the full Karitek rack.

We were in Shetland in June with kayaks and two road bikes on the rear rack. I could open the rear door by about 12" before the top of the bikes hit the kayaks. Still I managed to squeeze under the tailgate (with Liz holding it open) to turn the gas on and off.

Hope that's helpful - come back to me if you'd like to know more.


Joe said...

I found your articles very interesting, as I have a T6 and looking to get converted, I also have the karitek system and very wary of the assurances being given by some converters. Given your blog started in 2012, has there been any other issues with your roof or the karitek system being fitted on a fiberglass roof.

Simon Willis said...

Hi Joe

Glad you find it helpful - did you see the Long Term review? Given the date you mention then you probably did. http://simon-willis.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/new-vw-t5-campervan-for-sea-kayaking.html

We've had absolutely no roof problems since the new roof was fitted. I can't speak highly enough of Simon Poole at Jerba who handled all the exchanges with Remo - all I had to do was deliver the van and left him do the rest.

I don't think the KariTek was at fault, I think it was the weight of the kayaks on the original roof design. Any rack would have probably bent it out of shape. The new roof is a different design and - I think - specially strengthened.

If I had a T6 and was thinking of fitting an elevating roof which would have to hold the weight of kayaks then I would not dream of going anywhere other than to Simon at Jerba. At least chat to the guy (or email). After our experience Simon has more experience than anyone of the needs of paddlers and their vans, regardless which roof system you plan to put on top.

Likewise, should I sell Nellie and buy a van with an elevating roof that wasn't a Jerba VW, I would be very, very hesitant about putting kayaks on top.

Hope that's useful.