The folding kayak history of the Nautiraid brand
In 1927, the Frenchman Marcel Bardiaux, inventor of the small barge Nautiraid, sets up his workshop to manufacture foldable kayaks. He also imports from Germany the "kayak chain". Before sailing around the world in 1950, he closes his workshop again.
In 1929, Irish Major R. Raven-Hart, scarred by World War I and fond of remote places, dreams of traveling in a pacified Europe. He lives modestly in Herblay in a small house Seine down from Paris, on a small pension to compensate for his poor health.
His financial means do not allow him to buy a steamboat, a motor home or a car. Breathing problems prohibit him from making major efforts such as long walks, cycling or carrying camping equipment. And riding a motorcycle? The prospect of riding alongside cars, amid dust and car exhaust fumes, did not please him.
While he is again pondering the obstacles that inhibit his desire to travel, two young German tourists drop off some bags at his garden gate. Seeing the rubber hull and some armature parts, the Major understands that it is a boat and offers the two tourists to assemble it on his lawn. Our Major knew the Indian canoe, but this was the first time he had seen a foldable kayak. During the assembly, after a few test runs, an aperitif and a good meal, the three men become friends.
With the first days of spring in 1930, he buys a first two-man kayak, imported from Germany, and later a second one - a "Hart", but it has nothing to do with Raven-Hart.
With a young German as his companion he goes down the Seine. An Irishman and a German together on a French river cause a sensation. At a parish festival the boat is christened by the priest "Faithful Heart" (the motto of the Raven-Hart family). The second trip in the spring of 1930 is to the Loire castles, the Marne, the Aisme and the Ardennes Canal.
Finally, he undertook longer journeys that took him further and further: on the Danube, the Elbe, ...the Nile.
In a short time our man becomes a celebrity. His status as a member of the "Canoe Club de France" makes his contacts much easier, although he remains convinced that a card from the "British Canoe Union" would have opened even more doors.
Despite all this, the foldable kayak has not experienced the same great enthusiasm in France as in Germany. This difference can be explained by the fact that the free transport of fixed canoes as accompanying luggage was not possible for a long time in the German trains.
On the other hand, (if they could afford it), the French could travel by rail with their fixed canoes at no additional cost. Moreover, the development of this type of kayak in France is marked by the technical achievements aimed at sporting goals.
The year 1930 meant for three men, Messieurs Mathéon, Chauveau (the inventor of the Nautiraid range), and the already mentioned Bardiaux, the opening of the folding kayak market in France.
First they found the "Kayak Club de France". Regattas are organised. The shape of the boats, the sailing techniques are studied and improved in order to achieve better performances. The three founders, very good tinkerers and very good competitors, make their own kayaks in order to win each, in turn.
In 1931, Bardiaux is the first in France to dare the Eskimo roll in a kayak.
In 1932, the first departure of the Nive with a single kayak testifies to the general water suitability of the kayak. The starting signal for kayaking in France is given in this year.
The creation of the French Canoe Federation in 1932 is a testimony of the recognition and the confidence for a good development of this new recreational sport.
In 1938, carried by the same enthusiasm, three Frenchmen Bernard, Geneviève de Colmont and Antoine de Seynes, each in a two-person "Pioner" kayak, make the first descent of the Colorado in the U.S. One of the most beautiful first descents in France is that of the Verdon in 1939 in a "Hart" kayak for a film by Albert Mahuzier. This is the breakthrough of the foldable kayak. Several French manufacturers compete to improve the lightness, simplicity and speed of assembly.
In 1935, the foundations were laid for what would later become NAUTIRAID.
Jean Chauveau is experiencing some successes. His affection for paddling and his practical sense lead him to build his own folding kayaks in his garage in 1935. Nevertheless, it was not until 1942 that the Chauveau kayak and the "Dauphin" were mentioned. On the Cure, he tests the "ST", which competes with the "Esquimau" by Bardiaux.
Unlike its competitors, the Chauveau kayak is assembled without any screws or metal sleeves that could jam. Some of the components, which are neatly bent to shape like tennis rackets, are praised by connoisseurs. This kayak is considered the "Rolls Royce" among folding boats. Customers with special requirements, flâneurs, or scouts can obtain custom-made accessories from the manufacturer, who perfects them with resourcefulness.
Jacques Dalet finds in Jean Chauveau very intense support in his expeditions, and the completion of the boats is the result of a passionate alliance between builder and explorer.Our technical specialist prepares the kayaks for the expeditions to Amazonia, Greenland, on the Nile, to India, Polynesia and on the Noatak in Alaska.
A number of countries equip the commando units of their armed forces with Chauveau double kayaks. Some armies have been using them for 50 years.
Jean Laporte and two companions in two Chauveau two-man kayaks (today Nautiraid Grand Raid II 500) go down the whole Nile for the first time in 1959. But it is the one-man kayaks that have done most to spread his name in the market. Incomparable safety is given to all these kayaks by the installation of "duo-stabilairs" (air tubes on the outer skin) above the waterline.
Our inventor remains active until 1981. Then he sells his company, which from then on bears the name NAUTIRAID.
Today, the NAUTIRAID company, with the same dolphin logo, links the past with the future.
In the tradition of the pioneers, the brothers Pierre and Frédéric Vernay (www.Polarlys.asso.fr), modern explorers, give us the most beautiful images from the Far North, where they carry out a large expedition every two years.
Many others not mentioned here have done enviable, exciting, even extraordinary things with the NAUTIRAID KAJAKS, and still do today. Thanks to "Grand Nord - Grand Large", hundreds of people discover distant places with the NAUTIRAID kayaks every year. (www.gngl.com)
"NAUTI" stands for the fascination of water and "RAID" for the sense of adventure. In combination, it is a successful name for these kayaks.
The image of the single kayak (Raid II 500-exp/Solo) with its butterfly sail symbolizes the company's philosophy.
The history of the folding kayak is not the business of one man or one factory. Everyone can contribute to it, participate in it, advance it, but not claim its development entirely for himself.
However, it takes a lot of experience and understanding of the complexity of the technology to make an efficient folding boat. Only a few companies have the "know how" to be able to build folding kayaks for a good price/quality ratio.
I thank Patrice de Ravel (www.canotier.com) for his information and help with the historical compilation.
Bruno MAITRE, NAUTIRAID