Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The Epic V5 - a ski for you & your mates....


So what to make of a surfski that's 4.3m long, and 60cm wide, with a surf rudder the equal of those found on the big guns like the V12?

Are we talking about a North American bird watcher's kayak here, short, stable, surely slow & lacking direction stability? We'll you'd bloody well think so looking at those numbers!

However, after watching my mate Boyan surf his millionth Levante-powered 15kmh wave at his surfski centre in Tarifa on YouTube, realising belatedly that most of that incredible footage is taken off a V5, we decided it was time to explore this sawn-off Epic.

Our demo arrived last week, a performance layup, 16kg with handles & a nicely proportioned rear hatch for your tent or lightweight camping gear, and very reasonably priced at just $3600.

We have a long history surfing boats around this length, think of kayaks like the Valley Gemini & Sirona, Tiderace Xtra & Vortex, and understand just how nimble & manoeuvrable those designs are in bigger breaking waves. But, to get out and enjoy the surf in them you do need a fairly developed set of skills, a good understanding of how to use your edges and a very strong brace. A reliable roll is also an asset. Given that skill set, the new wave of play sea kayaks are the bomb; you can do things on a wave that would scarcely have been believable before they were conceived.

But, and like the V5 it's a big but... what if you don't have those skills & don't feel inclined to get 'em? Just how accessible is that YouTube surfing experience if you can't roll, or use your edges, and frankly find the idea of a capsize in the surf & a re-entry into a flooded cockpit about as palatable as sticking a fork in your eye? How about if you could head out to your favourite bar break or spilling wave safe in the knowledge that your surfing experience wouldn't be greatly diminished in comparison to the 'play sea kayaks', and if you got crunched & ended up swimming the craft onto which you're going to re-embark is hugely stable & easy to remount?

Chuck in a generous back hatch for gear, which despite a few trashing yesterday remained tightly sealed, and a seating an paddling position that entirely belies the stubby nature of the ski. It would have been easy to forget that I was in a ski with these generous proportions yesterday if it hadn't been for my paddling mates shaking their heads at the sight of me in something so short, with a big EPIC sticker on the bow.

As luck would have it, yesterdays debut on the water coincided with the back end of a southerly swell episode, and our favourite bar break was providing the sort of amusement park rides for which it's famous. Five of us agreed to meet at the mid afternoon low tide, and go for a surf. Everyone else was in a longer ski (in fact when you think about it, it's hard to imagine a shorter one...), and on the steep sets had to sit out on the wave shoulder or risk being either pearled or broached in the breaking sections. I had no such worries in my little V5 however, and proceeded to charge down the steepest bits I could find, to see if the ski could really surf like a kayak. Whilst the 60cm beam does get in the way of really sharp edge control, the dirty great rudder more than makes up for that, and I just carved around and had a ball. We got broached, barrelled, the spray flew and in amongst it all were the ninety second rides that we love about this place. A great arvo out for a bunch of paddling mates.

Paddling home after the session I ticked at 9kmh on the flat water of Gunamatta Bay, not too shabby at all and proof that looks and old rules about length, beam and therefore speed are very quickly being eroded by clever designers.

So, is it a surfing ski? I'm not 100% sure the designers figured that would be it's primary use when they sketched it, but it's pretty damn good at it regardless. It would be a great little overnight getaway craft to chuck your tent & sleeping bag into & head off for a night on a river. It's just got enough speed to paddle & get your heart rate up without pushing a huge wall of water in front of the bow, so a cruisy craft for gentle fitness paddling. It's light, and it's about the same length as a lot of SUP's so really easy to handle & store in the garage.

There is a video of me paddling it yesterday above, no stats on speed or heart rates or V02 Max, just plenty of smiles from all of us. This is genuinely a mighty little ski to enjoy with your mates.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Rob Mercer Introduces the Flat Earth Sails 'Footloose 80'


Below you can see a photograph of me from our 2004 unsupported expedition from Cooktown almost 1000km along the Cape York Peninsula to Sesia in Torres Strait. It remains one of the highlights of my time on the sea and provided the group with many wonderful days of surfing the SE tradewinds.

Obviously the picture was taken in the lee of a headland so out of the wind but I have chosen it because it provides a good view of the sail itself. 

This was my first three panel sail, it was designed and made by my good mate Andrew Eddy specifically for this trip. He had already used the same design on this and many previous trips.

From the late 1990s until the present I have been fascinated by kayak sails and curious about the relative merits of different shapes and sizes.

In more recent times I have used the various Flat Earth Sails including the Original, Code Zero and Tradewind models, these are Mick’s most notable legacy to kayak sail design and I continue to enjoy these sails for their ease of use, efficiency and simplicity. To my mind they are less aggressive and a little easier to use than the three panel sails with their ability to “spill” some of the extra heeling force caused by gusts, but I have always appreciated the performance offered by the three panel designs and had started work on a three panel sail with Mick only a year or so before he passed away.

As part of this process Andrew Eddy was kind enough to send him vital information about the original sail and after much deliberation Mick sent me a beautifully crafted prototype based on his interpretation of the Andrew’s pattern. The original worked best with a full load and a straight tracking kayak, Mick maintained the stable shape and power of this sail but in a more compact and easily manageable form and then he went over the original material selection and design with his meticulous eye for detail.  
I was immediately delighted with the result and once out on the water, felt how taut the sail was in fresh winds, a characteristic we had valued so highly using the original in the big “tradies” north of Cooktown all those years ago.
  
There were a few hardware and design issues I needed to talk through with Mick before it was ready for the final test and to take to market but sadly we never got to finish the project…

Recently with the backorders of Flat Earth Sails finally under control, master sail maker Neil Tasker has been helping me fine-tune the design. I tested Mick’s prototype on a trip in North Queensland last year and then came back to Neil with some suggestions that in turn lead to several tweaks and hardware changes. 

I have included pictures of this design from our recent Bass Strait Crossing, and video of the sail in action in the two minute clip at the top of the page (noting that none of the sailing in the video is in dead downwind conditions, in fact most of it is nearly beam-on).



The hardware was from Mick’s Prototype and featured a fiberglass tubular boom with the sail loose footed as in the original (we have subsequently replaced the fiberglass with an aluminium boom for greater durability). The sail performed very well with a loaded boat and held its optimal shape further off the wind than the Tradewind Sails being used by the rest of the group. I was delighted with the result and look forward to using this design again on my next trip.

It is important to note that this performance does come at a cost and that is the slightly higher heeling force applied to the kayak when sailing across the wind, and more notable, the greater acceleration when driven by gusts. This extra push onto the waves will exhilarate some and maybe intimidate others. For these reasons I see this as more of a sail for experienced kayak sailors looking for more outright drive to catch running seas and/or those paddling heavy kayaks. If you like to cruise with the sail up and want a more relaxed ride or you have not sailed before then I would expect the tried and trusted Trade Wind series is still for you.

Throughout eighteen months of testing, one of the features of this sail that distinguished it from most others in the kayaking world was the way the boom attaches to the cloth by simply being tied off to an end cap rather than having a pocket stitched into the sail to enclose the boom. This elegant, minimalist design feature has always performed well for me. Among it’s many virtues are ease of service and the ability to position the sheetline anywhere along the length of the boom for direct attachment. For this reason we have decided to name this sail the: “Footloose 80”

I know Mick was curious but not convinced about this three panel sail design so he was pleasantly surprised with the results when I reported back to him. Mick believed these designs would never replace the original Flat Earth sails and I think he was right, so we consider the Footloose 80 more as an addition to the range; a compact sail ideally suited to those experienced and adventurous kayaker sailors chasing some more performance without going to a bigger sail.

Rob Mercer, May 2018.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Video - Bass Strait by Sea Kayak


In March this year I was fortunate to be able to join Gary Forrest, Rob Mercer, Bob Turner & Andrew Trickett on a crossing of Eastern Bass Strait. All up we covered 329km, in just on 45 hours of paddling, spread over 8 days, with 7 days off the water for what at times was apocalyptic weather.

In assembling the video, we used hand held waterproof point & shoot camera for the on-water shots, GoPro's mounted on customised mounts for the POV video, and a DJI Spark drone for the spectacular aerial footage.

We were trying to portray the water & islands of Bass Strait in a way that offered an original view of the place, as well as capturing the great time we had as a team.

It really was one of the most enjoyable couple of weeks with mates that you could possibly imagine.

Rob is writing a report of the trip at the moment, which will be posted here once it's been published in Ocean Paddler Magazine, but for now here is the video we made of the journey.

Hope you enjoy it!

**there is a also a full image gallery HERE.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

The Epic 18X Double - Reviewed


Epic announced a new double touring sea kayak late in 2017, and we were quick to order a demo, seeing the potential for a light weight, stable and fast design in a market where at the moment there isn't really anything like that in a double.

The doubles we see round the traps, at races & on trips, are either wide, heavy and in relative terms quite slow, or high performance race craft not suited in any way to carrying gear.

We have tested the new Epic 18X double in a range of conditions and can report excellent performance in the kinds of seas 95% of paddlers would enjoy paddling. It hits speeds which put daylight between it & the nearest composite touring double in the market, and a set of ergonomics which allow a full range of paddler size, combined with cutaways that encourage full power in your stroke.
In a nice design tweak, both cockpits have a forward glovebox hatch, and the rudder is the transom-mounted Smart Track system that we have tested over the years & also use with supreme confidence on our own Audax, with the solid Epic footbrace & pedals developed for the original 18X.

The ergonomics are excellent, a high leg position allowing a full leg drive, seats which adjust fore and aft to accommodate paddlers of different heights, as well as crucially allowing you to tune the trim of the kayak, so important in a double, especially if you're using it for marathon racing.

It's already developing an imposing record in the US, having won a number of prestigious long distance races, and is extremely well suited to the very popular series of marathon races that are becoming more and more prevalent in Australia.

At 6.7m long, it's an easier boat to handle & car-top than most other doubles, and considering the speed capabilities (Rob & mark had it ticking over at 13kmh without raising a sweat), has carrying capacity of 240kg. That said, like most fast doubles (as opposed to the big tankers that are designed primarily to carry gear), the distance you could travel with the 18X Double fully loaded would depend on your ability to pack light.

If you're after a light, fast, stable double sea kayak with ample capacity for cruising with gear for an extended trip, this should have made it's way onto your list. Prices, specs & construction options are below. We have the only demo in the country here at our warehouse if you'd like to take one for a whirl.

SPECIFICATIONS

Length: 22' (6.7m)
Width: 57 cm
Depth: 38 cm
Capacity: 240 kg
CONSTRUCTION OPTIONS

Performance

29 Kg $5,000
  • Infusion grade foam core
  • Composite hybrid of fiberglass, carbon fiber, and Kevlar
  • Vacuum infused, heat-cured epoxy
  • Black bow & stern

 

Ultra

 26 Kg $6,000
  • Nomex honeycomb core
  • Woven carbon and Kevlar fabric
  • Vacuum bagged, heat-cured epoxy
  • Red bow & stern

Thursday, 22 March 2018

The EK Kayaker's Tarp


Our range of locally designed & manufactured paddle-specific products is growing each year, prefaced as they all have been by an exhaustive testing & prototyping process to make sure we get as close as possible to the perfect item.

Adding to products developed locally with trusted & skilled artisans such as the BigFoot & SkegFoot plate systems, Flat Earth Kayaks Sails, our own Audax (which involved more than  a dozen local experts and manufacturers), Dave Winkworth's excellent Silver Storm seat & water bags, we have now finalised the design of a tarp system that we think is an excellent addition to any kayakers kit bag.

The EK Kayaker's Tarp was conceptualised by a sea kayaker, Simon McGuire from Tier Gear in Tasmania. Rob and Simon put their heads together to work out what was important for a paddler, especially from the perspective of getting it up without always having rely on trees. It's shaped in a caternary rectangle, a shape designed to provide better performance in the wind, which also helps you achieve a more taut pitch. 

Measuring 3.5m x 3.2m, the tarp features reinforcement patches in Dyneema Gridstop, a  210 denier nylon with a reinforcement grid of Dyneema fibre. The tie-out hardware is a 20mm Beastee Dee, made from Acetal with a reinforced design for superior strength. There are four mid panel pulls, which provide the ability to create more space internally under the tarp when needed.The position & construction of anchor points allows for a wide range of pitching options.


The tarp comes complete with a full set of high quality, high vis. 2mm Spectra guy lines, with a simple v-cleat tensioning system, on each line (for people with dodgy knots)!


It packs away into a 28cm x 22cm lightweight bag with a roll top closure, and weighs just 600gm. 

The ridgeline construction, something unique to Tier Gear, allows the stitching to pass through multiple layers of fabric for added strength and durability, using a high tenacity polyester continuous filament thread which is made in Germany.

Our test model was used throughout our Bass Strait crossing, sometimes as a sun shade, most often as a base camp shelter against inclement weather - anyone who has seen our video will know we had our fair share! Having the tarp on our trip was pure gold, and where space and weight are at premium it was a luxury to have such an expansive shelter that weighed less than a water bottle.


In short, no expense has been spared to build a light, strong, and supremely designed tarp that goes up quickly and easily.

We don't think it's use is limited to expeditioning, it's so slim & fast to erect, especially with a set of Mont Batwing poles or two paddles, that it will win many friends on trips with your paddling mates. We reckon you'll soon see this as an essential piece of kit for day trips with a lunch stop.

You can order through our online store HERE, price is $295 including free delivery within Australia ($50 for overseas orders, please get in touch with us by email to order if you're overseas - mark@expeditionkayaks.com).

Friday, 16 March 2018

Back to the Future - The Epic V10, 2018 Edition


When I first started paddling skis back in 2008, the holy grail in our neck of the woods was the Epic V10. There were a few others in that elite genre but we didn't know much about them, the V10 was pretty much the ski on the roof that made a bit of a statement.
I worked my way up to paddling a big black carbon one about two years later, & while it was a challenge, it was a beautiful ski, especially out in the ocean where it was so instinctive and had terrific acceleration.
Getting my head around the original V10, yeeew...
Just as I was getting my head around the original V10 and really starting to enjoy it, Epic redesigned and re-released it, promising more speed and more stability. 
It seemed at the time as though half the world promptly ordered one on the back of this claim, indeed even as a dealer my personal new V10 was three containers of skis down the list, such was the demand.

The new V10 arrived and it sure was more stable, easily the most stable elite ski there had ever been in fact, but over time we realised that the stability had come at the cost of the original boat's sea manners and feel on the waves.


The Gen 2 V10 (thanks to Alan Coker for the pic)
Those sea manners are a very hard thing to define in a written article, and I see reviews and comparisons around the web of ski designs with spreadsheets and times over courses, which I frankly find a bit irrelevant, because I reckon I can only go as fast as the wave I'm riding most of the time anyways..... Most of the elite skis are pretty quick, it just comes down to whether you're good enough to always apply full power.

Very quietly, almost stealthily actually, certainly in comparison to the huge hype around the V10  Gen2, Epic have been redesigning the V10 from the ground up, and this week our demo arrived.

Straight away you can see that this is not in any substantial way derived from the Gen 2 boat. The amount of rake at the bow, the rocker profile, the more organic lines of the hull and generally all over point towards a scratch design that owes much to the (also recently re-released) V12.

It carries it's volume aft a fair bit further than other elite skis, has a 45cm beam, and is shorter than predecessors at 6.25m, so the pure numbers and shape suggest a ski with the characteristics of the excellent new V12, but not requiring the extra skill set required to pilot such an uber-elite craft.

Yesterday we had 5 different paddlers in the boat, in a range of conditions from dead flat water in the hands of very fast local guy (where it was as quick as everything except the V14-type elites), to a 10km triangular across-downwind-headwind bay course in 19-25kn of southerly which I paddled, a current Gen2 V10 Sport paddler, and two other guys who also regularly paddle intermediate skis in rough water. 

All three of the intermediate paddlers instantly identified the tweaked seating position, slightly higher than the usual Epic set up, and remarked on how good it felt being right over the top of your stroke. The V10 Sport paddler felt that the lower stability was a good thing as it was very predictable on edge and that it only took him a minute in the chop to adjust, and then the benefits of the sleeker design then became obvious. The other two guys both enjoyed the looseness of the stern downwind, the very instinctive manouvreability, which is something I remember fondly from the original V10. 

My own run involved 1.5km across a fresh southerly buster in pure wind waves, during which time I had to manoeuvre to assist a paddler to remount. That's something I have to plan pretty carefully on the genuinely elite skis, but on the V10 I never had a second thought about my own stability.

Downwind in waves about a boat length apart, I was skipping and turning the boat towards each steeper section, scooting along at about 12-13kmh pretty easily, and had the acceleration to chase the occasional wave that needed chasing. The nimbleness of the hull is a joy, it responds to an edge like a much shorter ski, and I really did have a lot of fun.

Back upwind it was like most skis, I don't think I've ever read a detailed review of any surfski's upwind performance!

But, nowadays it's a crowded and quite confusing market, so who is going to get a kick out of this ski?

Well me for one, who has wished since the day it went away that I had kept the original V10. This is a nod to that first, great ski, no question. It feels the way the old one felt on waves, accelerates in a predictable and reassuring way, but without the 'rolliness' of the original. I think that's a reflection of the fact that skis in general have come a long way since then and most of us are no longer willing to put up with unnecessary instability as a sacrifice to performance.

V10 Sport owners have a very appealing and not-so-large step up to something that offers plenty more, in fact anyone out there paddling an intermediate ski well, should consider the new V10 as much smaller leap of faith towards elite skis, with a very real step up in performance.

We can't wait to get the boat out in a decent ocean downwind and see what is under the bonnet when it's bigger, faster & your decision time is substantially shorter, but initial impressions are that this new offering from Epic is a welcome nod to their illustrious past, and will put smiles on a lot of paddlers faces.

We have our demo here on hand, although it's pretty heavily booked over the coming week or so, and stock on the shelf. Get in touch to book a test paddle.

**postscript - we've now had the V10 out in 22-29kn southerly (see the video above), and the vision speaks for itself. It's a very stable moving water platform, manoeuvres around easily, and catches everything you point it at. Epic has most definitely got this one right.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Video - The Bundeena Bar from the Clouds


Sydney had been battered the previous day by 'Big Tuesday', waves recorded up to 10m and winds over 40kn. The next day dawned bright & clear, and the swell had enough energy to pump into the shallow bar that guards Port Hacking.

Rob in the Tiderace Action, Andrew in the Tiderace Xtra, and Nick in the Valley Gemini all picked the perfect little craft for the steep, fast runs.

Hope you enjoy the video.

The Epic V5 - a ski for you & your mates....

So what to make of a surfski that's 4.3m long, and 60cm wide, with a surf rudder the equal of those found on the big guns like the ...