Friday, 29 July 2016

Review - Motionize Paddle Edge

I've been following the progress of a new piece of paddling software developed by Motionize in the US, which offered the very appealing idea of being your very own paddling coach.

We received our stock of the item when they finally made it to our shores last month, and I've been  busy using it on my ski over the past few weeks to evaluate the relative merits of the Paddle Edge.

It's a very simple bit of kit, two small sensors, one attached to the middle of your paddle shaft & the other to the centre of your kayak, linked to an app you download to your smart phone. The kayak sensor has a strong adhesive base with a tether, and it's suitable to be mounted son anything from an Olympic K1 to a fishing SOT. Once you switch the sensors on & pair them to your phone (via Bluetooth), the motion of your paddling 'shape' is recorded via a very complex logarithm, giving you a surprisingly detailed overview of what you're doing, and how you're doing it.

Once you've set up your personal details (height, weight, length of craft, paddle length, paddle offset), the sensors record the entry & exit point of your paddle, the length of each stroke on both sides, the depth your paddle reaches into the water, stroke length, your rate or cadence per minute, even your heart rate if you pair it with your own HR monitor.
The set up for my first paddle, before I banished the screen to the rear deck
If you choose to, you can set your phone screen in front of you, and watch the data 'live' as it's being recorded, or, as I have decided to do, simply leave it on the back deck & have a look once you're finished.

So, it's one thing to have a bunch of data about your shape, but another thing entirely to use that data to effect change. To that end, the Motionize isn't really your own paddle coach, and in fact if you set the voice function to 'coach' you on the run, it does blurt out some pretty outdated information (as an example, in a C3PO voice you're told 'don't let your top hand cross the centre line'). But, it will tell you instantly where you're falling down and give you half a clue about how to fix it.

It's a difficult thing to review something that has a fair bit of hype surrounding it, and to maybe cut through to the things that for me at least, are important in a device such as this. Using my own paddle stroke as an example, here are a few observations, remembering that I have a fairly good idea of what I'm doing and where I have work to do, and a better than average idea of how to fix the problems.

On my first paddle with the Motionize Edge I set my phone up so I could see the screen, eager to test out the 'real time' coaching that it promised. I set off with a lovely consistent readout, quite symmetrical on both sides, clipping along, feeling like I was pretty damn good actually. After about 10 minutes the sensors had a problem connecting, and told me to stop and rotate my paddle 360 degrees in every direction (no easy feat on an elite surf ski). I probably had to repeat this exercise half a dozen times over the course of the hour, all the while the phone screen was telling me I was pulling 70cm on my left, 1.5m on my right. Even when I tried to correct by barely dipping my right blade, and hauling my left all the way back to the stern, it was still registering as symmetrical, even though it clearly wasn't. At this point I figured I must have set it up wrong and deigned to ignore it for the rest of the paddle. When I sat down to check the result, this was the summary:
Not the radical mis-read I was watching on the screen, but instead most likely a very succinct explanation of why I've been developing shoulder soreness on my left side. A late, wide exit, which in turn is shortening up my right side catch. I spoke to the Motionize guys after this, they made the point that the software is like a coach, who won't tell you every single error, but will instead focus on the averages, an explanation which makes the data drops much less of an issue than I had imagined. They've also just released a software update which promises to make the connection much more robust, and my experience since updating has been almost 100% connectivity.

The second time out, aware of my stroke asymmetry, I grabbed a stable ski off the racks, and headed for the flattest water I could find, and worked very hard on a better exit on my left, and a longer reach for the catch, or set up, on my right. After 10km, this was my readout:
Basically, all good, just a fraction wide & late on my left, and importantly my form felt good, strong, in line, I went a bit quicker even though I wasn't trying to, really excellent feedback to act upon.

Third time out was a fun downwinder, 11km, 20kn of gusty westerly coming over my left shoulder, and here were the readings:
Conclusion from this, in the instinctive environment of the ocean, where you're long, short, side to side and doing a fair bit of lengthy trailing braces, the Motionize is perhaps not quite as useful with regards tracing the symmetry of your stroke. Other readings were helpful, like the average length of my stroke, and the huge variations in cadence as you constantly accelerate & cruise on waves. I notice Oscar posted a Motionize trace over a 50km paddle on the ocean on social media recently with a similar, wildly asymmetrical summary.

Finally, I used the Motionize on the Sutherland Club 5km time trial last Sunday morning, a proper race where I had a crack & tried to paddle hard, maybe without concentrating too much on form. It was perhaps the most telling story with regards the shoulder niggles I've been developing:
Three out of four trace points on the stroke are in good spots, if not a little short on the catch (but that could be my set up which varied by 500cm in boat length for this paddle), but way late & wide on the left exit again.

In conclusion, I think this is a very clever piece of kit, it provides some commonsense data which you can't really misinterpret, and if you took your data off to a coach I reckon you'd be well on the way to good form, with the added bonus of having a 'virtual coach' monitor on your progress. It does heaps of other cool things, like allowing you to set up intervals & targets for training sessions etc, but so far I haven't had the time to check them out. The Motionize website has a bunch of support videos for installation & set up, so you have a good online resource if you're technically challenged.

The interface is simple, intuitive, it works, and with the small caveat that you might find watching the readout constantly a bit distracting if not frustrating (which is one of the things the manufacturers list as a feature), well worth the price tag, which equates to about the same as a flash new paddle. 

We're stocking the Motionize Paddle Edge, it costs $499, & you can order online HERE, including free freight within Australia.

Postscript: This week I took myself off to a local sport physio with my sore shoulder and a paddle shaft, & showed him what the software was saying. He gave my shoulder a bit of a flogging, then strapped it & sent me out for paddle. A mate sat alongside while I paddled with the strapping engineered to basically prevent a late left exit, and he commented on how good & clean my stroke looked. I finished without any of the aches that have beset me as I've upped my mileage recently.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

First Impressions - The Epic V8 Pro

The sport of surfski is booming. People who have never envisaged themselves at the helm of one of these sleek ocean machines are discovering en masse just how accessible & inclusive the new, user-friendly designs are. 

That inclusiveness is built on the bedrock of stability, and there is now a whole genre of stable, easy-to-remount designs out there for new paddlers to enjoy.

Epic led the way with the V8, the first of this batch of stable skis, and the rest of the market has developed their own slant on the idea, so now there is a terrific choice available.

Epic's latest offering, the V8 Pro, has a unique set of numbers and the promise of bridging the gap between entry-level & intermediate-level skis.

At 5.7m, it's still short enough to fit into most garages, and the 50cm beam is a significant slimming down on the voluminous V8's 55cm width.

We took delivery of our demo on Wednesday, and were eager to get it out in some wash & waves to see what it had to offer.

The 'missing' 5cm of beam had me convinced there'd be a drastic change in stability, after all it's only 2cm wider than the intermediate V10 Sport. So, Rob & I suited up for a crack on some fun, fast little waves at our favourite surf spot to see what the V8 Pro had to offer.

It only took half a dozen paddles strokes to work out that the stability was there in spades. The extra 20cm of waterline may have something to do with that, but this is among the most stable skis I've paddled. That 20cm makes it glide in comparison to the V8, and the smaller overall wetted area gives it a very similar feel to the longer & narrower V10 Sport.

The seating is typically Epic, but the boat has a slightly lower-volume feel to both the V8 & V10S, and Rob noted that my 95kg had it trimmed lower than normal. This may mean it has broader appeal for the smaller paddler but we'd probably need to get a few of our lighter mates into it to be sure.

Our testing day was one for the pool room, the remnant groundswell from the Stormageddon event that had shortened Sydney's coastline by as much as 50m in some spots. A slight offshore wind had some fat, friendly & fun waves running 200-300m along our favourite break.

The video above shows the ski cruising along in these very cool little waves, the acceleration, manoeuvrability & stability all working nicely. I think 5.7m is a great length, still short enough to manoeuvre, easier to handle on & off your roof, long enough for some waterline speed, maybe not the blinding acceleration of the elite skis but a damn sight more accessible to the average paddler. It's a also a much better starting point for an ambitious beginner than an intermediate ski. It'll essentially remove that doubt about buying an entry-level ski, and then quickly outgrowing it, which is a very common concern for new paddlers who have a better-than-average aptitude for the sport.

If you've been wondering about a step up from your V8 to the V10S but haven't quite been able to make the leap, then this boat is such a logical step. It feels like a V8 with a lot more glide, and  as such requires way less effort to push through the water, and as far as ocean paddling goes it also turns more instinctively. As a second boat for flat water guys not willing to take their fast ski onto open water it fits the bill, and wouldn't be out of it's depth hunting down a sub 11 hour time in a long distance race like the Hawkesbury Classic.

We have a demo here at our southern Sydney store. Get in touch if you'd like to give it a crack. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Winter Special - Vajda X2 Package Offer

To mark the turn of the season here in Sydney we're putting up one of the newest designs in our range for an entry level-paddler wanting to get into sea kayaking, in style.

The Vajda Mission X2 is a lightweight, ruddered, fast & stable kayak with some excellent performance features, as you'd expect from a kayak maker with a peerless background in producing world class racing craft, including a strong lightweight styrlolite construction weighing in at just over 20kg, and Vajda's adjustable, ergonomic full footplate system. 

The RRP on the Vajda Mission X2 is $2790, and until the end of May this price will include a Carbon Select Paddle valued at $495, a Reed Aquatherm Spraydeck valued at $139, and a Vaikobi PFD valued at $149. That's as good a starter pack of absolute premium quality gear & kayak as you could hope to have, for a boat well capable of everything from extended touring to a decent time in this year's 40th Hawkesbury Classic with a list value well over $3500.

You can read our review of the Vaja X2 HERE.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

New Valley & North Shore Models, and the return of the Rockpool Taran

Our next shipment from the UK leaves in three weeks, due here in Sydney around the end of June.

Good news for Taran fans, there are two of them left in the next shipment so far unclaimed, and if you'd like one you have a week to get in touch with your custom colour ways, if you'd like your own Taran, made the way you want it. Better news is that the dollar has stabilised against the Sterling, and we have brought the price of a new Taran down to a less frightening $5290. That's actually a better price than you'd buy one for in the northern hemisphere, and not an offer likely to be repeated anytime soon. Deadline for a custom make is April 12, after that the two coming into the country will be a in colour we like!
The rumblings about the Ocean 17 from NorthShore from north of the equator have also forced our hand, with paddling mates describing it as a big gear carrier with lively sea performance, not quite as engaging as a the old Nordkapp but faster and more interesting to paddle than some of the middle-of-the-road touring skeg boats from previous years.
There will be a few Ocean 17's in the shipment, along with new stock of the North Shore Atlantic & Atlantic LV in rotomould, always popular designs.

We also have the new Valley Sirona coming in two different sizes, those who've tried our demo model will be pleased to know there is now a smaller version, and also a plastic too.

On the downside, the Nordkapp LV and Avocet LV are now no longer. We have one single Nordkapp LV left in stock, red with a black seam and white hull, once it's gone you'll only ever be able to get your hands on one second hand. Sadly, the Avocet LV, in our opinion the best small person's sea kayak ever built, is also finished in production. We've snaffled the final two to come out of the mould, so again if you've been pontificating about this cult, niche kayak for the under 60kg brigade, get in fast.

We've also got the Nordkapp Forti back into Australia, after our first six, including our demo, were snapped up in no time. Feedback from the guys paddling them around the country is very positive, the lovely lines of the previous Nordkapps but a lot more user friendly, and with a little more capacity for expeditioning than the previous model. The previous incarnation, the Jubilee, is now also no more.

A full summary of the colours and models we have remaining from this June container will be up on our website shortly, under the Kayak Prices & Stock page.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Rocks, Inspiration & Sunshine - Rock & Roll 2016

For those that have never been, the NSW Sea Kayak Club gathers once a year for their big soiree, the Rock & Roll Weekend. It began very humbly many moons gone within the idyllic confines of Honeymoon Bay, and has grown over the last 26 years into a full blown open water symposium complete with trips, a little bit of training & a very distinct party atmosphere.
The annual 'Ode to the Flat Earth Sail'
This year it was held on the Mid North Coast of NSW, at Jimmy's Beach on the northern shore of Nelson Bay. This location provides shelter from oceanic conditions if it's a shocker outside, but also opens up the dramatic headlands & offshore islands which are such a feature of the area.

Our involvement was both as long term club members and participants and also as major sponsors for the tenth year running, bringing along our fleet of 14 demo kayaks as well as a big bunch of stuff. We also put on the now traditional Beer & Pizza (this year Beer & Fish) Party on the Friday evening which seems to set the weekend off on a well fed & well lubricated tone.

Rob & I ran informal mentoring-style training paddles out around the islands on the Saturday, a trip Rob repeated on the Sunday, whilst Sharon ran a heavily subscribed Sunday paddle across the bay, offering pearls as she went, as she does.

Huw Kingston came along on the Saturday night to tell the tall tale of his Mediter annee expedition, a near-circumnavigation of the Med by kayak, bike, foot, and eventually row boat, which began on Anzac Day at Gallipoli and finished on the 100th anniversary of Anzac, back at Anzac Cove. Can you even imagine how good it would be to go on an adventure like that....?!

My paddle was something of an unforgettable experience, for such a humble sea scootle. I had Stephen & Jenny down from Queensland who'd never paddled these waters, Christina, who this time last year hadn't even wanted to line up an island away yonder & paddle towards it, and Roy & Bronwyn, who are pretty seasoned, but have their own way of doing things. 
Christina and the first pos of pesky dolphins.
You see, Bronwyn is blind, and Roy, her amazing husband, becomes her eyes as they regularly head off into the blue. They've rigged up a radio & mike which allows Roy to pass instructions to Bronny about direction, so his day consists of passing on a series of coded prompts to head to port or starboard etc etc. If you were wondering how hard that might be, blindfold a mate one day & try to direct them, not just with where to head, but how sharply to head there.
The remarkable Bronwyn
Up to Saturday, Bronwyn had only paddled in a rudderless skeg boat, the Tiderace Xcite S, where the prompt to 'Starboard' in the Xcite has her dropping her edge & using pure rudderless skill to change direction. On Saturday, as you do, she decided to challenge herself in a fast, narrow ruddered boat, the new Tiderace Pace 17S. It's a hull design that whilst still responding to an edge when you need it to, is better controlled over a long stretch by relying on the rudder, and executing very small course corrections with your feet. 
Rampaging Roy after painting the slot red
I watched the pair of them making their way out of the calm of the bay & saw Bronny chucking in some big edges when prompted, and figured I might offer a bit of advice. When I'm coaching people on skis, especially downwind, I'll call out 'right foot' or 'left foot' to prompt them to head for the best part of a running wave. It's uncomplicated, doesn't refer to a direction, but rather a body part, and tends to get them co-ordinating a simple movement, with a simple result. I suggested it to Roy to see if it might get them making slightly smaller course adjustments, and he told me I'd have to use 'Port' & 'Starboard', as they do, otherwise I'd confuse things. As someone who recites the ditty 'no red port left' as I'm heading for a channel marker at night during the Hawkesbury Classic, like maybe 20 times, I figured that was just asking for trouble! Anyway five minutes with my less poetic commands & Bronny had sorted the radical turn problem, away we went, and I duly handed the nav duties back to Rampaging Roy.
Jenny gets a yee-haa
On the southern edge of Boondelbah Island the craggy shoreline has some nice little slots & rock gardens, and we made our way through them with everyone getting a thrill or two as the surge took them backwards towards the rocks. Jenny had a yee-haa moment or two and Roy committed some nautical vandalism, leaving little red bits of the Pace 17 demo on the rocks.

Around the Northern end the nor' easter had kicked up some fizzing clapotis or rebound, and as I turned to make sure everyone was dealing with it OK I saw Bronwyn busting a trail through the wave tops, looking very comfy. 'Maybe it's not that hard', I thought to myself, so I turned towards our island target in the distance, shut my eyes tight & paddled. Thirty seconds later, a few airswings and a late-exit-brace or two I opened them again to find I was side one to where I began & heading for the reef on the edge of the island. Not my thing, I reckon, this paddling rough water on the ocean without being able to see! Bloody hell.....
My guys heading for Boondelbah, the Uluru of the East.
After tucking in behind the edge of Cabbage Tree Island & leaving some more gelcoat on the rocks, we turned downwind to head back towards the bay. The outgoing tide was opposing the sea breeze and things steepened up appreciably, which made me a little concerned for how the group might handle the run home. In truth, I was thinking 'how are Bronwyn & Roy going to deal with this...?' Anyway, the moment the heat came on Bronwyn was off like a firecracker, carving along, chasing waves & basically tearing the arse out of it. I had to dig in very hard to catch her because Roy was struggling to foot it, and yell at her quite loud to !%$&amp slow down! 'Why?' she said. 'Because I can't frigging catch you' was my reply.
Bronwyn smokin' it....
We burned around Yaccaba Headland, saw our second bunch of pesky dolphins for the day, and dawdled the final couple of protected miles back to the beach. An inspiring and quite amazing day for me. As someone who is expected to look after people out there on the wild blue, I learned a lot and couldn't help but be awed by these two remarkable paddlers. 

Highlights of the rest of the weekend included the short film festival the Pogies, which this year delivered enough entries to provide over an hour of grassroots, homemade paddling gratification. The winner was Lisa Bush, with a video featuring the single best bit of helmet cam filming I've ever seen (you can see it HERE). And of course, other than the scheduled events, the unscheduled ones provided the majority of the off-the-leash moments, and are what make this weekend such a beauty every year.
Chris, Stephen, Mark, Jenny & Bronwyn. Roy asked where the photo was, I told him, over there to Starboard, and it was actually Port, so he's not here.
A big back slap to the tireless David Linco, fresh from smoking it across Bass Strait, who ran a great show. It was his third and last Rock & Roll & he's set a pretty high bar for the next co-ordinator. Well done Davlin!
Sharon & Rob enjoying the Elvis tunes at the dinner, until they were controversially unplugged.
Thanks also to those of you who came along to say G'day to us on our stand, swap a yarn or share a beer; we love being involved in our paddling community and hangin' out with our club mates. See you in 2017, Gazza hoping you'll be back......

Monday, 15 February 2016

Makai Cup - A Cracker....

Each year the good people from Makai Paddlers, based in Ulladulla on the NSW South Coast, run an ocean race along their stretch of pristine coastline.

It's built up from humble beginnings 5 years ago, to probably the most polished and fun ocean race, both from the perspective of the seamless organisation & the race course itself, inevitably downwind, from one picturesque seaside fishing town to another. 
They make it a weekend so they can pick the eyes out of the weather, because they're locals they know when it should start, and maybe it was a fluke but this year they even had us starting over the Sussex Inlet bar on a swift flood tide, which took the chance of a surf trashing out of the equation.
I decided to make a camping weekend of it & took Nic & the kids down to stay at the sponsor's accommodation, the Big 4 Holiday park at Burril Lake. It's one of my favourite little hamlets, being the venue many moons gone, for our annual post-uni week of celebration. What I can remember of them anyway....!
My Dolls Point buddy Daniel
We had a great play on the beach at Dolphin Point with the kids Saturday morning, then Nic was kind enough to drive Daniel & I north to Sussex Inlet for the start.
The briefing was short & clear, there were eleven safety boats out on the course as well as two helicopters, which was pretty damn cool. We were given high-vis vests to wear, which made for a striking lineup as we drifted down the inlet for the race start.  
The race headed south east on a quartering sea, with about 20 knots and barely any swell. When we reached the turn can, only really a few degrees of adjustment to head south, conditions lined us up nearly plumb to the finish line at Ulladulla Harbour.

The next 90 minutes whistled past in a blur of runners and troughs, wind blowing the tops off the waves, about as good as it gets. I was paddling the Fenn Elite S, a ski that really I don't have much right to be paddling in a long ocean race like this, but it looked after me and showed me a few glimpses of what these sleek machines can deliver. 
Damo & his mate on the Thundercat loomed up beside me a few times, usually to shout out 'yyeeeeewwww' as I hooked into a runner, always reassuring to see the support boats out there on the big blue especially as you start to tire. Hopefully the the short video above captures a bit of the action on the sea, bloody hell it was good fun.
All too soon the finish loomed on the sand inside the harbour, & we all then adjourned to the Boardwalk Cafe for some extremely cold beer and swapped tall tales of the race.
The entire experience was brilliant, for me a lovely weekend away with the family at a place I love, a well run, challenging and friendly race, with a good party to wind it up. An added bonus at the presentation was my eldest daughter Kiri meeting current World Surfski champ Teneale Hatton, who was very generous with her time & made Kiri's weekend. Great for young girls to see such inspiring role models I reckon.
If you're looking for a great surfski experience and willing to do the work you need to do to successfully run a course like this, you couldn't imagine a better weekend.
Well done to the Makai folks for putting such a great show, see you next year.

Friday, 12 February 2016

The BigFoot Kayak Pump Kit

If you're like me, the idea of going out and collating the parts for a reliable bilge pump, let alone actually installing it, are enough to make me procrastinate to the point where I eventually outsource the task (usually to my slightly cantankerous business partner....)

The combination of electrics, drilling holes, fixing brackets etc is daunting for the less able among us!

We've sought to alleviate the stress with the release of our latest BigFoot product, the BigFoot Kayak Pump Kit. Following on from the successful local design of our footplates for both skeg & rudder boats, and in keeping with their simplicity of form, function and importantly installation, the pump kit offers an excellent, practical hands-free electric pump without the stress.

When you open the package the first thing you will notice is that most of the work is already done;  the pump bracket, box bracket, magnetic switch assembly and outlet fittings are all custom made specifically for this kit and they are shaped and  pre-drilled to save the hours of effort that are usually required to just to make standard parts work in a sea kayak and once the parts are fitted, there are only two wires to crimp to complete the wiring. Battery connectors, fuse holder and reed connections are already done for you. The kit comes with all fasteners, crimps and even a small tube of Sikaflex to seal everything as you fix it in place.

At the heart of this kit is a robust  sealed magnetic reed switch that doesn't need a relay. The absence of a relay greatly simplifies the electrical elements of the system, by eliminating a number of vulnerable soldered components. We believe this is the single greatest point of difference from any pump system we've seen over the years.  

Brackets are specifically designed to be used as templates so you can set out everything precisely for drilling without needing any extra measuring tools. 

The kit is designed to work with an inexpensive 2.2AH SLA battery readily available from you local battery stockist, hobby shop or electronics store.

You can order now from our online store for $390 HERE.

Friday, 15 January 2016

The Fenn Elite S, from a Non-Elite Paddler's Perspective....

We got our hands on the latest top end ski from Fenn just before Xmas, the new Elite S. It's been making a very strong statement in the hands of the pros at events around the world since it was launched last year and we figured it was time to add one to our demo range.

I have been paddling it now for a month, trucking it up the coast for my annual camping holiday & paddling it & surfing waves all the way from Noosa, down to the Clarence River Bar at Yamba, to the very friendly clean waves of South West Rocks, and back in Sydney on a handful of fast downwinders on the bay.

I'm no elite paddler, but capable of paddling any of the elite skis in rough water for an hour or so, until they inevitably start to wear me down. For this reason I advocate the intermediate skis for anyone who isn't going to seriously commit to an elite ski on the sea, but it doesn't mean my interest isn't piqued by a more demanding ski when one comes along with the wraps on it that the Fenn Elite has earned.

Stability is obviously the first thing that concerns a mug paddler like me, and the Elite S, whilst still most definitely an elite ski with lighter initial stability than anything in the intermediate genre, is blessed with a very predictable stability, with a transition that feels very much the same as other Fenn skis. The only thing I can't do in it with confidence is mess around sitting still with my GPS or camera; in an intermediate ski I can take a pic without having to throw a leg over, not so on moving water in the Elite S. The first paddle I did involved a trip to the tidal mess off Dolls Point in a 15knot NE wind opposing the flow, and I nailed half a dozen remounts from each side with no problem. This is such a huge consideration when contemplating an elite ski, possibly the most ignored factor even when people test paddle them, the ability to remount confidently in messy water. No point going fast if you can't get back on.....
On a wave it's a brilliant ski, surfing the way all Fenn's seem to naturally surf, but with miles less effort required to either catch 'em or stay on 'em. Two weeks in a row we've had southerlies gusting well over 30 knots, necessitating a challenging paddle across the chop & wind for 15 minutes to get a good downwind line on the finish, and then steep, short, bustling little waves that test your ability to put the boat in the right spot so you don't lose steerage. The typical runs that these days throw up are featured in the short video above. In these conditions, I've barely missed a beat in the Elite S, not had to back off with that split-second hesitancy that often besets the non-elite paddler in the elite ski, and had a ball. That said, a longer race like this years' 20 Beaches, 26km in constant beam chop & varying degrees of rebound on a biggish sea, would be a struggle for me in a ski like this.

It's little wonder the genuinely elite paddlers are loving the Elite S, it has speed, much improved ergonomics and an instinctive quality on waves that make it a joy to paddle. For us punters hoping one day to graduate to one of these sleek beasts, you shouldn't discount it as something to aspire toward. It's not as scary as some of the others in the genre, and at it's absolute best out in the waves.

We have a demo in the Carbon Hybrid layup in our warehouse if you'd like to take one for a spin.

Specifications & Pricing
Length:   6.44m
Width:   43cm
Hybrid (vacuum bagged fibreglass/carbon)

Carbon (vacuum bagged carbon)

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Flat Earth Trade Wind 80 Sail Review - Douglas Wilcox

Here's a very comprehensive review of Mick MacRobb's newest sail design, the Trade Wind 80, from Douglas Wilcox (

Photo courtesy Douglas Wilcox (
Flat Earth Kayak Sails "Trade Wind 80" long term test, by Douglas Wilcox.

The number of sea kayakers paddle sailing in British waters, particularly with Flat Earth Kayak Sails, has increased to the extent that designer Mick MacRobb chose Scotland for the World launch of his latest design! It is called the Trade Wind 80 sail and has a new cut and a new trilaminate Grand Prix cloth.

Design and construction 
The Trade Wind 80 is available now, other sizes will follow. It is 0.8sqm in area. This is the most popular size as it has the widest wind range. Compared with the current Code Zero sail, it has a slightly shorter luff and has more sail area in the head and roach (upper rear). The outline is more similar to the current P&H version of the sail but the cut and material are different. The new Grand Prix sail cloth is a mylar/scrim/mylar trilaminate. The scrim is made up of carbon and kevlar yarns so it is very resistant to stretching or tearing. This type of trilaminate material is very tough and resistant to UV and has been long used on windsurfer wave sails and they take a real thrashing. The previous Code Zero cloth is great when new. It is a thinner, lighter mylar/dacron bilaminate but it tends to soften with repeat folding and this may be why the leaches of some older Code Zero sails "motor" or flutter in stronger winds. I suspect this will not be an issue with the Grand Prix cloth. It is partially see through. There is no window option but recent Code Zero 0.8 and all P&H branded Code Zero sails had dropped the window. If you use the standard mast, the window only gave a view of the sky anyway.

Photo courtesy Douglas Wilcox (
The Trade Wind 80 is the fourth generation of the Flat Earth sails that has been available in Europe. It has less twist than previous generations of Flat Earth sails, particularly the first and second generation dacron sails. The twist made the early sails forgiving in gusts but due to the head twisting off , the boom needed to be kept sheeted in a bit when sailing downwind to prevent the roach of the sail moving forward of the mast and spilling wind. The new sail can be sheeted out more on the run making it more efficient. With less twist, the new sail is indeed a bit more unforgiving and as Mick MacRobb says "aggressive" than the original sails but will retain more power before auto spilling the wind. When the Trade Wind 80 is sheeted in a little further in a reach position I think the fullness low down looks a little further back than in the previous Code Zero which will make it a little more powerful for its size especially on a broad reach. When sheeted right in on a beat the head of the sail is flatter than previous versions but there is still plenty fullness low down. As a windsurfer, I have always liked using sails with a deep belly, a flat head and a roach with controlled twist for their wide wind range. As a sea kayaker, I like this style even more. I think Mick has really nailed it with this particular cut!
The boom of the new sail sits higher on the standard mast than previous sails. This gives all round vision under the sail. You could cut the mast top down and lower the sail but I am not going to do that. I like the sail up higher as the wind gets slower and more turbulent the closer down it is to the surface of the sea. The batten, boom and gooseneck fitting are unchanged from previous generations of the sail. Also unchanged is the neat and expert way the sail has been cut, assembled and sewn.

The old Code Zero 80 compared to the Trade Wind 80

Photo courtesy Douglas Wilcox (

On the water
Phil Toman and I received preview sails at the end of the winter and since then we have extensively tested them on unloaded P&H Quest, Delpin, Aries (with forward fin) Cetus MV and Valley Nordkapp LV kayaks. The Quest and Cetus MV have also been tested with the sail when fully loaded on camping trips. We were able to test the sails side by side with all three previous generations of FEKS on identical P&H Aries and Cetus MV kayaks. 

conditions varied from force 2 to force 4 on exposed (quite rough) water and force 5-6 on sheltered (pretty flat) water with a fetch of 15km. The sails have been tested in the tidal waters of the Sound of Jura and the Solway Firth, in exposed waters at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde, in more sheltered water among the islands of the Firth of Clyde and along the exposed North Sea coast between Lunan Bay and Arbroath. Between us we have covered over 500km with the Trade Wind 80 sails.
After the sail arrived I wasted no time in getting it out onto the water on my P&H Delphin. The wind was very gusty offshore in a sheltered bay from F2 to the bottom of F5. The sea was flat. On all points of sail the sail set with a noticable lack of wrinkles. When launching the sail, it goes up with a satisfying wumph! One thing to note is that the top batten is now longer than the mast. When launching in stronger winds I like to hold the sail by the tip of the mast for a few seconds and allow the sail to blow free before pulling the uphaul to fully hoist the sail. This checks that I have not folded the sheet right round the sail when I previously furled it. Initially I found myself holding the top batten rather than the mast but I have since learned to go for the shorter mast. The sail has less twist and so is indeed a little less forgiving when you launch it on a broad reach than the original all dacron version. Code Zero and P&H branded FEKS sail users will probably not notice much difference though. The very gusty winds were a good test for me (a relatively experienced paddle sailor) to see how a newcomer might find the sail in steadier, lighter conditions. Well it was no trouble at all. I liked everything about it, launching, tacking upwind, on a reach, running, gybing and furling. There were no scary moments even in the most sudden gusts. In the strongest winds there was not a hint of the leech "motoring".
Photo courtesy Douglas Wilcox (
This sail proved very controllable and powerful downwind in stronger winds. In winds at the top of F4 it gives the extra power to your paddling to overtake the wave in front then climb over it and chase the next wave. The GPS showed my maximum speed hit 22.9km/hr when paddle sailing the Aries hard in a F4 with following sea and I was frequently hitting over 20km/hr when planing on a wave. The cut and heavier cloth give the Trade Wind 80 sail a very stable feel downwind. When you drop off the plane you slow down and the apparent wind increases (you should paddle hard at this point to maintain speed and reduce the load on the rig).
In the older dacron sails if you suddenly slowed, the leech would suddenly twist off spilling wind but this moved the centre of effort and made the sail feel a little unstable. This sail continues to pull hard when you decelerate but in no way does it feel unstable. My one reservation for someone upgrading from a dacron sail is that undoubtedly the stays will be transmitting more force to the hull, especially if you are loaded with expedition gear. You may wish to reconsider your existing stay anchors. I now use two side stays and two back stays, all anchors are bolted through the kayak seam.

Many kayakers will not bother to use their sails upwind but it is worth the effort learning how to do so. The Grand Prix sail material is stiffer than the original dacron material and it is a little more difficult to judge how high to the wind you can paddle sail without luffing (back winding) the sail. The softer dacron sails definitely showed the when the leading edge back winded at an earlier stage. I was not bothered by this but if beginners are particularly concerned about beating performance (rather than just blasting downwind having fun) they could thread a wool tell tale through the luff of the sail about half way up and in front of the batten. The tell tale should blow horizontal sailing close as possible to the wind but if you point too high into the wind it will start to move vertically. Swapping between two Aries kayaks, one with the Code Zero and one with the Trade Wind
80, the experienced paddler found it easier to out point the other paddler when using the Trade Wind 80 upwind in a F3-F4. However, down wind there was little difference in speed between the two sails. Interestingly the flat area behind and above the batten often appeared to be back winding when close hauled but the full part of the sail below the batten continued to pull strongly. One thing I did notice about the new sail is I find it easier to control upwind in stronger winds. It feels much more stable than the previous dacron versions of the sail. Although they may be softer and more forgiving, they lack the feeling of stability and power of this new sail. I think the Trade Wind 80 sail's very solid feel is due to its centre of effort being much more static. Basically I like the feel of Trade Wind 80 a very great deal when going upwind. It also proved particularly effective upwind in combination with the Aries using a forward fin.

Use when fully loaded on expedition
Paddling sailing fully loaded on expedition is very rewarding especially with a favourable wind at the end of the day. However, the kayak will not accelerate so quickly in the gusts and unless you are lucky with the waves it will be very difficult to get it planing. This means you will be travelling slower and when you are paddling downwind the apparent wind will be greater with greater forces acting on the rig. This is another situation where it is important to continue to paddle hard to reduce the pressure on the rig. This is also why I think the 0.8 sqm sail is more suitable for all-round paddle sailing including expedition use than the 1.0sqm sail. We were recently paddling south down the West Kyle of Bute when a "securite" strong north wind warning was broadcast on the VHF. In the relative shelter, the water was flat but the squalls were coming through the mountains at F5-F6 from various angles. All the yachts dropped their sails and motored home under bare poles. We carried on paddle sailing on a very broad reach. We were in identical Cetus MVs loaded with supplies for 5 nights camping. I had a Trade Wind 80 and Mike had a Code Zero 0.8. In these extreme conditions there was a lot of load on the rigs and I think I had an easier time controlling the Trade Wind 80 than Mike did with the Code Zero. Two days later we enjoyed a more moderate F3 to F4 downwind blast of 30km across open waters of the Sound of Bute and it was more difficult to differentiate between the two sails' performance and handling.

Wear and tear
At the end of this test there was no sign of wear, cracking or delamination in either of the sails on test or the material.

I like what Mick MacRobb has called the "slightly more aggressive" nature of the Trade Wind 80 sail. I felt more of the gust was being transformed into forward drive rather than spilling out off the roach as the sail twisted. The defining characteristic of the Trade Wind 80 is a very stable centre of effort. This makes paddle sailing at the top of your ability and conditions range a joy! This is steady evolution, it certainly won't make your Code Zero or P&H FEKS sail redundant. However, if you have one of the original all dacron (or dacron with mylar reinforcement on the leech) Flat Earth sails, then changing to the Trade Wind 80 would make a significant and noticeable upgrade. You could always sell your old dacron sail to a newcomer to paddle sailing, who might not yet be ready to invest in a new sail and who would appreciate the older sail's softer feel in lighter winds. If you are new to paddle sailing do not be put off by the high tech appearance of the Trade Wind 80, it is actually very easy to handle, especially in the lighter winds you should get to know it in. If you already have a Code Zero or P&H FEKS, the incremental improvement is probably not worth an upgrade at this time, unless you just MUST have all the latest kit! The biggest
difference in performance is in winds that will probably be at the top of most people's comfort zones anyway but it also excels if you like going upwind in F4 winds. I cannot think of a better day or expedition sail for paddle sailing in all weathers, summer and winter.
If you are in the Southern Hemisphere keep an eye on the Expedition Kayaks web site as they are main distributor in the FEKS's native Australia.

Conflict of interest
Phil and I have been using free loan sails that remain the property of Flat Earth Kayak Sails, the only cost to us was the postage from Australia. I have however, bought three other FEKS sails at full price. Neither Phil nor I have any financial interest in FEKS.

We have stock on the shelf for $390 including shipping nationally, you can order HERE