Monday, 4 February 2008

Paddling the Famous Norkapp


I took the Nordkapp out on Saturday morning for my first paddle in this legendary boat, & man, it didn't disappoint.
The aim of the exercise was to allow Jennie Connaughton, now the proud owner of an Impex Force 3, to get out on the ocean & test paddle her boat, just to seal the deal. I took the opportunity to wrestle the Nordkapp demo boat back off Rob Mercer to give it a try, after he & Les Allen from WA had given it a glowing review after testing a couple of weeks ago. We paddled off from La Perouse & headed out to Cape Solander with a pretty solid 2m swell, & a confused sea riding on top of that. The wind was a pleasant 10 knots, gusting to 15 knots, but it was a focussing test paddle, as the steeper waves had that 'about to break' look about them - that deceiving feature ocean waves can get from time to time, especially when they bustle into a shallow ocean floor as exists between the heads of Port Botany. Jennie handled the conditions like a pro, despite limited sea experience - I'd say her past life as a wave-ski paddler came into play as we bounced over the swell & chop. Out into the conditions the Nordkapp was well behaved & dealt with them as you would expect the world's first & most revered expedition kayak to do. It was the return run, with reasonably steep, fast following seas where I was very pleasantly surprised. Now, the Nordkapp has received some bad press in Australia for many years, due to a few manufacturers both here & in NZ perpetuating very close copies of the original boat design from the 1970's. Make no mistake, these designs are pretty tough to handle, especially in following seas. I would say the preponderance of rudders in Australia & NZ, compared to Britain & the US, is in no small way due to the performance of these Nordkapp-inspired kayaks, & the difficulty of keeping them on a good track. However, the new guys at Valley have made some subtle variations to the original design, which have obviously had their effect. Coming back with the conditions on Saturday, I flew, at one point surfing down the face of one green wave, over the top of the one in front & continuing the ride on that one for a good couple of hundred metres. I was expecting the boat to slew off waves, as a kayak of this length should do (& my previous Greenland-style kayak did virtually every time), but it held a very fast, straight line & absolutely powered down the face of waves. Without the skeg deployed, there was a little more tendency to veer to one side or the other, which meant I had to use my body a little more to steer, which is actually great fun if you don't have to do it for hours on end in an inferior down-sea design. With a little skeg in the water & the boat tracked like a beauty.
The boat is plastic (or rotomoulded polyethylene to be more correct), & I considerecd myself to have moved beyond the 'training wheels' phase of paddling plastic boats, into the status symbol world of composites, but this boat is making me have a re-think. There is little to distinguish this kayak from a composite boat - it's light, strong, completely watertight (seriously), & the Valley manufacturing process produces a stiffness that plastic boats of the past can only dream of acheiving.
All up, a fantastic kayak for a budding expeditioner looking for big-water adventures.
Oh, & by the way, Jennie did bloody well on her test paddle too. Look for her out on the water in her Force 3...!

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