Thursday, 30 October 2008

Mitchell Blades - New Sea Kayak Paddles for EK

We've just landed our stock of the brightest new paddle designs around, Mitchell Blades from the UK. Made by a terrific young bloke, Lance Mitchell from Chester, England, they are a true breath of fresh air with their stunning appearance & finish, construction & design.
When our demo paddles arrived in the last container of Valley boats, Rob & I wanted them to be good, because they looked so bloody good! We have had the Explorer, Poseidon & Voyager paddles out now for almost 2 months, testing them extensively to gauge their strength & to find out where we think they will fit in a market dominated by a couple of well known US brands.
Suffice to say they are definitely something different, made to much higher construction standards than most of what we have seen in the past few years, and with distinctive design characteristics that haven't previously been explored in a sea kayak specific blade.
In a nutshell, there is a traditional touring blade (the Explorer) a versatile all-rounder (the Voyager), and a real performance blade for those who want serious support in their strokes (the Poseidon). The split shafts feature Mitchell's unique Vario-S Lock - a locking system that has an integrated Allen key tightener, so hard-to-shift thread reliant locks are consigned to history. They also have an amazing 10cm length variant, so you could shift your paddle from 215cm for a long stretch at sea where you want to put on some miles, all the way back to 205cm for the extra torque & control required for a surf landing. This also means that as your paddling improves you can adjust & tweak the feather & shaft length without having to buy a new paddle, with a locking system that won't fail when you most need it (like when you're upside down, 10m from rocks, in a breaking 2m wave - ask me about it one day.....)
We have demo's for testing & more than 50 paddles in stock - let us know if you'd like to take a Mitchell Blade for a spin.

LV.......what's it all about?

I've had a few people expressing puzzlement lately about the term LV (low volume) being used in the name of a kayak design. Valley have recently released the Aquanaut LV, the Avocet LV & the Nordkapp LV, and they're causing a bit of confusion in our market, where the concept is a fairly new one.
The Avocet LV doing what it does best.....

Basically, the idea derives from the indelible fact that a sea kayak behaves very differently when loaded & heavier, to what it does with just the weight of the paddler. Generally, although not a universal rule, a laden kayak will sit lower in the water, extending the waterline, improving the initial stability and 'solidity' for the paddler. For most of us, this is a good thing, taking away any semblance of tippiness & instability, while also increasing the boat speed due to the increased water line length.
The problem with most expedition boat designs is that they are hardly ever paddled on expeditions, with 98% of any kayakers trips being day paddles, where the oversized gear hauling capabilities of these boats is unnecessary. In a pure kayaking sense, they're not much fun when it comes to doing what most paddlers do, which is head out for a morning or a day, to play around, do some harbour or coastal touring, or mess around in the surf.
So, in the case of a manufacturer like Valley, they have re-worked their designs to remove the volume in some of their kayaks, so that the LV versions paddle like a loaded version of the  standard boat. The Nordkapp with a load full of gear is a pure joy to paddle, deserving of it's reputation as one of the world's premier expedition kayaks, however if it was your only boat you'd only get to experience that performance if you were prepared to load it up with 30kg worth of gear every time you went for a paddle (or like me are in the 90kg+ range). The Nordkapp LV is designed with a good swathe of the volume removed, while preserving the feel of a fully laden Nordkapp. For someone like me, who can realistically only afford short breaks from a busy business & young family for day paddles & surfing, the Nordkapp LV is a much better proposition than the full sized Nordkapp. It's big enough for me to pack up for a week long trip, but responsive enough unladen to be a pure joy when paddled on the moving water of the sea.
There isn't much point taking a bus to the racetrack, when you can have a Ferrari instead......

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Sea Kayaking Forum

There is a new forum for Australian Sea Kayakers up & running, which shows great promise:
It's not captive to any one club or commercial entity, & has a broad range of topics for people to discuss. Check it out at www.seakayakforum.com.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Sea Speed vs Flat Water Speed

Rob Mercer has captured very succinctly the differences between sea paddling & flat water paddling on his terrific blog on the Balanced Boater website. He is basically describing the reason that many paddlers who can really motor on the flat suddenly have their speed curtailed by a bit of moving water.
Check out 'The Catch' on his blog (go to www.balancedboater.com) - one of the best short paddling articles I've read for some time.....

Monday, 20 October 2008

Test Paddle - Aquanaut & Nordkapp LV

I had the pleasure early Saturday morning of taking a fellow paddler, Matt Prenter from Hobart, Tasmania, out for a test paddle. Matt had been in contact with Geoff Murray down in Tassie through his club, & Geoff had offered him a crack in his Rockpool. While not the boat for him, Matt was still keen on the idea of a skeg boat, and got in contact last week to arrange a test paddle while up in Sydney on a short trip.
Sizing him up for our range, I figured either the Nordkapp LV or the Aquanaut would be best, so we met early Saturday morning for a sea trial. A highlight of the trip to collect him from his digs in King Cross was bearing witness to McLeay St at 6am - it's many years since I've staggered out of one of the bars in the Cross but I reckon I could have got a hangover from just watching the boozers chasing their pizza's home!
Conditions were pretty friendly for our paddle, but nonetheless the shape of the coast around Sydney's South Head always make for a variety of sea states, and provide a good environment for a paddler trying to assess the merits of any particular boat design.
Matt jumped in the Nordkapp LV - essentially a boat derived from the new Nordkapp design, but with much of the volume taken out, so it behaves like a standard Nordkapp with an expedition load. We headed out of the calm in Camp Cove, around the coast past the reef of South Head, then along the cliff lines under Sydney's infamous 'Gap'. The deep water & tall cliffs always produce some form of rebound & this allowed us to get into some bouncy water & test out the LV's stability. We then turned east & headed out into the nor’ easterly swell for couple of kilometres, before turning & running back with the sea to the safety of the harbour. Most of the bad press about rudderless kayaks centres on their inability to handle a following sea, so I always welcome the opportunity to get a paddler into a Valley & allow them to run with a sea. They quickly discover that the myths are just that, myths, & what follows is a pretty swift surf-laced run with these awesome designs carving along in the following conditions.
Back into Camp Cove we messed around with a few rolls & some instruction on handling a rudderless kayak, then swapped over. Now, I had figured that I would be too big for the Nordkapp LV, and was dreading squeezing myself into it even for a short test paddle. What a surprise I got when I slid in like a glove, and immediately felt the responsiveness of this extremely responsive & playful kayak. The LV has been universally well reviewed overseas, so I looked forward to giving it a good workout while Matt took my Aquanaut for a spin. I wasn't disappointed. While the initial stability is a little lighter than the Aquanaut, the secondary is rock solid, & allowed me to do things in the LV that I would struggle to do in my Aquanaut. It is also very, very quick. Riding a few small wind waves back from the centre of the heads I was clocking 15km/h without trying, and the boat loved the following chop (just like the Aquanaut). Back inside the harbour for a second time Matt & I rode the small wind waves without any effort at 11km/h plus, in a beaut run back to the beach.
In summary, we managed to get out in a couple of great boat designs, test them in the sea (which after all is where you would hope to be paddling your sea kayak), & had a good time into the bargain.
Matt decided the Aquanaut's more solid initial stability suited his paddling needs, & will soon be showing his shiny new Valley boat in the clear waters of his native Tassie.