Our first shipment of TRAK T-1600 Folding kayaks arrived this week, with our demo included. Rob & I headed down to a windy Botany Bay to test out the claims of a 10 minute assembly & also to see if my recollections of the performance of the hull stood true, a couple of years down the track.
The boat itself comes in what looks like a golf travel bag, which weighs about 22kg with all components. It has a great wheely system which covered the bumpy terrain from car park to beachside without any problems. The astonishing thing about the TRAK when you unpack the contents is the sheer logic & simplicity of the parts. I've heard horror stories from 'folder' owners about 2 hour assembly, scraped knuckles & a physics degree being the pre-requisite for their boats, but the TRAK is definitely made for someone with my limited attention span & technical ability. I'd almost say idiot proof, but they say you've never met your biggest idiot, he's still out there....
The stern section comes together by lifting the stern piece, and watching as all of the poles fit neatly into place. The bow has a few more clips to fix, but all up the assembly of the frame takes about a minute for each end. You then slide the frame into the shell, fit the cockpit (a 10 second operation), the hydraulic jacks & the excellent ergonomic seat, and you're done. We then spent a few minutes tuning up the jacks to get the shell nice & tight, and were on the water within 20 minutes of our first attempt at putting the boat together.
So far so good.
To be honest, I'm not at all interested in the 'romance', or boffin value of folding kayaks, unless the end product is something I can have fun paddling. For me, that means no compromise on the performance of a design like my composite Valley Aquanaut, just for the sake of having something you can take on a plane. My impression of more traditional folders is of paddling a flexing caterpillar or accordion frame over sea waves, a serious lack of speed, and the sort of 'performance' you'd expect from a wide, load carrying, purpose-built expedition kayak. Definitely not my cup of tea.
The appeal of the TRAK is the playfulness, speed & performance capability of the hull. The big river sequence in Justine Curgenven's This is the Sea 4 features whitewater champion Ken Whiting paddling a TRAK in grade 4 whitewater. So without any further ado Rob & I put the boat through it's paces, head to head against an Aquanaut. In the low rocker setting it's rock solid in the water, superbly stable, but with the same sort of secondary stability, and maneuverability that a boat like the North Shore Atlantic offers. In a sprint against Rob, who was in his Aquanaut, we were bow to bow over 200m paddling flat out, so it's no slouch on the flat stuff, with no noticeable bow wave & a rewarding return of speed to effort. With 20 knots on the beam, it ever so slowly rounded up into the breeze, but one crank on the Vari Trim handle on the gunwhale opposite the wind, had it tracking like an arrow. Once you can get over the bizarre feeling of paddling a boat bent laterally like a banana, you understand the genius in the design. It's got to be be the most innovative solution to weathercocking that was ever solooshed....
The shell is incredibly rigid, to the point that you can't even feel the waves under your heels through the hull, and for all love or money this boat feels and paddles like a composite sea kayak.
We're yet to get it out among the dynamic water of the sea, where we'll be sure to properly fit the float bags & sea sock to ensure bulkhead-like positive buoyancy, but our first impressions of the boat based on our short test are overwhelmingly positive. Words like revolutionary are banded around a bit too much in the simple world of kayak design (usually by me...!), but this boat is as near to something truly revolutionary as I have seen.
Like most of our boats, we have imported them because we want one! I do a lot of business travelling, & I'm already getting excited about the prospect of a paddle on Hong Kong Harbour surfing the junk wakes, or a sprint under the Tower Bridge in London, maybe even a cruise up the Chao Praya in Bangkok, not to mention the fact that I'll now have a dead-set performance kayak to play with when I go to the islands with the family.
The demo is available for test paddling by appointment - drop me a line f you'd like to take the T1600 for a spin.