With memories fresh of paddling this fast tourer from Tiderace 100km overnight down a river in this years Hawkesbury Classic race, I thought it might be an opportune time to pen some thoughts on a boat I've spent a lot of time in, in a wide range of conditions over the past year. As well as two Classics, I've raced the boat in ocean events, paddled in strong downwind conditions & done many training miles, logged studiously through my GPS software.
First impressions of the Pace 18 had me convinced it was an addition to the growing genre of plumb bow, sleek hybrid ocean kayaks that have been emerging at a great rate in the past couple of years, but more at the flat water end. It looked like being a more manageable boat for paddlers not quite up to the thoroughbred handling of the Valley Rapier 20, with a similar capacity for alpine style touring.
On day one we took our demo out into a bustling Nor Easter in the short chop on Botany Bay & ran it up & down the wind waves to get a clue on handling.
The worst of these designs, in fact any design, tend to squirrel badly at the stern when steep waves effectively lift the rudder out of the water. It's most disconcerting to be powering down a wave face only to lose directional stability at a critical moment, and it's the first quirk we try to identify (and when we do it tends to be the last time we paddle the boat!)
Happily, whilst the flat section aft of the bow did dig into short bay runners, there are enough tricks in Aled Williams' hull to keep the boat straight & true. So while you do inevitably stall on the crest of the wave in front in short wind driven chop, you can keep chasing, keep the power down without fear of anything unpredictable happening. The bow has enough volume to release and then you're away again, a nice reassuring characteristic.
Having worked this out early, I then went in search of some more demanding, faster and much bigger ocean waves to hunt down. I had not doubt the boat had the hull speed to hook into a decent running sea, but again you wonder whether it is prone to speed wobbles in that most demanding environment.
Rob & I picked out a well developed sea state whipped up by a typical Sydney Nor' Easterly sea breeze, and put the Pace 18 to the test.
The video below shows you what happened, and the trace revealed four separate runs over 20kmh. Try as I might I couldn't get the boat to shift around or do anything unpredictable, it ran much like my surf ski in much bigger conditions & handled the seas beautifully. Interestingly, once the waves lengthened out on the sea, there was no chance of digging it into the trough in front, it seemed to slot right into the wave shapes & whizzed along at a great rate. It was absolutely bloody fantastic fun..!
On the two Hawkesbury Classic races I've run in the Pace 18, I've managed 8.97km and 8.96kmh over the 100km tidal course, so that's probably a reasonable indication of what an average paddler should be able to hold over an extended distance.
As a fitness boat it allows you into the rarefied air for ocean going kayaks of 9.5kmh for a workout. In my opinion you need to be able to get into this speed zone without reaching terminal hull speed, in order to turn your session into an aerobic one, rather than a power workout. You don't really get faster or fitter from power workouts, whereas a boat that allows you to get your heart rate up will provide fitness benefits that slower designs simply can't. Crucially, the boat doesn't only derive speed from the blunt tool of waterline length. The hull is designed to lift when you apply power, and therefore glides far more efficiently than the long waterline packhorse tourers.
The construction & durability of the boat have been excellent, it's suffered it's fair share of bumps & crashes and so far not a hitch, save for a few decent chips at the pointy end. I wouldn't be in a rush to land it on a rock platform though, and surf performance is fairly much limited to longer spilling waves, as you would expect of a boat of this length & rocker profile.
At first I hated the seat, shifting it around (which takes some doing), finally arriving at a position after about a month that was....exactly where Aled had put in the first place! For the Hawkesbury races I've put a Skwoosh gel pad on top of the factory seat, but that was mainly because a winter spent getting in shape has left me with a slightly more bony bum.
The boat is stable, with a secondary stability that dares you to heel it to failure. Whilst it's not a playful design it does all the right things when you drop an edge, but you wouldn't buy it for it's manoeuvrability.
Realistically it's not an extended tourer, so a full blown expeditioner wanting to go fast will find the low aft volume way less conducive to touring than other boats like the Pace 17 Tour or Rockpool Taran series.
I tend to think paddlers wanting a more user friendly boat in genuine rough water than the intermediate skis, capable of doing a two or three day trip with gear, who have a fitness element in their weekly routine, will love it. So far there are about 20 out on various waterways around the country, & if I had to identify a demographic for buyers of the Pace 18, that would be it. Fit, wanting a lighter carry, a good top end speed and happy with a less voluminous capacity for that extended weekend paddle up & down the coast. I would also be a great choice for adventure racers, who need a robust boat to deal with rivers, a retractable rudder, and speed and stability when the going is good.
I have enjoyed my time paddling the Pace 18, for what I do it's the most versatile design we have, and it helps that it's also the fastest.
We've now got good stock on the shelf, if you'd like to arrange a test paddle, please give either of Rob or I a shout.