Wednesday, 17 September 2014

What is a Fast Tourer...?

In my exposure to paddlers from a wide variety of paddle backgrounds & disciplines around the country, at the various events & races we attend as competitors, instructors & sponsors, an increasingly common question is 'we see you have the Audax, Rockpool Taran, Epic 18X, Tiderace Pace boats, tell me about these fast tourers?'

I'm asked by surf ski dudes & dudettes who like the idea of using their good form & conditioning to actually go somewhere in their paddle craft, at the speed & style to which they are accustomed in their racing skis. I'm asked by old fellas with beards who are starting to feel the pinch & would like an advantage over their paddling buddies. I'm asked by new paddlers, who are time poor, who want a kayak as opposed to a ski, but want one that can be used for fitness as well as 'one day', that big expedition on their bucket list.

Trying to simplify my response has taken some thought, but here is my collection of the essential elements a good modern fast tourer has to have. 

First off, they have to have a terminal hull speed over 9.5kmh. That is, be able to sustain that kind of speed in calm conditions over an extended period, rather than just a short burst. That's not so much because you ever really push that hard or fast, more that if the hull does have those sorts of hydrostatics, it's probably going to be quite a bit more efficient than average at the 'touring' output levels most of us work at on the sea.

Second, they have to be stable whether they're being paddled as a day boat, unladen, or full of gear for an extended trip. I'm a very poor judge of what others consider stable, but my test is to see just how much micro stuff I can get done on my own in rough water with the boat empty, without having to raft up with someone else. As a minimum, fetch a helmet from the day hatch, change over a water bladder below deck, sort out something which might be essential to my own safety, in bouncy water, without getting the wobbles. Our experience has shown that any harder-heeling hull qualities in a fast tourer's hull can make the stationary exercises we all need to carry out on the sea exponentially more difficult.

And finally, they have to be able to go downwind. All the biggest days on the sea are done in following seas, and if the boat misbehaves, buries, squirrels around in fast downhill conditions, then your day becomes miserable. That might sound pretty simple, after all they've all got a rudder, but the subtleties in how they perform downwind is what separates the great from the ordinary, in my opinion. If a fast tourer doesn't go like the clappers downwind, then it's not the real deal.

It goes without saying that as a tourer, they also need to able to carry gear with little or no influence on the performance of the hull.

Brit style manoeuvrability is a bonus, but not a necessary element, considering the job these boats are designed to do. That said, if you have a decent set of skills learnt in a gear-shift boat, application of the same set of core manoeuvring skills, in a well designed fast touring hull should get you the same boat control, just not as acutely. It's no coincidence that the pick of the crop have a rudder that can be fully retracted when manoeuvrability takes precedence over speed & efficiency. Think about when you need to manoeuvre in a hurry & you'll understand why this is such an important design feature.

The only skill you might have to hone is your ability to paddle aggressively downwind, if you really want to find out what a good modern fast tourer can do.

As to the designers, the very best fast touring boats come from a long heritage of rough water paddling experience. Think Aled Williams & the Pace series, John Willacy & Mike Webb & the revolutionary Taran, Greg Barton & Oscar Chalupsky & the 18X, and newer boats like our own Audax. These designs are conceived, plugs built, then tested and tested in a wide range of conditions to iron out any kinks in performance. Each of the established fast touring designs has been honed from the original form to something quite different by the time it's been released for sale. This rigorous testing and prototyping is the essntial element in what goes into making a Taran or Audax what it is, and can't be underestimated in importance. Without this kind of testing in the hands of skilled and experienced paddlers, you can bet the boats would have big gaps in their performance. As a consequence, all of the fast tourers these guys have designed, coming from peerless experience in both paddling & boat making, means that when you finally get them on the water, you've gort the genuine article. If you're contemplating buying a fast tourer, with the genre so recent, find out who designed it, what their experience is, it all matters.

The emergence of these fast tourers is already broadening our sport, making it more attractive to a younger demographic, and chipping away at the perception that sea kayaking is for grumpy old buggers with crook knees!


  1. Gostei,este espirito empreendedor de aventura.Ando de caiaque aberto,e faço minhas aventuras aqui no meu estado,Brasil.Estou estudando a questão dos caiaques oceánicos,talvez adquira um.Parabéns,e sucesso.

  2. This is a great read. Thanks for posting it! I'm interested in what your top recommendation is and why.

    1. G'day Nathaniel,
      The best of the bunch is a pretty subjective thing. The Taran broke the mould - literally- and pointed the way ahead for us, making big distances in good style a lot more acheivable. The Pace 17 probably made the genre more accessible by providing the kind of stability and manoeuvrability that even a new paddler could appreciate. Our own Audax has the benefit of our extensive experience in both of these excellent boats to build on, and we hope it's a worthy addition to the genre. These are head & shoulders above anything we've paddled in this fast touring category, if I were you I'd be trying to get a rough water test paddle in all three before making a choice!
      Hope that helps.
      Mark @ EK.


Video - Old Blokes Having Fun - Gazza, Rob & The Don paddle Nadgee.

Last month the oldest 60% of our Bass Strait crew reunited for a mini-expedition of note, the 100km or so from Eden to Mallacoota tra...