Friday 29 February 2008

Big Blokes Boats

I just got back from a test paddle on a wild & wooly morning with one of my oldest mates, Stacka. He is an ex-rugby player, Tamarama Beach Inspector, Eastern Suburbs personality, & prospective sea kayaker. Tipping the scales at around 100kg (like me) our paddle offered the opportunity to take out the two 'big blokes' boats in the EK range, the Assateague from Impex & the Aquanaut HV from Valley. Conditions were at the er... 'less safe' end of the safety spectrum, with 15-20knots blowing hard from the south, with a 3m swell bedding down a very confused 2m sea. Suffice to say it's the first time I've ever caught waves off the point at Frenchman's Bay.


Head to head, there wasn't much to separate these two kayaks in performance, with the Aquanaut HV a little more close-fitting, with slightly less initial stability. The Assateague really is a big guy, big hauling dream of a kayak; plenty of room for big trips but a narrow enough beam to ensure performance that other large boats can only dream of. It has enough waterline length to be reasonably quick, but retains the great performance of it's smaller clone, the Currituck. Both held a good track with 20 knots on the beam, both rode effortlessly over the oncoming chop giving a very dry ride, but it was down sea that there were a couple of differences. 

Aquanaut RM HV

The HV is exceptionally fast once the hull begins to plane in a following sea, regularly blasting past 13-15kmh on surf rides - like the Nordkapp that's quick enough to ride onto the wave in front of the one you're initially riding, which is about as much fun as you can have in a kayak. The Assateague in the same following seas isn't quite as quick, but the spongy secondary stability allows you to carve around as you ride along, which is very satisfying. Both boats roll superbly & turn tightly, considering they are in the 5 & a half metre range, & importantly, they stay true to the concept of reacting predictably & truly to correctly applied technique. There's not a lot of point having a design that rewards a good sharp edged turn with a swim!

Without the experience of paddling these boats in challenging conditions, as were lucky enough to have presented today, you couldn't possibly know how they are going to perform. I'm constantly amazed that folks are prepared to part with thousands of dollars on a kayak that they aspire to paddle in the sea, when all they're able to do is test paddle it on a mirror calm stretch of water. Most of the kayaks around would have scared the cr*p out of a prospective buyer in the wind chop & confusion of today's paddle, yet this is precisely the stuff in which the Valley & Impex boats shine. 

As for Stacka, even after a big blokes coffee & a BLT for brekkie post-paddle, he can't make up his mind between the boats, but then he is about the most indecisive bloke you could ever meet......

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