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, Azure, 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. The Audax, for example, has clocked a 10 hour 32 minute Hawkesbury Classic (111km flat water overnight race on a river with neutral flow), and the Epic 18X has an even faster time in the same race.

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.
We've heard mumblings of the old-school view suggesting these designs can be difficult without a rudder as an entire genre. Our response to that broad claim is to point out that they are as difficult without a rudder as the vast majority of skeg boats are in a crosswind, if the skeg fails, and much better performing than the boats that had rudders fitted historically because they were found out to be particularly poor trackers in following or quartering conditions. 

A rudder is a piece of gear that is to be maintained, checked and serviced like anything else on your kayak. To sacrifice the performance and ease that a fast touring kayak offers, to the sluggish and uninspiring performance of a boat that tracks at the expense of almost everything else because one day, maybe, your rudder might fail, seems like a 'worst case scenario' paranoia run wild. 

It is a very traditional sea kayakers way of thinking, and in many respects predates the reliability and serviceability of rudder systems like the Smart Track transom mounted design used on the Pace, Audax, Taran and now the Epic 18X. It's mostly borne of no experience whatsoever in these new, quite exciting designs that have turned much of the old performance possibilities of a sea kayak on it's head, but there will always be an old guard prepared to defend what's always been. Our advice as always, it get out and try them for yourself, in almost every single case since the release of the Audax as an example, test paddlers have remarked on the stability of the kayak, as something that they were not expecting.
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, Greg Barton & Oscar Chalupsky & the 18X, and newer boats like our own Audax and Azure. 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 essential element in what goes into making an Azure 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 got 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.
We hope we've inspired to you to think outside the box, get out and try something that may very well challenge your whole idea of what a sea kayak can do!

Monday 15 September 2014

1000 Myalls Away......

"Estimated time of arrival 1.30 pm
Been up before the sun and now i'm tired before i even begin.
(now you're flying) i got so much work in front of me,
(really flying) it stretches out far as the eye can see."

Apologies to the Hoodoo Gurus.....

I was lulled back to the Myall Classic, a festival of paddling that encompasses a 12km, 27km or 47km race along the beautifully scenic Myall River a couple of hours north of Sydney, with the promise that 'this year the tides are going to be great'. Last year's Myall was hard, 30km of 47km by my count, into the teeth of the tide, but this year, well one nameless bloke - Steve Dawson - even said it was going to be like a magic carpet ride home from the 23.5km turn.
Race briefing
Sure enough, the tide tables looked very nice, a strong flood tide to take us down the river to the turn, then a building ebb that should have been honking by the time we careened across the finish line, crowds lining the banks cheering madly while we sprang forth from our boats, did a few push ups & then went for a warm-down jog & a stretch.
Tony lines up the early start line.
Let's just say that three weeks of torrential rain into a lake system several times the size of Sydney Harbour, with one skinny little brown river outta there, should forever-more be a consideration when there are softies like me entering these things, unused to the brutality of an opposing flow for hours on end, and not a frigging wave in sight. 
The 9am 47km race start
I'd describe the journey in detail but my counsellor has told me to give it some time before I peer back into that dark place.....

My own race was a great shake down for the Hawkesbury Classic, & I'm now nearly certain I'll do that race in my V10. Comfort, ergonomics, and my hydration & nutrition system were all put through the wringer & came up green. One thing about paddling 47km under race conditions, you find out every likely cause of pain & anguish, and can then spend the 6 weeks before the Hawkesbury tuning them out. 

I had one incident about 2km from the end when I noticed a K1 paddler having some stability issues on the final stretch adjacent to Swan Bay, where a brisk easterly was tossing up a short beam chop. I changed direction to tail the boat and was only a hundred metres behind when the inevitable capsize came. No worries I figured, if there's one thing I know how to do it's an assisted rescue, but the complexity of the situation dawned on me as I rafted up. With no grab lines on my ski or the K1, it was a battle to get the kayak over my lap to try & drain it, and even when I managed that I realised I was no chance of emptying the flooded shell, not to mention actually assisting the paddler back into the cockpit. I figured the only thing to do was to set up a rafted contact tow & let the wind take us to a set of mangroves some 200m to the west. Lionel turned up in a sea kayak shortly afterwards & we managed to wrangle the K to the beach, whereby we emptied it & the paddler carried on with a pretty fearless attitude to the finish. I now know why most K1 races happen within short swimming distances from a safe shore!
The Dawson's ride the magic carpet home.
The marathon crowd themselves, maybe because their chosen pastime is one which less tests, & more reveals character, seemed to revel in the conditions. I moaned loudly to anyone within earshot during the event and was told to shut up & paddle, more than once, and fair enough too! While other racing disciplines around the place wax & wane in their popularity, marathon is positively booming, and I reckon it's because of what happens off the water. Paddlers are mostly affiliated with a club, the clubs seem to be built on the social side of the sport, and everyone works hard 'on the field' and celebrates each other's accomplishments on the river banks. The whole thing has plenty of soul.
Anne finishes.
Bob Turner, Tony Hystek & the crew from Paddle NSW did a great job running the event so smoothly, managing nearly 300 paddlers & keeping pained smiles (or maybe they were grimaces) on most everyone's dial. It's an event we're pround to be associated with as a sponsor & one for your bucket list.
Finished, looking a hundred dollars.

The Velocimiser Sea Kayak Foil Rudder

After two solid years of R&D, we can finally announce a series of successful sea trials of our new foiling sea kayak rudder, The Velocim...