Wednesday 16 May 2018

The Epic V5 - a ski for you & your mates....

So what to make of a surfski that's 4.3m long, and 60cm wide, with a surf rudder the equal of those found on the big guns like the V12?

Are we talking about a North American bird watcher's kayak here, short, stable, surely slow & lacking direction stability? We'll you'd bloody well think so looking at those numbers!

However, after watching my mate Boyan surf his millionth Levante-powered 15kmh wave at his surfski centre in Tarifa on YouTube, realising belatedly that most of that incredible footage is taken off a V5, we decided it was time to explore this sawn-off Epic.

Our demo arrived last week, a performance layup, 16kg with handles & a nicely proportioned rear hatch for your tent or lightweight camping gear, and very reasonably priced at just $3600.

We have a long history surfing boats around this length, think of kayaks like the Valley Gemini & Sirona, Tiderace Xtra & Vortex, and understand just how nimble & manoeuvrable those designs are in bigger breaking waves. But, to get out and enjoy the surf in them you do need a fairly developed set of skills, a good understanding of how to use your edges and a very strong brace. A reliable roll is also an asset. Given that skill set, the new wave of play sea kayaks are the bomb; you can do things on a wave that would scarcely have been believable before they were conceived.

But, and like the V5 it's a big but... what if you don't have those skills & don't feel inclined to get 'em? Just how accessible is that YouTube surfing experience if you can't roll, or use your edges, and frankly find the idea of a capsize in the surf & a re-entry into a flooded cockpit about as palatable as sticking a fork in your eye? How about if you could head out to your favourite bar break or spilling wave safe in the knowledge that your surfing experience wouldn't be greatly diminished in comparison to the 'play sea kayaks', and if you got crunched & ended up swimming the craft onto which you're going to re-embark is hugely stable & easy to remount?

Chuck in a generous back hatch for gear, which despite a few trashing yesterday remained tightly sealed, and a seating an paddling position that entirely belies the stubby nature of the ski. It would have been easy to forget that I was in a ski with these generous proportions yesterday if it hadn't been for my paddling mates shaking their heads at the sight of me in something so short, with a big EPIC sticker on the bow.

As luck would have it, yesterdays debut on the water coincided with the back end of a southerly swell episode, and our favourite bar break was providing the sort of amusement park rides for which it's famous. Five of us agreed to meet at the mid afternoon low tide, and go for a surf. Everyone else was in a longer ski (in fact when you think about it, it's hard to imagine a shorter one...), and on the steep sets had to sit out on the wave shoulder or risk being either pearled or broached in the breaking sections. I had no such worries in my little V5 however, and proceeded to charge down the steepest bits I could find, to see if the ski could really surf like a kayak. Whilst the 60cm beam does get in the way of really sharp edge control, the dirty great rudder more than makes up for that, and I just carved around and had a ball. We got broached, barrelled, the spray flew and in amongst it all were the ninety second rides that we love about this place. A great arvo out for a bunch of paddling mates.

Paddling home after the session I ticked at 9kmh on the flat water of Gunamatta Bay, not too shabby at all and proof that looks and old rules about length, beam and therefore speed are very quickly being eroded by clever designers.

So, is it a surfing ski? I'm not 100% sure the designers figured that would be it's primary use when they sketched it, but it's pretty damn good at it regardless. It would be a great little overnight getaway craft to chuck your tent & sleeping bag into & head off for a night on a river. It's just got enough speed to paddle & get your heart rate up without pushing a huge wall of water in front of the bow, so a cruisy craft for gentle fitness paddling. It's light, and it's about the same length as a lot of SUP's so really easy to handle & store in the garage.

There is a video of me paddling it yesterday above, no stats on speed or heart rates or V02 Max, just plenty of smiles from all of us. This is genuinely a mighty little ski to enjoy with your mates.

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Rob Mercer Introduces the Flat Earth Sails 'Footloose 80'

Below you can see a photograph of me from our 2004 unsupported expedition from Cooktown almost 1000km along the Cape York Peninsula to Sesia in Torres Strait. It remains one of the highlights of my time on the sea and provided the group with many wonderful days of surfing the SE tradewinds.

Obviously the picture was taken in the lee of a headland so out of the wind but I have chosen it because it provides a good view of the sail itself. 

This was my first three panel sail, it was designed and made by my good mate Andrew Eddy specifically for this trip. He had already used the same design on this and many previous trips.

From the late 1990s until the present I have been fascinated by kayak sails and curious about the relative merits of different shapes and sizes.

In more recent times I have used the various Flat Earth Sails including the Original, Code Zero and Tradewind models, these are Mick’s most notable legacy to kayak sail design and I continue to enjoy these sails for their ease of use, efficiency and simplicity. To my mind they are less aggressive and a little easier to use than the three panel sails with their ability to “spill” some of the extra heeling force caused by gusts, but I have always appreciated the performance offered by the three panel designs and had started work on a three panel sail with Mick only a year or so before he passed away.

As part of this process Andrew Eddy was kind enough to send him vital information about the original sail and after much deliberation Mick sent me a beautifully crafted prototype based on his interpretation of the Andrew’s pattern. The original worked best with a full load and a straight tracking kayak, Mick maintained the stable shape and power of this sail but in a more compact and easily manageable form and then he went over the original material selection and design with his meticulous eye for detail.  
I was immediately delighted with the result and once out on the water, felt how taut the sail was in fresh winds, a characteristic we had valued so highly using the original in the big “tradies” north of Cooktown all those years ago.
There were a few hardware and design issues I needed to talk through with Mick before it was ready for the final test and to take to market but sadly we never got to finish the project…

Recently with the backorders of Flat Earth Sails finally under control, master sail maker Neil Tasker has been helping me fine-tune the design. I tested Mick’s prototype on a trip in North Queensland last year and then came back to Neil with some suggestions that in turn lead to several tweaks and hardware changes. 

I have included pictures of this design from our recent Bass Strait Crossing, and video of the sail in action in the two minute clip at the top of the page (noting that none of the sailing in the video is in dead downwind conditions, in fact most of it is nearly beam-on).

The hardware was from Mick’s Prototype and featured a fiberglass tubular boom with the sail loose footed as in the original (we have subsequently replaced the fiberglass with an aluminium boom for greater durability). The sail performed very well with a loaded boat and held its optimal shape further off the wind than the Tradewind Sails being used by the rest of the group. I was delighted with the result and look forward to using this design again on my next trip.

It is important to note that this performance does come at a cost and that is the slightly higher heeling force applied to the kayak when sailing across the wind, and more notable, the greater acceleration when driven by gusts. This extra push onto the waves will exhilarate some and maybe intimidate others. For these reasons I see this as more of a sail for experienced kayak sailors looking for more outright drive to catch running seas and/or those paddling heavy kayaks. If you like to cruise with the sail up and want a more relaxed ride or you have not sailed before then I would expect the tried and trusted Trade Wind series is still for you.

Throughout eighteen months of testing, one of the features of this sail that distinguished it from most others in the kayaking world was the way the boom attaches to the cloth by simply being tied off to an end cap rather than having a pocket stitched into the sail to enclose the boom. This elegant, minimalist design feature has always performed well for me. Among it’s many virtues are ease of service and the ability to position the sheetline anywhere along the length of the boom for direct attachment. For this reason we have decided to name this sail the: “Footloose 80”

I know Mick was curious but not convinced about this three panel sail design so he was pleasantly surprised with the results when I reported back to him. Mick believed these designs would never replace the original Flat Earth sails and I think he was right, so we consider the Footloose 80 more as an addition to the range; a compact sail ideally suited to those experienced and adventurous kayaker sailors chasing some more performance without going to a bigger sail.

Rob Mercer, May 2018.

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...