Grabner H2 inflatable kayak

by Gaël Auffret

Scottish Sea Kayak Trail ReportMap of SSKT • Grabner overhaul • In Sardinia

When I decided to buy an IK back in 1998 there were not as many models available as today. And information about inflatables was very scarce. I intended to make multi-day trips with this boat, but the only paddler I had heard of doing so was the late Audrey Sutherland. In a Sea Kayaker magazine article she mentioned she paddled a 13-foot Semperit Forelle III for extended trips in Alaska. I wanted the same boat because it was obviously proven as a durable expedition craft by her many summer trips done there.

Doing some research on the Internet I also found a very convincing article by Marge Nichols. We got in touch by e-mail and she gave me valuable information about her Grabner Holiday, almost identical to the Forelle, but now manufactured by Grabner. The good news was that Grabner was a European company and they had a reseller in Paris so I could have a look at the boat before ordering one.

I wanted a boat that I could use for multi-day solo trips, and day trips in tandem with my wife, or for taking the kids around. The boat would be paddled mostly on the sea, wherever we would take it during our vacations. It would be transported by car, bus, train or plane. As we are living in an apartment in Paris, it would be stored in our small basement unit.

The boat itself is very well made and the material is very sturdy. It doesn’t take long to inflate up to 0.3 bars (4.5 psi); less time than installing the rudder. The aluminum tubes used for backrests look like crap compared to the hull, the rudder pedals or the rudder head. The plastic part of the backrest is attached with tiny screws that did not last long and I soon replaced them with bigger screws. The wooden rudder blade is tough but not very hydrodynamically profiled. I use the rudder in a following sea (backwind) to go straight, or in beam [side] winds as the rudder helps control drifting leeward.


Compared to my rigid sea kayak the H2 is a good 30% slower. But the main performance difference is that the H2 cannot be accelerated beyond 3 knots (3.4mph), while I can boost my rigid kayak beyond 5 knots (5.7mph) for a while if need be. In a following sea the H2 doesn’t surf without a steep wave. Paddling against a short wind-induced chop is a trudge as you can’t control it with hips and knees as in a SinK, it bobs like a cork on the waves, which is annoying if it lasts a few hours.

The 3.95 metre H2 floats high on the water. Even though this means more windage, it also means less water splashing in. It does take water so I always sit in a pond, but not to the point I need to bail, except after some hours being beaten by a rough chop. I was sometimes swamped by some dumping waves when paddling inside the impact zone along exposed shores but the boat didn’t sink and was still manoeuvrable. I just had to escape the impact zone then bail the cockpit.

Being 75 cm (29.5″) wide the H2 is very stable, even more when loaded down with gear, and I never felt I was on the verge of capsizing. Just in case I did some capsizing/re-entry exercises in deep water. It’s easier to get back on board using a looped rope hanging from the boat.
The H2 is short and
highly manoeuvrable. It turns on itself with a few paddle strokes. Draw strokes work very well and there is no need to edge it on its chine to make a sharp turn as with a hard shell sea kayak. This makes exploring caves and rock gardens easy.
There are plenty of useless footrest adjustment fittings in the cockpit (left) and none for attaching gear. I bought some D-ring fittings from Grabner and glued them in the front on each inside of the bottom tubes. Drybags are maintained by shock cord and secured by a leash. In order to push the cylindrical bag further in the front, I deflate the deck. The dry bags buoyancy is enough to compensate for the loss of the front deck buoyancy.
When I stop on the shore while the tide is ebbing, if I don’t want the boat to be grounded by the receding water, I install a mooring fore and aft. For achieving this I use two painters and a netbag (made of a piece of fishing net found while beachcombing). I fill the netbag with pebbles and secure it to the aft painter. I put the bag on the rear deck so that it falls in the water if I shake the boat. The fore painter is attached to a rock or a tree on the shore. I push the boat off. When the front painter pulls the boat back, the bag falls in the water and anchors the boat. When I want to get the boat back, I just pull on the front painter and the boat comes dragging the pebble bag. Then I haul in the bag with the aft painter, remove the pebbles, tidy the painters and we’re done. When the wind is offshore I just need the fore painter.
Paddles I carry two identical two-piece paddles (one spare), 230cm long with narrow grp blades, Lendal GRP shaft made by Plasmor, #1 sea kayak manufacturer in France. When traveling by plane, I carry a Lendal Kinetic 4-piece split paddle. I use shorter paddles, 218cm, with my regular rigid sea kayaks. But the width and height of the sides of the H2 require longer paddles for reaching water.


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