A sunny day in the south of England saw me back on the water with the Big Kahuna Man after many months off. It was a chance to anoint my new Grabner Amigo’s slick, factory-oiled hull with the Medway’s occluded discharge. If you’re interested, there’s more on why I got myself an Amigo right here.
BK Man and I started out of Tonbridge with a plan to replicate our icy winter run of last year when at times we had to crack our way down the river. Assembling the Amigo for the first time was of course simple once I had the bayonet adaptor fitted to the end of my aged Bravo foot pump, but that pump could barely manage to get the requisite 0.3 bar (4.3psi) the Amigo runs. More about all that malarkey on the mods page.
We slipped down the rather tame Tonbridge Town Lock chute (right) where it soon became obvious the Amigo was not going to break any speed records. This may be a false impression as there was a stiff head-breeze, negligible current and my lack of paddling fitness and of course the Amigo’s 3.75m and 80cm width – over half a metre shorter and 11cm or 4.3 inches wider than my old Incept. All that made for hard yakka while the slick Kahuna glided effortlessly by.
On a positive note the Medway hereabouts now appears to be fully chuted up for canoes – we could have got all the way to Yalding without getting out. As mentioned, some chutes are rather dull affairs where fixed bristles churn up the water and slow a boat down. Others, as we knew well, were steeper and more sporty numbers that you attack at full pelt (left). We like those!
The recently fitted Gumotex skeg tracked flawlessly but still kept the curly ended Amigo turnable. It will be good to try paddling without it; not such a good idea at sea but always handy in shallow rivers where the current should provide the speed you otherwise gain from being able to paddle harder with a skeg.
In between the fun chutes, the simpering Medway crept by. BK Man combed the water as gently as if he was brushing Kate Middleton’s perfumed hair, while I hacked away like the Barber of Seville with my too-large Corryvreckan paddle; very light and stiff it may be but it’s not the blade of choice when unfit. Also, the boat’s secondary seat lugs tended to catch my thumbs, the spare packraft seat was a bit sloppy on the factory oil and I was in dire need of a footrest: all things to refine or fit once relocated up north.
Later I just rested on the seat back with no air padding from the Alpacka seat and that was fine and enabled a good back posture, though I do worry about snapping that seat bar in a hard hit or clumsy moment. It did dislodge a couple of times as the boat flexed down steeper chutes. I suppose a stick or even just a strap will make do as a replacement.
You can see from the pic on the right that even with my weight and only .25 bar in the side tubes, the Amigo is as straight as a boiled hardshell and unlike the Sunny of old. In future I’ll pump it up to 0.33 or so to compensate for the cooling once it gets in the water.
By the time we got to the sporty Sluice Weir Chute (lef and right) I was knackered, sore and starving, a torment made worse by the gusting breeze and the succulent aroma of wild garlic emanating from the lush, green river banks. Southern England in early summer really is a great place to be an insect.
We had high hopes of snaring a good feed at Ye Olde Anchor Inn at Yalding, but it was so poor it wasn’t even worth a picture. I ate as well in primary school back in 1968. What a waste of a great location; someone keel-haul the chef! Next time we’ll revert to the tea room on the other bank. As we approached the Inn we were puzzled by a string of schoolkids in mini kayaks lining up to slip down the flat Yalding weir face. Like some neoprene Pied Piper, their teacher or guide was actually pushing away the orange safety booms so the little mites could slip through and potentially plummet to their deaths. I suppose the river police must allow it. At the low levels we knew the flat slide down the weir face was not so suited to our long boats – the Kahuna’s nose would dig in to the concrete at the base and spin the back around while I’d scrape my skeg all the way down to the sound of melting plastic. Btw, check out this vid of what happens at Yalding when they open the taps. Scary!
Gastronomically unsatisfied, we lowered ourselves back into our boats for the short hop to Hampstead Lock (no chute). Here, in the full spirit of The Pack Boating Way, we dismantled our boats, walked 5 minutes the station and caught the train back to Tonbridge. I can confide that like a Sunny, an Amigo is so easy to dry, just splay it out (right) like a Peruvian hamster entree, give it a wipe, roll it up and off you go.
One thing I can to say about the Grabner – you do appear to get what you pay for. Construction appears to be flawless – far superior to the Incept, better than Gumoes I’ve had and with not a smudge of stray glue or ill-adhered creases, gaps or lumps. Once the set up is optimised it’s an IK that ought to last many, many years. More Amigo action to come up in the Summer Isles in the next couple of months