Unlike my previous new IKs, out of the bag you don’t get much with a Grabner Amigo. In fact you don’t even get a bag. With Grabner IKs just about everything except the the repair kit and air you pump in is an extra which undermines the otherwise striking 14kg weight. To make up for this dearth of equipment, in the catalogue they even list the specification label (right) as among the boat’s standard features!
So my Amigo added up to the bare boat with carry loops at each end and two backrest bars. No seat, skeg, pump, lashing points (D-rings). On purchase I ordered half a dozen D-rings and a pressure gauge. The rest I’ll work out myself. Having learned what’s needed over the years, that suits me fine.
With the high pressures an Amigo runs it’s great to finally have a pressure gauge that’s easy to use (left). There are no pressure release valves (PRVs) to stop an Amigo splitting a seam if left out in the hot sun, so it’ll be a quick way of keeping tabs on the boat’s pressure or ascertain it’s at full charge. I’ve added a marker in pink to easily line up with the Grabner’s rating of 0.3 bar (4.3 psi) – not 4.3 bar as I mistakenly did once (the old eyes are going…).
Before the Amigo even got wet I glued on a Gumotex skeg patch (below left, £12) and thick plastic Gumo skeg (another £12). All up cheaper and stronger than Grabner’s similar slip-on €60 alloy version. I took a chance using MEK to wipe and Aquaseal to glue the Nitrilon patch to the Grabner EPDM hull as I didn’t have proper two-part adhesive to hand. I figured it would work OK as a skeg isn’t under great strain like thigh- or footrest D-rings for example.
A fixed skeg is a pain in the shallows or when dragging a heavy laden boat over the heather; that’s one thing I liked about the Incept’s hinged rudder, but I can’t think how to make an effective hinged skeg except the way Feathercraft do it on their self-bailing Java (it slips up and down through a slot in the self-bailing floor).
A slip-in skeg can’t be slipped off a fully pumped up boat, at least not a high-pressure Amigo, though actually after a couple of months it’s less tight and can be done. Being able to do that is very handy for portages or dragging, though the skeg itself looks pretty tough. Of course an IK works without a skeg, but on coastal waters they’re a good idea. More on that topic here.
The Amigo uses more secure bayonet inflation valves which with the right adaptor (see inset in picture below left) don’t pop out at the high pressures (0.3 bar/4.3psi) this boat requires. Unless that is, you’re using a push-on K-Pump handpump as I did on the Incept (right) and have for the Amigo too (see below).
In fact the Incept had bayonet valves too I now realise, and the pump hose-end adaptors are easily bought in the UK from RIB suppliers on ebay. Inset left, the black one is what Grabner sell with a fitted fibre sealing ring and steps in the bayonet to suit different valve depths. The ‘butterfly’ finger tabs make this easy to twist in place, too. The green one uses plastic spacers held in place behind a black rubber washer to get a good seal. You wouldn’t want to lose these push-on seals and it’s hard to twist in place, so for the moment I’d say the Grabner one is better. Write that down, quick!
A regular yellow-hosed Bravo foot pump (right) that suits a Gumotex can’t manage Grabner pressures, at least not my aged Bravo which hisses from various leaks before you can get a full charge. I’m amazed it’s lasted as long as it has. Bravo do make a twin-chamber high-pressure version foot pump, but I can’t see that hacking it, so in a rush to get my Amigo up to pressure for its Medway maiden voyage I got myself a bulky 2-litre RIB-style barrel pump (above left, £20) rated at over 11psi. As you can imagine, on a low-volume IK this works fast, not least because it pumps on up and down strokes. Like Bravo foot pumps, it also has a second port to suck out ever last dram of air – handy for compact packing at the end of a tour.
The Bravo barrel is bulky so I’ve got a K-Pump Mini (right, review here) from i-canoe in Ireland who can import anything from the NRS catalog in the US, and without a huge mark up too (€80 delivered, not sold in the UK). My longer K-Pump 100 worked surprisingly well inflating the Incept; we’ll see how the Mini model performs on the Amigo. If nothing else it will be a handy top-up pump; Grabner cover themselves very comfortably by claiming that anything under a 20% pressure loss over a 24-hour period is not a warranty claim, though I’ve never owned an IK that lost that much air in weeks let alone a day. K-Pumps can’t suck out air like Bravo pumps, but using a loose hose with the bayonet fitting it can be done by lung.
Next, I glued on my half-dozen D-rings (right). Front and rear will hold down gear; the other four locate my cut down packraft seat as well as an adjustable footrest tube similar to what I made for the Solar last year. The seat and foot rings will also double up as thigh strap location points.
I’ve not always been that successful at gluing on previous boats, so this time did it by the book: roughen with sandpaper, wipe clean with MEK or alcohol, apply glue to both surfaces thinly and wait half an hour, glue again and wait less, then apply and press down hard with the roller.
Doing this I had a feeling the two-part Polymarine 2990 adhesive (left) was more effective than whatever I used doing the same job on the slipperier PVC-U Incept a year or two ago. I suspect Hypalon/Nitrilon is easier to glue; ‘plastic’ PVC-U is more effectively heat welded.
Over the years I never really got into using the thigh straps on my Incept or Java – perhaps the need for ruddering the Incept made them more tricky to use, or perhaps I’m just an idle paddler. But with the Amigo, I want to have that option to help it shift. In any case it’s worth persevering with thigh straps as this is one of the main things that separates IKs from hardshell kayaks in terms of boat control in rough conditions and optimal torso-centered paddling efficiency. Straps are not quite as effective as bracing your knees under the top deck of a hardshell, but they’re all you can do with an IK. Otherwise you’re just sitting in a canoe or on a floating log. I’ve now got fully used to the straps on the Amigo and use them without thinking, just like I feel much more secure with the toe clips on my bike’s pedals.
In my opinion you need some kind of footrest too, if a braced body is to make an efficient paddle sweep – it’s probably more important than thigh braces. Last year I improved this on the old Gumo Solar that’s occasionally used by the g-friend. The Gumotex footrest cushion (same as my old Sunny) was too far away for the 5-foot Mrs to use effectively and is squidgy at best. On the Amigo I was able to use the front thigh strap D-rings to hook up the 4-inch footrest pipe (above left) with an adjustable strap looped through. It works fine.
At the other end I’ve separated the toilet-like seat base of my old Alpacka Denali packraft from the backrest section. It clips to the rear thigh strap hardware with mini snaplinks (left). This ultralight seat has already been repaired once by re-heat sealing the flat seam and another hard bounce may pop it again. It’s lasted the sumer but if that happens I’ll come up with something better; any inflatable pad or IK seat base will do. The Incept seat was pretty good, so was the firm-backed Feathercraft Java seat which didn’t fold under strain. Right now, at about 50 grams, the cut-down Alpacka seat base is about as light as a kayak seat can be.
The hard plastic Grabner backrest was comfortable enough to lean on once I added a bit of karrimat, though it kept coming adrift from the lug holes when the bar pivoted down, usually when manhandling the boat, but occasionally on the water too. At sea it’s quite awkward to refit the bar into the black rubber lugs as the hull sides push apart. The only way I found was to face backwards in the boat, swing the legs out into the water and squeeze them against the hulls to repeg the seat bar.
To keep the bar in place while retaining a tool-free, quick detach element I hammered out the outer brass peg and replaced it with an R clip (above left). But that didn’t last too long – one clip bent and fell out and, as expected with footrests, the alloy bar was bending against the strain. I tried a blue seat strap instead (right), but hooking that to the rubber seatrest lugs looked like it put too much strain and distortion them. Ripping those lugs off would be a pain. No way round it but to glue on another two D-rings as I did on the Solar; a 4.5-inch patch has four or five times the glued surface area of the seatbar lugs so ought to take the strain. D-ring prices seem high so I settled on what I knew – chunky Grabner items at €15 each (right). Grabner deliver fast from Austria.
The seat strap was a crude solution so I figured I may as well try a proper, full-height backrest off an SoT. On ebay the ‘heavy duty’ item (left) with long adjustment straps and even a back pocket went for £24 – less than the two D-rings which hold it in place. As far as I can tell the rear straps’ only purpose is to hold the backrest upright, but it’s proved very comfortable – like a proper seat and with no inflation required. I’ll keep the original seat bar for less frequent two-up paddling where I don’t have a footrest to put a strain on it.
So after a couple of months use I have optimised my Amigo by completing the adaptions listed here, making a comfortable and more practical boat for coast hopping and river touring. The cost has been six D-rings £80; seat £24, glue £15, seat base and straps already had; Gumo skeg and patch £24, and two pumps, gauge and adapters £110.