A quick check over my old Gumotex Sunny proved it looked as good as when I gave it away nine years ago. So I bunged it in the car and drove to Tonbridge for the ever-reliable Medway Canoe Trail.
With half a dozen fun chutes to dodge lock portages, it’s about as exciting as a river gets in Southeast England. As the lush summer verdure passes its peak, in places you feel you could be somewhere exotic. It was to be a cooler day promising thunderstorms and violent downpours – a relief and an added thrill after a week of 30°C+ temperatures.
I was going to run at the official 0.2 bar (3psi), paddle for a bit then put some more in the sides to see if I noticed a dramatic difference. But when the floor PRV hissed at presumably 0.2, it felt so mushy I went right ahead and cranked the sides up to around 0.3bar (4.3psi). There was no blazing sun today so it shouldn’t be too risky, and they’ve felt that tight before.
Using my big-bladed ‘whitewater’ Corry paddle, initially it was all a bit of an effort, but that was just me adjusting to the task, not the boat. Soon I found my rhythm and by the way the lush, berry-laden river banks skimmed by, I’d guess I was cruising at 3.5mph. Not bad, but this was flatwater.
The first canoe chute came up, then the steeper East Lock and Oak Weir Lock chutes where local boys were sliding down on their backsides. I often worry that these unsedated teenagers may do something stupid to show off to their mates, like try and jump on my boat from a bridge. But the worst I got coming off a chute was a cooling facefull of splash and a cheeky “Oh, sorry mate!”.
A couple of other IKs were out, including a well-used and now ubiquitous lime green Itiwit which must be the hit of the summer for Decathlon who seem to have anticipated the demand. Passing a camping field, I also observed a new-to-me spin on the novelty inflatable toy theme: a pizza slice. It was inappropriate to sneak a photo, but it nevertheless makes me marvel anew at the sheer joyous breadth of human creativity.
In about 2 hours I reached the daunting sounding Grade 3 Sluice Lock chute which the Sunny swept down in its stride. By now I was feeling a bit saddle sore.
Since I originally owned the Sunny I’ve leaned a whole lot, including the value of solid footrests and a slightly raised seat for an efficient paddling stance and comfort. What came first: civilisation or chairs? When I see pictures of me paddling Shark Bay all those years ago it’s clear I’m sitting too low with feet at butt level, if not even higher due to the sag.
The Aire Cheetah seat which I thought was so hot in 2006 may have been better than the stock seats but is nothing special and doesn’t spread the side tubes out. This helps make the Sunny a slender 30″ wide, but adds to discomfort on the jammed in hips. A pad (or my shoes) underneath the seat would raise me above the sidetubes and greatly improve the paddling position to something more akin to driving a go-kart.
A footrest I’ve yet to reimagine, and may not bother before selling the Sunny. I like the look of the Grabner alloy footbars which are width adjustable and cleverly jam down between the inflated floor and sides. They cost a reasonable (for Grabner…) €80 and come in various sizes for all sorts of Grabner IKs. It might be possible to easily MYO from 1-inch copper tube or something, but welded alloy would be best at the T-join where the stress is.
With leaden skies and near constant rumbling thunder to the north, I was disappointed to dodge a good summer downpour and arrived at Hampton Lock in 2.5 hours, 8 miles and surprisingly not knackered. I splayed out the Sunny like a dissection experiment; it was clean and dry in minutes.
Someone on YouTube made a good point about drying which otherwise seems so inconsequential. When you arrive back from a tiring paddle the last thing you want to do is spend ages carefully dismantling and drying your boat. And drying it back home may not be an option because lack of space was why you bought an IK in the first place! That’s why we appreciate ‘wipe-down’ bladder-free ‘tubeless’, IKs like the Sunny.