There were two things I wanted to try out while paddling the Sigma TXL solo:
• whether the inflatable floor made a noticeable difference to speed
• what effect fitting a front skeg along with the usual back one might have on handling. Would it shapen the tracking to sea kayak levels?
I put in at a handy little slot a mile or so from the house and set off with the usual rear skeg and the floor pumped up and with the nozzle accessible at my feet. All was flat calm in the lee of the light northerly until I turned north at Fox Point into a headbreeze up to Old Dornie harbour.
As before, paddling along I can’t say the boat felt responsive or glided better – it’s a packraft! – but looking later, the GPS record showed I was moving along at a steady 5kph – as good as I’d expect from a boat like this.
I wasn’t sure which way the dropping tide flows through the narrows at Old Dornie (they dry up into an isthmus linking Isle Ristol as very low tides), but now saw it’s southbound – against me but barely noticeable.
Once through, it was a bit more wavy and at Ristol beach I hopped out to fit the front skeg, curved edge forward, as well as the WindPaddle sail on the off chance the breeze might pick up. Then I gave the floor and boat a top-up until it was all pinging like a drum. Had I looked more closely at the skegs on the upturned boat below, I may have guessed what the problem was going to be. The TXL’s bow and stern are symmetrical, fyi, and both patches are glued in identical positions.
Setting off into the wind to carry on round the spit and down the back of Isle Ristol, tracking felt a bit worse, then really became a handful once I turned southwest across the small bay filled with clapotis bouncing off the cliffs.
Here I couldn’t pull two strokes without having to correct, as if I was stuck in some odd current or in an IK with no skegs at all. The wind wasn’t that strong and the tide was nearing slack, but forward progress seemed agonisingly negligible.
Barely in control, I couldn’t put my finger on it and at one moment had that unnerving feeling of a swimmer caught in a riptide. I’ve noticed odd conditions on this corner of Ristol before, so decided to just keep paddling south in the hope of getting out of the bouncing waves.
If I could have easily got ashore to remove the skeg I’d have done so right there, but knew of an inlet 500m further on when I could do just that. With the wind behind me, I thought I might sail my way out or trouble, but lifting the sail the boat just pulled itself sideways to the wind. Very odd. I could not get the boat to point down wind and catch the breeze.
By now the water had settled down a bit and with relief, I slipped into the inlet and pulled off the front skeg (left), then went for a wander and a sip from the burn.
Looking at the pictures later, it’s clear the front skeg digs much deeper than the rear, even if both are halfway out with the air floor fitted (lifting the boat out of the water).
You could say the front neutralised the effect of the back skeg so the boat paddled as if it had no skegs. But that wouldn’t have made it so hard to handle. It was the fact that the front bit deeper than the back – the last thing you want.
Little did I realise that the TXL was in fact moving through the clapotis at 6kph, and even hit 7kph just before I turned into the inlet. It just goes to show how misleading the impression of forward progress can be, even if the shore seems to be barely inching by. Despite my floundering around with the paddle, I was zipping along.
Back on the water normal rear-skeg service was resumed: a few inches of yawing from the bow. I came across a sea kayaking group who, like last year near here, seemed to be drifting around like they were killing time, when they had all these amazing islands to explore. Put your backs into it!
I eased past them in a packraft half as long and more than twice as wide! and set off for the straight, 5-km run to Badentarbet pier. By now my paddling cadence had found a good, steady rhythm.
About half way, opposite Fox Point, I let down the floor and fully inflated my seat. Positioning the big, unattached seat can be a tight fit between the side tubes, but I’ve learned to lift myself on the side tubes and kick it backwards with my heel. You want to be sat in the middle of the cushion, not falling off either edge.
As we found last week near Skye, de-flooring makes the hull go a bit soft, as if the floor was compressing the hull a bit (it certainly makes the boat feel more rigid). In future, better to prioritise hull pressure over the floor.
Did I notice any drag from the deformed floor sheet sagging under my weight? Not really, but after a while the cruise dropped to 5kph. This wasn’t a conclusive test in identical conditions; that might be better done there and back with floor/no floor on a freshwater loch.
It did occur to me that doing paddles like this in a single, 0.5mm chamber boat, there is some benefit to the back-up buoyancy from the floor pad (and up to a point the Tube Bags, when full). It was something I used to worry about much more when I first started packrafting; unsure if these unproven boats might go pop. Time has shown that that does not happen; at worst you might get a slow leak. But out here better to wear a proper foam pfd than a skimpy Buoy Boy.
But I’m definitely in no hurry to use a front skeg again, though fitting it back to front might put less in the water (matching the back), and doing so with no air-floor might put both an inch deeper in the water. I might try the back skeg on backwards next time. More snag-prone but puts more plastic in the water. Anfibio ought to offer a deeper ‘sea skeg’, (easy enough to make).
Anyway, now we know: rear skeg helps for sure but combined with front skeg, not so good; inflatable floor marginal for inshore cruising, but probably needs another test. Either way, this 11-km paddle isn’t something I’d ever have tackled in any of my previous solo packrafts, except perhaps the similar Nomad S1. And considering I’ve not paddled this far alone since last year, I didn’t feel any more tired dragging a yard-wide packrafts than hauling my old IK at four times the weight. And of course I was able to follow the newly ratified Protocols of Packraft: never take-out where you put in.