An old mate got in touch to tell me he’d bought himself a top-of-the-range MRS R2 Barracuda Pro and heck, even my packrafting book. He’s in Devon and I was in Dorset so I suggested we meet up for a Yuletide splash-about. Back in the day we were desert bikers; now we’re packrafters pensioneers.
Like some do with a new activity, Phil had got stuck right into his MRS and had already paddled to Dartmouth with his Brompton (left), something over in Norfolk, then scared himself further up the rain-swollen Dart from Buckfastleigh to Totnes, noting ‘it’s amazing how dangerous the big branches [and fallen trees] are…’
Tell me about it. If it’s not weirs or camo-&-beard anglers spitting poison darts, it’s deadly sweepers blown down by winter storms. I never quite got round to doing the Dart in my fearless prime, such as it was, but I hear in winter it’s one of the Southwest’s whitewater classics – a bit serious for me now. We settled on the Teign out of Newton Abbot with our respective bangers parked at either end.
If nothing else, we ought to have a good backwind. The previous night had peaked at around 50mph, but by dawn it was tailing off to half that, with the usual gusts at +50%, single-digit temps and showers. A good day for a drysuit and a stable packraft.
Some quick stats on Phil’s noire ‘cuda: 3.6m x 99 wide with 217cm inside and up to 7.6kg with the removable deck, two seats and internal storage, all for a hefty £1750. Compared to my TXL, it’s 80cm longer or nearly 12 feet in old money; our Micra’s shorter than that! It’s also 10% wider than the TXL, about 35cm longer inside so loads of room for 2 adults. Solo/no deck it gets down to 5.6kg alongside the TXL’s 3kg.
We drove around Newton looking for parking and a put-in. Opposite the racecourse and over a broken roadside fence we found a spacious river bank just at the Teign’s tidal reach. By the time we set off we were in the middle of a 3.5-m ebb, midway between springs and neaps.
Either way, like the Frome the other day, the Teign was ripping along at a light jog; before I’d got myself untangled from my gear I was 75m downstream. I thought I’d finally got to grips with keeping it all in one bag, but Today’s Forgotten Item was my seat base [forehead slapping emoji]:
‘Gear drifts apart; the centre cannot hold. Mere forgetfulness is loosed upon the world‘. By chance I had a spare Anfibio Bouy Boy which did the job.
The Barracuda has the same distinctive prow design as my old MRS Nomad which was a fast solo packraft, what MRS call StreamLineSL. These prows take up nearly 1.5m in the R2 which explains the massive length while still having a lot of room inside the boat. There’s probably enough buoyancy for four people and a caribou calf, with room for all their gear inside the ISS hull storage.
Before we knew it we’d passed under the A380 and were out in the wide tidal estuary. The predicted 20mph winds came barrelling down the channel so I couldn’t resist flipping out my WindPaddle. With the Barracuda’s mooring line clenched in my teeth I managed the sail while Phil’s phone recorded 8 knots, obviously helped by the falling tide.
There were a few forceful gusts and the fetch kicked up towards the end, but the TXL and Barracuda shrugged it all off and my transverse bow sprit (left) did a great job of steadying the straining sail. I think the MRS has wider attachment points on the bow so may not need it, but I’m sure Phil will be buying a PackSail if Anfibio can do him one in black.
Things got a bit chilly out in the deeper water and I noticed my TXL was creasing a bit at the sides. It’s been so many months since I last used it I’d forgotten high-volume packrafts need a second top up a few minutes in to get good and taut. It didn’t seem to affect speed, but like properly laced shoes, taut feels better. That’s one good thing with Phil’s black boat; it auto pressurises in the pale winter sun. While I sailed, he tucked into his lunch.
The Teign estuary is actually not too industrialised. Under the last bridge The Salty sandbank was starting to emerge from the chop and as we curved round to the river mouth the sidewind pushed us into moored craft caked in algae. At the narrow outlet a rip of bouncing clapotis was jiggling out to sea and on the beach someone was striking poses for their Insta feed.
A little over an hour for 5 a bit miles, just about all of it sailing both boats. It was interesting to learn that the WP could sail two big boats without much loss of speed. Staggering ashore, it felt odd not to be arm knackered, but once I got over that we headed into the deserted seaside town in search of the legendary Teignmouth Beast. That’s a local XXL pasty, not the jet-black MRS Barracuda.