For what they are, D-rings cost a lot on eBay or from RIB shops. Once you factor in the price of proper two-part glue, it adds up, especially if you have a few to fit. But it’s fairly easy to make your own D-rings for your IK to attach gear, thigh straps, footrest mounts and so on.
You can buy metal D-rings by the sack-load, and round PVC or Hypalonpatchesor off-cuts are as easily bought on eBay. (‘Hypalon’ is the same synthetic rubber as Gumotex Nitrilon and Grabner EDPM). Or you may have spare patch that came with your boat. A D-ring doesn’t have to be round but it’s better if corners are rounded.
Pictures below show how to make your own D-rings. This page shows step-by-step how to apply any patch properly.
There are a lot of full or hybrid D/S IKs coming out now, but Idaho-based Aire are sticking with traditional bloat technology with their 2020 Sawtooth upgrade which gets an extra two feet and ‘bold new graphics’ – as they call it in motorbike world. Along with with NRS down the road and with whom they seem closely tied, they’re among the US’s more serious IK makers (both come from the rafting game). Before the Seawave came along I’d considered an Aire IK but was put off by the following: • Expensive (US-made models) • Over wide • Less durable PVC shells • Slow drying bladders • Self-bailing
In other words, as far from a high-end Gumboat as you can get. It was long-extinct Sears IKs who are said to have originally come up with the idea of ‘inner tubes’ supporting a sewn or RF-welded PVC shell in the early 80s – it works like a bicycle inner tube supports a tyre. Aire adopted the idea a few years later which may explain why this method is common in North America but unknown in Europe. The benefits of this type of assembly seem principally economic: quicker, less laborious assembly, although bankside repairs using just sticky tape on the bladder are near-instant. As explained on the IK Construction page, the ‘inner tube’ or bladder system involves easier sewing or RF welding (all shown in this Aire promo video – stills below). This method requires no glues or solvents, like ‘tubeless’ Gumotex or Grabners. Aire likes to spin this as ‘double layer’ but of course they are co-dependant: without one the other is useless. For a recreational packboat user, bladder boats have drying issues because inevitably water seeps in between the two layers and stays there. Owners often complain about this and certainly in a temperate climate like the UK, proper drying would be a pain. It’s a lot of extra faffing to clean and dry than a quick wipe of a tubeless boat. Being rot-free plastic, leaving an IK wet won’t ruin it, the worst might be some mildew or staining, but as with all outdoor gear, storing wet is bad form and may affect durability, especially around sewn seams. Whether heat-welded of sewn, the tough 1000D PVC hullcasing doesn’t have to be watertight. It’s just there to protect the much tinner AireCell™ bladder which is accessed (and repaired or replaced) via long zippers (see boat below) which is the main way water seeps in between the layers. Other downsides include grit getting in between the shell’s floor and bladder. All-round, it’s adds up to more maintenance than a tubeless IK which dries in minutes after a wipedown.
You’ll struggle to tell on Aire’s website, but their budget ‘Tributary-branded’ range is ‘imported’ – a presumable euphemism for ‘China’. That’s a word that’s even more tiptoed around in packboating world than PVC which, in the US, requires a health warning (left) to be sold in California. As always, TheBoatPeople tell it like it is. They had a hand in designing the original 13-foot Sawtooth. US-design with cheaper Asian textiles and manufacture explains the reasonable pricing. It also explains the 1-year Tributary guarantee compared to the mammoth 10 years you’ll get on Idaho-assembled Aire-branded boats with urethane (not vinyl) bladders.
Number are said to be:
Weight: 19kg (42lbs) Length: 4.65m (15′ 3″) Width: 81cm (32″) Payload: 180kg (400lbs) Construction: 500/1000D PVC with vinyl bladders Pressure: 0.17 bar (2.5psi) (PRV in floor bladder) Price: U$ 999
Don’t ask me to explain the hydrodynamics, but a longer boat in the water is a faster boat, providing it’s not ridiculously wide or high nor made from concrete. Longer, narrower and lighter than Aire’s US-made $2000 Super Lynx, the 2020 Sawtooth’s length-by-width factor is a pretty good 5.74 – near identical to a Seawave. (Compare other LWF’s here).
Obviously rigidity has an influence on speed and response, but up to a point a thick PVC IK (like my old Incept) is innately stiffer than more pliable rubber-based fabrics like Nitrilon. This may explain why the Sawtooth can run only 2.5psi (0.17 bar) even in a 15-foot IK, while a Seawave runs 3.6 psi and a Grabner even more. Or perhaps the thin, AireCell bladders (right) can only safely take that pressure?
No footrest is included even though one is needed to brace against for a good paddle stroke. But Aire IKs can have have over two dozen attachment points along their full lengths (left). So besides positioning the seat/s exactly where you want them you can easily clip-in a bit of sawn-down plastic drainpipe, which anyway is better than the mushy inflatable footrests which come with other IKs. While you’re at it, thread in some thigh straps which further improve your connection to the boat for more efficient paddling, especially at sea and in rougher conditions.
Many Aire IKs have an unusual dropped floor (right), partly because it has to be thick to work as a self-bailer. This design also means it acts like a fat keel to help tracking while its buoyancy lifts the side tubes out of the water to produce less drag and so increase speed. The Sawtooth comes with a clip-on skeg (useful at sea) and the Boat People reckon the Sawtooth is one of the fastest IKs around.
The principle of drop-floor/high sides may work, but in a self-baling boat the floor has to be thick anyway sit you up high above the water level. That means you’re less stable unless the boat is extra wide, but the Sawtooth’s width is pretty good (certainly compared to the Super Lynx). I can see the value of self-bailing in a white water IK – I’d sooner have that than a deck. Not so sure in a touring IK. When heavily-loaded or two-up and passing through swell, the boat may fill from below with water. You’re getting soaked anyway, but that’s not really wanted. It’s the other thing Aire owners grumble about. Aire IKs are unknown outside the US and certainly in the UK, and although the numbers and the price of the Sawtooth 2020 are great, for the same $999 in the US, I’d sooner choose a Seawave. Owners’ reviews (old model).
Darn. I put my Seawave on eBay to ‘test the water’ and it went within hours. Still, it’s an excuse to show some of my favourite Seawave shots in five seasons of fantastic paddling. What a great boat that was. Next?!
Until recently Kokopelli were a US packraft brand who started out in a Denver garage in 2012 but soon moved on to full Asian production. Known for their distinctive angular range of yellow TPU or PVC packrafts – long, short, bailing or decked – with the Moki I and Moki II they’ve now moved into IKs. Both these IKs are what they’re calling hybrids: drop stitch floors with conventional side tubes. As always here at IK&P, it’s the solo touring potential of the longer two-seater that’s of interest. The online stats for the Moki II are:
Weight: 24kg (53lbs) Length: 4.3M (14 feet) Width: 91cm (36″) Payload: 272kg (600lbs) Construction: 840D Nylon side sleeves for PVC bladders; 1000D PVC D/S floor Price: U$ 999 (with tandem spraydeck); UK £949
Big, 21.8cm nylon tubes house internal PVC bladders which take a regular 2.5 psi (0.17 bar) while even the D/S floor runs at a modest 4.5psi. That’s actually less than I ran in the side of my uprated Seawave. Can an IK be too stiff? Possibly. Or it might be less expensive D/S flooring which will suit most intended users most of the time. As the Kokopelli graphic below shows, the Moki II is rated as ‘Lake’.
The well featured but non-inflatable EVA foam seats look a bit thin in relation to the floor, but that’s easily altered and they can be positioned securely anywhere along twin velcro bands on the floor, with the backrests braced off the hull top. The footrest/s can be repositioned in daisy chain loops presumably sewn to the side hull casing. The boat also has a dozen D-rings and a big clip-on skeg (tracking fin) plys what looks like a shallow front keel to help the flat floor track straight. A zip-on tandem deck is included in the price, with an optional solo deck available.
At the listed three feet or 91.4cm, both Mokis are pretty wide (one reviewer verified a Moki I at 37″ wide). But something might be wrong with the stated dimensions. If the internal width between the tubes is 35.5 cm (14″) and the side tubes are 21.8cm (8.6″) each, the total is 79.1cm, not 91.4 – nearly 5″ narrower and about the same as my old Seawave – more than wide enough to be stable but nippy. From the proportions of the image above, the actual length looks somewhere between the two. Who knows (TBC), but an over-wide IK, even pitched as a lake boat, is awkward to paddle and slow to respond, but with zero chance of flipping.
Gumotex are moving on up with hybrid drop-stitch technology, originally showcased in last year’s Thaya – basically an old Solar 3 with a D/S floor to make it more stiff. The new-for-2020 Rush 1 and 2 (left) is the ‘Swing Evo’ mentioned in that Thaya article.
‘Hybrid’ is a cool word for a kayak which isn’t full D/S like a Sea Eagle Razorlite and all the clones; assembled from three flat panels of D/S which make boxy hulls (right) and which, according to the graphics on this page, can be sub-optimal in choppy waters. Me, I think the flat, raft-like floor is more of a real-world problem, but read on to see how they addressed that on the Rushs.
Derived from iSuP boards, D/S has become a blessing to IK floor design which hitherto had to use I-beams of parallel tubes (left) which complicates assembly and is prone to ruinous rupture if over-pressured, unless fitted with a PRV or the IK is exceptionally well made.
A Gumotex hybrid IK (below) retains the regular round side tubes of a classic IK for better secondary stability (afaiu) but features a D/S floor for rigidity. However, unique to Gumo, D/S panels are also used on the bow as well as shorter and less obvious panels at the stern. Until I see a boat it’s still unclear to me if this section of the boat is connected to the D/S floor or the lower pressure side tubes. You’d think the floor, so this must help brace the hull structure to reduce longitudinal flex in wave troughs and so enhances rigidity and overall performance – a better, hardshell-like glide. As Lee at The Boat People wisely observes, any hybrid IK with an integrated D/S floor is miles better than boats with separate/removable D/S floors which slip into a sleeve (some Sea Eagles and Advanced Elements). It’s an easier way of doing it, but one which can see potentially ruinous grit collecting between the sleeve and floor. A word about this fabric paraphrased from here: “Nitrilon-Dropstich is composed of a core of 1100 dtx polyester fabric made up of two sheets joined by a mass of threads exactly 10 cm long. Unlike regular PVC-based iSuPs and D/S kayaks, this durable elastomer plastic is not glued to the fabric, but ‘pressure-impregnated’ which eliminates delamination risks more common with bonded PVC coatings. An additional layer of polyester-reinforced Nitrilon is vulcanised to the floor bottoms making them double thickness.”
The Rushs differ from the Thaya (1st gen Gumo D/S) with the panels forming a more ‘hydroformed’ bow – another weak point with regular blunt-nosed tubed IKs. The Rush’s flat floor extends into two bow sides which join up to make a water-slicing wedge sharp enough to cut ripe avocados into wafer-thin slices. This construction is a bit more complex than just a D/S floor attached to two side tubes (like the Thaya and some Aquaglide IKs, for example) and which may help explain the high price.
The vital stats on the tandem Rush 2 are said to be 4.2m long x 82cm wide. Compare that to my Seawave at 4.5 x 78; the Seawave has an 11% better length/width factor (LWF) of 5.77 vs 5.12 over the Rush 2, but those are my Seawave measurements. The side tubes are said to be 19/20cm on the Rush compared to 22 on my Seawave. This and the length may contribute to the load rating dropping to 195kg vs 250 on the longer Seawave. That’s still plenty, unless you’re hauling a moose carcass out of the Yukon. The official weight varies between 15.5 and 17kg, depending on where you look online. The higher figure is the same as my modified Seawave with packraft seat mod.
Pressures are another obvious difference with the Seawave. The 6cm D/S floor runs at 0.5bar (7.2psi), actually a modest level for D/S, but an IK doesn’t need to be as stiff as a iSuP board. The slimmer side tubes are now 0.25 bar or 3.75psi (same as the Seawave) – well, according to the table from the online manual shown below. When I originally wrote this outlets and even the Gumo website listed the usual 0.2 bar/3psi of regular Gumotex IKs but Gumotex just confirmed this was incorrect. 0.25 is a higher than normal IK pressure but not quite as high as 0.3 in a Grabner or the 0.33 bar on my modified Seawave. When you combine that with the stiff D/S floor, the 0.25 bar sides must make the Rush IKs Gumo’s stiffest IKs by far. The difference is, I added PRVs to my Seawave sides before running them at 50% higher pressure to automatically protect them. The Rushs don’t seem to feature any PRVs which explains the warning in the manual, above right. It’s odd but worth remembering that my super-stiff Grabner Amigo didn’t feature any PRVs eitherl, not even in the floor. Quality of construction (gluing assembly) must have a lot to do with it.
When you add any colour you want as long as it’s black, you do wonder if no PRVs is a good idea because in the sun black things get hotter, faster. Black is great for Cockleshell saboteurs, not so good for visibility at sea and it kills photos stone dead. It’s true the Innova-branded Swings in North America have long had black hulls and no one complained. But they run 0.2 bar so could do with some help in stiffening up in the hot sun. They also have fixed decks in red. I also see that many Grabner IKs are now made with black exteriors (right). One assumes the Rush’s grey, lowish-psi D/S floor can handle increased pressures from passive solar heating, especially as it’s in the water most of the time. But the black side tubes will get taught which becomes a nuisance to manage (or worry about), even if tubes/cylinders handle high pressures better than flat slabs. In fact, as you’ll see from the comments below, Gumotex have found that black is not notably worse than red or green in absorbing solar heating and dangerously over-pressurising. And if you’re that worried it would be just as easy to install PRVs in the Rush side tubes, as it was on my Seawave.
Because a D/S floor is flat, one imagines it will hinder effective tracking, despite having a skeg at the back. The flat hull will plane over the water and wander off to the sides like a packraft – the so-called ‘[windscreen] wiper-effect’.
So, similar to Sea Eagle‘s patented NeedleKnife Keel™ (right), Gumo have added a more discrete ‘keel hump‘ under the bow (left) to compensate for the lack of old-style parallel I-beam floor tubes which added a directional element. You can see from the overhead image above that this keel hump is mirrored on the floor inside the boat, either by design or need. This protuberance makes a high-wear point on the IK in the shallows so it’s just as well the floor is double thickness Nitrilon, as mentioned above. It’s the same on any boat. On my Seawave I pre-emptively added a protective strake – a strip of hypalon – to the central tubed rib, though to be honest it never got much wear as i try and be careful. Mine was hardly worn in five years of mostly sea, but you could easily do the same to your Rush if you expect to do a lot of shallow rivers.
Rushs can be fitted with optional decks (green on the R1, above, red on the R2, below), using the same velcro system as the Seawave, with those horribly bulky alloy spars (right) supporting the decking (surely a flexible rod like tentpole material wouldn’t be hard to make). I read on other reviews that they’ve greatly improved the coaming (hatch rim) so that spray skirts attach more securely. The footrest appears to be the usual rubbish cushion but can be adjusted by strap (another idea I like to think Gumo have pinched off me!) and seats can be moved to a variety of positions, too. Seats are now foam, but the base looks a bit thin/low to me. A stiff foam backrest (with side bracing straps) is good, but an inflatable seat base is much more comfortable to sit on because you can vary the pressure to suit the height. Unlike anything inflatable, foam eventually loses its cushioning. But an inflatable seat just doesn’t need to be made of hefty hypalon, as on previous Gumo IKs (more in the vid below). But anyway, a seat is easily changed to suit your prefs.
Below, a review of a Rush by Austrian Steve. Can’t understand a word but some observations: I like his convertible Eckla Rolly trolley/cart/camp chair; also love the lovely long canoe chute at 20:40. Have to say though, I winced a bit at some boat dragging here and there. Do the right thing, Steve; it only weighs 12kg! Note also this shortish boat seemed to track pretty well without a skeg – the frontal keel-hump may be effective in leading it by the nose, after all. But in the comments Steve admits the stiff, flat floor slaps down hard on wave trains coming out of rapids and I suppose would be the same at sea. It’s a drawback of flat, raft-like D/S floors I’ve not considered. See this for an easily translatable written review also in German.
The price of an R1/R2 is a hefty £900/£1200 in the UK, plus decks going from £200/310/370 (tandem). There’s also a rudder kit (price unknown) which will be similar to the Seawave unit. IMO it’s not so useful, even on the longer R2. But like decks, some may like the option.
As you can tell, I’ve been comparing the Rush 2 with my 5-year-old Seawave and wonder if it might be time (or an excuse) to change. An unprecedented five years of ownership proves there’s nothing wrong with my Seawave [anymore]. What are the benefits of a Rush 2? Having outgrown my stealth-gothic phase, black is not such an attractive or useful colour for a boat, and neither is losing a foot in length or 50kg in payload over the Seawave – at least at sea. On a river the greater nippiness from less length will have benefits, but for that I have my Nomad pakayak. As for greater rigidity, it looks pretty good in this clip but my adapted HP Seawave was very good compared to the lower-pressure Gumboats, and it seems the speed (see below) is no greater. Being a bit shorter, I wouldn’t expect it to be. The word is a Seawave hybrid with a D/S floor will be out later in 2020 but that will cost a pretty penny. Maybe I’ll sling my brilliant Seawave out onto eBay and see if anyone bites. [I did and it went within hours. Oh dear.]
The test by Yves Samson, also the Seawave’s first tester, in Saint-Malo in November 2019: Test conditions: in the open sea on the coast exposed to the east of the Grande-Plage, wind force 5, gusts to 6. First impressions: it is well designed, aesthetic, (which was not the strong point of Gumotex), a well-conducted research for the seat and footrest adjustments, which can be adjusted very easily when sailing. Rigid and light, it seduces from the start. On the water its behaviour is very healthy, I dreaded the wiper effect, but thanks to the small inflatable keel from the front, it behaves very well. I have the impression that the side tubes are smaller than those of the Seawave because there is more room inside and it is lower on the water. In navigation, with a good wind of 3/4 before, you go straight without any problem, much less hard to stay the course than with the Seawave. It climbs well on the chop, I have 11km on board very little water (without a deck). You feel like on the Seawave and in total safety. In summary: a very healthy kayak, I think very suitable for solo itinerant trekking. For double use, it is for day trips only, too small for 2 + over night gear. The more negative points: I was a little disappointed by its speed which I hoped to be much higher than that of the Seawave. It is in fact in these rough sea conditions it was barely higher: I averaged with GPS, 5.9 kph over 11km with 5.1 kph against the wind and tide. (BUT I paddled at cruising speed as if I was going on a 30km stage, I never “PLF’d”!).
I really want to go with you Really want to show you, Lord That it won’t take long, my Lord Hallelujah, Hare Rama….
Picked up while scanning the radio on the drive to Tonbridge, there were much worst earworms to be stuck with than George Harrison’s 1970 pop hymn.
I was on the water at Town Lock before 9am on a mid-September day set to hit 25. This was surely, absolutely, positively the very last day of summer. End of! But just after 9am something was wrong. The MRS was saggy and I knew why. Annoyingly, it tends to need a top-up a full 5 minutes in, not just by resting empty on the cold water as I get ready to hop in. I put it down to being a high-volume and thin-skinned boat which takes a while to cool down and lose a little pressure once on the water. Plus, because you sit in the middle – not the back like a normal packraft – you notice the hull sag-crease to either side and feel the flex-bobbing as you paddle. That is why the K-Pump I’d dismissed today is a good idea with the Nomad: it gives the MRS a darn good over-pump before putting in and avoids the need to do it again in a few minutes. I suppose another way would be liberally splashing the boat all over for a few minutes before final top off. Now as taut as a harp string, I set off into the low morning sun, passing trees still in full leaf but slowly losing their sheen. I know that feeling.
Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu Gurur Devo
I’d not done it in yet the MRS but the Medway would ordinarily be a fun-to-do-once southern English river if it wasn’t for the half-dozen jaunty canoe chutes installed to bypass the locks and weirs without portaging. Another way of spicing it up is to race it in a K1 kayak little wider than your hips. The first such bloke shot past me annoying close, paddling so fast he was bobbing up and down like a dashboard doggie. Soon a few others followed, including a double which must have been 22 feet long, and a guy in a plywood Wenonah with a lightning-fast single-paddle switch.
On the walk to Town Lock I’d passed several bands of early-morning Mamils browsing and clacking outside Tonbridge High Street’s 525 coffee shops – a common Sunday-morning sighting these days. But it seems a sub-species has evolved out of the recreational lifestyle gene pool – Mamiks – steely-eyed K1 kayakers, competitive City types going hell-for-leather, a club burn-up belting past at what looked like double my speed. But it seems one thing these slender 18-foot training razors couldn’t do was shoot the lock chutes, even if it saved them minutes of cumbersome portaging taken at a trot. Presumably skimpy and unhinged rudders would snap off, or the pencil-thin boat would get crossed-up on exit and flip like a fish-farm salmon.
By mid-morning there were plenty of other regular paddlers on the Medway: SoTs, canoes (but no SUPs), all enjoying a sunny Sunday on the water. I even spotted two Medway firsts: a wild swimmer bobbing along, followed by a naturist wild swimmer tiptoeing down a bank and finally, another old couple in their brand-new retirement Sevy Riviera which looked uncharacteristically pert. My sweet lord, they’re all out today.
Sweat was dripping from my nose and the back-breeze helped, but I did seem to be going at a good old lick for a packraft. I also noticed that I was paddling like you’re supposed to. I spotted this bizarre development on my last outing: I was pushing forward with my high arm (‘press-ups’), less pulling the lower arm through the water (‘pull-ups’). I was informed of this technique (along with ‘lighthouse’ torso pivoting) years ago by a mate who did a 1:1 paddle-stroke course, but don’t know what’s suddenly brought it on. Maybe I’ve had a knock to the head. Up ahead it was time to line it up and sluice on down the side of Sluice Weir (left and right) – the longest, steepest and sadly the last chute on this part of the Medway. I imagine it’s given many newbies a bit of a fright, but the light and buoyant Nomad sashayed off the end with a shrug. From here it was dogwater all the way to Yalding Tea Rooms where I caught up with a young SoT woman who’d left Town Lock just before me. Following her for a while, she was definitely flagging. I knew that feeling at around this distance too, but not today.
I never know how far this paddle is, or I forget as I circle, gape-mouthed round my gilded bowl. 12 miles? At least 3 hours then, so I thought I might catch the hourly 1.12 from Yalding back to Tonbridge. But by half-eleven I was already upon Hampstead Lock (above), 11 miles according to the official map (below). Take out the breaks and that was a moving average of 5.5mph. Five years ago I thought 3.4 was good. I need to update my avatar. Not bad for a packing MAMIK then, and a great way to end the season.
Really want to show you, Lord that it won’t take long, my Lord Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna
Like many paddlers, when I get out of the boat I’m always careful to hold the lead and move slowly, in case I kick the very light boat away from the bank – an awkward situation if alone, especially on a Pacific island with a typhoon on the horizon. While the Nomad was dripping dry at Hampstead Lock, resting on the beam of the lock gate, a gust blew it into the lock. Bugger! Luckily, it landed right way up, but ten feet down, there was no way I could reach it. Luckily too, it was caught in an eddy caused by the sluicing and right by the wall, not drifting off towards Maidstone. This gave me time to think. I reassembled the paddle and, hanging right off the lock side and holding the blade by the tips of my fingers, was j u s t able to nudge the boat towards some slimy steps, just as a motor boat drew up to the lock, probably wondering ‘What the heck is this chap playing at?’ I’ve learned similar lessons with pitched but unweighted tents: beware the unseen gust; it blows for you.
During this gust-driven mini-drama, out of the corner of my eye I’d spotted some IK activity nearby; something grey and thin; something green and fat. Turned out it was man and boy heading out for a paddle in a Razorlite 393 and a Gumo Swingbot. I’ve not seen the drop-stitch Sea Eagle before (nor a Swing, tbh) and have to say I was impressed by the look of it – and not just because it was next to a dumpy Swing (not one of Gumotex’s finest IKs). Those wide footrests on the RL might well help brace it, as long as knees don’t get in the way. And it had what they call a good fit and finish, but then so it should for a grand. The bloke knew his Gumboats and that a few other brands produced DS IKs near-identical to the RL. He was very pleased with the fast Sea Eagle. I’m still not convinced by the flat floor but one day I’ll get to try one.
Ten minutes after a paddling away from a tranquil Swanage seafront bathed in a Turneresque light (above), we found ourselves battling a stiff breeze rolling off the Ballard Downs on the north edge of Swanage Bay. The odd whitecap scurried by, a sign that the IK Limit was not far away. This felt like more than the predicted 10mph northerly. We dug onward, and once tucked below the cliffs the pounding eased. The northerly was probably amplified as it rushed down the south slope of the Downs and hit the sea. We’d paddled through that turbid patch – a bit of a shock before breakfast. What would it be like once out in the open round Ballard Point? Mutiny was afoot.
“Let’s see how it is round the corner, then decide,” I informed the crew. “Aye aye, cap’n sir.”
We eased around the corner expecting the worst, but were greeted by a magical sight: a line of 200-foot high chalk cliffs receding to a distant group of stacks and pinnacles glowing in the soft morning light and all soothed by a gentle breeze.
It was only a mile from here to Handfast Point aka: Old Harry, passing several stacks, arches, caves and slots. Ever the goldfish in its bowl, I’d got distracted before looking up tide times, but judging by yesterday evening’s paddle around Brownsea Island in nearby Poole Harbour, it was a couple of hours into its southerly ebb. We arrived at Harry’s about mid-tide but with still just enough water to paddle through most of the arches as well as some narrow slots which were already running too fast to tackle against the flow (below). A bit of a tidal race swirled past the Point, but nothing dramatic.
I’ve been planning to do Swanage for years and it was even better than expected. It must have been packed out yesterday on the bank holiday, but today, before 9am we had the place to ourselves. It’s a fascinating geological formation and all the better explored from a paddleboat.
Lit by a rising sun and on the top half of the tide must be ideal timing for a visit here. All up, it was only a two-hour roundtrip from Swanage seafront and in similarly good conditions would be easily packraftable from the north off nearby Studland beach.
Hope to paddle this again, one time.PS: Little did I know that this summer 2019 paddle would be out last sea paddle in the Seawave. Not since my original Gumo Sunny on which I learned and did so much, have I owned an IK for so long and had such fun times. What a great boat that was.
In a line: A huge wheeled duffle which manages to tick all the boxes for packboating.
Cost: £180 (shops from £230)
Weight: 3170g (verified)
Where tested: Up and down the hall
• Durable wheel design
• Rolls up
• Waterproof TiZip
• Non-rigid design is less prone to damage
• Lockable main zip
• Exterior mesh pocket
• Detachable backpack harness for non-wheelable terrain
• Rigid handle eliminates bobbing
• Costs a lot, but so do they all in this size
• PVC feels a little thin
What they say … the Duffle RS is made to withstand the rigours of the most adventurous of expeditions while at the same time offering a high degree of travel comfort. The bag’s heavy-duty wheel system is connected to the body of the bag in a waterproof manner. The 100 mm wheels and the rigid floor plate made of contoured aluminium offer increased floor clearance – ideal for both airport terminals and rugged outdoor terrain. And given the importance of lightweight luggage, especially when travelling by plane, the bag’s designers opted for an adjustable grip that guarantees plenty of leg clearance and comfortable towing instead of a heavy telescopic towing frame. The foam padding at the base of the bag offers enhanced stability when the bag is fully loaded and the watertight zipper that runs across the whole length of the bag gives you quick access to your gear. The zipper can also be locked using the integrated wire loop and a small cable lock (not included).
A year or so ago the axle on my ageing, rigid 100-litre Samsonite collapsed. It had been handy for IK transporting and air travel, but the small wheels were more suited to swishing elegantly through airports than negotiating rough riverside tracks. In need of a replacement for NZ, I chopped down a cheap collapsible trolley and lashed it to my trusty 96-litre UDB sausage bag (left). It worked pretty well and weighed in at just 2.7kg. With airline baggage limits at 22kg or so, luggage weight becomes important, but luggage must also be robust enough to withstand rough treatment, not least by weary baggage handlers. One nifty thing I noted when wheeling my airtight UDB: with its integrated inflation/ purge valve (right), off the carousel I was able to pump it up hard to make the bag rigid and less of a sack to wheel around. Inflatable kayaks and packrafts work on similar principles. But, lacking a rigid frame and handle, it could work itself into an annoying bob when on the move, and the inability of being able to stand it up on end was also a surprising nuisance. Lean it on a wall and it’d roll away.
This bodge was a valiant attempt at not splashing out on Ortlieb’s RS140 Duffle which I knew fitted my needs. A few months later an unused, BNWT RS popped up on ebay about 20% cheaper than the shops, and like the feeble consumer I am, I fell for it. More gear, sigh…
Orlieb does two types of wheeled duffles: the RG series in 34-, 60 and 85 litres with a rigid floorplate or frame (right) supporting an extendable aluminium handle, like regular wheeled luggage. And the more unusual frame-free ‘roll-able’ RS series in 85, 100 and 140 litres.
Wheeled duffles are nothing new: all the major outdoor outfitters do models up to 140 litres (Mountain Equipment). But like the Ortleib RGs, they all use rigid frames for the telescoping handles which can see weights exceed 5 kilos. None claim any level of IP-rated submersibility, and few have a backpack harness which, at these huge capacities, is more realistic than a shoulder or holdall straps. In a kayak and especially a packraft, a rigid bag is a nuisance. Only the Ortlieb RS can be rolled up (left and right) and only the 140 is big enough to easily take a big IK and gear.
With wheeled bags intended for rugged terrain, large 100-mm ø wheels roll over irregularities better and can give better clearance. What’s important is a solid mountingas the wheels will give the bearings or axles a hammering when loaded up on rough ground. The RS’s wheels have a smooth solid feel and have replaceable bearings and the solid alloy plate – effectively part of the axle – also takes the knocks from stones. It’s the full-length TiZip which makes the bag special; IP67 waterproof rated which will do me. because it’s long, getting my Seawave in there was easy and left plenty of room – 30 litres at least – for camping and paddling clobber. If you just want a day transports for a solo IK, the RS 100 will do you. when closed the zip hooks on to a stud and you can slip a padlock under an embedded cable to lock it in place (right).
On the water, the idea is that, once you’ve removed the boat, the bag carries the rest of your camping stuff in a more compressed form with a guarantee that it won’t get wet inside. This makes the RS a truly do-it-all big hauler on land and sea.
At the other end the two-part handle has one rigid part and the other adjustable for length and I actually found the bag rolled along better than my UDB setup. It didn’t bob because of the rigid handle, and it didn’t catch my walking legs either. Inside, a 20mm-thick foam base is glued in to protect the floor from sharp impacts; the floor gets an additional layer of Cordura on the outside too. And the compression straps incorporate a zipped document pocket. The backpack straps are very thin and basic – good for stairs but not really fit for any extended walking. They join up with velcro to make a carry handle and there’s another handy grab handle at the wheeled end. As they’re removable they could easily be replaced with something cushier, but it’s a big load on the shoulders.
Four bag-top tabs (not really ‘daisy chains‘) allow you to lash on more gear, like paddles. And there’s also a handy zipped mesh pocket (left).
I have to say the thickness of the PVC is from regular Ortlieb bags. For something able to carry such heavy loads and getting knocked about in and out of airports, I’d have preferred something more durable. That would of course add to the weight, and one good thing with this stuff is that it’s dead easy to repair, either with tape or a dab of Aquaseal for a small hole.
I hope to take the RS for a proper test spin shorty.
Valves and airtight bags The guy in the video mentions how floppy the bag is when not packed full. Little does he know that, because the RS should be airtight, fully inflated it ought to hold its form and be less of a sack. To do that it helps to fit an inflation valve. The one-way valve on my UDB is actually a nickel-plated Halkey Roberts jobbie – probably overkill if I could even find where to buy it. Whenever I checked in my UDB I always opened the zip a bit so it wouldn’t burst or strain the seams in the decompressed hold. I was over-thinking it. Cargo holds are actually pressurised the same as the rest of the craft; the tubular fuselage shape (right) requires it, same as the side tube of an IK. Yes, it is reduced to less than sea level pressure, but only by about 20%. That’s why occasionally some containers leak a little.
Another good reason for a valve on a bag like this that you can blow it up as a buoyancy aid, either to cross a river, or get to shore after an orca bites your packraft. Either way, for wheeling rigidity or emergency, I think an oral inflation valve is handy when using such a bag for paddling. Just tell me where I can buy one easily.
The plan was simple. Put the IK in at Limehouse Basin where I finished up last week, and take an easy canal-paddle up around what are collectively known as the Bow Back Rivers threading through the Olympic Park, then portage over Three Mills Lock onto what becomes Bow Creek. Here, we’d ride its tight meanders on an ebbing tide down to the Thames at Trinity Wharf. Hard left and, keeping on the north bank (naughty), for what looks like an easy beach take-out at Lyle Park, a mile downstream.
The whole 8-mile run included just two locks to portage. Compare that to 13 locks and two closed tunnels for the similarly long Regents Canal I pack’ed last week.
Things didn’t get off to a great start, but next day we were back and on the water before 8am. We set off up arrow-straight Limehouse Cut. Dating from 1770, it’s London’s oldest canal, built to evade the Lee River’s final twisting meanders on Bow Creek which we hoped to paddle on the wat back. (Very detailed history of this river). Two miles on, a thick mat of spongey duckweed backed up around Bow Creek Tidal Locks. Tendrils of weed caught on the paddles and flicked all over the boat. Bow Creek ebbs and flows right alongside the near-stagnant Limehouse Cut/Lee Navigation, but this was surely once a single river system. The River Lee’s (or Lea) source is in the hazy Chilterns of north Luton, and reaches the Thames via Bow Creek, 42 miles later. The Lee River Navigation is paddlable from at least Hereford (Mile 27.5). In England, a ‘navigation’ in fluvial terms means a public right of way for all craft, with a precedent going back centuries. Not all rivers in England are a navigation.
This whole underused wasteland between Strafford and Hackney was massively redeveloped for the 2012 Olympics, including the two new tidal locks mentioned. Before that, on the spring tide you could paddle up Bow Creek all the way to Hackney Marshes for some fish and chips. But while great for towpath activities, it seems the developers behind the refurbished network of waterways and new bridges didn’t consider paddleboat access either side of the locks. Odd, seeing as it was the Oh Lympics and all.
Our first trial came at Carpenters Road Lock (booking required a week in advance). It has a unique radial design with gates lifting a bit like a bulldozer blade. The CRT is very proud of it. Even though it’s permitted, as a single kayak I wouldn’t expect to use this or any lock; portaging is always quicker. But I would expect it to be fairly easy to get out and portage around a lock, just as I did 13 times or more last week on the Regents Canal. Maybe I’m going soft, but clambering up a 12 feet of rungs set in the canal wall, hauling the boat up, and then carrying it half a kilometre to the next accessible put-in doesn’t encourage paddling. What next; the cliff climbing finale from Deliverance (right)?
Two miles downriver at Three Mills Lock, (which I read was closed for repairs) we had to get up an even-higher ladder jammed behind a derelict? barge. To access the tidal stretch downstream of the lock, the only way was another long wall ladder, but it was behind temporary barriers. I could have wandered on to the Channelsea River to look for an easier put in, but where it joined Bow Creek (right), a cable or pipe to the crane floated across the surface, blocking the way. On a wild river you portage as long as necessary, sometimes miles. But either side of a lock on an urban waterway, how far do you go? To be fair I’d timed the tide all wrong. I thought (correctly) that mid-ebb could be a fast run on the Bow, but in my greed for speed I’d failed to appreciate that at the tidal extent (the lock and adjacent Three Mills Island, left, 3 hours before LW at Bow Creek mouth), mid-ebb has already gone shallow. You’d need ropes to get down to a boat.
I suppose the easiest way to do Bow Creek is to paddle up with the tide and then let it take you back – this must be what local hardshellers do. With a packboat you can dodge such backtracking. But not here it seems. And whichever direction you do it, once you’re in Bow Creek, I don’t think it’s easy to get out of the high-walled channel.
Our East London paddle occurred during a mini-heatwave with temperatures up in the mid-30s. What better place to be than on the water. But not in it: that morning the news reported a staggering three drownings yesterday, all on the Thames and all separate incidents.
Lacking the hoped-for thrill of the Bow Creek finale, the route we took wasn’t so interesting from the water, though would be a nice walk or cycle if you’ve never seen the Olympic Park in real life. From the water, you see a lot of high rises or backs of factories or construction to make more of the former. Even with its dozen or more portages, I found the Regents Canal much more diverse and interesting.
Below, some pictures from our day out.
Limehouse Basin 7am.
A week earlier, covered in duckweed.
A normal-height floating jetty on the east side of the Basin. More of these needed upriver.
Up Limehouse Cut, London’s oldest canal.
Thick weed clogs Bow Docks which drop to tidal Bow Creek for the Thames. But there is no easy way to access Bow Creek from the bank. You must book the lock in advance.
Three Mills Island complex – there’s been a tidal mill here since Saxon times they say. There’s a cafe.
Under the Bow Flyover. The Lee is the notional boundary between the East End and East London. In some pubs it pays to know the difference. Aabout 1200 years ago in Alfred the Great’s time, it was the frontier between Danelaw (Vikings) and Wessex (Anglo Saxon England).
Loads of building all around. London will be utterly brilliant when it’s finished.
How deep is a canal, you ask? This deep, but often less on the sides.
Belladonna and blackberries.
Old Ford Lock (Lee River Nav) to the left. Just after, Hereford Union canal leads back west to the Regents Canal near Victoria Park. We follow the Swan right under the footbridge along the Old River Lea, passing below the stadium. Note the two different spellings of Lee/Lea, Ley being the original Medieval spelling. I realise that nearby Leyton + Leytonstone have the same derivation.
Carpenters Road Lock. How do you get up there? How indeed.
Actually quite easy out of an open IK. Don’t drop the lead!
We could have turned south here under this bridge and taken City Mills River back to the Lee River Nav just north of Three Mills Island and so back down to Limehouse (see map below). A closed loop with no locks which would be an OK canoe or even a SUP. You can rent Moo Canoes at Limehouse.
Instead, we portage for 500 metres to the Waterworks River. A superb trolley surface.
9am – time for brekkie in a park before crossing the bridge. There are a couple of snack huts here.
Round the corner from the lock, yard-high put in on the west side of Waterworks River. Gate by the steps locked for no reason so down the ramp past a site entrance. Below the bridge is a short ladder and the gravel riverbed is only a few inches deep.
The Swan Highway Patrol.
The famously elegant Mittal sculpture – and some twisted red thing on the right.
Once a quick way to tart up old flats, cladding removal now in progress.
You want your water bottle or what?
Awkward and mucky take-out at Three Mills Lock. This is where your 3-metre lead comes in handy.
Good thing with IKs: light and bouncy.
I walked off for a recce all the way down to Bow Locks but found nowhere to put in – not even ladders. This spot above was about the easiest place, but still required clambering over fences to get to a walkway 9 feet above the bank scrub. With all the attendant construction and secretive film studios, you’d need to be quick to dodge the hi-viz jobsworths. This point is just north of the Three Mills complex where…
…you’d pass almost immediately under the Mill building. There’s a very shallow weir at low tides; maybe nothing at higher water.
View downstream on the bridge above that mill race. This is 3 hours before LW at Bow Creek mouth, but even at HW access is still awkward.
Reluctant to retrace the nearby Lee Nav back through the weed morass and down the Cut to Limehouse, I wipe off the duckweed and roll up.
We set off for the hot two-mile walk back to Limehouse.