Author Archives: Chris S

Tested: Anfibio Packrafting Nano RTC packraft review

In a line
Super-light but sturdy packraft with a low-maintenance solution to in-hull storage.

Simple but well-detailed design
210-D fabric feels durable
Optional mini-hand pump works very well and can be deployed on the water
Holes easily sealed from the inside with a stick-on patch
Compared to TiZips, RTC is a simpler, lower-maintenance way to achieve in-hull load carrying
Raised floor lifts paddler, limits wear and may help limit yawing
Like most short packrafts, it’s not a joy to paddle on flatwater for hours
RTC will need care and may need practice to achieve a good seal
Floor is same thickness as hull, not double-weight, as is usual.

What They Say
Extremely light packraft with roll closure (RTC), which enables luggage to be stowed in the tube and thus offers higher transport capacity. Minimal pack size, 1kg light and robust enough for calm and tame waters allow combined adventures with increased payload. Price: €389

Out of the box

This pre-used Anfibio Packrafting Nano RTC came with an optional backrest seat (€57), the airbag, an optional mini top-up hand pump (€10), a strap and 3 patches but no glue or instructions. The latter appear online.
On the IK&P scales the boat alone came in at 1002g. The full seat adds another 237g with the horseshoe seat base weighing 135g. All the other dimensions in the image above closely match Anfibio Packrafting’s own data.

This is not your usual shiny-exterior packraft; the Nano’s coating is instead on the inside like the plain Nano SL model. The woven texture of the 210D nylon fabric still gives a sense of sturdiness which I can’t say I felt with the 75D Supai Flatwater and Matkat we tried a few years ago. Such perceptions are important when bobbing about in the middle of a breezy loch or tackling some light whitewater. Maybe it’s the black colour, but the Nano also managed to look bigger and tougher than the virtually same sized Alpha XC (left) we tried a year or two back.

The RTC is a new idea to Anfibio Packrafting, though I see the scantily described Rapid Raft in the US uses a similar closure. The Nano differs by being a more sophisticated design, with a broadly symmetrical hull made from just three pieces of fabric: hull top; lower hull and floor; inner ring. This adds up to just two long seams which ought to mean fewer chances of errors during assembly as well as less weight. Symmetrical also means you can have the closure up-front (normal) or at the back where, with just four folds rather than five, it creates an elongated stern which adds more buoyancy where most of the weight is and acts as a fixed rudder to limit side-to-side yawing endemic to packrafts. Payload is 135kg.

The RTC has an extra TPU film bonded inside to ensure an airtight seal, as long as you roll it up tight with no wrinkles. Providing it works, as a way of enabling in-hull load-carrying, I’d sooner put my faith in this than a TiZip which must be kept lubed and clean and dried properly to work well.
At the RTC-end you have four mounting tabs on the tube top. On this you can mount Anfibio’s DeckPack, as pictured below. Bigger exterior loads may also be more convenient here if your route includes many awkward portages where carrying the otherwise heavily loaded and inflated boat may be tricky. Otherwise, there’s a tab inside the hull to secure loads and keep them towards the RTC end.
You get seat mount buckles at both ends too, though I found the fully inflated seats jammed in well by themselves. There will be the age-old annoyance of the backrest flopping forward as you get in, but used RTC-sternward you can hook it upright to one of the tabs. This backrest design hasn’t changed since I had my first Alpacka Denali over 10 years ago. What is actually wanted is lumber support which is best achieved from strap-braced backrests, as in my Nomad, but that gets complicated.

No you can’t inflate it by opening the RTC to the wind unless there’s a gale on, but it helps to fluff the boat out, and using the usual airbag, 5-7 scoops fills the boat, after which you top up the one-way Boston valve by mouth. If you find this a bit awkward, I find a section of half-inch garden hose works as a ‘blow-straw’. Or use the top-up hand pump (137g) to get maximum firmness. On the Nano it worked very well and for only €10 I’d say is a worthwhile addition for any Boston-valved packraft. More below.

The RTC cannot be compared to the usual roll closures of simple pack sacks [dry bags]!” proclaims the website, and I can believe them. We all know that Ortlieb-like roll-top dry bags don’t have a proper seal; water will seep through and air will leak out. But the multiple rolling of the film layer, as well as the fact they’ve dared use RTC on a packraft, gives a sense of confidence. Time to get paddling and see if that confidence is warranted.

On the Water

Mid-September and it’s nearly 30°C: too good to pass by so I head for a short run up and down the Medway. Airing up at Sluice Weir Lock, I had a good feeling about the Nano, even if at 95kg I expected to be on the limit, as I was on the Alpha XC. The extra 6 centimetres all round looked enough to make a difference, and one way to help the trim (level) would be to run the RTC at the stern and as long as possible (four folds) while perched forward on the backrest seat option. In the end I didn’t feel the need to do this.

Once inflated by bag and topped up by mouth, I knew the Nano would need a damn good tempering today. A boat firmly inflated by hot ambient air will go soft once cooled in the water. Sure enough, after some splashing the Nano went as limp as a stunned trout. While doing this I was reminded of the indispensability of a bow line to manage a boat at the water’s edge. I hooked the metre-long strap through the RTC (left); better than nothing.
Back on the jetty I tried the two-way hand pump: 20 pumps firmed it up. After over a decade of proven hull integrity, it’s become the norm to top-up packrafts with mini-pumps and not by lung, raising pressures up to 2psi or more. This added tautness is what differentiates packrafts from slackrafts and has a huge benefit on paddling efficiency and satisfaction.

They say don’t overdo the pumping but how are you to know? A well-made packraft may well handle a massive 0.5 bar or more before it blows a seam, but assuming the Boston one-way valve can handle it, I think the mini PRVs I tested the other day would be a useful addition to packrafts. They cost only 4 quid and you just keep pumping away until they hiss, knowing the boat’s reached the valve’s purge pressure which cannot be exceeded. It’s like an in-built pressure gauge. Fitting one to the open-ended Nano (or any TiZip packraft) would be especially easy

I decided to try RTC bow first (it made using the DeckPack easier). Once in the boat I felt fine, though from the pictures it’s clear the trim looks nearly as back-heavy as on the Alpha. Too many pies. But on these recommended ‘calm waters’ that didn’t seem a problem.

Confident I wouldn’t wet myself, I set off 2km up river for Oak Weir Lock, passing some happy Itwiters on the way (left). Those things are everywhere now! Good on Decathlon for satisfying the huge demand this summer.
Within a few minutes it became clear the Nano had cooled further and needed another 50 pumps off a handy concrete slab below the steep riverbank. I also remembered that, unlike my IKs, low-floored/high-sided packrafts want the seat base pumped right up to give height so as to get the paddle over the fat sides.

Back on the move, speed and response increased dramatically, but not having paddled a normal-sized packraft for a while, I’ve forgotten how slow they are, topping out at maybe 2.5mph/4kph. Riverside walkers were outpacing me; normally it’s the other way round on the Medway, albeit heading downstream. Where noticeable, the current here is about half a mile an hour.
I took off to explore some mysterious side creeks which I’d normally shoot past on my downstream burn-ups, careful to avoid the many brambles which line the river here. There’s a perception that the Nano’s textured woven surface could snag a bramble more easily than a smooth one, but should that happen it would be easy to open the RTC and slap a stick-on patch on the inside: the best place for such a repair. The heat and dense, overhanging vegetation reminded me of a boat trip I took years ago up the remote Roper River in Australia’s Top End.

Back out on the main channel and heading upstream, after a while it took some effort to move the Nano along, with the tell-tale bobbing of a soggy slackraft. A squidge of the sides showed they were soft again. More tempering needed or a slow leak, probably from the inexpertly sealed RTC. I hacked on and at Oak Weir jetty and got my weight over the bow to push the RT closure underwater. A couple of tiny bubbles popped up occasionally, but they may have been just trapped air escaping the folds.

The picture above makes it appear worse than it was, and being a hot day on cold water, I felt one more tempering may do the trick. I often have to do this with my bigger Nomad; which takes a good few minutes on the water to fully cool on a hot day. I did my best to check for tell-tale bubbles elsewhere, but anything easily spotted would have seen the boat droop in minutes.

I realised the seemingly redundant hand pump hose was actually ideal for topping up on the water. I reached behind and carefully undid the upper cap of the Boston valve (you don’t want to undo the main valve…), pushed on the pump hose nozzle and gave it another 50 jabs + 10 for luck (about 8-9 litres). With the Nano taught again, I couldn’t resist hopping out and sliding back down the shallow Oak Weir canoe chute which the Nano took in its stride. This boat could easily manage river riffles; the caveat would be too much scraping in the shallows. The exposed fibres can probably take some rubbing but it’s the coating inside that counts. I wonder if spraying a slippery coating (303 Protectorant springs to mind) on the undersides may help reduce possible wear.

I’d asked for the backrest seat option to push my bulk forward off the overloaded stern, but comfort, or a relaxed all-day paddling posture, will take some experimenting. With the unusual raised floor and seat base pumped right up, the now higher backrest had less to lean against so I tipped backwards. I should have tried deflating the seat base a bit.
Even at my height (1.82m) I can still stretch my barefoot legs flat out, when in fact a bent leg is better for paddling. So you might want to fit Antibio’s footrest (as I use on my Nomad), shove a bag or shoes up there, or better still (for trim), put something behind you to act as a thicker backrest and centralise your weight (as we did on the Alpha). However you achieve it, a solid back–to-foot brace improves paddling efficiency which means it takes longer to get tired.

Running back downstream to Sluice Weir felt like it took half the time, and I got there with the boat still firm. I do wonder if wetting the inner film surface provides a better seal, just as licking a suction cup before sticking it to glass. One to try next time.
I also noticed that for a short, wide raft, the Nano barely yaws left to right. Besides my fine technique honed over the years, the profile of the raised floor may help the side tubes ‘bite’, like ice skate blades. Or it may be the subtle protrusions (below) under each end of the boat which my 2.9-m Nomad also has and which are said to have a skeg/keel effect.

Either way I was confident I’d survive the sporty Sluice Weir chute, catching only a cupful of water as I hit the frothing base. With that ticked off, I paddled over to the portage jetty crawled out and aired down. Being a black boat on a hot day, the Nano dried itself off in no time.

Packing the boat up, I checked for seepage into the RTC when it had been submerged for a minute or two. As expected, water crept along the textured outer nylon surface but the inner film was dry, though as Gore Tex will tell you, air can pass where water can’t. If that was the issue, not just heat, I’m sure getting a good seal is a knack that can be acquired.

Conclusion

Providing they can handle the added pressure of a hand-pump, I wouldn’t be surprised to see RTC-type closures becoming more common on packrafts. Using zippers for such a critical seal always seemed a bit dodgy to me, though I’ve only read of them playing up.
Besides that novelty, the sturdy 210-D Nano makes a great crossraft at a price that’s competitive with the thinner Supai boats. It’s very light, compact (3 litres rolled up), comes fitted with enough useful tabs and can be paddled RTC-stern to level off the trim, if needed. Seats are quite a lot extra, but you can sit on your gear, and for a tenner, the little pump is a no-brainer to get the most from your boat. And if the Nano’s RTC arrangement is not for you, choose the conventional Nano SL costing about 15% less. Either could make a great entry-level packraft or an ultra-light crossraft.

Testing unbranded mini PRVs

See also:

IK valves and PRVs
Fitting 4.8psi PRVs to a Seawave

I fitted over-rated 4.8psi Ceredi PRVs to my Seawave’s side tubes a few years back. I like the idea of not having to worry about the boat getting hot in the sun (and exploding), just as much as gaining some extra rigidity by fitting PRVs rated a little higher than recommended side tube pressures.

I bought a pair of unbranded Chinese PRVs off eBay (<£9 posted – about 30% of Ceredi/Leafield prices) to consider for my next IK. Some sold on eBay don’t even mention the purge pressure! These ones did: 4psi or 0.27bar, just a bit over the 0.25 of the boat I have in mind.

Out of the bag, the quality of the molding looked no worse than a Ceredi. I was a bit surprised they’re smaller than usual PRVs, (the listing gave these dimensions), but what does it matter as long as they work.
I worked out a way of testing them by removing the backing ‘nut’ and screwing the ‘male’ PRV housing onto a rubber motorcycle throttle grip. The other end of the grip I jubileed to the barrel pump nozzle.
Pumping the pump, the pressure built up and PRV ‘burped’ suddenly at an indicated 0.4 bar. But as my manometer needle zeros at 0.1 bar and not zero, we can probably subtract that 0.1 and call that 0.3 bar which is 4.34psi. Close enough to 4psi. Now I can fit these PRVs with confidence.

The hole which must be cut in the boat to fit this valve is 24mm ø, but to get the back nut inside the hull you’ll need to go in via the larger inflation valve aperture. So cut the PRV hole close to the inflation valve. Once loosely screwed together, the knurled outer housing can be tightened with some wrench or another.

Tested: Kokopelli Moki II inflatable kayak review

See also : Moki II preview

In a line
Good-looking, roomy, high-pressure package that’s as wide as a packraft and turns like a tanker.

Good colours and design, as IKs go
You get everything in the bag except a paddle
Removable DS floor for easy rinsing and cleaning
Adjustable footrest tubes and useful velcro tube-top paddle holders
Massive 12-inch tubes mean payload is probably as big as claimed
Slow to turn and unresponsive to steer
Nearly a metre wide
Thin, hard seat bases
Too bulky and heavy for easy travelling
Massive 12-inch tubes mean not that much room inside at either end
Error-laden Kokopelli online specs [at time of review]

What They Say
The innovative Moki II two-person inflatable kayak offers an option removable spraydeck and sprayskirt. Giving you even more paddling options, seamlessly convert from a one-person to a two-person boat by simply adjusting the seats. Weighing 53lbs, the Moki II features a 2 person spraydeck removable spraydeck and 2 Alpine Lake Sprayskirts, high pressure rigid drop-stitch floor, user friendly push-push valves, 9” removable tracking fin and packs down seamlessly to fit into the included full-size premium carry bag. It’s ideal for flat open waters, touring, and ocean paddling. 

Out of the bag

Your ‘premium carry bag’ is a giant roller suitcase with a rather optimistic backpack harness and, on this unused boat, the pulling handle was already coming away. The bag weighs 27 kilos with everything in it and once you start unpacking, stuff just keeps coming out: hull, floor, pump, footrest, tandem deck, spray skirts and coaming rods, a skeg and a repair kit.

Weight: 24kg (53lbs) • Full kit in bag 27kg (59.5lbs); boat with seats 21.5kg (47.4lbs)
Length: 4.3m (14 feet)
Width: 91cm (36″) • undecked 99cm (39″); with deck 96.5cm (38″)
Sidetube ø: 21.8cm (8.6″) • 30.5cm (12″)
Payload: 272kg (600lbs)
Pressures: Sides 0.17bar (2.5psi); DS floor 0.27bar; (4 psi) • Set-up leaflet says: sides 0.27bar (3-4psi), floor 0.69bar (8-10psi)
Construction: 840D nylon inner/top; PVC tube undersides and floor skin; PVC bladders; 1000D removable PVC DS floor.
Price: U$ 999; UK £950

Based purely on online photos and specs, my Moki II preview a of months ago brought up anomalies with the boat width. Getting an actual boat allowed some of these specs to be verified in red, above. Some are out by 50% and the claimed packed size of 29″ x 14″ x 13″ is more like twice as wide. You can tell from the rambling, repetitive ‘What they Say…’ quoted from the same page above that it was hastily put together. That’s a shame as from first appearances, this cannot be said of the boat itself. And from the exceedingly low psi figures quoted, it’s not like it’s the usual ‘tactical exaggeration’ to make the Moki II look better than it is. You’d hope someone at Kokopelli might find ten minutes to correct the online specs.

Enough moaning: time to man the pump and straight away I really liked the compact black Nano barrel pump. The feet clip down, T-handle extensions screw on, there’s a lever to switch from two-way pumping (up and down) to down-stroke-only (less effort), plus a pressure gauge on top and a not-really-needed suction port for full deflating. It’s one of the best compact IK pumps I’ve seen. Kokopelli don’t list it but if you can find it online (the Aqua Marina looks similar), get one.
I was easily able to inflate the DS floor to 8-10psi on the two-way setting but later, topping up on the water with the pump on the boat’s DS floor, found one-way easier to do one-handed. Being a small volume pump of about a litre, the 12-inch side tubes took at least 100 strokes to reach 3-4psi. The inflated boat now looks pretty massive so the 270-kilo payload rating does not look like a mistake or exaggeration.

It was here I realised I should have RTFM, but then again I like to follow my intuition and see if it works. I had to re-deflate the sides to allow the pumped-up floor to centre correctly. Unlike with Full DS IKs, the Moki’s round side tubes hold the floor firmly in place without the need for any clamps or tabs.

The top/inner parts of the hull (mostly yellow, grey at the back) are woven 840-D nylon, possibly backed with a PU coating for waterproofness, and certainly with a water repelling DWR coating on the outside. This stops the fabric ‘wetting-out’, although from jackets and tents I know DWR needs reproofing and curing with an iron once in a while. Without it, the nylon will soak up water and take forever to dry. Full PVC (or rubber) tubes are better in this respect but nylon makes it easy/cheap to sew on fittings like the velcro paddle-holders, footrest daisy chains, carry handles and D-rings for the seat backs, plus short access zips at each end to get to the PVC bladders, if needed.

They yellow sides are stitched to the grey PVC underside of the tubes and the PVC floor sheet is heat welded to the tubes: all very neatly done. This is the nifty thing with PVC: surgically clean heat welds rather than the laborious, messy and vapourous glue needed by rubber-based IKs.

Apart from the crinkles at the bow and stern (which have thin plastic shells inside to help tidy the form), it’s all a very neat job. On the underside is the slot-in mount for the tracking fin (skeg), a stern drain plug accessible via a zip from the inside, and up front a shallow keel strip: more about that later.

Next are seats and footrests – no loose item here escapes ‘Kokopelli’ branding. The firm EVA foam seats are common on many IKs these days, but stiffness is best suited to a backrest, not a 4cm-thick seat base which, sat on a firm DS floor, may be too low for a an efficient paddling stance and too thin for all-day comfort. It’s something easily fixed with an inflatable cushion like a packraft seat base. More seat ideas here. The generous width of the Moki II means raising the seat is unlikely to affect stability.
The seat bases adhere to velcro strips sewn then welded to the DS floor. It’s an easy way of doing it while the velcro lasts. I found when sat in the front I was right at the end of the velcro; another foot would be handy, then you could fit a third kiddy seat in there.
A non weight-bearing backrest is a better use of stiff foam. They’re tensioned from the front and rear to stay upright; a floppy seat base is very annoying when getting in is awkward. Wide adjustment helps you fine tune them and on the back you get a handy zipped pocket and bottle holder.

The footrests are thick foam tubes commonly found on cheaper Sevys the like, and are threaded with a strap which clips to daisy chain loops stitched to the hull sides. Unused loops could also be used for securing gear because mounting anything under the bungie laces at either end of the boat is not such a good idea for forward visibility, accessibility, security, dryness and windage. These bungies are more useful as a quick way to stash a paddle.

Set up like this, the boat is a brawny 39 inches wide (99cm) but adding the zip-on deck and coaming rods pulls the boat in to 38 inches. Including a deck is a nice touch, so is the option to use it. On IKs I find them rather less useful than they seem: they make access, loading and getting in and out more awkward and if you’re worried about getting wet, paddling may not be for you. Once you pull on the also-included spray skirts you will be snugly encased in your Moki and ready to hit the rapids or surf. I’d have sooner had these items offered as optional extras, as most others do, and seen a cheaper boat.

On the Water

Initially the Moki 2 looked huge, but it’s actually a foot shorter than our old Seawave and so didn’t look too out of place on the car roof. We set off in search of a accessible fresh water and after a while found a trio of co-joined lochs off the B8073 feeding the steam which soon drops into Tobermory.

Topping up the Moki II on the water (all inflatables benefit from a top-up once put into cold water), the barrel pump stood on the firm floor and with one handed, one-way down-pumping, it was easy to attain the 4/10psi (0.27/0.69 bar) maximum pressures. This is Scotland in late August so there was no risk of the blazing sun bursting out ripping the boat asunder.

I set off without the tracking in and, as expected, found my front load on the keel strip make for tricky tracking. The deck was easy to manage but to me is a nuisance. It zipped off in seconds and got left on the bank.

It may be a metre-wide bladder boat but it’s still a kayak and so feels great once gliding out over the water with a splish-splosh, splish-splosh. The Moki II needs a bit more propulsion to what I’m used to, but the mattress-like stability will be reassuring to beginners.

It was only flat water so the apparent stiffness from the DS floor and high-psi side tubes didn’t feel any greater than my 2.5/4psi Seawave. Unless you’re braced properly to the boat (the problem with just about all IKs) there is little actual benefit to be had in paddling efficiency, just the longer glide. In rougher water you imagine it might come down with a slap as it drops into wave troughs. According to the GPS the two of us could sustain about 5-6kph which is pretty good, but an all-out burst only recorded 8.4kph (5.2mph) when I’ve got 10kph alone in similarly long but less-wide IKs.

It soon became apparent that the Moki II tracks rather too well; something I’ve heard of other DS IKs with frontal keels or fins. Turning it even a few degrees was a huge effort. In the end we had to resort to digging the paddles in and drawing them forward to force the boat round. The problem with this technique is it kills momentum, though it’s possible you’d get used to working the boat in a less drastic manner.

You also notice that two-up there’s not much room for gear because the side tubes are so fat. The last foot or two at each end can’t be used much – again a common story with big-tubed IKs, if not any pointy ended kayak.

We scooted through the reeds which whined like sirens against the PVC hull, then passed under a rickety wooden bridge to the middle loch. This led to another reedy strait into the last loch above Tobermory and a view towards what was probably the 528-m flat cone of Ben Hiant over on Ardnamurchan. The sun came out, the sun went in and eventually the little camera’s batteries died after too much videoing.

Next evening promised to be sunny too, but it wasn’t. I wanted to explore more the slim sea loch at Dervaig and had timed our put-in at least an hour after low tide so if the narrows leading out to sea turned into the Falls of Lora we’d get swept back in, not out into the Minch. The 10-minute portage over the tidal slime raised some grumbles from the crew not used to lugging 25-odd kilos of packboat across the mire.

I managed to wade through some shoe-sucking, shin-deep sludge to reach enough water to float on without the 9-inch fin, then paddled over to somewhere deeper where the crew could hop in and the fin get fitted. First thing I’d do with this boat is cut that fin down. Another issue I noted is that the woven yellow hull fabric may shed water readily, but picks up any smeared muck rather well. More cleaning before returning to the rental place tomorrow.
We headed out towards the narrows in the grim, grey light, feeling altogether uninspired.

‘The tide is going out, we’re all going to drown!’

‘It’s just the breeze over the surface. There are no times for Dervaig but Calgary to the south and Tobermory to the north were at low water nearly 2 hours ago.’


‘I’m telling you, the tide is going out!’

As we neared the malignant, 80-metre wide cleft on Loch An Chumhainn, ominous whorls bubbled up from the silty abyss and on entering the chasm the flow was clearly on the ebb.

‘I told you it was going out. Idiot!’

‘You watch, any minute now it’ll miraculously reverse, like it did on the Adur last week.’

I know tide times are only predictions but this was indeed odd and yes, I checked against BST/GMT and checked again I’d not misread 16.46 as 6.46pm. The tide should have been coming in for 90 minutes. I’d expect a constricted sea loch like this one to be a slow to fill and fast to drain, like Chichester Harbour in Hampshire. But that is a massive pool, Loch Chum is tiny.

We were now being swept down the Narrows of Chum at a slow walking pace and it was time to make a decision. Carrying on would take us two clicks to a jetty at Criog which we’d recce’d that morning on the bikes. That would be a long walk back to the car, so we dug in for a handbrake turn and escaped from the imminent maelstrom at a reassuring clip.
I recently read a review of a Sea Eagle with a frontal keel lobe which the owner said made the boat very hard to control against a current (as you’d expect). With the Moki II we had no such issues. There is not so much to explore in the inner bay but the tide would now be even lower with even more seaweed-draped, ankle-twisting shite to traipse over before getting onto to the ankle-twisting, midge-infested peat bogs above.
Wading in after the fin started grounding, in the end we found an easier take-out, followed by a 10-minute portage back to the car. I need to ask a Dervagian about these tides.

That evening I rinsed and washed the boat, but with little chance of it drying off any day soon. The removable floor made the task easier and the muddy smudges on the yellow fabric lightened up with a bit of brushing. I couldn’t be bothered to check if the inner bladders were dry as there was little I could so about it.

Summary
The Moki II isn’t an IK I’d choose to own: too wide, too bulky and heavy, probably too slow solo, too bladdered and too pricey with the unneeded accessories. But it’s roomy, stiff, yellow and like any IK, is fun to paddle.

Some similar DS-floored IKs

Measurements unverifiedWeightLengthWidth
Aquaglide Chelan 140 HB38lb / 17.2kg13′ 9″ / 4.2m34″ / 86.3cm
Decathlon Itiwit X100 3-seater39.7lb / 18kg13′ 5″ / 4.1m40″ / 102cm
NRS Star Paragon Tandem59.5lb / 27kg15′ /4.6m35.5″ / 90cm
Gumotex Thaya39lb / 17.7kg13′ 5″ / 4.1m35″ / 89cm
Sea Eagle Explorer 420X48lb / 22kg14′ / 4.3m39.5″ / 1m
Advanced Elements StraitEdge2 Pro41lb / 18.6kg13′ / 3.9m35″ / 89cm
Aqua Marina Steam 41235lb / 16kg13′ 5″ / 4.1m31.5″ / 80cm

Kayaking the tidal River Adur

See also: Bic Yakkair Full HP

In the beginning when I was keen to try anything, I paddled Sussex’s River Arun and the upper Rother too. Neither made me want to rush back to tick off the other tidal rivers of southeast England. You feel you’re in a sunken, silty, reed-chocked ditch passing below treeless agricultural land and with limited, muddy take-outs.
But Robbo was taking his Full DS Yakkair for a burn up; a good chance for me to check the boat out as well as try something new. He’d worked out the tides: putting in on a 6.5-m spring tide at 11am in Upper Bedding (the former medieval port of Steyning) would scoot us up 10km to the tidal limit under the A281 bridge near Shermanbury.

In Beeding there’s a free car park at the east end of the village by the playing fields (maybe toilets), plus a garage and a Subway nearby. Arriving with Kahuna Steve at the steep east bank just south of the bridge at 10.30 (above), the river was flowing downstream like rivers do and faster than we could paddle against it. Had we timed it all wrong? But by the time Rob and his two young chums were on the water with us an hour later, the moon was doing its work and the river was flowing as fast in the opposite direction, backed by the southerly breeze pushing through the Steyning Gap in the South Downs.

Yes it’s another tidal Sussex ditch with lots of day-amblers either side, but who can complain being on the water on a sunny day in a boat you brought in on your back and gangs of menacing swans to dodge? Robbo was spinning like a break-dancing turtle in his tiny Twist, Steve was piloting his old Feathercraft Kahuna, the folder nursing a broken plastic rib from last year’s Danube run. And E&L were in Rob’s dropstitch Yakkair which you can read about here.

As we cruised effortlessly northward, the chat subsided and the river got narrower. Reeds and fallen trees closed in to just a boat’s width at times. Upstream I noticed a couple of access steps on the west bank – maybe private but the only way of getting off the river with some elegance, if needed.

We reached the fork in about an hour 20. Northwest leads to Bines Bridge, romantically depicted by renowned 1960s illustrator, Michael Codd. Look him up: he’s rendered loads of idealised Sussex illustrations from the late-medieval iron ore industry right back to Neolithic hunting scenes.

Taking off up the east arm, very soon a submerged weir slowed down the three skeged IKs. The Yakkair needed a lift over. Then a fallen tree appeared to block the way but the boats squeezed through. Here we met a local couple in their new Itiwit 3-seater. These must be the most popular IKs around right now, maybe because Decathlon were able to meet the huge demand after the first lockdown this summer.

From here the scenery picked up briefly. The fields didn’t run to the water’s edge and riverside willows dangled over the stream. We reached the four-arched bridge near Shermanbury about 2pm for a snack (easy take out on the right), but had it in our heads we should turn round pronto. It soon became clear the spring tide here kept rising up to 3pm, a full 2 hours after Shoreham, maybe pushed up by the day’s wind.

The weir bar that has been six inches below the surface on the way up was now two feet under. Good to know The wind had strengthened and was now in out face so there was nothing left but to have a work-out. Steve and I pulled ahead as gradually the flow turned our way; the Downs making a good marker for where we were headed.
We got back in about an hour 30 and managed to crawl out without covering ourselves and the boats in mud. As Steve sagely observed, anywhere else in the world there’d be a civilised jetty to encourage paddling.

About the Adur tides:
High tide in Upper Beeding (Steyning) is about 45 minutes after Shoreham and about 2 hours at Shermanbury. That brings up the brain-twisting notion that water levels are rising upriver while falling at the estuary. Somewhere a spooky patch of slack water is migrating silently upstream.
With a skeg the weir bar is submerged enough about an hour before a high spring tide at Shermanbury bridge. Neap tides may not submerge it so just take the left fork towards Bines Bridge and see how far you get.

Next time it would be fun to start in Shoreham, at least 7km downstream from Upper Beedimng, and take more time at the top end – maybe at the Bull Inn near Shermanbury bridge – before riding the current and tide all the way back. You’d hope there’s a mud-free take out or slipway somewhere in Shoreham harbour.

Paddling with a Yakkair Full HP2 dropstitch IK

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French paddleboat, board and ball-point dinghy manufacturer BIC Sport joined the full dropstitch (FDS) market a couple of years back with three models of Yakkair Full HP: the 1, 2 and le trois. Made in Vietnam, the 2 goes for at least £1200 in the UK.

Yak owner Robbo uses an ultralight ripstop, rip-cord
paragliding backpack-bag for his Bic.

The ‘Full’ is an important addition to the name which gets emblazoned on the hull, because the previous Yakkair models (above right) were just called HP 1, 2 and maybe 3. They had a DS floor between regular round side tubes.
The old models didn’t really jump out off my IK radar; they looked too much like some Advanced Elements IKs. But looking at the inset diagram above, it looks like they tried to address the flat-floor with a keel tube tucked underneath the outer shell.

On the water under the weight of a paddler it supposedly deformed to produce a double concave profile – a bit like the Kxone/DS Kajak AirTrek floors – and which looks like it will work better than a totally flat floor. Even with a skeg at the back, this barge-like flat floor common to DS IKs does make me wonder how they’d handle or track.
Bic owner Robbo has a variety of slip-on skegs and for this run he selected a medium in orange.

You get two clip-in SoT contoured-foam seats which have a well-braced backrest but, with bases an inch or two thick, won’t raise the butt above the ankles to give an efficient paddling posture, IMHO. Many IKs are like this out of the box, but raising or replacing the seat base is dead easy. I put my shoes under my Sunny seat: much better, but really you can’t beat an inflatable seat base like a packraft seat.

For solo use it looks possible to position the front seat back to the next D-rings, except there’s nowhere to clip the foot brace, which on the Yakkair are just a couple of padded straps. You could maybe use the front seat mounts. A good way to make a firmer and more effective foot brace is to slip a bit of 4-inch ø plastic drainpipe over the strap (right).

At each end you have two chunky carry handles as well as those fairly useless elasto-nets so common to many IKs. What would you put there that wouldn’t be more secure and more accessible lashed down by your feet or behind you? Not needed today, but the Yakkety Yak has a dinky slip-in spray visor up front to keep the splash out.

Talking of splash, I was keen to see the notorious side-floor join I wrote about. Sure enough, the Yakk’s floor is glued to the hull casing floor beneath and taped the side panels. But not all the way and so water and crud will run into the cavities at each end (below left) and then run down behind the tape along the sides. You could get rid of most of it by standing the boat on its end and opening the drain at the stern. And if you think there’s a lot of grit and other debris in there, hose from the top and let it run down the inside edges and out the drain. As for drying: that will take as long as it takes.

Sat inside, the boat is over half a metre wide because so much space is saved by the flat DS panels. But measured at 87cm wide (33.5″), the FHP 2 looks a bit on the wide side. Many FDS IKs look the same but have various widths: the HP2 seems about average. The much cheaper Decathlon Itiwit X500 is an unnerving 64cm, but even it seemed pretty wide when I looked at one in the shop. My Sunny was some 20cm less wide – and that’s with round tubes!

yakfhp2-4way

Flipped over, the bow looks a lot better formed than a typical full-tube IK, perhaps to compensate for the flatter floor. It’s actually a solid plastic moulding so should be immune to wear as the boat comes in to shore. But coming back down the Adur into the wind and against the flow, E & L had some trouble tracking straight. The two of them combined probably weighed less than me and with the featherlight L in front, the lifted bow was not cutting down through the water – the trim was out. Swapping seats with the heavier E up front would have fixed that, but it was thought the more powerful paddler should be at the back. Kayaking lore seems to agree, though two-up in my IKs (same-ish length) my generous mass is better distributed up front. To me it’s obvious: better to have the larger mass (my torso) towards the centre of the boat, not the stern.

Watching the Yakk navigate 20-km of flatwater for a few hours didn’t me inspire to even ask for a go, far less to own one. Used to being snuggly jammed into IKs & Ps, the canoe-like width and low seats put me off and set-up was without footrests would have made it too much like sitting on a log. L & E were first-timers in this boat afaik and initially found it tippy though soon got accustomed (they looked pretty relaxed).

The quality of assembly certainly corresponded with a four-figure IK and it sure looks less bloaty than a Decathlon Itiwit we met – the IK sales hit of 2020. I suspect this image is the attraction to many FDS buyers, but for me the water and grit-trapping cavities would add extra maintenance, even if it wouldn’t be that hard to fabricate and glue in a PVC cone to seal them off for good. Then you could simply rinse, drain, deflate, wipe off and dry the Yakkair like a regular tubeless IK. And the other drawbacks: seats; footrests; thigh straps are easily added. The you’d have a stiff and spacious tourer with great paddler ergos.

New Yakkair HP1 owner, Kevin A, adds:
Having just bought a Bic Yakkair Full HP1 to replace an ageing Walker Bay Airis which has become porous after about ten years of excellent service, I was very interested to read this review and I thought I would add some early impressions of my own boat.  So far, I have only had it on the water once because I have ordered a new combo paddle which can be a kayak paddle, a canoe paddle or a SUP paddle – I generally prefer using a single canoe paddle but the one which I have been using for years is a bit too short for the wider new boat.  You mention the width of the HP1 in your review and you say that you prefer a narrower boat but, for me, the extra width was part of the attraction.  I’m not sure yet about how it affects the stability and handling but, tbh, I just prefer the appearance of the wider boat even though, as you suggest, it does make a footrest essential so that you can brace yourself better – in my other boat, I was held fairly firmly at the thighs by the narrow interior.  The footrest which came with my boat seems to be a bit more substantial than the one you describe in your review.
Looking around at the various marketing pictures, I think some of the details of the package are a bit variable and maybe the footrest falls into that category.  But the biggest difference I have spotted is the style of the carry bag for the boat and I have to say that the carry bag which I have been supplied with is fantastic.  It is superbly well made and looks like a fairly upmarket piece of luggage – on the occasions when I take the boat on public transport I will no longer feel quite so conspicuous (the downside – there’s always a downside! – is that the bag itself adds weight to the whole package).  The real surprise about the carry bag is that it swallows up the entire rig – hull, paddle, pump and seat and there is still room for all the normal bits and pieces of personal kit.  The downside of that, of course, is that it is very big and only just about manageable by a single person – there is definitely no chance that it will ever be carried on my back using the excellent quality backpack straps which are part of the bag’s construction (I’m seriously tempted to cut the straps off).
The only area which I still have to work out is, as you say, how to deal with getting the water out of the joints between the three panels.  I’m not sure that the material itself will absorb much moisture and I’m hoping that removing the end plug and propping the boat up on end for a decent length of time (half an hour?) will allow the joints to drain pretty thoroughly – if necessary, I will have to re-inflate the boat at some point in order to ensure that it is completely dry.  By the way, I think that the so-called self-bailing drains are only really intended for use in seriously white water when the boat is in danger of filling up completely – in those conditions, it would be quite normal for the boat to have quite a lot of water sloshing around but the self-bailers would help to keep the level down (I only ever paddle on flat water so I have no idea how effective the self-bailers are in practice).
Happy paddling!

Sunny 2020 on the Medway Canoe Trail

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.

Gumotex Sunny 2020

Sunny Index Page

I sure do regret selling my Seawave. Lockdown-related production delays as well as travel-dodging staycations plus, in the UK at least, a hot summer, have seen Gumotex Rushs and a lot of other decent IKs become out of stock till the autumn. As a result, used prices have shot up. The other day a 20-year-old Sunny (below; in very good condition it must be said) went for £325 on eBay! If you have an old IK rotting in the shed, now is the time to flog it!

Chances are that old Sunny has another 20 summers in it. The Nitrilon from that era was more raft-like and one likes to think fewer corners were cut (as the 2007 LitePack Outrage proved). Something happened to Gumotex around this time: maybe someone new took over or got involved. Within a few years Gumotex prices soared as more sophisticated models were released. But not all of them: today you can still buy the Sunny’s lo-fi descendant, the Solar 3 (aka; Solar 019), a 0.2 bar, three-tube dinosaur, now 4.1m long.

I bought my 3.9-m Sunny from boatpark.cz in 2005. Stuck for a kayak in 2020, I asked the mate who I gave it to in 2011 whether he’d like to give it back. With his kids now young men and the boat unused, he was happy to oblige.

Unpacking, the Sunny was covered in damp sand and with the valves open. Some people just don’t know how to look after their boats! A quick hose down and it looks in great shape, less faded than my Seawave. Some of my old D-rings applied with crappy Gumotex glue have come adrift and there’s UV-discoloured factory glue at the seams, but the colours are still pretty bright and no seams are lifting.

I forgot about those annoying black twist-lock inflation valves with the annoyingly stiff dust caps. I blew the grit out and plugged in the aged Bravo bellows which is now so soggy it struggles to set off the PRV at 0.2bar with me putting my full weight on the pump. Was the PRV seized? I hooked up my new two-way barrel (with home-made manometer) and in seconds the PRV is spewing sand and spray. I keep going to blast any remaining crud out then give the sidetubes a taught 25%-over, 0.25 bar. Nothing rips or explodes.

I fall into the modification/improvement trap and consider replacing them with current Gumotex Push-Push valves, and even adding PRVs in the sides, as on my Seawave. But I remind myself valves can be tool-breakingly stiff and I’ll probably keep the Sunny until a Rush 2 becomes available, or maybe the rumoured DS-floored Seawave is released. That won’t be until autumn.

My clip-in Aire seat with crucial backrest supports glued on to the sidetube tops (as on the current Solar, above) works better than the crumby originals which folded in on themselves as you lent back (see the eBay Sunny, above). But with sidetube supports my Amigo / Seawave system: packraft seatbase + SoT backrest would be lighter, adjustably higher and more comfortable. Again, it’s not worth mixing the glue up unless I decide to keep the Sunny as a spare.

The long strap loop running clipped to the seat base via the second seat mounts used to clip to a small Peli box which doubled as a footrest. I remember now: to use solo you flipped the front seat to face the other way, replaced the back seat with a footrest pillow and moved the skeg to the other end. That’s why my boat unusually has the valve and PRV at the front. But for a good brace the reach was too great, even for my legs.
I prefer my plastic drainpipe idea but that needs a couple of added D-rings. As it is, the seat could probably go back a bit further for solo use, so it may have to be a box or some other bodge, as my legs definitely won’t reach. Or maybe I can just do without a footrest which only really matters on long or dynamic paddles. These days I prefer a Peli under my knees where I can actually get to it without having to do 45 minutes of hot yoga.

Underneath it has that crappy old Gumotex alloy skeg system – and at each end, too. Did I do that? The original oversized alloy skeg is deeply corroded along the smaller ones I got made, and even sold to fellow Gumotards.
A modern plastic skeg needs a different patch but I bet there’s a way to adapt the alloy patch to take a plastic skeg. Below, a picture of new and old skegs on our old Solar 300.

Other than that, the old dog is in good shape and would look better once I clean off the dried duct tape residue and stray glue. I weighed it off some suitcase scales: 12.7kg + another 1.5kg for the seat. First run I’m going to risk 0.25bar (3.6 psi) in the sides to see if it glides like a Seawave and stings like a bee. What’s the worst that can happen?

Advanced Elements AirVolution Dropstitch Kayak

See also:
Full dropstitch kayaks
• Decathlon X500
• Gumotex Thaya
• Gumotex Rush

US IK and iSUp brand Advance Elements have come up with a sleek and innovative new angle on full dropstitch kayaks (F DS IK): The AirVolutions feature a high-pressure twin-panel/chamber ‘clamshell’ design where the upper DS panel is a demi-deck. With minimal stowage below the decks, it resembles a Sit-On-Top, except – though not currently offered – should you wish you could fit a spray skirt round that coaming (cockpit rim) to be sealed right off.

Airvolutions do not have a ton of storage space below deck [and] are designed to be Recreational/Day Touring kayaks

There are Solo and Double/Solo models with dimensions below. The more I study Full DS IKs, the more I think what you gain in rigidity you sure pay for in weight over similar non-F DS IKs, some with just a DS floor. Maybe dropstitch PVC tough enough to handle the intended use and pressures is simply a heavy, bulky fabric. In its wheeled duffle the folded up AirVolution2 is a massive 4 feet high and 18″ wide. As with many US-branded IKs, the Airvolutions are on the wide side, but it’s claimed they can be stand-up paddled if you have very good balance. That’s me out, then!

LengthWidthWeightPayload
Solo13′ / 3.9m33″ / 84cm39lbs / 17.7kg300lbs / 136kg
Double14.5′ / 4.5m37″ / 94cm52lbs / 23.5kg550lbs / 249kg

Both models are rated at a high-for-DS IK 10-12 psi / 0.9 bar (though they will work with less) and have another DS IK innovation: Pressure Relief Valves (PRVs) on both panels set to purge at a lofty, iSUp-like 18psi. Why not 12psi so you can blithely inflate away till the PRVs hiss? Some pressure might be purged over a hot day from the top deck but not enough to matter.

A few iSUps have PRVS, but I’ve not seen them on F DS IKs before and many potential owners will be reassured, as it should aid the as-yet untested longevity of DS panels. PRVs limit potentially destructive over-pressurisation when inflatable boats are left in the sun. Unlike flat DS panels, traditional non-DS round tubes spread loads equally (eventually seams will fail). Left in the hot sun while you’re having a siesta, the space yarn stitching (right) in the DS panels could be ripped apart which adds up to an irreparably ruined boat.

AirKayaks™ IK in the US seem to be a favoured AE outlet right now and have done detailed reviews of both boats with loads of photos and measurements, followed by a quick flatwater spin.
There you can read the double’s open hatch is nearly 4 feet (114cm) long) and, oddly, there are no footrests. Even taller paddlers won’t be be able to brace off the front cockpit rim unless the seat is too far forward. A stuffed bag would work, or it would be easy to glue on some D-rings to run a footrest strap and hard tube. On a raft-wide IK like the AirVo2, it may not be worth bothering with thigh straps. Both models run a huge 9-inch skeg which will ground easily in shallows and suggests tracking with the flat floor may need help. It’s easily be replaced with a cut-down spare.

Prices in the US are a typically reasonable $1100/$1300; in the UK the boat is mentioned but not available and it won’t be such a good deal. It would be a struggle carrying a 23-kilo boat too far so for your money you get a wheelie duffle but with tiny, pavement-only wheels and clearance. There’s also a repair kit and a high-pressure, two-way switchable barrel pump which may need some brawn to reach the full 10+psi. Because high-pressure IK pumps need to be tall and slim, they’re low volume so take a while. AirKayaks reported it needed 100-150 strokes to inflate each chamber. That is a whole lot of pumping for a DS boat, but electric car plug-in pumps are available.

The AirVolution2 looks like a great day kayak for two, but from the photo above, even tall solo users may be better off with the less huge AirVolution, unless you add a foot brace tube. With this design, either boat has less low-down storage space than a conventional fat sidetube IK like a Seawave. Storing gear under the deck bungies just adds windage and hampers steering and stability. For touring, what gear is less than 4-5 inches high could squeeze under the covered ends, and when used solo the double has about half a metre of room behind the seat and some in front.

It’s hard to be sure but inside it does look like the two panels have been ‘wallpapered over’ leaving no crevices to trap water and much more potentially damaging grit. This is a big improvement over hitherto conventional boxy three-panelFull DS IKs where water and crud gets in all sorts of hard-to-clean places. Being smooth inside, you’d think the AirVolutions could easily be drained by tipping upside down, then wiped down to dry. Maybe, but they’ve added a big plugged drain in the middle of the floor (left) to make that easier (it won’t work for self-bailing unless you’re very light). Judged against some of AE’s other ‘busy’ graphics, the blue boats don’t look too bad,

Up to now AE came up with far less elegant solutions to the problem of rigidity in long IKs. The AirVolutions: a pair of iSUp boards wrapped up and glued in the blue skin, are an interesting idea with some compromises, mostly in storage. These are day boats, not tourers, but there are many, many more day-paddlers out there.