In a line: Huge IP67 submersible roll duffle/backpack with integrated ‘trolley’.
Cost: £180 (shops seen from £185, typically £230).
Weight: 3170g (verified).
Where tested: A mile’s walk to a river on road, track and path.
• Durable wheel design • Rolls up • Waterproof TiZip • Non-rigid design less prone to damage • Lockable main zip • Exterior mesh pocket • Detachable backpack harness • Rigid handle eliminates bobbing • Easy to remove wheels
• Costs a lot, but so do they all in this size • PVC feels a bit thin • Little mud clearance for wheels
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).
In need of a replacement for NZ, I chopped down a cheap folding trolley and lashed it to my trusty 96-litre UDB sausage bag (left). It was unstable but worked pretty well and all 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 baggage-weary baggage handlers. This bodge was a valiant attempt at not splashing out on Ortlieb’s RS140 Duffle which I’s been eyeing up for months and fitted my needs: a stable and submersible roll bag with good clearance and integrated wheels. A few months later an unused, 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 (‘riGid’) series in 34-, 60 and 85 litres with a rigid floorplate or frame supporting an extendable aluminium handle (right), like regular wheeled luggage. And the more unusual frame-free ‘roll-able’ RS (‘Saggy’) series in 85, 100 and 140 litres.
Wheeled duffles are nothing new: all the major outdoor outfitters do models up to 140 litres. But like the Ortleib RGs, they all use rigid frames for the telescoping handles which sees weights exceed 5 kilos. None claim any level of IP-rated submergibility and few have a backpack harness which, at 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 (below left) and only the 140 is big enough to easily swallow a big IK and gear (below right).
With wheeled bags intended for rugged terrain, large 100mm ø wheels roll over irregularities better and can give better clearance. What’s important is a solid mounting as the bearings or axles get 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. The wheels are also easily removable with a 3mm hex key. Handy if a stone gets jammed in there or mud clogs then up
It’s the full-length TiZip which makes this bag special; IP67 rated which will do me. Because it’s long, getting my Seawave in there was easy and left 30 litres for camping and paddling clobber. If you just want a day transporter for a solo IK, the RS 100 may do you. When closed, the zip end hooks on to a stud and you can slip a padlock under an embedded cable to lock it in place (above right). On the water, the idea is that, once you’ve deployed the boat, the bag carries the rest of your camping stuff in a more compressed form, plus 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 a rigid bar and an adjustable strap for length and I found the bag rolled along better than my UDB lash-up. It didn’t bob because of the rigid handle, and it didn’t catch my walking legs either. Finally, a comfy roll bag.
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 thin and basic – good for stairs but not really fit for the north face of the Matterhorn. But the whole frameless soft bag sags nicely across the back and is surprisingly comfortable at 20kg all up. You’ll want to carry it on paths as below as the mud soon clogs up the narrow gap around the wheels.
The backpack straps join up with velcro to make a carry handle and there’s another handy grab handle at the wheeled end. The backpack straps are removable so could easily be replaced with something cushier, but it’s a big load to carry on the shoulders for long. Four bag-top tabs (not really ‘daisy chains‘) allow you to lash on yet more gear, like paddles. There’s also a small zipped mesh pocket (left). The PVC is the same thickness as regular Ortlieb roll 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 weight, and one good thing with this stuff is that it’s dead easy to repair, either with tape or a dab of Aquasure.
My 100-L Gumotex Seawave backpack has been rolled up from new and is stashed for when the boat gets sold. The RS is now the Seawave’s spacious travel bag. It rolls along just as well as you’d expect: nice and stable (unlike my UDB trolley set up), has good clearance and protection, (although the Cordura picks up the dirt and mud) and sits surprisingly well on the back for a frameless backpack. My 4-part Manta Ray paddle fits right in, along with a foam PFD, barrel pump and all the other day-out knick-knacks. Full camping gear with Seawave may require an extra bag.
Adding an oral inflation/suction valve
Some reviewers say the RS is saggy to roll when not packed full. I suppose that may be true. But because the RS should be airtight, fully inflated or vacuum sealed, it ought to hold that form and be less of a wheeled sack. Yes you can squish it down and do up the zip, quick. Or you can fit an oral inflation valve protected inside the exterior mesh pocket (left). They’re hard to find online; try here or here. Now I can suck the bag down, much like I would a boat using the pump in reverse to get it compact. Do it to RS and the bag becomes ‘vacuum sealed’ and much stiffer. There’s less chance of the belly dragging on rough ground and you’d like to think less chance of snags from loose folds. Fully inflating would not be quite as effective as I find the bag cab be into an annoying bob as you walk because the air can compress. Sucked down it’s as stiff as a board. Another good reason for a valve on a bag like this that you can blow it right up as a buoyancy aid to cross a narrow but deep river, or to get ashore after a razorbill puffin bites your boat. Either way, for wheeling rigidity or emergency buoyancy, an oral inflation valve is handy when using such a bag for paddling.
Sealed bags on planes Whenever I checked in my UDB for a flight I always opened the zip a bit so it wouldn’t burst or strain the seams in the decompressed hold. Turns out I was over-thinking it. Cargo holds are pressurised at the same level as the rest of the craft; a tubular fuselage shape (right) requires it to spread stresses evenly. Yes, it is reduced to 20% less than sea level pressure. That’s why some containers occasionally leak a little.
You can get Chinese PVC D-rings dirt cheap on eBay but genuine hypalon D-rings (not PVC claiming to work on hypalon) cost a lot for what they are. Once you factor in the price of two-part glue, it adds up, especially if you have a few to fit. 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 online, as well as round PVC or Hypalonpatches. (‘Hypalon’ is pretty much the same synthetic rubber as Gumotex Nitrilon and Grabner Nordel). Or buy an off-cut (above right) for much less and cut your own. A D-ring doesn’t have to be round but it’s better if corners are rounded. You will notice how unusually hard it is to cut this stuff with scissors or a blade. The fibre core is tough: good for zero-elasticity in an IK.
Pictures below show how to make your own D-rings. Go to this page for how to apply any patch, step-by-step.
Sticking to the Rules I needed to fit some tube-top D-rings to properly support a second backrest in my Sunny 2020. I found a stray, opened tin of Bostik 2402 two-part in my kit bag, but with an expiry date of 2009. Back then I only owned this original Sunny and looking it up, 2402 turned out to be for rubber boats. Perhaps I bought it more recently but didn’t notice the expiry date. In the tin the glue was still liquid and unseparated, but the little bottle of Bostik D-10 hardener had long since evaporated. Digging around, I also found an opened bottle of PolyMarine hardener. Comparing chemicals showed they both contained Diphenylmethanediisocyanate, one of the few words that’s too long for a Scrabble board. I mixed the wrong-brand hardener with the 11-year old glue 25: 1 and the bond looked as good as anything.
As of early 2021 it seems WindPaddle.com are no longer in business
I’ve been waiting for the right kind of wind to have a proper go at WindPaddling my MRS Nomad. Sunday was not that day with SW gusts up to 25mph. Yesterday was more like it: direct from the west at 10-15 meant a chance to run down the full length of Loch Ossian with the wind erring towards the road for the walk back or if it all went wrong.
You forget that starting at the upwind end all is relatively smooth and calm, but soon the fetch kicks up and stays that way. Progress gets a bit lively so you need to be on top of things which includes stashing the paddle safely. I found tucking it across the boat under some red sidelines (left) worked well and are more often useful for manhandling the boat. Lunging after a lost paddle would be bad; so would letting go of the sail’s ‘reins’ and having the boat run over it. The sudden drag and deceleration might see the racing boat slew sideways and flip you out. And before you come up for air, your packraft is skimming across the loch like a crisp packet.
I don’t know if gusts vary in direction but you also need to constantly modulate the reins left to right to keep on course. It’s said downwind sails like the WindPaddle have a narrow windspeed window which tops out around 15mph. After that, they start fluttering left to right in an effort to shed the load, as mine did a couple of times. Going out in stronger winds may be too hard to handle or very exciting. As it is, the maximum hull speed of a packraft must be about half that and, just as a cyclist’s energy to overcome wind drag grows exponentially, so too you can only push a paddle boat so far. A packraft is about as hydrodynamic as a training shoe.
With the gloomy skies I was initially a bit nervous. Controlled by the wind and without a paddle in your hands felt disconcerting; a sunny tropical locale would have fixed that I’m sure. As usual with packboat sailing, it’s never just sit back and skim along like yachts seem to do; you have to keep correcting. At nearly 3m with the skeg fitted, the MRS is longish which must help keep it on line. And as mentioned before, with the WindPaddle you can steer at least 30° off the wind. According to the GPS, 9.3kph (5.8mph) was the peak speed, though most of the time I was zipping along at about 7.5kph. It felt faster as wavelettes broke to either side and occasionally over the bow. With the big Corry paddle, at maximum paddle exertion on flatwater I can hit 6kph for a couple of seconds. So once you relax, sailing can be a fast and energy-saving way of covering distance, and the WP stashed easily under the DeckPack.
I was expecting to walk back but gave paddling a go and stuck with it, hackling along at 2kph with rests every 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes sailing downwind = a 50-minute paddle back. I still think for the price, weight, bulk and ease of fitting and use, a WindPaddle is a worthwhile packboating accessory.
Weight, Size & Volume Bag: 224g; straps 11g each (verified) 59cm wide, 43 cm long and ~15 high when full. Volume: 22 litres
Where tested Northwest Scotland. Medway
• Waterproof construction including IPX7 zip • Light • Variety of position options, providing you have the mounts • Four 58-cm straps included
• On the bow (where most tabs are) can be a bit of to reach • Not convinced it works well as a floor bag.
What they say Waterproof zippered packraft bow or stern bag for easily accessible essentials on the water. Fits any Packrafts (and a lot of other boats) by full perimeter daisy chain (for variable fastening). With the Anfibio DeckPack you can transport your essentials safely and securely in all conditions. Splash-sensitive valuables like a camera, keys or documents as well as emergency equipment and spare clothing are always at hand on the bow, the stern or on the floor beneath your knees. The DeckPack can also be quickly converted into a daypack for excursions on land or the use as hand luggage on your journey.
Review The problem with packrafts is there’s nowhere to put your stuff other than the bag it comes in, usually a backpack. I wrote more about it here, before making my own small Pakbag.
Otherwise, I like a 20-30L holdall, like my old Watershed Chattooga, or my current Ortlieb Travel Zip (right) with a handier TiZip and mesh-zip external pockets. These bags sit accessibly, but out of the way, under my knees, and on previous packrafts attached to a tab mount glued to the floor for when you flip.
Anfibio’s DeckPack is another way of doing it. It resembles Alpacka’s larger, 24-litre Bow Bag but costs 25% less at current $/€ rates. It’s a vaguely semi-circular, PU-coated bag of around 22 litres which, unlike the Bow Bag, has a perimetre of daisy-chains (continuous attachment loops, a bit like Molle). It fits most obviously on a packraft’s bow as shown above, as this is where most packrafts have four tabs and where the weight trims the boat best. But you could as easily mount it on flatter sterns (as on my Nomad) if you already have a big backpack up front. Anfibio also suggest it can go inside on the floor too. Using the supplied straps, the pack can also work as a shoulder bag or daypack, when away from the boat.
On my Nomad it it just so happened the bow mounting tabs where just right to fit the bag without using the supplied straps. Mini carabiners or more rust-proof fishing snaps (above) enabled a snug fit. So would reusable zip ties – also rustproof. But mounted on the bow it was a bit of a reach on my Nomad unless I shuffled off the seat.
In fact there are enough hull mounts on my Nomad to position it further back (above right) using two front straps. Here it acts as a splash guard extension and was much more accessible on the water without making getting in and out too awkward. It worked similarly well on my Seawave too (below) – something I’ve been trying to work out for years.
I submerged the DeckPack in the bath and, pushed underwater (ie: under some pressure) air bubbles slowly leaked out via the zip head. But Anfibio tell me:
Please note, the zipper is one-way air penetrable, that means it will release air to the outside under some pressure along the zip, not only the head, but it remains watertight. It is actually rated IPX7. Under any circumstances, it can withstand submersion.
Without pressure, there may be no leakage and so the DeckPack doubles as a secondary buoyancy aid – always reassuring on single-chamber packrafts.
Once I realised it would work well on the IK, I ended up liking the Anfibio DeckPack a bit more than I expected, but here are a couple of suggestions: • Drop the price and make the straps (right) optional. Most paddlers will have their own mounting means or ideas.
• A curved, meshed exterior zip pocket would be really handy for knick-knacks or having a GPS in a readable position. Or, run a line of daily-chains alongside the main zip, so you can DIY a mesh pocket to the outside without interfering with the main zip or bodging as I have done (left). It would make the DeckPack even more versatile and save over-working the waterproof zip to access stuff while on the water.
MYO Seatback Mesh Pouch As mentioned above, zipped mesh pouches on exterior surfaces are dead handy. You can put stuff in them, they drain or dry fast and they enable handy access without digging into a main bag. It’s one of the things I like on my Ortlieb Travel Zip.
On eBay I found 9″ x 7″ zip mesh pouches for makeup at about 3 quid each and quite well made. I zip-tied one around the side hem to the buckles on the back of my packraft’s foam backrest (above and below). It’s a handy place to stash the inflation bag, some cord, snaplinks, zip ties and the top-up adapter for my K-Pump. I even fitted one to my Anfibio DeckPack.
Weight:451g (verified); length: 178-210cm, shaft 24mm; blades 34cm x 15.5cm
Where tested: Sardinia sea and lake kayaking; loch packrafting in Scotland
• Very light • Inexpensive • Collapses into 5 parts of 49cm or less • Single lock clamp to vary length and blade offset • Telescopes down to 178cm – good for short paddlers or kids • Would work as an adjustable tarp pole
• Feels flimsy • Small, 34cm flexy blades • Thin 24mm shaft diametre • 210cm is a minimal useful length for chubby packrafts
What they say Those who pay close attention to boat weight and packability should also make the right choice with the paddle. The Anfibio Fly has a minimum weight of just 460g making it an ideal ultra-light companion. It can be broken down into five segments none longer than 49cm so can be easily stored in any daypack. Despite its minimalist features, the Anfibio Fly is well featured for a wide range of uses.
Held up and powered by your arms all day, a paddle wants to be light, but it also needs to be rigid so none of that input is lost in power-sapping flex. Combining the two effectively usually means spending hundreds while still compromising a little on durability. The Anfibio Fly is about as light and compact as a usable paddle gets (a Supai Olo is lighter still). Paddling my packraft downwind I found the 5-piece Fly’s OK,
but the thin shaft and small, bendy blades lacked the solid feel of a conventional, full-sized paddle. Add my ‘Maori-war-party’ paddling style (as I was told, once), and the Fly’s flex didn’t produce the sort of confident propulsion needed in a principle paddle. Even the much lighter and less energetic g-friend didn’t take to it – though that was in our 17-kilo kayak. Used back-to-back against my Werner Corrywrecken, I paddled about 15% slower (5kph vs 6kph max). My other Aqua Bound Manta Ray 4-parter (left) may weigh all of 880g, but without spending at least $500 on something like a Werner Ovation (from 460g), this is simply the mass needed to get the job done at a reasonable cost.
A day later I was paddling into a 10-15mph wind with the solid Corry. It was hard on my arms and hard on the paddle; I needed to rest every 10 minutes and progressed at about 1mph. I’m sure I would have damaged the joints and maybe even broken the Anfibio Fly in such conditions, and yet at some stage, you may find yourself having to do paddle like this to get to shore.
In calm conditions or as a back-up it will be fine and would suit a packrafting trek in a light packraft like an Anfibio Alpha XC where you’re crossing small calm lakes or briefly following benign rivers where you don’t need to power through rapids. The thin-diametre shaft, light weight and length adjustment down to a flex-minimising 178cm would also make the Fly an ideal children’s paddle.
I used Panasonic’s Lumix FT2 wet cameras for 13 years or more, a simple, slim, one-handed, all-weather P&S which didn’t have to be mollycoddled. In 2011 we even used them to make a series of packrafting viseos. Later FTs seemed to lose the functionality of the FT2, so as they died or sank, I replaced them with used cheapies off ebay until they got too hard to find. Desert, pocket or sea, I’ve always liked the Lumix range’s preference for a wider 24mm-ish lens. Ridiculous zoom levels were far less important because picture quality dived. But after a really old FT1 burner unsurprisingly failed to survive a few minutes of snorkelling the other month, I decided to step up and get a used OlympusTG-5 after some paddle boarders rated them.
Commonly the Olympus TG-5 (now a TG-6 but nearly the same) and Panasonic FT7 (left) get rated as the best waterproof cameras you can buy. But they seem expensive for what they are. And when you consider the tiny zoom lens tucked inside the inch-thick body, you’re never going to get great shots, especially in low light or at full zoom.
Even then, my FTs always needed to be tricked into slightly lower (correct) exposures by half-clicking on the sky, pulling down and composing before clicking. It was only when I got a Lumix LX100 that I realised a: how handy an EV Comp dial (left) is; I use it on almost every shot. And b: how relatively crappy some of my FT pics were. I used the FT less and less.
With all the essential controls on the body, not buried in a menu, the compact LX was very nice to handle, but of course wasn’t suited to paddling. It wasn’t so suited to desert travels either (I do that too). Like all such cameras, each time you turned it on, the telescoping lens sucked in dust which stuck to the sensor and appeared as dots on most images. It drove some owner-reviewers nuts. On an LX you can’t reach the sensor as you can on a DSLR, even if the specks can easily be erased in iPhoto. Or, here’s a great trick: zoom your fixed-zoom camera in and out as you hoover the lens (left). I did again a year after a pro clean and it really worked.
There was nothing I could do about the LX’s ailing zoom motor which got slower and slower and eventually needed a tug to extend and a push to retract. The 2018 LX100 II got some improvements, but weather-sealing wasn’t one of them so I reluctantly flogged the LX and now use a similar-sized weather-sealed Sony α6300. (A great list of mirrorless, weather-sealed cameras.). The stock 16-50mm zoom lens still extends when you turn on and, I realised later, unfortunately is not weather-sealed like the body, so I am back to square one (a great list of weather-sealed lenses). But because mirrorless cameras lenses are removable, I can at least easily get to the sensor to clean it.
Back to the TG-5. Watching one of the vids below I learned it has an unmarked ‘control dial’ in the same, top-right position and which can work as an EV Comp dial. That alone is worth the price of the camera.
Having been inspired to RTFM for once, I now realise the TG-5 is actually much closer to the LX than I though, not least in terms of the staggering number of things it can do. You can even clip on wide or tele converter lenses (a bodge, imo, if photo quality matters) but more usefully, you can fit a clear filter over the vulnerable lens window. For that you need the Olympus CLA-T01 adapter (£20; or a £6 JJC knock-off; above left) to which you then screw in a regular 40.5mm filter: UV, polarised, whatever (above). With a piece of screen guard stuck over the LCD, the Olympus Tough can now be treated Olympus Rough, with both screen guard and UV filter being inexpensively replaceable.
I read it also has an easy-to-use custom self-timer, a blessing for us paddle-blogging singletons. Normally I’ve had to settle for 3-shots-at-10 seconds, or simply shoot video and extract a cruddy still, but on the TG you press the sequential shooting (‘6 o’clock’) button and press the Info button to edit: • delay (1–30 secs). • number of frames (up to 10) and • frame interval (0.5–3 secs). The LX did that too, and extracting a still from 4k video is an option too, but the former function was just too buried or I never worked out how to make it less so. On the Olympus I have tried doing selfies with the video and extracting stills, but even on the highest ‘SuperFine’ video setting, the extracted 16:9 still is 1920 x 1080 pixels, while a still is 4000 x 2256. You do notice the difference so getting to grips wit the custom self-timer is best, even if autofocus on a passing boat can be hit and miss.
The battery is a slim 1270Ah which does masses of shots and you can charge it in the camera which is one less thing to carry. But for 20 quid I bought 3 clone batteries plus a travel-friendly USB housing rather than a main charger (right) which will work off a laptop, battery pack, USB wall plug or a solar panel.
Once I’d have said GPS position, elevation and a compass in a camera were gimmicks. Now I’d admit they add some redundancy when a proper GPS unit goes flat, as it did on me one time. There’s an easy-access external switch to turn the GPS can on to log a waypoint of the frame, for what that’s worth. Otherwise, all the other data, as above, is viewable by simply pressing the Info button with the camera off. Up it comes for 10 secs, north by northwest. The TG-5 will also take great pictures.
Red; easy to find on the river bed EV Comp dial in the usual position Battery charges in the camera Easy to turn on and zoom one-handed (good on a moto) Spare 3rd-party batteries from £4; USB charger from £8 Good hand grip Rated at 15m of water so ought to survive some splashes Slim and light (260g with chunky wrist strap) GPS, elevation, compass, and even tracking with the camera off Easy to access and configure custom self-timer
A baffling new menu to master – sigh LCD text is a bit small Expensive, but discounted to ~£330 new That’s it!
At a Dive shop in Whitianga on the North Island’s Coromandel peninsula half a day from Auckland, I asked the teenage girl left at the till which way the tidal currents flowed around here. She smiled at me like I was an idiot and explained slowly. ‘Well, when the tide comes in it like, comes towards you, and when it goes out, it sort of goes away.’ Before I got into sea paddling that’s what I would have said, but I explained what I meant, that tidal flows moved to and fro in a given direction along a coast, not just in out, in out, like a Can-Can dancer’s legs At any constriction or headland it’s a good thing to know when planning or timing a paddle. She looked it up on the internet.
Tides apart, did I really think the surging expanse of the Pacific would be calm enough for a humble 10km coastal packayak round the cliffs of Cook Bluff to the famous and much fridge-magneted tourist icon of Cathedral Cove (painting below)? No, but now on my wavelength, Dive Girl went on to offer me tomorrow’s gloomy forecast: 4-metre swells, 35 knot gusts and occasional showers of razor-billed flying fish. A good day for a cliff walk then. Coming back next evening from Cooks Beach, I was a little appalled to see Mercury Bay awash with white-capped rollers, as if some tsunami was on the go. Surf’s up, if you have the nerve. It was right here in 1769 that Captain Cook and his crew – on the hunt for the fabled Terra Australis – first raised the British flag on the New Zealand shore while engaged in observing the transit of Mercury.
Maybe I’d get a chance the day after, my last. But even in the calm morning, the storm’s after-swell was still pounding the cliffs and beaches of Mercury Bay. Who knows how it was at the Cove of Broken Dreams which, they said, was still closed from the land side, anyway. Luckily, the cliff-rimmed natural harbour of Whitianga was sheltered from all this Pacific aggression. And better still, the tides were ideally timed to be swept into the inlet, before getting spat out on the mid-afternoon ebb like a retching gannet’s breakfast.
Settling up on a grassy strand near the marina, I realised I’d left my pfd at the hostel – this after noting a warning sign advising that all in <6-m long boats required them. Oh well, if spotted hopefully the harbour master will zoom up alongside me on his jet ski and lend me one for the day. As it was, I was heading inland where there’d be no one. Once tempered up via my hose extension, I scooted over the yacht-clogged harbour mouth, ferrying across the strong current filling the shallow inlet, tilting marker buoys as it went. I was told later that, partly as a result of dredging a channel for marina access, that Whitianga’s natural harbour was fastest flowing in New Zealand.
On the west side, under a wave-carved overhang (left) I hopped out to temper the MRS again. I like an inflatable as firm as possible but am finding, perhaps due to its larger than normal volume for a non-pump inflatable, that the S1 commonly needs a second pump up a few minutes in. I’m now wondering if something about half the size or volume of my 600-g K-Pump Mini would be handy to get the Nomad up to operating pressure in one go. This eBay pump (right) cost me just 3 quid posted and is actually similar to the mini pump Alpacka initially offered with their $2000 Alpackalypse. With a pump like this, after high-volume air-bagging, you could judiciously pump to a highish pressure on the shore – assuming the cheapo eBay pump can hack it. Yes, a pump’s another thing to carry/lose and the comparatively bulky K-Pump will do the job in a few short strokes. But unlike a paddle, it’s not ‘mission critical’, as they say in the movies.
Fitting a PRV and being able to pump away until the PRV purged (as I do with my Seawave IK) would be even easier, because you could also happily leave the boat out on a hot beach without fear of it exploding into a thousand ribbons of ruptured TPU. PRVs are unknown on packrafts so maybe I’m over-thinking it, but double-tempering is a bit of a faff even if, as humans go, I have a good pair of nicotine-free lungs.
Anyway, I padded southwards, weaving among the lifeless yachts and cruisers, reminding me of our Hayling Island paddle last summer. Let me tell you, in this world there are a lot of massively under-used boats bobbing around and gathering algae. Once past a sinister big black tug, the bay opened out and I was in the clear. Nearby, alongside a jetty below a cliff leading to a dwelling hidden in the bush, I spotted this pioneering-era carving.
Beyond here the shore looked oddly mangrovey and inaccessible. Mangroves this far south at nearly 37°? I’d only ever seen then around Darwin where I’d once eaten a so-called oolie worm which feeds in their trunks. Sure enough, turns out hereabouts is the southermost extent of mangroves. I’m not so keen on this sort of drab coastline, but live and let alternative lifeforms live, I suppose. In fact it was fun to probe the passages below the shady groves as it was due to reach 30°C today.
It took a bit more idle nosing about before I finally located the channel leading southeast to the two small rivers which fed the harbour inlet. The channel narrowed as the supposedly slack tide swept me into the tangled maze of salt-loving woodland. Curving left and right, south and east, as the scaly boughs closed in, it occurred to me that this far down in the bay wouldn’t be a great place to get lost and then stranded in thigh-deep, oolie-ridden silt for the next few hours. Who knows how quick the tide turns. Anticipating this, I’d clocked a hilltop landmark over on the western hills to help orientate myself, then pushed on in as far as I dared, getting maybe 500m from shore before spinning around into the still-rising tide and scuttling back out into the open.
The tide really ought to have turned by now, carrying me back the way I’d come, but the forecast nor’westerly was on time and in my face. Luckily the Nomad’s generous stub nose stopped me making a mockery of the harbour’s 5-knot limit so it was a long hour’s slog back to the harbour mouth, bent against the breeze and slapping waves. A similarly windy afternoon on the Wairoa River a few days back must have got me into paddling shape, so the effort was all put down to good exercise. Once past the marina, I’d hoped to slip below the jetty, under the harbour master’s cabin and out into Mercury Bay itself. Maybe cruise below Shakespeare Cliffs and then land on Buffalo Beach, like a proper Pacific navigator. But it was not to be. Chances are I’d have just embarrassed myself, tumbling through the surf and into the shore fishermen’s barbed hooks.
My time was up in NZ. Next day, rolling my cleverly adapted UDB (more below) to the bus stop, all was as calm as a kiwi’s cozy nest. I was reminded how sea kayakers must feel when they haul all the way up to the Summer Isles to be met by tent-bothering gales, only to find great conditions as they pack up. It’ll be there next time and for sure the east side of the Coromandel looks like the fantastic place for some fabulous sea paddling. The beachside hostel I stayed at laid on hefty old SoTs for free and there were plenty of kayak touring outfits in town and around. Give it a go if you ever find yourself down here.
For this trip moving from airport to airport and in a bid to spare my creaking back, I mated my trusty Watershed UDB to a chopped-down lightweight folding trolley I’ve used on previous packboating trips. With chunky zip ties and a strap, the shortened frame fitted securely to the rugged UDB’s back harness tabs. My load was way under the airline limit, but the thinking was that, once packboating my planned river for a few days, the UDB and small trolley would still be compact, compared to a regular wheeled travel bag. It was all a way of stopping myself buying the painfully pricey but actually only 500g heavier Ortlieb Duffle RS 140 I’ve been eyeing up. Fitted with an IP67 TiZip (not as good as the UDB’s brass drysuit zip), it’s the biggest one they do, so ought to take my Seawave IK and gear. Lacking a backbone frame of Ort’s RG duffles, the 140 actually rolls up even smaller (right) than my DIY contraption. A handy side benefit (which might also apply to the airtight Ortlieb), was that being able to inflate my UDB into a rigid airtight sausage made it easier to wheel around (but not as comfy as a full-framed wheel bag). I got some odd looks giving my bag a blow job by the arrivals luggage carousel, because at departure check-in I had to tug the zip open a bit to ensure it would air-off safely at 32,000 feet. In my hand I carried my nifty Ortlieb 30-L Travel Zip.
Back in print after 16 years, Rivers Publishing have updated their 2002 White Water Massif Central canoe guide, now less scarily titled: Best Canoe Trips in the South of France. Packboats aren’t mentioned, but what’s doable in a canoe is well suited to IKs and easier still in packrafts.
Compared to a Pesda Press paddling guide, Best Canoe Trips still looks a bit old school and amateurish, but there’s nothing else like it covering France’s inspiring Massif region (right). It’s a good example of: ‘write it and they might come’. Even now, let alone back in 2002, trying to amass this sort of information would take days of effort and translating. This is why there’s still a place for proper, well-researched paper guidebooks.
Visiting over the years with packboats, using planes and trains, I’ve ticked off just about all the original book’s big rivers. Like a lot of activities in France, the whole scene is so much more fun, open and less rule-bound than the UK. You can’t help but smile as you bundle into a Tarn or Ardeche rapid alongside floating barrels and screaming teenagers clinging to upturned rentals.
What they say:
[Best Canoe Trips in the South of France] is written for the recreational canoeist, kayaker, or stand-up paddle boarder going on holiday to the South of France. Rivers include the famous Gorges du Tarn, Gorges de l’Ardèche, Dordogne and Lot, besides some lesser known jewels such as the Allier, Hérault, Orb, Vézere and Célé. The Massif Central is renowned for its canoeing and the rivers in this guidebook are some of the best in the world for canoe-camping. This guide book targets those rivers that have easy white water and assured water levels in the summer months of July and August, when most families have to take their holidays. New dams, reservoirs, and guaranteed water releases means that canoe tourism is now huge in the Massif Central and this guide covers over 800km of class 1-3 [rivers], with all the details needed for a fabulous and truly escapist, holiday. This new edition has details of two new rivers, 22 detailed colour maps, updated river descriptions, recommended campsites and lots of inspiring photographs.
What I think • Great selection of brilliant rivers – there’s nothing else like it • Loads (and loads) of colour photos show how it is
• Maps too small and lacking in detail and consistency • Route descriptions could be more concise • Poor updating and errors on the two rivers I paddled recently • What’s with the fake cover?
Review If you know the original edition (far left), first thing you’ll notice is the near-identical cover, but with frothing rapids airbrushed away and a somewhat anachronistic SUP pasted on. A clumsy attempt to cash-in on the SUP craze? Some of Rivers’ other publications feature very nice retro poster-style covers (right) which would have suited Best Canoe Trips perfectly. Can a non-faked image of canoeing in the Massif be so hard to rack down? The book is full of them. But if you don’t know the previous edition you’d probably not notice the front cover photoshoppery.
Inside, it’s now full colour and twin column, like a Pesda. Two small rivers have been added: the 23-km Sioule north of Clermont, and all of 13km of the Dourbie meeting the Tarn at Millau. It’s not much which proves they did a thorough job first time around, even if some descriptions were incomplete. Up front are Planning and Resources sections before getting stuck into the 11 (actually 12, with Chassezac) river descriptions.
Each river still gets a rating table for magnificence, enjoyment, child-friendliness, as well as cleanliness, temperature, flow in cumecs, and busy-ness. Of these last four, the traffic is most useful for what to expect. Without lab tests, all the rivers I’ve done looked clean enough, and temperature was what it was on the day, depending on depth or season. And who but a river pro knows what ‘7 cumecs’ looks like? There must be some rationale to it, but to me identifying the locations of more easily understood river level gauges (where present) would be much more useful, as you can refer to this handy live river levelswebsite.
The river descriptions are still long-winded – 85km of Tarn goes on for 16 pages, albeit with lots of photo padding. It makes it hard to pin down the nitty-gritty. Headings include Camping, Off the River, Food & Drink, more Camping then Maps & Guides. Then each suggested shuttle-able day-stage is described, some getting Summary and Description headings, some not. Boxes cover asides, others list tourist offices and campsite telephone numbers where surely websites (as in the old edition) are infinitely more useful? The ‘Off the River’ heading is a nice touch, suggesting the many other things to see and do locally, and you get a recommendation for the best IGN map/s for the river.
You’ll need that because, despite a handy, ‘big picture’ river map scaled-down to fit a page, with the subsequent stage maps you’ll struggle to orientate yourself unless you keep track closely, and the important detail is rendered inconsistently from map to map. All but three of the 20-odd maps are the same as edition 1 and at over 1:100,000 scale (some over twice that), where the 50k or bigger walking standard would be much better, such as Chassezac on p64. Only the map for the new Sioule river shows how it should have been done: a coincidentally usable scale of 71k and each weir, rapid and so on marked with a small red dash so you know what’s coming or where you are. The old maps retain tiny dashes marking such things, but in blue over a blue river with blue writing that’s hard to read.
Just follow the river you might think. But when you’re wondering just how far to that nasty-sounding weir (which turns out to be nothing), or even where the heck you are, without GPS mapping or a signal for your smartphone map app, a well drawn and detailed map with accurate descriptions of bridges and other landmarks, is so much more useful and intuitive than columns and columns of text where one drossage reads very much like another. For 20 quid I’d expect to have proper, usable maps.
Full, town-to-town river descriptions would also make more sense than obscure put-in to obscure take-out. We managed fine continuing beyond the half-described Chassezac (listed under ‘Ardeche’ for some reason) all the way to the actual Ardeche confluence. Same with the Tarn: Florac to Millau is a great 3-4 days. Why not just provide a full and accurate description right through to the white water course in Millau (a fun finale!) and let the reader decide where to start and end?
Whoever they sent to update the Allier didn’t do a great job. Distances (another useful aid to orientation; easily measured online) were out. Over-emphasised descriptions of ‘blink-and-you-miss-them’ pre-industrial weirs are now irrelevant, while other chute-avoiding weirs have become fun Class 2s. There are even left/right portaging errors introduced since the previous edition. See the Allier page for more detail. The ‘fluffy-duck-mascot’ joke was done to death first time round. Unfortunately, the author still thinks it has some mileage in this edition. Oh well, chacun a son gout.
The switch to colour has given the book a fresh new look, but as a worthwhile improvement, the inconsistent updating has led to a missed opportunity. It’s perhaps to be expected because, as the author hints and my impressions concur, fewer families holiday like this anymore. Holiday-makers just bundle into a rental for a day and get vanned back to the campsite. All that is a shame as without the first edition I’d have missed out on a whole lot of memorable paddling adventures in lovely southern France, one of the best paddling locales in western Europe.