Category Archives: Inflatable Kayaks

Leaking pressure release valve (PRV; Gumotex)

See also:
PRV maintenance by Marcin

Durness beach

The other day we paddled the Seawave off Durness beach where the surf was bigger than I’m used to. Hitting a breaking wave as we paddled out didn’t help; the swamped boat needed tipping out at the next beach. It was a bit too offshore windy to roam, but it was still a thrill to be paddling on the very top of Britain, just 2175 miles from the North Pole (about the same distance south to the Canaries).
After the paddle I took care to dry, wipe down and roll the boat up on a sand-free rock bench, but lacking a hose back at the house, I had to rinse one bucket at time – not ideal. When I pumped up, the floor soon went flat: sand was in the seal of the floor’s PRV (what’s a PRV). It’s a thing that happens but in nearly 20 years of Gumotexing it’s never happened to me. Today was my day.

Seawave PRV

The design of the valve means that if the boat swamps in the surf, water laden with grit can enter via the six vents and pool in the valve body right above the seal. The next time it purges, sand grains can slip down onto the soft rubber seal surface and stay there, letting air leak out.
Because the chances of this are high, with a leaking floor PRVs are the usual culprit, not the nearby inflation valve with its sealed valve cap, or less still, a puncture. But don’t rule either out (the cleaning procedure for an inflation valve will be the same).

Fixing a PRV
Much of what follows is my take on Polishman Marcin S’s translated post linked above. It’s not how I actually did it, it’s how I would do it next time after quite a lot of trial, error and better ideas or procedures though up along the way.

Before disassembly, first try giving the PRV a darn good blow-through by pumping like billy-o and letting it purge. It will help to prise off the vent cap with a small flat screwdriver so grains blow away, not bounce back in. Pump up and see what happens. Chances are it won’t work.

Next I suggest putting the boat on a slope (to save water and weight) and flood the stern to establish the pace of the leak from the PRV. You will do it again at the end to see if there is any change. By dragging the boat around 180°, you can let the water slosh down to the bow while you remove the PRV at the stern at the high end.

Don’t plug in a manometer to try monitor the leak over a period of time; it cost me a few hours and a disassembly or two before the flooding idea proved my manometer was leaking from the base faster than the PRV. As we know, pressure gauges are plugged in briefly to get a reading, then as quickly removed. To test for a leak, water is best.

You now know for sure the PRV is leaking so will have to remove and clean it. Flicking off the vent cap exposes the valve body’s six splines. Fit your Gumotex valve tool (or eBay clones from £6) and unscrew the PRV. As Marcin says: the plastic one will do; you don’t need the expensive metal one Gumotex also sell. Expect the PRV to be very tight. Marcin pre-lubed his, I didn’t but it undid easily enough. My boat is less than a year old.

It’s easier to start unscrewing the PRV with the boat fully inflated, but separate the two parts of the valve only once fully deflated so there’s less chance of the backing nut inside the hull rolling away out of reach. Same with the loose o-ring on the valve body base; don’t let it drop into the abyss.

With the PRV in hand, you can see how it works: a spring-loaded valve opens upward when pressure from within reaches a pre-set level – on a Seawave supposedly 0.25 bar or 3.5 psi (but it might close as low as 0.20). As pressure drops it seals shut. At this point you might try rinsing under a tap while pushing the valve open, but you’re going to have to disassemble it anyway to check the state of the seal.

Set the o-ring aside and unscrew the 6mm locknut on the valve stem. Press on the sprung valve from the other side to stop it spinning as you unscrew the nut. But before you do this, count the number of threads or take a photo (above), as the position of the nut regulates the purge pressure; the more you screw down the nut the higher the purge pressure. I notice Marcin’s nut on his Solar was much less screwed in than mine (lower purge pressure). (At one point I tried screwing in my nut an extra turn to improve sealing, but it didn’t seem to make much difference; still closing around 0.2. Maybe a few more turns are needed, but of course you don’t want to go too far and compromise the floor.

Left: pliers to undo the nut; magnifying glass and torch to closely inspect the rubber seal. Right: the disassembled PRV. From top left: valve body, o-ring, valve stem with rubber seal, spring, spring cross-washer, 6mm lock nut.

Ooo-er, quite a lot of fine Durness beach on there.

I chose to clean the rubber seal with an ear stick and toluene solvent. (I tried, but decided not to remove the rubber seal from the stem). After carefully wiping off the grains on, around and under the seal, I dipped the whole thing in the toluene bottle cap (not too long as toluene is strong stuff on plastic; it dissolved the orange marker dot). Don’t forget to inspect and wipe the inside of the plastic valve body too.

A lovely, clean PRV seal. Reassemble and carefully screw down the metal nut onto the soft plastic valve stem to where it was – or what you prefer.

Marcin suggests sticking some sponge under the vent cap to catch grains in future. Sounds like a good idea. These are easily removed/rinsed/dried or replaced by flipping off the vent cap.

A quick Hail Mary to Saint Columba and you’re now ready to refit the valve. You shouldn’t need any lube other than a bit of water for things to reassemble smoothly, though I decided to lube the o-ring with some TiZip silicon grease.
I found as you start screwing in by hand it feels like it’s cross threading. It isn’t: the edge of the fabric is getting caught in the thread. Back up and jiggle the valve body and loose fabric around to make sure the body has slotted and centred its flange into the fabric hole.
Pump back up, tighten the PRV down some more, but probably don’t clip on the vent cap just yet as you may be going back to square one, as I did (partly because the fitted manometer was leading me astray).

Now flip the stern back downhill and let the water slosh back over the Seawave’s valves. I found the PRV purged for about a minute, then abruptly stopped with an odd underwater squawk … but carried on leaking slowly. Another removal and check and refit and there’s still a very slow leak – a 2mm bubble every 2-3 seconds, but with the floor now lying in the warm afternoon sunshine, that may be normal purging. I decide it’s as fixed as it can be. A few hours later, all was normal again and we are all much the wiser.

Moral of the story: if you think sand-laden seawater may have pooled in your PRV (most likely from crashing beach surf, not normal, deep-water paddle-splash), back on shore flip the vent cap off and rinse the PRV cavity with fresh water, ideally flipping the boat upside down, so any grains flush out.

Preview: Sea Eagle Fast Track 465

See also:
Hybrid (DS Floor) Inflatable Kayaks
Aquaglide Chelan 155 preview
Tested: Kokopelli Moki II

Sea Eagle’s Fast Track 465 (4.65m) is a high-end PVC IK has been around for several years, one of the earliest ‘hybrid’ IKs combining a removable dropstitch (DS) floor and conventional side tubes. It sits alongside their dumpy, all-tube SE cheapies, more whitewatery Explorers, and the all-DS, fixed-floor Razorlites. They even make a full-DS canoe.
From the side the 465FT is a sleek looking IK with slender 24cm side tubes and the distinctive frontal keel under the bow to keep it on track (and which Gumotex have vaguely copied on the Rush models). Quoted weights vary as usual: from 17kg to a ‘hull weight’ of 20kg on the official US website. For a 15.25-foot PVC IK, 44lbs sounds about right.

Sea Eagles only sell these boats in ready-to-paddle packages which include a paddle/s and a pump as well as the usual wrap-around carry bag and repair kit. They start at $1600 or £1299, though in the US are regularly discounted by nearly 30%. When you read scathing ‘reviews’ of otherwise perfectly good IKs panned for not coming with a pump or paddles (even if that was clear at purchase), you can see why SE do this. Just don’t expect a stiff and light paddle.
Upgrades include seats with proper backrests, as well as better paddles, three-seat combos and even rowing and motor rigs. And one thing that sets SE apart is the phenomenal 180-day return period and three-year warranty – at least for US customers.

Though you’ll struggle to see any evidence of this, the DS floor is removable, so it should be easy to clean and dry the boat. Assuming the floor comes out easily, the hull still has somewhat redundant closeable floor drains. Some outlets claim these to be self-bailing ports. There’s a big difference between the two: the former helps drain inaccessible cavities to help dry the boat without removing the floor; the latter allows waves that pour over the sides to drain away via holes in the floor – ideal for whitewater or surf. Such boats need thick floors to sit you high above the drain ports so the kayak doesn’t have water sloshing across the floor and soaking your butt. The 465 (and similar Aquaglide Chelan) doesn’t have a thick floor, though if you’re light you can give it a go. As it is, any 15-foot IK will be a handful in whitewater or surf conditions.

Oddly, the 2014 manual still online suggests you put the same 3.2 psi (0.2 bar) in the DS floor as the tubeless side tubes. Later models have ‘max 8-10 psi labels at the valves, but there is no way you’ll reach that pressure with the archaic foot pump supplied in some base packages. Then again, the couple in the video below inflated their 465 by foot pump. They represent perhaps the recreational core of SE’s customers: prepared to spend four figures but not that bothered about performance or equipment.

One thing that seems to be missing from online images are footrests. For all but the most undemanding recreational paddlers (which may be most of SE owners) a solid footrest to brace off makes a huge difference to paddling efficiency, while also stopping you sliding down the seat. It can have benefits to stability too, although at 91cm wide (36″) that won’t be a problem on the FT as some might find with the FDS Razorlites. Some D-rings could easily be glued on, but for what you pay, it’s odd to not see them included. They’re not even an accessory part. the drainpipe/strap idea I use on my IKs would work fine here.

What they call Deluxe seats are comfy looking vinyl blobs which sit you 5 inches up and clip to the hull sides (as well as the seat base). But because the backs are inflated (via Boston valves), they’ll have little support to lean on because low-psi inflatable backrests tend to crumple under pressure. Non-inflatable foam-board ‘tall back’ seats (found on most other Chinese-made IKs) are supplied in pricier packages will have better back support, except the base is thinner. A slab of foam underneath will see to that, but without footrests you may not notice the benefits.

The innovative Needleknife frontal keel is inflated via a raft valve accessed by a hole in the front floor. Flat, DS-floored boats need some help here, and it does appear to greatly improve tracking, especially while not adversely affecting turning. If that’s the case you do wonder if a long, low slip-on plastic skeg, or just a keel strake as of the Chelan 155, might not work as well with less assembly complication. Perhaps the Needleknife’s softer profile works better, especially in sidewinds where the keel (and low sides) is said to deflect the boat less. There is a large slip-on skeg which is now more swept back, but could still be a bit on the long side. Luckily it’s easily replaced or shortened, but the boat will need some sort of skeg to track well.

Kayaking Summer Isles; a lap of the Taneras

Seawave Index Page
Summer Isles Kayaking Guide

Another forecast of calm winds in the Summers. Or is it? The BBC and YR reports are contradictory: the former has too-strong-for-IK winds from the south; the latter shows light winds from the north. Others show light winds from the south. How can they all be so different?
Maybe I should just look out across the water? All looks serene so let’s make paddle while the sun shines. I wheel back down to False Man’s Harbour and set off with two hours before high water.

No side PRVs?
Am I missing not having added pressure release valves in my side tubes, as I did to my original Seawave? Not really. I am running 0.3+ bar in the sides (official: 0.25) but temperatures up here in NW Scotland are hardly tropical. I try and leave the boat in the shade at the house and de-air the side tubes for a couple of seconds after a paddle, effectively manually depressurising the sides to about 0.2 bar, rather than having fitted PRVs do it for me automatically. The more vulnerable stock PRV in the floor purges automatically at 0.25.
On my next paddle I have to top up all three chambers with the K-Pump as I would have to do with all-round PRVs anyway. About 30 kpumps brings the sides back up to over 0.3 bar. The difference now is I use a manometer to check I the sides about right. Before I would just pump until the side PRVs purge. It’s about a minute’s more faffing.
As with a lot of things I do to my IKs: sails, rudders, decks and now, trolleys and headwind weight transfer – it’s fun to experiment. But in the end they’re all largely over-shadowed by the simple enjoyment of paddling. With sides pumped to >0.3 bar I find I can cruise easily in the near-still conditions at 6kph.

Let’s try and make the outside of Tanera Beg again. Two days ago I got blown off that idea.
Kayaking tour party at the north cliff of T. Beg.
But they seem to be dawdling, as if unsure whether to go ahead.
I paddle past and on to the big cave on T. Beg’s south side. That crack at the back might be passable at max HW.
The view out south towards the Wedge of Angus and Priest Island beyond.
I slip through the popular arch at Tanera Beg’s southeast end.
I notice a small second arch. The water is too high and gap too narrow to squeeze through with my Seawave, but it’s only a foot deep below, so the window of opportunity is as narrow as the arch.
What would Freud have made of this arch-threading.
Being more exposed to the southwest, Tanera Beg has some nicely weathered sandstone cliffs.
Midway through, I decide crossing over to Tanera Mor seems too easy.
In the prevailing calm the three skerries to the south don’t look that far.
It’s just over a kilometre to Sgeir Ribhinn (‘Stack C’) according to the GPS. That will take 11 minutes.
Once there, I fail to notice the double-arched cave we found last time. But this is HW. A guard-bird observes.
Over to the south side of Tanera Mor. The new owner is employing scores and spending millions here. New cottages here and there, plus tracks to isolated beaches (perhaps for stones, I was told). They now ask you not to land in the more built-up Anchorage.
There’s even a new house and other construction alongside the tidal lagoon of An Lochanach where I stop for a snack.
Two kayakers pass by. Earlier, I could clearly hear them talking behind me across the flat water, long before I could see them.
I cross the Bay and stop off on the mainland below our place to collect something.
Looking west: a buoy with Glas Leac Mor behind.
I recently read that a hazy horizon (Outer Hebrides not visible) means stability; warm, humid air.
Good viz and crisp detail = cold air and wind.
I head to Altandu, near the campervan packed campsite.
I drop-off and pick up a bucket. Coming back through Old Dornie harbour, a quarter headwind kicks up, pushing the bow left.
I use the chance to load with bow with 10 litres of bucket-water. It does seem to make a difference: the bow bites better; no correctional paddling needed, unlike the other day. A good trick to know (I’d brought the drybag up front for that purpose).
Another 13-mile day in the Summers, but I could have managed twice as far.
How easy IK-ing is without wind. As is portaging with a trolley.

Landfall on Eilean Mullagrach

Seawave Index Page
Summer Isles Kayaking Guide

After a fortnight of chilly north winds and a diminishing woodpile, today was one of those rare days in the Summer Isles (far northwest Scotland) where you could paddle pretty much where you liked in an IK.
It was also a chance for me to try out my new skeg-wheel trolley which Jon, who was staying down the road, had made for me.
With no boat of his own this time, we set off in mine to see what we might see.

We rolled down the road to the Fox Point, the nearest and least effortful shore access from where I’m staying.
Apart from the clatter of the solid wheels, the set up worked perfectly: stable and smooth.
The spring tide had bottomed out so we looked for the least ankle-twisting put-in.
We have no plan so head towards the Ristol Islands across a glassy sea.
With the calm, we take on the outside shore of Eilean Mullagrach; here the refracting northern after-swell makes it a bit choppier with some alarming waves breaking over reefs.
Unless you’re a gannet, this is the only way to get onto Mullagrach, a gantry at the northeast tip.
Usually alone, I’ve never done it, but with Jon to tend the boat, I climb up.
With access so difficult, Eilean Mullagrach was never occupied or crofted. I think it’s now owned by a bird protection enterprise. Perhaps they built this guardrail and cut the steps. There’s what looks like a hut at the island’s south end, just past the (not very) high point.
Nice to see sea pink and yellow lichen again. The former mostly found on the sheep-free islands and skerries.
View south over the Summers to the Fisherfield mountains.
The channel with Ristol behind. Better get back; the taxi’s meter is running.
We scoot back north out of the channel and take a break on Ristol beach before cutting through Old Dornie harbour back to False Man inlet.
I leave my kayak overnight with a plan to come back for more tomorrow.
Next morning I’m relieved to see my Seawave hasn’t floated off into the Minch.
I top up and decide to head round the outside of Tanera Beg for starters.
All is calmish as I cross Badentarbet Bay, but as I near T. Beg an unforecast southeasterly kicks up and keeps on kicking.
The west side of Tanera Beg would be too exposed, so I divert into the Tanera Channel, using the lee of the smaller eileans.
Nice looking wooden trawler.
I’m hoping to at least visit the arch at the southeast end of T. Beg.
It’s only 500m away but it’s quite lively and gusty now so I don’t risk it.
Instead, I turn east to get into the lee of Tanera Mor, and take a diversion through the usually cut off pool of Acairseid Driseach (these Gaelic words just roll off the tongue).
A bit disappointed, I head back to slot harbour but the wind seems less bad or may have passed.
So I collect my trolley and strike out for Horse & Goat Island.
I estimate it’s about 2 miles across Badentarbet Bay. The wind drops and even becomes a NW tail breeze.
It’s actually more like 3.5 miles to the tidal channel between Horse & Goat.
By now the spring tide is at full flow against me and I wonder if the two islands have joined up yet.
I needn’t have worried; the NW breeze is stronger than any tidal current and there’s at least a foot of clearance.
I pull over for a snack and a drink. Last time I was here was with my failed Semperit project. What a nice boat that could have been.
I knew from here it would be a 2-mile into the wind hack to Badentarbet beach.
Or even more annoyingly, a three-quarter headwind. It’s less than 10mph, but despite pushing hard with my left arm, the boat kept getting pushed right. Where is my rudder now?! I should have picked up some rocks to weight the bow at Horse Island to see if that trick works. Next time I’ll carry a waterbag to do the same; it’s something I’ve read of but never tried.
From Badentarbet Beach it’s a stiff climb – 1st gear pushbike – back up the road to Polbain, but on the road the skeg-wheel trolley again makes for easy, hands free towing with the boat hanging from my shoulder via a knotted mooring line. I can walk at normal speed with loads less effort (and time) than carrying the deflated IK.
Having a trolley like this makes the IK nearly as versatile as a packraft: a boat you can start here, end there and easily transport back across the difference.

So ends another great 12-mile day out in the Summer Isles whose configuration enables numerous ways to spin out a trip as pirates, winds and stamina allow, and all without getting too far out.

Gumotex Slip-On Skeg Roller (kayak trolley)

The effort of portaging the dozen locks of the River Wey the other month wore me out. On some portages you can drag the boat along harmlessly on lush grass. Others involved narrow gates, or crossing busy or narrow road bridges. It all got quite effortful, especially towards the end as my energy faded like a dying salmon.

I quickly worked out what was needed: a simple and easily deployed alternative to the typical strap-on canoe trolley, like the 60 quid Decathlon example (left) with identical examples on eBay for nearly half that price. A closer look at some images shows them to be needlessly high (unstable) and the clip-out joints don’t look that sturdy in the long run, though the tyres are nice and fat and clearance is great. With these trolleys I think the V of the alloy frame would sit better in line with the hull, not across it (with bends in the tubes). But crossways simplifies the wheel axle set up. My idea was to use the IK’s own weight with the skeg to locate and fix a trolley in place. Quick to use; no strapping needed.

With workspace-and-tools mate Jon, we came up with a stable two-wheel folding platform with a drop-in skeg slot and hinged wheels which folded out to both roll and support the hull either side of the skeg. To portage, lower the boat’s skeg into the platform’s slot, pick up at the bow and roll it away.

On getting the trolley, the too-high sides were easily sawn down by an inch, and another inch got sawn off the bottom to improve ground clearance, as in the graphic. We hadn’t pinned down a way of stopping the hinged wheel plates folding inwards on the move. The trolley actually worked OK on smooth surfaces without any hinge lock, but eventually a bump would knock one side in. Until a neater idea springs to mind, the easiest way for me was stringing a loop of stretch-free Dyneema cord round the top to keep the wheel plates from folding in.

At 1.7kg it’s not that light, but as a prototype it was dead easy to make and the thing needs to be durable. Something similar out of alloy tubing (like the Decathlon trolley above) might be half the weight, but is less easy to fabricate in the front garden.

After a few miles…
By chance, I was left car-less during a few days of great weather. In either direction it’s less than a mile and a 50-metre drop along a quiet road to the seashore: an ideal trolley testing scenario. What extra weight there is sits best over the wheels, and at the bow I tie a shoulder loop into the mooring line, leaving me hands-free to check my messages. Coming uphill for a mile from the beach, I could walk at normal speed with much less effort (and time) than carrying the deflated IK.
By chance it seems the width and height proportions are pretty good for stability, and the cord works well enough to keep the hinged sides up. A couple of times over rough stony ground the cord came off and the trolley folded up, or on steeper side slopes it just fell over. So maybe another 10-15cm of width would be good, but without much added height. And there must be a simple latch or lock idea for securing the sides.

The solid plastic wheels (£12.50 for two pairs) make a racket or hard surfaces and will transfer shocks and eventual wear to the wheel mounts. Some near-identical rubber wheels cost about the same and ought to feel less harsh. But first, I may waste some time wrapping some spare motorbike inner tube around my current wheels.

Having a trolley makes an IK nearly as versatile as a packraft: a boat you can start here, end there and easily transport back across the difference.

Tested: Gimp stove (solid fuel)

See also:
Honey Stove (wood burner)
Woodgas Stove (wood/pellet)

In a line Lightweight, compact ‘day’ or back-up stove using ethanol wax blocks.

Cost ‘Shoe polish’ tin (from £1) + optional band + cross-stand (from £5) + FireDragon blocks (from £1.14 a filled tin). Total: around £8.

Weight Tin (25g) packed with fuel: 133g. Cross-stand 28g, 10cm wind shield 7g. All up: 168g + lighter.

Where used River Wye and Knoydart, Scotland.

Light, simple, compact
Fast set-up, easy to light
Sits low (stable and out of the wind)
Tin makes a large burning area and is refillable
Tin fits inside a 400ml Tatonka folding-handle mug
No noise, no smoke, no smell, no residue on the pot
Fuel cools and resolidifies quickly and will relight later
Presumably can be carried on a plane, especially if you label it ‘hand sanitiser’ (which it also is).
So light and compact it can be used alongside or to back-up a gas stove or a woodburner

Expensive at around 37p to boil a big mug
Fuel may be harder to find than gas cans at outdoors stores, but sold in ‘home & garden’ stores like B&Q

Review: 
This Gimp Stove (a military acronym, apparently) isn’t something you can buy off the shelf. My bush-crafty mate put it together once he learned FireDragon ethanol firelighter blocks could be packed into a ‘shoe polish’ tin and easily refilled and re-lit.
He identified a small, screw-top tin (multi-buys off eBay or amazon) with the right diameter to fit the notches of the CNC-cut stainless steel cross-stand also widely sold online from around a fiver. For a stable set-up, finding a tin to fit this cross-stand’s notches is the key. Or you can as easily make your own stand to suit any tin you like, but the tin’s lid needs to be airtight so the fuel doesn’t dry up. My mate even added a silicon wrist band round the base so you can seal it good and tight.

I managed to cram about four blocks (108g) into my ‘100ml’ tin (actually more like 130ml). From this I got three 360-ml (big mug) boils in the field. To extinguish blow it out, or smother with the lid. The liquified gel quickly cools and resolidifies and will readily re-ignite next time.
Timings were 4 minutes tested indoors, and about 7 mins outdoors, using a thick tinfoil windshield from the base of a fruit pie or a take-away curry. There is no noise, no smoke, no smell and unlike toxic hexamine tabs, no residue on your cup or toxic smoke.
On the first freezing morning of our Wye trip, even though I’d slept with a 45% full gas can inside my sleeping bag, it failed to boil my water once out in the freezing morning air. The Gimp would have lit up readily and done the job. And the fact that you’re easily able to place a windshield on the ground, and need clever, faster but totteringly unstable, bulky and pricey JetBoils is another tick for the Gimp. All in all, the Gimp is a handy, cheap and foolproof pocket stove.
I used the Gimp again on a four-day Scottish trip to heat up water for lunch soup. Light and compact enough to carry in your day pack, it made the whole business effortless, while saving gas for other meals.

A one-ounce block of FireDragon

FireDragon Fuel
Made by BCB International from waste vegetable matter, the blocks come in individual sealed 27g (1oz) pods, bought 6 or 12 at a time. It’s the same (and can be used) as hand sanitiser. Once the packet is opened, the block (a mashable wax of ethanol or denatured alcohol, left) will evaporate and shrivel, but sealing in the screw tin works fine, at least for a few days. Long term you may want to verify this. The good thing with a full tin or two is you have no packaging to get rid of responsibly; you just come home with empty tins to refill.
Apparently you can ignite with a flint (BCB’s stove kit, right). I tried but couldn’t do it on used fuel, even with some magnesium shavings (the fuel lit right up with a lighter). I may try again with a fresh block, but honestly Bushcrafters, a lighter takes one second.
The best price in the UK works out about 28.5p a block by the dozen, so a penny a gram with a big mug boil at 37p – quite expensive. And you’ll struggle to find it at that price; very often it’s nearly double, or gets that way with postage. Your best bet seems to be larger Go Outdoors stores. I would guess you could get at least 30 same-sized boils from a typical 220g can of gas costing around £4 which is more than half price.


I skimmed through an online review (one guy was even wearing camo gloves!) and apparently the FireDragon boiled loads faster than hexamine (which I’ve never considered trying). I’m told the Brit army now use FireDragon instead of hexamine.

All Quiet on the Waterfront; Kayaking through London

See also
Kayaking Richmond to Greenwich

Notice anything suspect about this image?

Right now it’s a great time to kayak the Thames through London. It’s only April but due to Covid, the Westminster tourist barge scene is dormant, making that brief but lively stage a bit less fretful. Down at water level we may be hyper vigilant, but can the bloke doing a U-turn in his heaving tourist catamaran see us fending off the standing waves and refracted wakes?
As a barge-tourist in a Union Jack bowler hat asked me last time;
Is this allowed?
Yes it is chum, but a kayak on this part of the Thames is still an incongruous sight. The congestion and the standing waves pushed up by some bridges at certain times can feel a bit like skateboarding in a gale on Runway 3 at Heathrow.

Downloading the PLA’s mammoth 130-page Tideway Code is enough to put anyone off, but I do believe this edition (dated October 2020) is less anti IK than a previous version I read. At the time I recall seeking clarification from the PLA’s media person, and got an arsey corporate riposte. Has last year’s IK consumer surge turned the tide on the PLA’s prejudice? It’s the old problem of misconflating a clueless beginner in £49.95 Aldi bin bag with an alert and well-equipped paddler in a decent high-pressure hybrid. The former far outnumber the latter.
I say: pick your tide, keep right and be observant. For me the biggest peril was dodging the horizontal scythes of the Putney rowers who seem to go up and down across the whole width of the river as they please. They do need a lot of space.

Mortlake to Mayflower (Rotherhithe)
This 21-km (13-mile) stretch lined up well with 10-minute walks from stations at either end.
By Rotherhithe the excitement, such as it is, is over. And skipping the five miles from Richmond gives an easy three hours on the river; a nice early morning or afternoon paddle with good light for great photos or views of the Thames’ bankside icons.
It’s dawn and a Sunday, so it takes two buses and a train to get to Mortlake
Yadda, yadda…
Spacious put-in at Bulls Alley off Mortlake High Street, complete with benches
7.15am. All is calm
A bit of early morning rumpy-pumpy
Head buoy
Genteel Georgian waterfront around Chiswick
Arseache! Hammersmith Bridge is Falling Down and closed to navigation.
Ie: you can’t paddle under it in case it collapses on your head.
But n the north bank there’s a handy jetty and this slipway (above) on the downriver side is a 5-minute carry
The Hammersmith’s brittle, ageing cast iron dates from 1887 and is suffering from micro-fractures.
All together now: “Build it up with iron bars, iron bars, iron bars.
Build it up with iron bars, my fair lady
Once a Harrods warehouse, how expensive flats
9am. Putney rowers getting their oars on.
At Wandsworth I nip up Bell Lane Creek where the Wandle comes in.
Big weir drop to the left, and a bit further up on the right, another weir drop at all but HW.
See: Wandle: An Urban Packrafting Nightmare
Hanging hay bale? WTJoF? Explanation in the PLA Tideway Code.
No arcane signage here
It’s chilly. Nature’s call cannot go unanswered
River racers. My money’s on the Yellows
Holy Mother of all Parliaments. The latest scandal? The ‘chumocracy’ of lobbying
It gets a bit choppier just after Westminster Bridge as the current backs up
London Eye still looks as amazing as ever. I wonder if they grease the axle and tension the spokes once in a while
Rectilinear skyscrapers are just so last century
A few years back sunlight reflected off the ‘Walkie Talkie’s’ concave face (20 Fenchurch St) melted a car in the street below
Not falling down any time soon, but small standing waves soon after can make you think
By the HMS Belfast it settles down again. On a neap tide at least.
‘Send him to the Tower!’
This is what Hammersmith needs
After Tower Bridge the river widens out and the powered craft can gun it
A mile downriver, the Mayflower’s looking a bit shabby. Don’t people go to pubs any more?
In 1620 the famous ship embarked from here for the New World
Tourists RIBs slalom up and and down the Pool of London like giant jet-skis
My modified seatback worked great. Just what was needed
Go west young man. And never come back!
From the beach it’s a 10-minute walk to Canada Water station.
I pop into Decathlon nearby to admire some Itiwits; quite possibly Britain’s most popular IK.


Seawave 2: improving the SoT backrest

Seawave Index Page

As soon as I received Seawave 2 last year I ditched the heavy and squidgy Gumotex seats (right), and implemented my proven packraft inflatable seatbase + SoT backrest idea (left and below right) at a fraction of the weight and bulk.

The seatbase is fine of course; it weighs next to nothing and lifts you off the unavoidably soft floor for a good ‘raised-bum’ paddling stance. I’ve been using it for years, but sometimes I think I could use more back support than the SoT foam backrest. It presses nicely into the small of the back, but like a low-backed chair, is not something you can lean on. You could say in a kayak you shouldn’t be leaning on anything, but sitting bolt upright, knocking out a series of ‘searchlight beam’ torso rotating powerstrokes. But after too much of that you just want to lean back on something.

I picked up a used BICSport Power Backrest (for an SoT; right) which looked like it might be more comfortable. At 37cm, it was tall but lacked a hand rear pocket and instead had a centrally positioned adjustable bungy to counter-tension the back and keep it upright. Using it for the first time on the Wey last week, it started well but after a few hours collapsed as the pull from the front and back straps crumpled the backrest.

The problem: lack of stiffness. A backrest needs to be stiff like a chair back, while a seatbase wants to be soft like an armchair. One provides support; the latter takes your weight. The best way to fix the backrest was to insert a firm plastic plate. It just so happens I kept that very part from a rotting old Aire Cheetah seat bought 15 years ago for my Sunny.
I got that boat back last year, did it up with new seats and sold it. How’s that for recycling!

To be honest I’m beginning to think separate backrests and seatbases are a bit of a faff to fit and especially seatbase just right when getting in and out a lot (did someone say ‘Wey‘?). It wouldn’t be hard to attach the packraft seatbase to the BIC back rest.

I bought another Chinese cheapie IK seat (left; with back pocket; about £25) as I did for the refurb’d Sunny. I was considering semi-permanently attaching the packraft base underneath it with some sort of net arrangement, but I see the all-important backrest is just more mushy foam so also needs stiffening to work for me pushing against footrests. It will work fine as a second seat.

Guildford to Hampton: the Long Wey Down

Seawave Index Page

One of England’s first navigations, dating back to 1653. That’s probably why this historic canal feels quite natural and river-like, apart from the virtual lack of current.

All hands to the barrel pump! The day will be long, sunny and warm. High time to tick off ideas matured over the winter months of Lockdown.
First on the list: the River Wey from Godalming to Weybridge in Surrey. Or should I say, the historic canal called the Wey Navigation which is paralleled in places by the old river. It’s one of England’s oldest navigations (commercial inland waterways) which once connected the Thames with the Navy base in Portsmouth. At the time a safe way of transporting stuff, including munitions produced near Godalming, without risking encounters with Napoleonic marauders in the Channel.
For years I’ve been unsure whether the Wey was a dreary canal with more locks than the Tower of London, or a grubby, semi-urban river with weirs and other obstructions. Turns out it’s a bit of both but better than expected. All I had to do was RTFM!

Compared to the similarly popular Medway, which I’ve done loads of times in IKs and packrafts, summer and winter, the Wey Nav feels less agricultural, more scenic and has an interesting history if you slow down enough to look. But it lacks the Medway’s unique canoe passes which scoot you down the side of each lock (right), avoiding up to three laborious carry-rounds per mile.
Parts of the original river survive in places to either side of the canal, which is what caused me confusion. I now realise the Navigation (managed by the National Trust) gets priority in terms of water levels and maintenance. As a result the occasionally nearby River Wey might be shallow or chocked up with fallen trees or rubbish. But you can combine both to make loops like this.

Because of the Wey’s multiple channels and numerous weirs and locks, I tried British Canoeing’s PaddlePoints website, a comprehensive database of paddleable river map routes with handy icons (above) for put-ins, parking, hazards like fallen trees, feral teenagers (I’m not joking) and so on. You can reset to delete extraneous icons (‘Covid-19’ ?); I just wanted to clearly locate the locks and weirs and river’s branches, though on the day ‘Navigation [this way]’ signs at junctions were clear. Closer scrutiny of the map shows that in places the blue line guides you along the old, choked-up river, not the Nav, and not all weirs (an important feature to know about) are shown as icons, even when they’re clearly evident on the Sat view underlay. And so the Map view (as above) can give a misleading impression of which way to go. As you’ll see below, at one point the blue line even guides you over a weir. Common sense prevails of course, but you can imagine some beginner clutching their PaddlePoints app on Map view getting sucked into a weir. I realise now this content is user-generated like OSM or Google Maps, and so errors, inconsistencies and lack of moderation are inevitable. As such, you can report icon-points, but it’s unclear if the route (blue/green line) can be corrected by users. If nothing else, PaddlePoints helps identify which rivers you’re allowed to paddle in England and Wales, and what the rules there might be.

I fancied a full dawn-to-dusk recce: as much as I could fit in from Godalming (where most paddlers start) before my tank ran dry. I might even reach Richmond on the Thames, a section I enjoyed last December in the Arrowstream. That is actually quite a haul: 20 Weymiles plus another 15 on the Thames, including no less than 17 lock portages on the two rivers. But the great thing about ending a paddle in an urban area is I could air down when I got worn out and rail home.
Thirty-five miles? Dream on, bro! I’ve only paddled two days since September so was far from paddle fit. Then again, the pre-dawn brain wasn’t on top form either: I set off in the right general direction, but on the wrong train.

Oh! Mister Porter, what shall I do?
I want to go to Godalming
And they’re taking me on to Hoo [k],
Send me back to Woking as quickly as you can,
Oh! Mister Porter, what a silly boy I am!

After backtracking, I decided to catch up with myself at Guildford, 5 miles downstream of Godalming and missing out 4 of the Wey’s 14 locks. I dare say I’d appreciate that later.

Clapham at 7am. It’s all a bit of a blur.
In Guildford I slip onto a closed towpath and enjoy a quiet set-up without the usual ‘Oh Mr Porter, is that one of those inflatable canoes? I’m thinking of getting one…’
Just around here I realised I’d left my Garmin out in the sun to catch a signal… Should have gone to Starbucks.
I’m trying out some old runners as water shoes instead of my usual Teva Omniums.
Do they really believe this or is it just juvenile baiting?
Alternative use for a big slackraft.
At Bowers Lock I spot my first Intex of the day, a 100-quid of K2 Explorer on its maiden voyage with daughter and dad.
Under an old bridge a real K1 belts past with barely any wake. Looks like fun but what happens when she stops? Same as the bike on the left, I suspect.
As canals go, not so bad.
Triggs Lock. With a little work this side sluice could be a fun canoe chute (lens finger shows scale).
All they need to do is get rid of the guillotine and add a galvanised chute at the end.  
How about it, National Trust? It would be like turning Downton Abbey into a Discount Carpet Warehouse!
Soon after lunch at Papercourt Lock I pass two chappies also heading for Weybridge in something called a Sea-Doo.
Flip yer paddle round, mate, you look like an amateur!
Not another lock, TFFT! Just some general-purpose gates to hold back Viking raiding parties.
At this scenic and willowy point the canal runs right alongside the M25 London orbital motorway.
The tyre noise is like Niagara Falls.
Mile 12 at Basingstoke canal junction. By some civil engineering synchronicity the M25, Wey Nav, Basingstoke Canal and a railway mainline all cross or meet at this point. In its way it demonstrates the history of post-medieval commercial transport: rivers > canals > railways > highways and airplanes. That’s my MA thesis, right there!
At New Haw Lock I need water but the lawn-mowing lock keeper says there’s no tap for a couple of miles.
It’s an awkward portage over a narrow road bridge too. Luckily, this chap helps me out. Thanks, chum!
Coxes Lock with a doable weir to the side. I may try it next time and risk censure from the NT.
Well, according to BC’s PaddlePoints website, that’s the way to go!
Weybridge Town Lock. Another awkward portage over a road bridge on the left.
In places the Weybridge backwaters look like an Everglades retirement village.
As I approach the Thames Lock at Weybridge things get wobbly and I have an out-of-boat experience.
Amusingly lock-themed gates close the footpath so us portageurs can pass.
Finally at Thames level, hallelujah. And there’s a tap set into the jetty too. I drink like a camel then me and the boat have ourselves a wash.
Over six hours from Guildford, but even with a drink and food to spare, I don’t have another three hours in me to reach Richmond. Maybe I can do two hours to Kinsgton.
Now on the Thames, I become a great admirer of roller portages.
The game’s up at Hampton Court Bridge if I’m to have enough energy to roll up the boat. The station is right there.
It’s a warm evening on the Thames and they’re all out in boats and the riverside parks. The Rule of Six? Do me a favour!
The skiffs collect bird poo while two lads fire up their Intex Challengers. I’ve seen more Intex IKs today than anything else.
Why? Because they cost from under 100 quid, float just like a Seawave [but track like a bin bag].
And he may be saying to himself: ‘My god, what have I done?’
Dusk back at Clapham Jct. All up, only 21 miles. I blame ten portages, no resting and my nifty but 3-kilo Ortlieb roller duffle.
With too much food, it all made the boat just a bit too heavy to carry easily. Where the lock-side grass was lush I dragged the boat, but I have a better idea.

Just before the GPS packed up at Basingstoke canal junction, I was averaging 5.5kph on the move. Pretty good with no current to speak of. On the livelier Thames I estimate I was moving at up to 10kph before I withered. Same as in the FDS Shipwreck in December.
My tall BIC backrest (left) initially felt great then collapsed on itself. Usual story: needs a stiffer insert.
I was trying out my new footrest tube attachment points which worked great. Only when one heat-welded strap broke near Addlestone was I reminded how essential footrests are to comfort, efficiency and stamina. I jury-rigged something up between two D-rings which have been staring in the face all this time.

My 2021 Wey Survey of UK Paddling Trends 

  • Hardshell canoes: 1
  • Hardshell kayaks: 1 (+ 2 K1 racers)
  • Hardshell SoT: 1
  • Vinyl IKs (cheapies): 5
  • PVC (bladder) IKs 3
  • iSUPs: 10+  (mostly women on iSuPs, too)
  • PFDs worn, almost none then again, mine’s more of a handy waistcoat)
  • FDS spotted: none (interesting as readers here are mad for that page)