Drop-stitch Gumotex Thaya IK

thayaopThe awardGumotex Thaya is set to replace the 4.1-m Solar 3, but with some added width and a drop-stitch (d/s) floor, like some Sea Eagles, Advanced Elements and Aqua Glides.
sempauto - 17Drop-stitch fabric tech has moved on enough to make the complicated hand assembly of pressure-vulnerable I-beam floors (left) redundant. A D/S floor is a flat panel with effectively 3-4 zillion ‘I-beams’, all spreading the pressure load evenly to constrain the form in a plank shape but at much higher pressure than an I-beam floor can handle. In an IK high pressure = a more rigid hull = better response.
Screen Shot 2018-11-03 at 12.42.25What Gumo have done is combine a D/S floor with their durable, flexible and environmentally right-on Nitrilon rubber fabric. The regular, normal-pressure 3psi side tubes now don”t need the higher pressures I run on my adapted Seawave because the 7psi (0.5 bar) D/S floor greatly aids longitudinal rigidity.
Gumotex’s new tag line rubs it in: ‘Made in EU [read: ‘not China’], made from rubber [read: ‘not PV – spit – C’].

thaya-red-l
The slick video below suggests something revolutionary, but combining D/S with Nitrilon can’t be that much different from doing the same with PVC. It will simplify or speed up assembly, make floors less prone to rupture and may even be able to eliminate the PRV necessary for sw09protecting I-beam floors from internal ruptures when they overheat in the sun.
One positive thing about I-beam floors is the parallel I-tubes (left) probably don’t hurt tracking (even without a skeg). They also enable the desirable curved hull profile of a boat rather than the flat floor of a barge (for the moment D/S panels can only be flat or maybe with a slight curve). A high-pressure barrel pump to inflate up to 7 psi or more is not essential. A thin barrel pump like the £25 Decathlon item (right) decpumpworks best to deliver high pressure. Payload ratings range between 230- and 275kg and they say the three basic, movable seats and footrests are also made from D/S panels. Why? For the backrest that might make sense; not sure how comfy a D/S seat will be after an hour or two. Still, you don’t have to pump them up to the max.
thaya-familyI’ve never tried one, but I do wonder how a flat-floored D/S IK might handle in windier, choppier conditions where an IK isn’t exactly a hydrofoil at the best of times. A flat, raft-like floor will be stable, sure, but it will roll and pitch about more. Also, according to the specs (link below) the Thaya is a disappointing 6 or 9cm (3.5″) wider than the all-tube Solar 3. Great for family-friendly stability; not so good for solo paddling speed and efficiency. My Seawave is 2cm narrower than a Solar 3 and, with the usual care getting in, stability is not an issue. Out at sea this boat will be swamped long before I’m tipped out. But then again, the near-rigid floor may cancel out the drawbacks of the greater width. A Thaya weighs nearly 10% less than a Solar 3 too, and with the plain floor will roll up more compactly.
For most recreational, flatwater users as pictured above left, the new Thaya ought to be a nice family boat, but then so was a Solar 3. The Thaya is going discounted for around £850. While it lasts, the Solar 3 goes for £620.

Posted in Gumotex IKs, Inflatable Kayaks | Tagged , , ,

Book review: Best Canoe Trips in the South of France

See also Packboating in Southern France
MAssif2

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 massifrivers1guide, 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.
massifriversVisiting 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:

BAKSouth-of-France[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
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• Great selection of brilliant rivers – there’s nothing else like it
• Loads (and loads) of colour photos show how it is
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•  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?


twobooksReview
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 Riverwyecash-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.
massifsummInside, 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 round, 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 levels website.
rivoThe 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.
rivaJust 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 irrelevantDuck, 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.

al18 - 15

 

Posted in France, Gear, Inflatable Kayaks, Packrafting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

MYOG: TiZip Pakbag

Updated February 2019

bagbag2As mentioned here, wafting down the Tarn Gorge this summer with a Watershed Chattooga drybag jammed under my knees gave me plenty of time to configure what kind of ‘deckbag’ I felt would better fit my needs.
Peli cases were too heavy and cumbersome for these sorts of trips, while dependably dunk-proof – or even submersible bags like the Chattooga are too big and too fiddly to seal easily. I just needed a 5-litre bag to sit on the floor below my knees for my must-stay-dries and camera.
Using state-of-the-art Adobe Crayon™ CAD software I came up with a design (above left) and optimal dims of about 29cm x 15cm wide by 12cm deep giving about 5 litres volume. Part of the attraction of this project was learning to heat-weld TPU fabric with a small iron. It looks so much easier and less messy than glue. Or so I thought.

Before I got – quite literally – stuck in I considered adapting 3handssome of the many heavy-duty SealLine PVC roll-top dry bags I have knocking about. All I needed to do was stick a zip in, then somehow cap one end with a round piece of something. I may well try that later but what I was actually aiming for was a stable box not a cylinder to sit securely on the floor of a boat. And fyi, PVC can’t be heat sealed with an iron because it’s double coated. With double-coated anything (TPU or PVC) you need to use a heat gun and a roller which requires three hands. Or a one-sided seam tape. Or just glue.
fabricThe body of my Pakbag could be made from single-coated yellow 210D packraft hull fabric, with the near-square end panels in ‘both-sides-coated’ 420D black packraft floor material. At 650g/sqm (27oz/sq yard) this stuff is good and thick. The thin yellow is 275g/sqm.
Half a metre minimum order of each cost 10€ and 20€ respectively from extremtextil in Germany; a very handy resource for the home fabricaiser. What you see is what’s left over. Extrem were also one of the only places I found who’d sell a couple of 23-cm TiZip MasterSeal 10s for €23 each. Rolled delivery cost a bit more but avoided folds and was very fast. In the meantime I won a used Prolux iron off ebay for 20 quid and already had some scissors, a table, a ruler and a knife.

bagbagtempI’m not so skilled at home handicrafts so expected to make a right mess of things first time round, and was prepared to make a second bag. The next best thing I could do was think carefully before edsizdiving in like Edward Scissorhands at a confetti convention.
One smart decision I made was to use a wooden mould to form the bag around. I could have laboriously hand-sawn some kitchen-shelf leftovers down to size, but after more ebaying found a pair of hobbyist’s knick-knack balsa boxes which added up to 15 x 12 x 30 stacked.
As mentioned, you can’t iron on the coated side of TPU fabric; the coating will melt all over your iron before it bonds to whatever’s underneath. You can only directly heat an uncoated surface while pressing down the coated side which melts to the corresponding panel pablito– coated or uncoated.
You can learn a lot from the DIY Packraft website. Lord knows how these guys manage to make packrafts from a roll of raw TPU. There can be no doubt that my attempt would end up looking like Picasso in an abattoir, but a dinky, curve-free pakbag ought to be within my abilities.
They mention the need for an iron with an adequate and consistent spread of heat up to around 220°C. proluxRated at 205°C, my cheapo Prolux was not in this category. I understand model makers find them ideal for applying thin transfers. For TPU work you need an iron with more poke, costing at least three times as much.
I practised joining 210D to 210D, but sealing was far from instantaneously miraculous. It took repeated ironing and pressing, as well as spot heating to get a full seal with virtually no air gaps or lifted edges. You could then peel it apart if you got an edge up, but you certainly couldn’t pull it apart. I thought maybe the coating may be too thin or once melted was gone for good, but it’s probably just my crap iron.

For the end panels you need to seal 210D on to the thick black 420D. The box mould really helped to make a neat-enough job. One interesting observation about joining fabrics by sewing or heat-welding is that millimetre-precise measurements aren’t critical as they are with wood or metal. I took more time than I needed cutting the exact forms and trying to get precisely perpendicular edges. A big metal set square may help, or you can find stuff round the house – in my case, some square glass bathroom scales. Another tip is arrange something sticky under your cutting edge ruler so it doesn’t slip as you slice hard to get a full, straight cut.
tizpperThe length of the bag is partly governed by the available zip size. The 23cm MS10 Tizip which extrem sell is presumably used as a relief zip on men’s drysuits, but for a bag has a minimally useful aperture of just 19cm. The next size they sell is a massive 71cm. They must make TiZip sizes in between (for example for packraft cargo hulls), but good luck tracking them down online.

dekbo1

First job was wrapping the bag body panel round the box mould and sealing it. Cue endless to and fro with the iron to try and get a complete seal before I gave up and accepted I’d glue up the gaps later.  Looking back, I should have made this join on the top of the bag, either side of the zip. Barely two inches of yellow to yellow sealing required here. Now I know.

dekbo2

I dropped a black end panel on to the end of the box mould.

dekbo3

and welded down the bits between the corners.

dekbo4

Then I made an incision at each corner, pressed the flaps down over each other and welded on. Good to know the 210 welds much better to the thicker coated black stuff.

dekbo5

Sealing wasn’t perfect but all along I expected to have to hand seal all joins, and certainly all corners with Seam Seal.

dekbo6

Before sealing the other end, I cut a slot for the zip.

dekbo7

Then ironed it down. Again, the thick coating on the broad zip sides made good adhesion easier to achieve.

dekbo8

I stuck a home-made D-ring on the finished end. I actually needed this to pull the bag off the tightly fitting box mould before doing the other end. This requires sawing an end off the box so it can be removed through the zip hole after butting up against the unfinished bag end to support firm heat welding.

dekbo9

Oh dear, look at the state of that floor seal inside the bag. I went over it again with the iron, then filled up the gaps with glue.

dekbo10

Then I stuck the zip cut-out over it for good measure. Once inverted, I did the same on the outside for more good measure. It’s not pretty but it ought to seal.

dekbo11

With the bag still inside out, I went round the yellow-to-black joins with Seam Seal. It’s like Aquasure/Aquaseal, but runnier and takes a long time to dry.

dekbo12

Beautifully sealed seams. I should get a job at Alpacka.

dekbo13

The bag turned right way out. I’m amazed that it looks less crap than I  expected. No need for stiffeners; as hoped, the 420 end panels retain the boxy shape. The box mould (sawn off bits in the foreground) helped greatly in making a tidy form.

dekbo14

Without the strap the bag weighs 158g or 5.5 oz.

pakbag

Completed Pakbag alongside the Aquapac and a Peli 1150.

pakbagfoamer

Pakbag, with a foam floor panel to keep above any moisture. A sachet of silica crystals may help humidity, as does TiZip silicon lube for the zip end. It passed the submersion sink test.

Several features are omitted from the Adobe Crayon blueprint at the top of the page:

• The overlap sleeve on the side to contain the shoulder strap to avoid entrapment. On rough water I’ll just unhook the shoulder strap and stash it
• Otherwise the full-length shoulder strap can adjust down to ‘handbag ‘length so there’s less is lying about
• No side net. Would still quite like this but not sure how to do it neatly
• TiZip is not diagonal – not important –dripbox but the arched stays idea underneath it may be. I noticed in France under the knees gets a lot of drips off the paddle (PSZ; right) which can get in when you open up.
Convex top would be good but a shake of the bag may thrown off excess drips before unzipping
• Need to find a way to attach it to the packraft floor. Velcro might be low profile but with the repeated force of pulling apart, I’m not sure the shiny-backed stuff I have will glue to the bag or the floor well enough, even with proper two-part glue. So Ill just clip one of the strap rings a D-ring glued on, mid-floor

 

A few months later… using the Pakbag

pakbagwairo

After paddling the Wairoa River in New Zealand as a day trip, I can boldly claim my nzt - 12MYO Pakbag is fit for purpose. It’s just the right size for a water bootle, camera, GPS and wallet, even if the easy-to-use zip is a tad short for easy access.
One thing I didn’t appreciate is that, slung over the shoulder while sat in the boat, the bag is still handy to access but keeps off a wet floor and is always attached to you. No need to think where it is.
NZWH - 10Sadly my glue or gluing skills are not so fit for purpose. I need to reglue the strap end-rings and a couple of corners. This time I’ll probably use 2-part glue which I know will tear off the coating from the fabric core before it separates from what it’s glued to.

What I’d really like is for someone to make this properly. The difficulty – as possibly mentioned above – seems to be that anything with TiZips requires the consent and approval of TiZip Inc before they supply a zip. It’s a way of ensuring a proper application to their tight specs is done so that their reputation is not harmed. Which is why many TiZip products, like my Ortlieb Travel Zip bag are unusually expensive. You’d think there must be alternative or knock-off TiZips around; I’m pretty sure I searched and searched

 

 

 

 

Posted in Alpacka Yak, Gear, Inflatable Kayaks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Deckbags for packboats

ipratingsWhether on day trips or overnighters, how do you organise easy access to regularly used items and valuables, including stuff you want to carry when away from your packboat? I’m talking something capable of handling less than flat water, rated at least IP65 (left) to stash the wallet, phone, tablet, camera, travel docs, ammo and snacks. Stuff you want to keep dry in case of swamping or capsize, as well as being easy to get to on the water.

For walking or cycling, a daypack kokodoes the trick but it doesn’t really work in a paddle boat. The pockets and pouches in your pfd (right) have their uses, but they’re not waterproof. You want something that’s airtight when briefly submerged while providing convenience on the water and portability off it. It’s actually quite a tall order.


mapcaseThings like paper maps and nav aids (GPS, compass) I keep in a separate waterproof pouch like the SealLine (left) with a double ziploc seal, even if this is yet more clutter around your legs.
Since I took that photo I’ve mounted a compass on the gunwale of my Seawave IK – drum-comp very handy as it’s always there at a glance.
And I now use a IPX7-rated Garmin Montana with loads of mapping space, though I prefer to keep salty sea water off it where possible.

Waterproof waist bags
waistbagsA small, roll-top waterproof waistpack actually ticks many boxes as long as you don’t mind being attached to yet more clobber. There are quite a few out there (left) between 2 and 6 litres, from OverBoard (2 sizes) to Aquapac and the bigger SealLine. The good thing is a waistpack sits up on your lap, out of the water and the paddle splash zone (PSZ), but well within reach.
The bad thing is they’re a faff to roll up and clip down quickly and reliably, and if you’re bobbing around in the water swimming after your boat you can be sure they’ll slowly leak. Read reviews and you’ll come across disgruntled accounts of ruined cameras or phones following a quick dip or even too much splashing. The problem as usual is the roll top; it needs to be tightly rolled down 2 or 3 times, then tightly clipped and even cinched down to the sides to make a good, dunk-proof seal. I believe a lot also depends on the nature of those sealing surfaces. As long as you avoid creases, smooth, shiny vinyl or PU pressing against the same will make a better seal than anything textured, like Cordura.

Hard cases
Fpdb-ottoor years the obvious solution seemed to be small ABS or polypropylene hard cases commonly used for camera gear. I started with a 9-litre Otterbox in my Gumotex Sunny days (left). The Otter was lighter and cheaper than the well-known Peli cases, and with either you know the box will be airtight, access quick pdb-otterenough and boxes make a handy solid footrest in an IK as well as a seat or raised surface on a beach.
After some years I changed to a Peli 1400, a bit less volume than the Otter, but peliconea bit wider and flatter. Adding some retaining straps my Macbook Air fits neatly inside the lid (right), and P1150539below there’s room for everything I need in a day.
The only thing that spoils the Peli and similar boxes are the clamps which are hard pelliito open or close effortlessly. Some sort of lever-arch mechanism would be better. Because if this I use the box less often than I would during a paddle. On top of that a shoulder strap for hands-free carrying is awkward unless attachment rings are added. And at 2 kilos the lunchbox1400 is a bit hefty.
I really don’t need a Peli Cases’s crush-proof ruggedness. All I want is submersion-proof airtightness up IP65 for which a lunchbox (right) or food storage box might do as well, as long as the durability and seal could be relied on.


pdb-wsheds

Around the same time I got into packrafts I discovered Watershed dry bags. Most of them use an oversized rubbery zip-loc seal which is submersion-proof and therefore miles better than roll-tops. The yellow, 30-litre Chattooga (left) is also more chuckable than a hard case, makes a good pillow, and for me has secondary uses for biking. It fits under the knees just about, but as many find, can be difficult to open and close. To operate smoothly and seal quickly the big seal needs lubing with 404 or silicon grease.

Around this time I also got into Lumix FT waterproof Ft7cameras which could slip into a pfd pocket, so on-water camera access was no longer an issue. It took a few years and a better camera for me to realise just how average these waterproof cameras are for the price you pay (the latest IPX8-rated FT7 – right – is £400). Because the tiny lens must work within the housing, they’re only OK while the light is good. Occasionally they’ll expose perfectly – just don’t bother the optical zoom beyond halfway unless it’s Elvis riding a unicorn. Once I got myself an LX100 there was no going back to FT burners. The LX is of course vulnerable to water, although desert dust has gradually damaged it much more over the years.
aquapac-4-3With an expensive camera you need reliable water protection, but as someone once said, the best camera is one you can deploy in less than 5 seconds. Box or bag, either were too slow with an LX, compared to whipping out your FT.
I bought a used Aquapac camera aquasealbag (left). They’re just your usual roll down and clip jobbies, but inside the lid is a ziploc seal (right) which makes the bag much more dunk-proof than regular roll tops. Testing in a sink, bubbles only escape very slowly, but treading water with it attached to your waist might not end so well.


dunkboxsubmarineDoing a sink submersion test (right) reminds you of the difference between hard cases and sealed bags. A rigid box is unaffected by the increased pressure of light submersion. If anything, the pressure forces the lid down on the seal even more.
With a bag it’s the opposite: even a few inches underwater compresses the bag, forcing the air out through any weak point, usually the closure. This is why submarines are made of steel, not PVC.

One flaw with these Aquapac camera bags are the flimsy belt loops they come with. On mine I glued over one with a big taped patch (right). But really it’s too aquapatchbulky to hang off a belt; I ziptie mine into one of the net pouches of my Anfibio Buoy Boy pdf, but only fold over and clip when at sea. To properly close the seal is too much faffing and usually necessary – until it is.
It makes me realise the difference in needs between the fair-weather sea kayaking I do, and the occasional river up to grade 3. Such rapids will partially fill an open (undecked) packraft or IK; something which rarely happens at sea unless you make a mess of a surf landing or have badly misjudged the weather.
On bigger rapids the packraft or IK easily takes on a few litres of water, and there’s a chance of flipping if you get crossed up too. When that happens, at sea or on a river, you need to be sure that:
a. everything is attached to you or the boat and
b. all those things are as water tight as they need to be.
Alone, in a bit of a panic after a capsize, you don’t want to be distracted by chasing loose bits of stuff floating or blowing away, or sinking under a stream of bubbles.

peli1150On the Tarn I found the Chattooga under my knees too big in general, and too big to exit the boat easily (or in a rush). But I sure didn’t miss lugging the hefty Peli 1400 around.
I thought a lot about my needs and for the Allier came up with an interim solution: a smaller 1150-like hardcase (left) of about 2 litres volume for my essentials, including the LX. It worked OK, bar the usual easy opening issues.
I knew from the Tarn what I really wanted was a small waterproof under-knee ‘deckbag’ with a waterproof zip closure. The zip eliminates the bulk as well as dunking unreliability of roll-tops, while the bag weighs much less than a box and carries effortlessly and comfortably on a shoulder strap. I had the dimensions and design all jotted down in my head.

Waterproof TiZip bags
airefrodoA lot of Googling later I realised no one makes such a thing. There are plenty of TiZip daypacks like the Lowepro Dryzone range, or larger, watersports-oriented duffles from the likes of Ortlieb or Aire (Frodo; right) or SealLine, which resemble my own YKK-zipped Watershed UDB – one of my favourite bags. But none of the above are smaller than my 30-litre Chattooga.

orttrunkThe closest candidates I’ve found include the IP67-rated Ortlieb Trunk Bag (right and left). At 8 litres it’s a bit tankeron the big side (add up the claimed dims and it’s more like 11 litres). And these days it only comes with a fitting mechanism to lock it to a bike rack. very clever but this all helps raise the weight to over a kilo and price up to £98. The fabric is also not your usual pliant and mildly carcinogenic Ortlieb PVC, but resembles Heavalon (with its distinctive hexagon patterning) which Gumotex use as decking on some boats.
The Trunk-Bag could suit a lot of paddlers but as it’s made for bikes, you do wonder if it’s actually dunk-proof. Tellingly, the product description says under water resistance: ‘lower edge of product, duration: 30 mins‘. As well all know, it’s common to be paddling a packraft with a little water swilling round the floor, so unless you slaver the base of your Trunk-Bag in Aquaseal, water will slowly seep through. Not good.

Other TiZip options include fly fishing waist bags, which you imagine are ready for  dunking. But they’re so large they often came with an added shoulder or neck harness to help take the weight. Plus it seems fly fishing gear may be to outdoor gear like smoked salmon is to fish fingers stormfront– prices are nuts. Patagonia make the Stormfront (left), a 10-litre waistpack with an added shoulder strap – yours for as little as £180! It’s just a dunking PVC handbag with a zip!
You’ll find any number of other fly fishing roll top bags at twice the price of hiking or SUPing examples pictured above.

Note that many find waterproof zips like the plastic TiZip or brass YKK stiff to operate, just as they are on a dry suit. Ideally you need a good T-toggle and some sort of tab to pull against. And I do wonder if incorporating TiZips to the required standards explains the high prices or gear using them. The full range of TiZips is not readily sold to consumers, only to manufacturers for products which use them.

Anyway, long story long, I decided it might be fun to make my own TiZip deck bag. Read about that here.

deckbagz

Daybag solutions: clockwise from top left: Peli 1150, Peli 1400 with Aquapac camera bag on top, my yellow Pakbag; roll-top phone bag for back up; four-clip food container.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Inflatable Kayaks | Tagged , , , , , ,

Kayaking and packrafting the Allier (France)

See also:
• Chassezac
Ardeche
Packboating in southern France
Tarn

allier-mapIn 2005 the Dordogne and nearby Vezere were my first multi-day rivers in a Sunny IK, all helped by the discovery of the inspiring White Water Massif Central guidebook. The Dordogne was a good choice but to be honest, a bit easy. Ready for something more sportif, I’d got it into my head from the book that the Ardeche was too hardcore, so I’d be better off on the less famous Allier between Chapeauroux and Brioude (big map, left).
malgreyIn fact, as you can read here (admittedly at twice the normal summer flow; video too), parts of Allier can get tricky (see right). Even though a railway carves and tunnels right along the gorge, on the first two days from Chapeauroux there are places where the rapids come at you fast and with no easy way out of the gorge if you get in trouble. Over the years stranded paddlers have been rescued by helicopter.

al-5

Not fully comprehending all this, in June 2006 I set off al-stationfrom al-12Chapeauroux (right) in my Sunny, and at the very first bend was flapping about like a salmon with a seizure, trying to stay on track. It went on like that for a while, then eased up and actually got quite pleasant by the time I reached Alleyras for the night. This was more like it; a wild river rather than the broad Dordogne lined with water pumps irrigating the adjacent farmland.
Next morning a taxi transported me past the then-closed section dodging the Poutes dam below Alleyras (more below) and dropped me at Monistrol. Here again I failed to fully appreciate the greater challenges immediately ahead, even if the guidebook was clear: great fun in a creekboat, but an open canoe will fill up on the longer rapids. And if I didn’t know it then, I do now: the white water abilities of open canoes and IKs are closely matched, while IKs might easier to control for beginners.

al raftThis Monistrol stage is run by commercial rafting trips (above), also a telling sign about the nature of this part of the river. I scraped through that day, exiting a few rapids with a boat full of water, and on one ending up swimming alongside it. Below left, notice the baggage al-15floating in the swamped boat. Looking back, I’m pretty sure this was the exit of ‘La Barraque au Ponnet‘ (KM3.5; more below) with that raft above coming through soon after I stopped. It was all a bit of a shock.

Unless you’re confident, I’d suggest not following my example in doing this section alone. Consider a recce in the raft if there’s one going that day, or ask if you can tag along for safety.

A few kilometres before Prades (KM12 from Monistrol) it became less of a white-knuckle ride, and what followed all the way to Brioude were fun, Grade 2 rapids and a couple of thought-provoking chutes or easy portages. All manageable in open packboats. As you approach Brioude on the last day, the paddling eases right up so that you start harking back for a bit of eaux vivants.
al18 - 3al18 - 27All along what they now call ‘one of Europe’s last wild rivers’ you’ll pass many striking outcrops of columnar basalt as well as pretty villages (like Chilac, below) with adjacent campsites, boulangeries, inexpensive hotels – and not a chain store to be seen.
Like the better known Ardeche and Tarn, the Allier is another Massif classic, still distinctively scenic but with less of the nose-to-tail traffic during busy holiday periods.

al18 - 31

allimapGetting there
Although the daily trains aren’t frequent, with riverside stations at Brioude, Langeac, Monistrol, Alleyras and Chapeauroux, the Allier (left) is easy to get to with packboats. First, Easyjet yourself to Lyon, or Ryanair-it to Nimes or Clermont, two cities which are also linked by the scenic Ligne des Cévennes rail line (below). Brioude is an hour south of Clermont, and Chapeauroux is two hours over the hills from Nimes. Between them, Brioude and Chapeauroux span the scenic and paddleable 88-km section of the Allier.
One thing worth considering if you’re unsure about the Grade 3+ Monistrol–Prades section, is coming up on the train from Brioude or Langeac. al-rochpleurIt passes right above the gorge where you get a good view of the Barraque au Ponnet and a few seconds later the ‘Roche qui Pleure’ drop a few hundred metres upstream (right; Gumotex Scout canoe). I’m sure glad I looked when I came back in 2018.

cevligne


al18 - 1Twelve years later I finally return to the Allier, this time with a packraft. I flew to Lyon (cheaper and more frequent than last-minute Ryanair), caught the train via Clermont to Brioude (5hrs), and next day caught the first train to Monistrol (left).
I planned to miss out the Chapearoux–Alleyras stage to save time and the taxi faff around the dam**. It left me three days to cover about 70 paddling kilometres back to Brioude.

al-poutes** I have just read that since August 2018 (click ‘P5’) the long-closed section between Alleyras and Monistrol is now open to paddlers, with a portage around the Poutes dam re-construction site (left), 3.5km from Alleyras (the train passes right in front of it).
As part of the Allier resalmonification al18-woodsalmonprogramme, the dam is being substantially lowered (video) and fitted with a ‘ladder’ to help the fish get upstream and propagate – and give anglers something to do. Note that local environmentalists fought a long battle to get this far so act sensibly, especially around the Poutes dam site. Don’t get run over by a digger!

al-brioweirThe train heading upstream passed right in front of the Brioude weir (left) where I’d be taking out in a couple of days. The line then rejoins the Allier at Langeac before heading for Monistrol. Soon it enters the wild gorge and looking down at the rapids below I thought…
‘Hang on a minute!’
which, a rapid or two later escalated to
‘WTJOF!?’.
I recall being unnerved in 2006, but I’m sure they didn’t look this al18 - 43gnarly. I realised later that the first 100-m white plume was ‘Le Barraque au Ponnet’, easily recognisable on aerial maps, pictured on the right in full winter spate. The other WTJ… was ‘La Roche Qui Pleure’ – two of the fruitiest chutes on this stage (map below left).
p1290746I got off at Monistrol, scoffed a petit dej at a deserted hotel and wandered around town wondering what to do. The river didn’t seem higher than normal; perhaps it was low back in June 2006?
Either falsememway, thanks to my train preview this stage seemed a bit too ripe for me; the Yak would be spilling over long before I was halfway through ‘Le Ponnet’.
For a while I actually wondered if I was suffering from false memory syndrome from 2006 and might have cause to claim compensation if I found the right lawyer. But I definitely recall the al-monihydroold Monistrol hydro plant (right) and my photo record shows I took the picture of the board below left at 9.03 and was at Prades beach by 1pm, invigorated but not indordinately trauamtised, iirc. River pictures were few back then in that pre-Lumix FT2 era.
alli06-monisLater, trying to work out what was different (other than my nerve), I wondered if I’d glanced down on Le Ponnet during a particularly hearty pulse of dam-released water? Looking at the vigicrues website later, the flow graph for that day (at Prades) does show it was high as I passed by round 8am – before dropping six inches around midday. I knew from the Tarn earlier this summer that following a stormy night, a six-inch rise makes a difference – it speeds up the flow but can also smother stony rapids and make them easier. al-monichutThe pulsed releases every 8 hours are the lumpy pattern you can see along the bottom of the graph below for the days before and after I came through. As you can see, I am bending over backwards trying to find ways to rationise away my new-found timidity!
Right: from the Eiffel bridge in town, you can see the first rapid (looking back upstream). Like the books says: if you don’t like how this or the next couple of runs look, turn back. Otherwise – strap on in for the ride!

ali-pradesflowgraf.jpg

al18 - 4Annoyingly, my GPS with good maps was at the menders. I borrowed a look off a trekker’s map (Monistrol is on the GR65 Santiago trail) but at 1:100k, I was none the wiser. I’d have needed a 1:25k map to find any viable paths along the gorge.
In the end I decided to follow a path by the bridge on the right side of the river, signed: ‘Viaduct, 1 hr’. It might continue along or above the gorge to a point where I could put in with the worst behind me. If it didn’t I could turn back and hitch or bus – or if desperate, clamber uphill to the D301 backroad to Prades.
al18 - 6And that is what I did, but not without a huge amount of effort. Initially the path followed the riverbank, al18-5passing a few Grade 3s (right, probably ‘La Benne’; KM1.8) which would have swamped my Yak like hot ‘creme anglais’ over a freshly baked rhubarb crumble.
Some three hours later, high above the valley and heading for dehydration (33°C in Brioude that day), I gave up. Fallen trees, brambles, scree slopes, an intermittent path al18-10and the 1:1 slope all took their toll. After a failed attempt climbing a loose cliff, I managed to hack my way uphill and emerged a sweaty mess on the D310, like I’d just escaped from a teenage slasher movie. Scratched, bitten, stung and grazed to buggery, I’d covered 3km in three hours.
al-sunfI washed in a cattle trough and passed through the sunflower hamlets of Conaquet and Conac, before splitting left down a side track and path leading back downhill, hopefully to rejoin the river. This it did, just before Pont Gilbert and al-monimapjust below ‘La Petite Grille’, by chance nearly the last (and easy-looking) rapid, 8 river-kms from Monistrol. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, this turned out to be pretty darn good route-finding without a map (right).
al18 - 9At one point earlier, while thrashing through the bush or teetering across scree slopes, I heard the telltale whoops of hyper-exited rafters far below. I realised that’s what I should have done: taken the fun option in a big-arsed raft as far as Pont Gilbert (if they’d take me, with baggage).
I’d seen signs for the rafting centre near Monistrol station, but the town was so quiet I assumed they’d closed for the season. It would have been a great way to punch through the big rapids without a care in the world. Picture above left: the ‘Le Ponnet’ viaduct down below with the long ‘Barraque’ rapid starting just round the corner and ‘Roche qui Pleure’ laughing menacingly from behind the trees on the left.
al18 - 12Dropping the kit bag and setting up by the riverside ‘La Petite Grille’, it had indeed become hot enough to grill a ‘croque monsieural-gonfleurs‘, but once on the water it sure felt good to flop down and float away like a stray log. Just like in the wilds of northwest Scotland, if you have the choice: float, don’t walk.
floatdontwalkObviously part of me wondered if I could have managed the gnarly rapids upstream. After all, I’d clearly scraped through before in the Sunny (still hard to believe). But I’d followed my gut and felt happy with that.
Watch Belgian packrafter Dzjow’s video below from 2014. He enjoyed the Monistrol stage so much he went back up on the train and did it again with GoPros rolling. Watching it, I’m glad I didn’t. From Monistrol starts at 1:57 and he shoots down ‘La ‘Roche qui Pleure’ (the image below) at 2:28, soon followed by ‘Barraque au Ponnet’ which starts at 2:34 (note the railway viaduct) and goes on for a while to the big rock (3:19) you’ll recognise on the left in the rafting pic, above. Dzjow is a hardcore adventuriste I’ve come across before. The following year he went on to do a self-admitedly tough and not so enjoyable trip in wild Patagonia. He hasn’t written about packrafting since.
Next time I’m here I’ll rent a bailing IK as wide as a bed and give it a go.

After about 4km I pulled into Prades beach (below left). I needed salt and I needed drink. And while I was at it, what harm would a handmade mini quiche, some bacon crisps and a tartes aux framboises do? None at all, mon ami.
al18 - 14Now revived but still worn out by the morning’s commando course, I knew there was a bit of a drossage (great word) just round the corner, but it was all fun knowing a few others were playing around too, including SUPs. What is it with these SUPs? I’ve never seen them doing anything more than goof about in the shallows but rarely actually go anywhere, yet they are clearly more popular than IKs and packrafts combined. What does that say about the state of post-industrial recreation in the developed world?

al18 - 15

al18 - 17Unusually, I had a hotel booked at Reilhac, about 18km downriver, past Langeac. With just  a couple of canoes on the water, the afternoon passed without drama, bar the odd wetting. But approaching Langeac, the din from the weir just before town was unusually intimidating. The canoe chute here (left) is well-known as being a bit of a drossage because it’s about 3 feet too short and so pumps a plume of water into a nasty backwave which not all boats can easily escape.
al18 - 16And I do wish these Frenchies would mark the tops of their glissades with two poles, indicating: ‘aimez-vous ici!’. On the left, show me the chute entry point while wearing a pair of sweat-smudged specs! Maybe the idea is by not having clear markers, paddlers slow down and look carefully.
I did just that and, after beetitthe day I’d had, portaged round off a little beach on the right. I could not be arsed with hitting the churning pile to get catapulted over the bow like a 40-kilo sack of dried beetroots. I felt that no matter how far back I leant, my short, light boat would plough ‘n’ flip, unlike a longer IK. Back in the water, I paddled on through early evening Langeac and an hour or so later was slumped on my Reilhac hotel bed.

Today was just what was wanted; a short, easy run of just 13km, ending at the UNESCO-overlooked village of Lavoute Chilac where the charming Hotel des Pecheurs tottered on the slender gooseneck bluff above the Allier.
al18 - 23Three clicks downriver (6km from Langeac) was a double-drop weir-chute (left). Easy enough providing you steer straight for the lower drop, but I walked it as I knew it would be a bailing job, and today was some 10 degrees cooler.
al18 - 28Splish followed splosh followed splish down to Chillac (below, 11.5km from Langeac), another picture-perfect postcard village sat atop a striking basalt plug with dreamy views across the Auvergnois countryside from the terrace by the church (big picture, top of page).

al18 - 29al18 - 34Half a click downstream from Chilac is an easy, short chute on the far left (left). But once down it I realised the old weir passing below the mill on the right had pretty much been washed away, making the chute redundant and a fun ride down a long, shallow rapid. Clearly I was recovering my mojo if I was looking for some white water action again. Later I read this weir has been flushed away for some years, but is another thing the new Canoe Trips, South of France guide had overlooked.
al-44Soon, the bluff of Lavoute Chilac rose into view. I pulled over left at the riverside park, let my gear dry, then walked into the village over the tall bridge (left).
Les Pecheurs (white building on the right, below) was still on siesta, so I left the Yak by the steps and walked over to at Le Prieure, the other creaky-stair hotel in the village, for a mouth watering  ‘Salade Auvergnate‘.

al18-35.jpg
Wandering around the old church and the imposing, 18th-century facade of the abandoned al18 - 37priory (right, due for al-priorluxury flat conversion), I was staggered to see a July 1866 flood marker at the church’s back door. In the photo left my hotel room would have been submerged by a few metres. Perhaps the river’s acute 180-degree turn causes flood waters to back up.

It’s the last day of my packrafting mini-break and by my estimates I had about 22km of paddling, plus another 4km walk to Brioude station to catch the 4:10 to Lyon Part Dieu. I didn’t want to miss that so set off briskly, passing a canoeing couple (the only other boat I saw all day) until I could estimate my pace against a landmark. Before 11am I’d reached the bridge at Villeneuve: 9.5 clicks in just 80 minutes which gave me plenty of time. This Allier flows quicker than it looks.
al18 - 38The book talks of another old weir to ‘shoot’ at Villeneuve campsite, but there’s nothing here except a ford with poles marking the car crossing. Many of the book’s ‘shoot an old weir’ descriptions are out of date. There’s rarely anything more than a line of rounded al18 - 39boulders and a drop of a few inches, making you wonder: ‘was that it?’ But at Ville Brioude, just before the tall bridge (right), the book suggests you can shoot a modern concrete weir (above left). Good luck with that and those boulders lined along the base.
al-brioweirFinally I was back at the public beach below La Bargesse campsite. Ahead was the big weir  before the red brick rail bridge I’d crossed on the train a few days earlier (left). Here again the book now suggests ‘portage right’ and other convoluted options – perhaps a simple left/right mistake? You simply take out at the grassy park, river left, walk over a little footbridge and put back in below the weir under the railway bridge and above a shallow rapid.

al18 - 41All done. Once again, I’m amazed at the true amphibiousness of these packrafts, especially if not hauling camping gear on the trail. A long walk to dodge gnarly or closed stages is (potentially) easily done, even carrying an inappropriate kitbag.
With plenty of time to catch my train, I dried off, got changed and walked over to Brioude for a coffee and cake in the town square below the basilica’s decorated tower. In the hills all around the petrified volcanos and lush grassy valleys of the Auvergne countryside could easily withstand more exploring on food, by pedal or with paddle.

al18 - 32

 

 

Posted in Alpacka Yak, France, Gumotex IKs, Inflatable Kayaks, Packrafting, Travel Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Six Packrafting Essentials

fx-gearThe basic gear you need for packrafting adventures.
For general camping kit (sleeping, eating, washing, etc) you’ll find lists all over the internet and beyond. I prefer a 1-kilo down bag, a roomy tent, a thick, full-length air mat and a Pocket Rocket-like burner with a big Tatonka or MSR 500ml+ pot/cup.
Below, I suggest cheap alternatives in green. A cheap alternative to a proper packraft is of course… a Slackraft! You’ll only every buy one once ;-)


nrsparagon011. A pack for your raft
Do you use a regular hiking backpack packed with your boat and dry bags within drybags, or a purpose-made drybag pack with usually a rudimentary integrated harness, or carried in a separate packframe harness (below right)?
If you’re a first timer and own a regular hiking backpack, make do with that, but having tried both I prefer the latter. You’re on the water so waterproofness paragonnrstrounces all-day carrying comfort. I find the best combination is a submersible UDB duffle with an easy-to-use full-length drysuit zip closure that’s as airtight as your packraft. It also provides high-volume back-up flotation should you get a flat on the water. This is important and reassuring. And with a genuinely submersible bag like this there’s not need to pack stuff in endless dry bags ‘just to be on the safe side’. A UDB or similar is as airtight as a jam jar.
For short approach walks like on the Tarn, or the Kimberley a few years ago, I used the UDB’s basic integrated harness. For Turkey which was mostly walking, sixmoonI fitted it into NRS pack harness (above left and right) whose capacity  probably exceeds its straps and your back. In Germany Packrafting Store sell the more sophisticated American Six Moon Flex Pack (right), a ‘drybag hauling system’. You can lash anything that fits within the straps in these harnesses, including your rolled-up boat.
Remember: with any big backpack the key to support and comfort is a stiff connection or frame between the hip belt and shoulder strap mounts so the weight can be carried low around your hips, not hanging from your burning shoulders.
Cheap alternative: any old rucksack and a tough bin bag.

pad-abmr2. Four-piece paddle
Get a paddle that breaks down into four pieces for easy transportation. A paddle like this may not be as stiff as a one- or two-piece, but a good one like the Aqua Bound Manta Ray pictured will still be under a kilo and anyway, you’re in a slow packraft not a razor-thin surf ski. mantaray1
Some four-parters don’t like being left assembled when wet; don’t leave it more featherthan a couple of days or it’ll be hard to come apart.
Even cheap alloy-and-plastic ‘shovels’ come with adjustable feathering; an ability to offset the blades. Flat (zero offset) works OK, but most find a bit of offset makes paddling more efficient. I’ve got used to 45° Right (right blade rotated 45° forward) over the years. Left handers will go the other way.
Cheap alternative: A TPC 2-piece or similar.

499_13. PFD (‘personal flotation device’)
A proper foam pfd is bulky in transit but is essential for remote solo paddles or white water (as might be a helmet). For flatwater paddles Anfibio’s lightweight inflatable Buoy Boy jacket (left) has twin inflation chambers, rolls down to less than a litre in bbueyvolume and comes with handy net pockets and a useful crotch strap to stop it riding up when you’re flailing around in the water. Aired down at any other time, you’ll barely know you’re wearing it.
Cheap alternative: A used foam PFD.

tevafloater4. Wet shoes
I’m on my second pair of Teva Omniums (left) which are pretty good do-it-all wet shoes that are OK for walking too. If trekking the wilderness for days with a full pack over rough terrain, you’re better off with proper lace up trail shoes or boots, but bear in mind that anything with a breathable membrane takes ages to dry once soaked inside out. I use membrane-free desert boots. SealSkin socks are another solution, while they last. More here.
Cheap alternative: Old trainers or Crocs.

pellington5. Day bag or case
You want something light to carry your valuables when away from the boat in populated areas. Choose a bag or case which fits under your knees without getting in the way. Whatever it is, it will sit in water, get splashed or even submerged, so it needs an airtight seal. If it has handy external storage pouches or pockets, so much the better.
peliconeI adapted a Peli 1400 (above) with a seatback net on the outside and a strap inside the lid to hold my Macbook Air (right). Volume is a useful 9 litres, but at 2kg the 1400 is a bit over the top. I don’t really need to throw it out of a Hercules from 14,000 feet, but I do want reliable submersability so I don’t have to think twice if I flip the boat.
peli11Recently in France I used a smaller Underwater Kinetics box (22cm x 16 x 8; 540g, left) used on ebay for under a tenner. It’s about the size of a Peli 1150 but a bit less deep and took my P1290855Kindle Fire and bits, or camera and wallet and bits. Its light enough to carry away from the boat and also happens to make a handy camera stand for self timer shots. chatbagOtherwise I use my old yellow Watershed Chatooga bag (left, yellow), a 30-litre holdall with a big rubbery zip-loc seal and made from a hard, polyurethane that you can’t imagine getting pierced too easily. I can pack a flysheet, sleeping bag and airmat in there, but on the Tarn as a daybag I found it a bit too big to get my feet out quickly, and after years chatwalkof use one flat seam was separating (easily glued up).
With both the Peli and the Watershed, I find opening a bit slow or effortful if, say, you want to get to a non-waterproof camera quickly. Nothing you can do about the Peli’s heavy clamps, but a drysuit-type zip instead of the Watershed’s seal would be better. I hear something like this may be in the works and I also have an idea for and under-knee day bag.
Cheap alternative: large, clip-seal lunchbox and a plastic bag to carry it in.

tyvec6. Repair kit
A couple of feet of Tyvec or similar tape and a small tube of Aquaseal is probably all you need for quick repairs. Something I’ve never had to do in years of packrafting
Cheap alternative: Duct tape and a rabbit’s foot.

 

fx-range

Posted in Alpacka Yak, Gear, Packrafting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kayaking Hayling Island

hav - 6Time to knock out a long-planned circumnavigation of Hayling Island near Portsmouth while this amazing summer lasts! P-Day came along and by chance the weather and tides lined up: high 20s °C with a 3-m neap  and a calm morning before a 10mph onshore afternoon breeze.
I’d ridden down and recce’d the harbour entrances a couple of years back and last year we’d tried to reach the harbour along the canal from Chichester, but that plan didn’t work out. You’ll find lots of useful descriptions online, but it pays to recall (as I hav - 1learned on a run to Brighton) that on the English southeast coast the tide (which flows eastwards and ebbs to the west) turns eastwards from two hours before low water to four hours after. So while the water is still dropping the current reverses. hav - 2The Brighton post explains it (and I’ve since found an interesting animatable graphic here) and it may also explain why we passed deserted beaches and got to turn north into Chichester harbour entrance (right) surprisingly quickly, even if it was near calm. Occasionally a rogue wake rippled in from a distant freighter out in the English Channel.

haylingmapIt was soon clear that my estimation to cover this 22km lap was way too long. Shav - 3hooting along the channels visible on the map above, mudbanks to left and right limited side exploration and we ended up under Hayling bridge (KM13.5) in just 2½ hours including lunch and a few drifts.
hav - 5On the way we passed a lot of moss-covered sailing boats, lots of birds including oyster catchers (didn’t know you get them down south) and up nearer Northney marina, a brace of SoTs and a young couple struggling to control an under-inflated (or leaking) Sevy K2. Our high-pressure Seawave glided smugly by.
With less than half the tide in, there was already plenty of water to pass under the road bridge and between the stumps of the old railway span alongside. A huge rusting hav - 8drum suggested a swing bridge to allow boats to pass; online later, sure enough that’s what it was (left, see inset); a railway running from 1865 for just short of a century. When we drove off the island at about HW, it was the drum was only thing above water.
Chichester harbour is packed with parked-up sail boats (‘moored’ some might say); Langstone is virtually empty, possibly because it has much less deep water and a much narrower entrance. These natural harbours formed after the last Ice Age and take about seven hours to fill, but drain in only five. And because they drain right down to unfathomable mud flats on which even a gannet in snowshoes can barely walk, exploring side creeks can only be done with the high water clock ticking.
To aim for Langstone exit channel from the bridge, head for two tall poles visible to the SSW. By now the wind was in our faces giving a greater impression of speed, but the tide was coming in for another two hours (or do I add/subtract two hours? My brain hurts). We were way too early to catch a roiling ride out the 250-metre wide Langstone channel back into the Solent. We’d have to hack our way out along the side, like a Maori war party.
Long before we got there we could hear the intimidating wail of jet-skis hairing up and down the channel. They have such a bad rep and the two-stroke din doesn’t help endear them. If they sounded like Ducatis or Bonnevilles we’d be queuing up for a go.
hav - 10We passed the famous Langstone Pumpkin (left; a lost novel by Wilkie Collins), and soon after, hopping out to wade against the tide over the shallow Sinah Bank saw me sink into the vile black quicksludge which Collins used for the demise of his fickle heroine.
Nearing the channel I sought to dodge the in-pouring current by passing under the gantry of the Hayling Island ferry. Then I announced ‘All hands on deck! Prepare for ten minutes of full steam ahead’.
That ended up more like twenty, because keeping close to shore was made trickier by frolicking bathers, parked-up jet skis and inflatable goofballs. To the right the tide streamed past way faster than we could’ve paddled, but along the sides we managed to inch forward at a stroll’s pace; a yacht motoring out mid-channel was no faster. I kept eyeing up points where the current might splay out, but hav - 11it was getting on for a mile out over the East Winner sandbank before the effort eased, the seas slapped us about a bit and we were out in the Solent for a choppy paddle back to the beach (left), now packed with frolicking sunbathers, paddleboarders and inflatable goofballs. Quite worn out, we beached the kayak on and jumped back into the warm sea to wash off the salt and sweat.


It’s fun to try new stuff and paddle on a sunny day but overall I’d say round Hayling was a bit boring compared to a sunny day in the Coigach and it’s Northwest Highland backdrop. Who wants to pass Funland and beach houses, mudflats, marinas and more mudflats? Reminds me of Darwin harbour but without the crocs and mangroves. I suspect west of here, the Dorset coast may have more promise.
I still think the morning start anticlockwise from West Town is a good idea: knock out that exposed seafront stage before an afternoon breeze (and concomitant rise in bathers, paddle borders and hydrofoil kite boarders hitting the sound barrier). But I’d aim to leave West Town 3–4 hours after LW. The unintuitive tide may be turning but once in the harbours it gets you up and around to the Langstone exit channel around HW for a short paddle along the seafront back to West Town. There’s probably a formula for doing it clockwise from Eastoke and running the flood tide through the Langstone channel, but I’ll let you work that out.

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Posted in Gumotex Seawave, Inflatable Kayaks, Travel Reports | Tagged , , , , ,

Packrafting the Tarn Gorge

See also:
• Chassezac
Ardeche
Packboating in southern France
Allier guide

Just tarnpottback from Tarn Gorge with the Yakraft, All the way from Florac to Millau; about 86km. Amazed the beating this boat takes, scrapping through the shallows and bouncing off the scenery.  Took me two days plus two half days each end, so about 18 hours of actual paddling. Surprisingly, I saw only day-renters or youth groups on the river – zero other private tourists like me. And pegasoidjpgfrom Florac to Montbrun, and Rozier to Millau I was the only boat on the water of any kind, unless you count an inflatable flying Pegasus.
There are two + one unavoidable portages: Prades (KM23.4) and a longer haul at Pas the Soucy (KM51.6), plus the bridge being repaired at Ispagnac (KM8.9) which will get fixed eventually. There are also two canoe chutes (Les Vignes; KM54.1 and just before Millau; KM83.3) and an odd, unsigned low weir drop at La Malene (KM42.2). See the map below.
tarnrdBesides a quick 1-day-er two years ago, we last did the Tarn in 2007 in the Sunny and a Solar: Florac to I think Rozier. It’s worrying what I’ve either forgotten, conflated with other Massif rivers or has changed, but the Tarn is actually a perfect first-time packrafter’starne - 50 camping adventure. There’s a road alongside (not always accessible without pitons); daily villages for resupply and enough WW challenges to keep things interesting. The scenery and la belle France you get for free. I shipped a few litres on rougher drops but never came close to flipping, unlike a few hardshell SoTs I observed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting to Florac (KM0)
I took the cheapest redeye Easyjet to Montpellier (there are 2–3 a day), got a train from Gare St Roch to Ales (changing at Nimes) and next day caught the only bus at 12.10 from Ales for Florac, getting on the water at 2pm. You might also try Ryanair to Nimes but the way the timetables are, you’ll still miss that key 12.10 Ales bus on the same day.
Another idea might be the way I came back: express bus between Montpellier St Roch and Millau (2 hours) then non-direct train and several buses back upstream towards Florac. You might just manage that in a day. Work it out with the Millau tourist office or the internet.
Eurostar London to Nimes in 6-7 hours sounds so much more relaxing apart from the change in Paris, but usually costs more than the cheapest flights and you still won’t get that noon from Ales same day from London.

Knives & Gas
gasgasopinelAt least on a train you don’t pay extra for baggage, but they won’t allow a useful-sized knife or camping gas cans.
On a plane camping gas is also a no-no, so I planned to buy a can for my threaded burner in France. No luck as outdoors shops like Decathlon were all in out-of-town retail parks. Your classic blue Camping Gas is widely available in bigger supermarkets but has a different push-and-twist fit. I thought we sorted all this out years ago! After traipsing around Ales finding only blue cans, I ended up buying the can and push-and-twist burner in St Enemie (probably could have bought in Florac too). At least next time in France I’ll have the burner and know I can get blue gas easily enough. I didn’t actually use my 10-function survival knife, but you know how it is; taking one makes it more of an adventure. You can buy inexpensive wooden-handled Opinels easily in France.

River levels
Not being a crusty demon of white water, I’ve never been that bothered about river levels, but a very good website is vigicrues.gouv.fr. You will see live measurements for  the Tarn recorded at Florac (KM0); Montbrun (KM18) and Millau. Generally in mid-summer Florac will read minus something and Montbrun will be between 0.3 and 0.5m. Let me tell you, once Montbrun gets towards 0.7m the Tarn is moving along very nicely indeed – up to 8kph is places – but 0.7m is usually a summer storm peak which subsides within a day. They say anything up to 1m at Montbrun is safe enough; beyond that things can get hairy.

tarnlevel

Note the spike following a prolonged storm on Friday night/Saturday morning. Things sure sped up from then – last day I averaged 8kph –  but never felt unsafe.

massif1tarnpatI found the old 2002 Massif Central book (right) not so helpful this time round. Even though I sort of knew what to expect – no outright Niagaras – I would have appreciated better, bigger maps with each bridge, weir, portage and so on clearly marked to help orient myself. Also, the descriptions at each end, from Florac to Montbrun (first 18km) and beyond Les Cresses to Millau (last 12km) are either skimpy or now inaccurate, presumably because rental outfits don’t cover these sections of the river. On both these stages are rapids you’d really rather know about (see my map below). There is a much-awaited new edition out any day now – renamed Best Canoe Trips in the South of France but with a near identical cover (below right).
MAssif2Thing is, on the Tarn you can pretty much blunder along in the dark; you won’t get lost, the rapids are never that technical, especially in a stable and agile packraft, wild camping is easy and proper bankside campsites, from basic to full-blown Hi-de-Hi holiday camps are plentiful and the main villages – St Enemie, La Malene, Les Vignes and Les Roziers are handy for snacks, drinks and pool toys.


tarnmap

Click to enlarge, it’s a big map.

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Le Tarn road bridge, a mile north of Florac. Put in below the old stone bridge just upstream.

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KM0.1 • View from the bridge. Not much to float on down there.

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Soon enough things improve.

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But the double floor on my Yak took a lot of grinding in the shallows. After 3 days it was barely marked; amazingly tough stuff.

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KM8.9 • Portagio at Ispagnac. Looking back upstream at a temporary road bridge while the old stone one gets a refurb. There are a couple of thought-provoking drops just before here (see main text or map).

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Ispagnac: 200-m portage around the bridge repair. Might be fixed in a year.

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Note this pretty waterfall after Ispagnac, around KM13.5.

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Opposite is the basic but friendly Le Petit Monde campsite. €7.40 to camp, yummy real burger + frites for a tenner and not teeming with hyperactive kids (till August). Took 4 hours from Florac including 4 low-water wades.

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A storm next morning so I didn’t get moving till 10am. Saw an otter around here.

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KM17.2 • Montbrun village with a canoe camp and a river-level marker somewhere too. But no baguettes to be had.

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The start of Tarn SoT rental country. Buuundle!

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KM20 • ‘Portage obligatoire a gauche’ it said, but under the bridge on the right between the no-entry signs was easy enough after a recce. Just remember to quack when you duck.

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Looking back up – as usual you wonder what all the fuss was all about.

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KM21.5 • Soon another portant obligée?

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Do me a favour! Just lower head to avoid bashing teeth in. Quite simple really.

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KM21.7 • Zombie revellers near Castelbruc.

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Late brekkie at the Castelbruc resto. Just what was needed.

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‘Gaston, FFS stop dicking about!’ Respect to all long-suffering youth group leaders.

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Prades. Could do with some Dulux but UNESCO would stop the cheques.

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KM23.4 • Portage right. I suppose a raft could slide down the weir face.

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Alternative route for people terrified of water.

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You’re never far from a Sevy slackraft!

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Tarning along.

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Another false warning just before St Enemie. Too much of this Wolf Boy of Aveyron can end in bites.

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KM28.5 • Parked vans block a portaging route but the Enemie weir is easily shot. German canoeboy expedition on a smoko.

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KM28.8 • Stone bridge at St Enemie, a bit of a tourist babylon, but has camping gas and a burner and warm chausson aux pommes. Forgotten how yummy they are.

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SoTs stacked ready for the August rush.

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You often find yourself nudging herons downstream. Didn’t spot any of the famous griffin vultures, though.

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KM33.8 • St Chely du Tarn with a bridge that knows how high the floods can get.

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The cascade.

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St Chely with cascade. You see it all here.

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KM36.4 • Stardate 6pm. I wild camp on a shingle bar just as the rain starts. 19km in about 5 paddling hours.

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Soon it’s pelting chats et chiens…

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… and it barely relents all night. Lightning, hail, a tree crashes down, unearthly squawks and splashes. I discover that a 3000mm hydrostatic head only copes with pitter-patter rain. When it really hammers down a light spray descends. Annoy Inc.

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But you know what they say: after a storm cometh the clear-up operations. I watch the tent dry. Good thing with camping on shingle is it’s self draining.

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Could have camped in here. The run-off streams down and in two hours the river rises 4-6 inches. Downstream it will be more. Will the WW be trop gnarlant?

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Km 39.3 • Haute Rives. Look at the blue plaque – flood, September 1965, a good 10m up the old gauge. Holy moly.

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Beautifully restored stone village accessible only by cable trolley, boat, foot, condor or mechanised mole.

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Nice stonework. Would have been streaming waterfalls last night.

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KM42.2 • No portage signs before La Malene weir. Odd. Just keep left and edge over? 

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It’s not that high, but still.

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I get papped by Franco Gill.

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Still Tarning along. The river is flowing fast and is full of eddies and sinister upwellings, as if out of equilibrium. Weird and a bit creepy.

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KM51.6 • Low-key but critical take-out before Pas de Soucy boulder death choke. Note the faded  pdfs of the damned hanging on a wire. Orange with skulls and crossbones would be better.

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Downstream Soucy from the road. It’s a 1.3km walk past the gift shop and panoramic viewpoint along the narrow road.

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KM52.4 • An old Gumbie Helios! Must be 20-30 years old. Still as ugly then as they are now ;-)

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KM54.1 • The exposed mid-weir chute at Les Vignes – a tricky aim with a strong backwind and light packraft.

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Looks steep but actually dead easy fun, even with the higher water. Barely took on water.

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I know all you got to do is follow the river but one of these would have been handy. So I made one (see above).

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KM60.5 • The famous and lengthy Grade 3 Sabliere rapid – easier in higher water as the many boat-flipping boulders are submerged.

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But I still took quite a dousing, maybe 10 litres.

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Lots of currents and whorls in the ever more turbid water.

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Looking back upstream, the gorge slips away into the horizon.

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KM64.3 • Le Rozier half bridge. Where’s Eddie Kidd when you need him?

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Last morning. The river is full to the brim and swift as a whipped eel.

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Peyrelad castle. Never let a prominent outcrop go to waste.

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KM74.2 • Watch out for this white sign just after La Cresse girder bridge. Gnarly rapid on the left (high bouncy waves/low branches). Or portage right.

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Then boulders to dodge on the way out (looking back upstream). Trickier than it looks in highish water but easy to parallel the hidden wavetrain in a packraft.

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Aguessac already? I’m totally confused how far I’ve come. 

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Millau viaduct. WTF? Even more disoriented now. Turned out I averaged 8kph over 3 hours.

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Danger of electrocution? Didn’t know about this one. Oh well, I was heading this way anyway.

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KM 83.3 • ‘Boat ladder’ near Millau – looks a bit narrow for a wide packboat.

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I recce it. All in order but there’s a burning smell as I shoot the chute.

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KM84.6 • The first Millau road bridge up ahead. That was quick.

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The town park on the right just before the second bridge. Easy take out here.

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A packed raft. Amazing where that little TPU binbag has brought me.

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I walk downstream a bit and cross a pedestrian pontoon bridge to an island…

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… and the short whitewater course. Darn, would have been a fun finale. Edict #338/8: please do not throw terriers in the rapids.

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Local rafters attack the froth with their paddles.

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After three days down the Tarn Gorge, this would be easy enough.

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Sacre bleu, that’s the Tour de France shooting through Millau! Go Geriant!

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Town weir on the other side of the island. No chute so it’s WW course or portage.

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KM86.7 and that’s your Tarn Gorge in a nutshell.

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Down from the Lerouge bridge, next weir has a chute on the right, but beyond the viaduct several big dams break the rhythm on the way to Albi.

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Millau old town. Viva Oc!

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A hot sweaty dusk descends over Montpellier. 

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Easy come, Easy go ;-)

 

Posted in Alpacka Yak, France, Packrafting, Travel Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

MRS Nomad S1 packraft review [video]

MRS Nomad S1 index page
MRS Nomad – a couple of mods (newest post first)
Whitianga harbour (NZ)
Wairoa River (NZ)

S1 - 43apslogoThe application of what has proved to be durable, light and compact packraft fabric and reliable construction methods into slimmer, kayak-like forms was bound to happen. MRS’s 2.9-metre Nomad S1 is among the first solo examples I know of, co-designed with Germany’s Anfibio Packrafting Store whose Alpha XC we tested a couple of weeks ago.
Fyi: in December 2018 I sold my 2014 Alpacka Yak and bought this ex-demo boat.

mrss1

Is it a very light solo kayak or a long packraft? I’d classify it as the former, a boat that ought to paddle better than a packraft on current-free, flat water, and S1 - 15even manage some calm coastal paddling. The Nomad could be mistaken as the solo version of MRS’s tandem undecked Barracuda R2 double. But the R2 is a boat with seats which can be adapted to canoe-style kneeling, much fatter tubes and has a different bow/stern as well as not having a deck. The 1299-euro Nomad S1 is a stand alone boat.

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What they say:
Once packrafts broke conventions in water sports. Now the Nomad S1 is breaking conventions in packrafting. The central seating position and symmetrical bow and stern are similar to a conventional kayak, producing similar paddling dynamics. At 5kg, the gross weight is more than most solo packrafts, but the Nomad remains a very packable boat for easy travel and exciting adventures.

nomadbox‘Sign here please’
Off the van, out of the box and straight onto the kitchen scales. Kerching: that will be 5.1kg please. Take away the large skirt and coaming rods and it’s down to 4.5kg. Hull fabric is your usual 210D TPU but double-coated for improved rigidity, with a floor in chunky 410D with aramid fibre reinforcement. The hull panels are stitched, then heat welded with tape; the floor gets glued to the hull and all the joins look neat and crease free. The deck and seat parts are lighter PU-coated or ripstop nylon.
S1 - 1Unrolled, it looked like a lot of boat to have to blow up with the air bag. So I decided to speed things up with my IK barrel pump, using a bit of garden hose as an adaptor via the air bag screwed into Boston-style valve. More on those here. It took less than 5 minutes pumping. Later, I decided to try regular airbagging and found it only took 15 bagfulls to get it ready for topping off – less than you’d think.
S1 - 37To top off I S1 - 3found a shorter section of garden hose (right) fitted neatly into the one-way valve port and makes it much easier to use your mouth to give the boat a few lungfulls to get the high-capacity boat nice and firm.
The Packrafting Store offer a small Bravo foot pump for those who don’t have the lungs S1 - 19of Dizzy Gillespie. You do want to get this long boat as firm as possible, especially if you’re well-fed like me. But the Store recommends not to overdo it with a pump, and in this current warm spell I’ve been careful to air off a bit if the boat gets left in the sun all day following a max top off in cold water.

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S1 - 14S1 - 16Once aired up the boat has a good shape – nice pointy ends; a promising sign in boating circles. The S1 is symmetrical like many IKs, and each end has a generous volume helping achieve a claimed buoyancy rating of 200kg. I can believe it; two of me in it and I bet it would still have plenty of freeboard.
The deck seems to be less flimsy ripstop fabric than I recall on my previous Alpackas. And unlike those boats which had a long perimetre zip,S1 - 7 the Nomad has two parallel zips along each side ending at the back with makes it dead easy to partly open and get to the ‘trunk’ without complete removal. Good design. You also wonder if the zipped-up deck might help tension the boat by constraining the sides when getting bent about in rough water. Maybe.
S1 - 6The 80cm x 49cm hatch is nice and big; I (1.85m) could get in and out with ease, though maybe not just after Christmas while wearing a drysuit and thick fleece. There are zips along the hatch rim to insert the 4 pieces of coaming rod to make a firm seal for the spray skirt elastic. It struck me paddling later with the deck deployed that fitting the rods would create a 1–2-inch high lip which would keep out some water rolling down the front deck. The supplied spray skirt looked huge and had braces; but I never actually tried it. Rolled up to the front, the velcro straps seem way too long to cinch down the deck. It didn’t really matter, they tucked in well enough. Maybe the extra strap length is to roll the unused skirt in there too.
S1 - 17The two-piece inflatableS1a - 4 seat and backrest are not your ordinary packraft affair. The anatomically curved backrest hangs from a six S1a - 5adjustable pivoting mounts using q/d clips (right) to reduce stresses on the mounts and help fine-tune your back support. A TPU sheet sewn to the inflatable chamber takes the buckle tension. This backrest won’t flop forward as on some packraft one-piece backrest/seats – very handy when clambering in, especially through the hatch. The whole backrest weighs 310g and costs €39 if you want to fit one to your boat. S1a - 1It detaches in seconds, handy to allow a passenger to temporarily hop in.
Solo, the mass of your weight settles on the thick, seat pad. It’s attached via the usual, very much not easily adjustable or removable lace-up tab mounts, except they’re glued on halfway up the hull sides at the 32-cm narrow point (left), not down on the floor’s edge as on regular packrafts. One problem with this laced set-up is if you want to move the seat much more than an inch or two forward or back. Depending on your weight there will be fewer holes taking the load. It can’t be beyond the wit of packboat design to allow easy removal or repositioning.

cropped-packsag.jpg

The S1’s seat arrangement partly supports the paddler’s weight from the big side tubes and so limits undesirable ‘bum sag‘ (underwater image above): the weight of the paddler deforming the floor which can’t be good for hydrodynamics or floor wear and tear in the shallows.
Paddler weight pressing down midway in a long, low-pressure boat – even with an inflatable floor – tends to make it bend in the middle in rough water or a swell. You can see they thought about this with the longer-than-normal packraft. It was the problem that limited my old Gumotex Sunny (water came over the sides in rapids or a swell) which was eventually solved by getting the more rigid, higher pressure Seawave (and which is solved entirely by drop-stitch technology).

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S1a - 2S1a - 3Flip the boat over and you can see that there are slight bulges at each end (left). I’m told it’s a cunning design feature to produce ‘negative rocker’ (opposite of upswept ends) and help with tracking and speed. The similar-sized EX280 we tried was flat floored and I must say it seemed to work. The S1 tracks fine without the skeg.
The 410D floor has a good overlap of glue where it attaches to the 210D hull tubes covering the tube seams (glued because I think you can’t easily heat weld two different deniers of TPU). The quality of the taping is all as neat as you like, with not a single strand of stray glue or malformed creasing.
S1 - 9S1 - 8The skeg (or directional fin) is Gumotex size but slips on like a Sea Eagle IK (‘American box fitting’  iirc, same as on iSUP boards) into a moulded plastic slot glued up the stern. It locks in place with a flat pin on a string so when removed you can secure the skeg somewhere via this pin and string. I do the same when packing my Seawave so as not to misplace the sometimes vital skeg. Even when not mounted, that skeg pad is the lowest part of the boat which scrapes first so usefully sparing the floor from damage.
S1 - 5Other than that you have four well-positioned attachment loops, with a broad base to secure anything up to a bike. There’s the same arrangement on the stern. These mount points become less essential because you have space behind the seat to stash stuff low and retain stability and visibility. There are two more long loops inside, with another pair of mount points at the front for thigh straps. The test boat also had some handy string handles knotted on to the outermost attachment loops.


S1 - 26S1 at Sea
There are no rivers near here bigger than a boulder-filled burn right now, so we took the S1 out along a rocky coast, along a slightly surfy beach, then rinsed it off with a quick sail down a freshwater loch.
I don’t know if it’s the greater size, the kayak-like handling, the reduction of front-to-rear yawing or the elevated seat, but on a less than smooth sea I took to the S1 straight away. Despite being another single chamber packboat, it inspired confidence that I’d not necessarily experience in my smaller Alpacka Yak.
I paddled it without the skeg and as expected, can’t say I missed it. The S1 - 23Nomad tracked very well and, compared to my Seawave kayak, doesn’t really produce enough glide per stroke to send it drastically off course, notwithstanding the small corrections you subconsciously make as you paddle along. I wonder if the lightness of the boat as well as its flat floor are what makes these intuitive micro-adjustments in tracking so effective. Who knows, but if attempting longer, more exposed sea crossings (I’m talking a mile or more, not Nova Scotia) a skeg must be a good idea to stop the boat getting pushed about from the sides, especially with a tail wind.
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S1 - 25Without the skeg I appreciated the S1’s agility nudging in and out of the rocks as a light swell rolled in. Stability was very much not an issue; being jammed in more or less at the narrow 32-cm width with feet touching the distant bow and the well-designed backrest all helped. My hips are 40-cm wide but I didn’t really notice the squeeze as I nzt - 13would were I down on the floor. Up to a point you can brace with your shins which are so close together there wouldn’t be much play to pull on thigh braces (actually not so – they work OK; right).
S1 - 31Over by the beach occasional foot-high waves were thundering on the shore; a chance to get knocked about a bit and have some fun. The stability made it easy to play around, with enough agility, clearance and central weight to spin quickly in the shallows before getting beached. Sure, some water came in, but on a warm day it’s a lot more fun playing with an open boat. To drain it just hop out, flip over, flip back and hop back in.

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Even without the skeg, the central, kayak-like paddling position as well as the length (Length-Weight Index 3.38 – about half that of a typical hardshell sea kayak) pretty much eliminates your typical packraft yawing. Not so sure about crossing over and circling the Summer Islands – it’s still a single-chamber craft – but I can see coast hopping being enjoyable in the way it wouldn’t be in a regular solo packraft. On the way back from the beach against a quartering wind, the GPS recorded 4.1mph paddling along normally.
S1 - 42We nipped over to freshwater Loch Ra which is now so low I had to wade a couple of hundred metres to find some depth. The skeg was now on but I can’t say I felt like it made much difference the way it would do on my IK. We went out on my Seawave a few weeks ago and the forgotten skeg was a right pain downwind. Upwind it’s barely necessary.
I hooked up the WindPaddle to the yellow string handle. The breeze was blowing S1 - 45only about a 6-8mph but the Nomad picked it up and ran with it up to 3.5mph – as fast as I could have paddled. Again, I don’t think the skeg helped with the tracking as the boat was effectively being dragged along by its nose like a wet towel.
Later in the afternoon I went back out onto the loch, paddling up briskly to the windward end where I let the sail take me back down. It wasn’t blowing enough to break any records but it’s nice to sit back and listen to the plink-plink of the water slapping under the bow. Mid-loch it felt like it was doing a good 4mph.
I’m really getting into this WindPaddle; I like the way you can steer up to 30° either side of the wind. On this boat it was easy to pull the sail down, cross it over once and tuck it under the knees, even with the deck on.
Back at the bank I removed the sail and the skeg and went for a scoot upwind, across-wind and downwind, but still can’t say the boat was hard to track. Maybe with more of a backwind it would get out of shape, but by then the waves would briefly lift the skeg out on the crests and possibly push it around. It’s nice to have the option but also good to know the Nomad handles well enough without a skeg on loch and coast.

Fyi: if you think your boat also needs a skeg (directional fin), the Store sells an inexpensive skeg and glue-on patch from 420D floor fabric. There’s a template here.

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Nomading it Up
Good to know first impressions can be correct. I saw the promise in the Nomad S1 when I first clocked it on the Packrafting Store’s website. It is nearly the same length but more than half the weight and rolled-up volume of our old Gumotex Solar 300, but longer than the current 9-kilo Gumotex Twist 1 which, at just 2.6m has only half the buoyancy (ie: not much at all).
S1 - 36Trying it out on sea and surf-ish and loch, with sail and without skeg, I could seriously consider replacing my Yak with a Nomad (later, I did). I think there’s a potential for a skirt-free model and I’d even mrss1lightsuggest the skeg could be an option too (P-Store make one of those too, now: S1 Light; right no skeg, deck, or braces and a 4-mount foam backrest).
The main drawback is the €1299 price – that’s about £1150 or the same as a top-of-the-range, made-in-Europe Gumotex with a deck or rudder option and a signed certificate from Brzeslaw Gumotek. Longshore sell the less sophisticated EX280 double in what looks like the same fabric for half that price, and the Store themselves have albeit basic packrafts from €470. They say the deck costs a lot to make and fit but fabric and assembly in China can’t be that disparate. Of course the price you pay is right for a boat which gives you years of fun, as I have found. An Austrian Grabner double IK can cost over €3000, so can an Incept.

Alternatives to S1
As for alternativesfamily there is really nothing like the Nomad at the moment, though I bet Alpacka are watching and waiting to move into packayak territory. Partly it’s because the extended stern idea has greatly improved the dynamics of packrafts, positioning the paddler more centrally but adding length without interior space. Nortik’s uninspiringly named FamilyRaft (right) is the same length but over a metre wide and looks like Advanced Elements’ tacky Packlite.
You might try and make the similar-sized long - 19and weight EX280 (right) into a solo kayak-like boat. But the Longshore is 12cm wider and the bow is much blunter. It looks more like what it is: a long packraft made for two, not a solo ‘TPU kayak’, and of course it has no deck or skeg.
twistarn2I’d say closer comparison to the Nomad are actual IKs, among which I’d include Gumotex’s Twist 1, Twist 2 (right; both undecked) and the fixed-decked Swing 1. The Swing actually looks (and I hear is) a bit crap by Gumo’s standards, with an odd deck design and excessive width. Those three boats cost from just £369 (T1) up to £549 for the Swing 1, but are all at least twice as heavy while the T1 has half the claimed payload of the Nomad. If the Nomad is on the limit for packability, an 11-kilo IK definitely is.
barracWhat about using the two-foot longer Barracuda R2 (right) as a solo touring packboat? Many of the solo touring IKs recommended on this site are longer tandem boats over 3 metres, like my Seawave adapted for single touring use. I have found the crux to avoid the Sunny-like sag mentioned above is a high-pressure hull like my Seawave, all Grabners or my old Incept.
I’m not convinced a 3.65-m long, lung-pressure Barracuda R2 would not sag a little under solo, centrally positioned use. You could get round that with a drop-stitch floor panel but that’s more stuff and needs a powerful pump. The other riskier way round would be to run higher hull pressure using a pump. I do that to my Seawave to improve performance, but have added pressure relief valves (easily done on a packraft too). Better though, to run a boat (or anything) within its design limits.
So a Nomad may be on the weight limit of classic land-and-water packrafts, but it certainly makes travelling somewhere by plane or a train or on a pushbike much less of an effort than with even the lightest IK, while giving IK-like performance once on the water, be it a gnarly river, a windy loch or a rocky seashore. Kayakraft? Packayak? It’s definitely not a kakraft.

Thanks to the Packrafting Store for supplying another test boat. More about it here.

The Nomad is another co-development between Anfibio Packrafting and MRS (Micro Rafting System). Combined with MRS’s manufacturing expertise and fabric know-how, our years of packrafting experience helped refine the design of the final product. Serial production takes place in the Far East with manufacturing carried out in small, hand-built batches. All products have an extended three-year warranty.”

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Posted in MRS Nomad S1, Packrafting, Scotland | Tagged , , , ,