Being an outdoorsy person I’ve always been attracted to the idea of kayaks and canoes and have rented a few over the years. Generally I got on better with canoes as I never liked the tippy, hemmed-in feeling of sit-in kayaks (SinKs) and was nervous of white water and the sea. Anyway, the hassle of storing and transporting any sort of hardshell boat has never an option in the places I live until I discovered IKs – and the Sunny was my first proper IK which is why I go on about it.
I’m 6’1″, weigh 95kgs and didn’t have any canoe/kayak training to speak of but following a brilliant day in 2005 down the Salmon River in Idaho in an NRS MaverIK, I realized IKs were not necessarily cheap, one-summer beach toys. Later I also discovered folding kayaks; clever idea but it was too late, I was addicted to blow-up boats or ‘bloats’. As with a lot of my stuff and to paraphrase Gandalf, I want one boat to do it all (plus a packraft). This obviously involves compromises but has the advantage of owning less stuff.
Gumotex Sunny Mk1
The Mk1 Sunny was my main IK from 2005-2011. I initially owned a pre-2003 Gumotex Safari which I replaced with a much more stable Solar for the g-friend.
2005 Sunny ‘Mk 1’
Trying an IK for the first time in Idaho, I nearly bought the NRS MaverIK on the spot, but managed to control myself long enough to learn it was actually a relatively expensive, bombproof ‘outfitters’ boat – and anyway it was not sold in the UK. Here the range of IKs is limited, but the best value all round at the time was the Czech-made Gumotex brand, known as Innova in North America.
The way mine was set up it’s actually just over 30″/77cm wide (32″ claimed with OE seat). Length is 3.9m (12′ 9″). It runs an ordinary 0.2 bar or 2.9psi. In the Gumobag, the boat with one clip-in Aire Cheetah seat, Bravo footpump, repair kit and sponge weighs 16kg. Add a kilo for the Otter Box I used as a footrest and for storage. There is more on my set up here.
Construction and set-up
I’m no expert but my Sunny was made from tough ‘rafting’ fabric and simply built. But like the packraft, it works. There are three air chambers: a floor (with a pressure release valve; keep pumping until it hisses) and one each side. The footrest/thwart and seat(s) also pumped up by mouth or with an adaptor, but I replaced both with an Aire Cheetah seat and a 5010 Otter box as a footrest, so once rolled out it took 5 minutes to pump up.
The old-style big OE skeg took another couple of minutes to fit (make sure it’s lined up straight down the hull and it helps to have the wing nuts ‘balanced’ and horizontal on each side). Newer Sunnys used have a different arrangement. If you have a Gumotex with the old style alloy skeg and mounts, I’d recommend simply gluing on the later patch for a low-profile plastic skeg (right). It only about £24 for patch and plastic skeg, and will be a lot less faffing.
For what it’s worth I discovered a Sunny’s hull profile is more or less classifiable as an SoT California-Soft Chine (right) and is popular on American SoTs. Aire’s 2009 Sawtooth (and the Triton II which is an XL Sawtooth – more on both here) might also be said to be based on this fast but stable hull profile.
All in all, besides the ease of operation, the portability, simplicity of assembly and speedy drying are all attractions. My mate’s Klepper and Feathercraft Big Kahuna take at least twice as long to set up, and are fiddly with it (and he’s been at it for years), but of course both are quicker on the water and look a whole lot sleeker.
On rivers (up to WW2)
Flat rivers like the Thames in London (left), calm seas and lakes are no drama and compared to my hardshell- and Safari experiences, the Sunny is as stable as a raft – maybe even a barge. Bare in mind I’ve not learned any of the bracing finesse required to paddle hardshell SinKs properly. In this boat it’s so nice to be able to lounge about, bounce off rocks, come out of rapids backwards, slide down for a snooze, dangle legs over the side, dive out, crawl in, load it easily and best of all, hop in and out, all with no more fuss than getting on a pushbike. I’ll miss that on my new Incept K40 unless I can find a way to roll back the zip deck.
Say what you like about SinKs, but that all adds up to a lot to me, let alone that fact that you can roll it up and haul it onto a bus.
The Sunny will start to swamp from WW2 onwards – long before it capsizes – and a little baggage merely makes it even more stable. Should you flip (I’ve done it a couple of times when I couldn’t dodge complex rapids or overhanging trees), flipping it back over and getting back in is easy, even if you can’t touch the bottom. Occasionally in the odd hairy but shallow rapid I even instinctively even stick my leg out over the side for stability! – a dirt biking background may be something to do with it. try that on a SinK.
This rapid left, on the Allier river in France will typically swamp a loaded Sunny with me in it. Note how all the baggage is floating in the boat. Just as well it’s the lovely warm south of France then!
As for speed, I manage up to 3.1mph average and up to 25 mile days on French rivers and have maxed out at 8kph/5mph at sea with a GPS. In fact one time on a windy Scottish loch I checked it again and even without a skeg (which aids speeding as you can dig away) I managed 4mph into a 20mph headwind (about the same as my Grabner), but I could only sustain this effort for a few minutes. Funnily enough coming back downwind I only managed 5mph while correcting all over the place to compensate for what they call weathercocking (back end coming round – fixed with a bit of weight in the back – or a skeg/rudder/skill).
As with all human-powered water craft there is a maximum hull speed which cannot be exceeded without twin 350-hp outboards. In the company of the above folders or hardshells the Sunny can’t keep up, especially in a stiff headwind; the nose is too wide and you can hear the bow sploshing as you try to power on. I’m not sure it’s a scientific analysis but look at my wide and relatively turbulent wake in the picture left compared to the yellow Perception SinK. If you want or need to dig, the skeg enables you to hack away without thought for correctional strokes, but you still won’t catch a hardshell in a Sunny IK.
If hardshells can generally manage without skegs then so ought IKs and after a year or so I realised I had the knack of paddling skeg-free on rivers and even at sea in the Sunny. It’s very handy for shallow rapid rivers I do in France, as well as WW manoeuvrability and portaging around locks and weirs where the skeg’s brackets/glued-on mounting patch could get damaged (newer Sunnys have a better arrangement). Sure it spins out more coming out of rapids or if you drift along, but it doesn’t bother me anymore; you get there in the end.
In autumn 2007 I paddled with mates in two folders and a hardshell down the Spey River (below) in Scotland from Aviemore to the North Sea; a great 3-day trip. With snow on the hills around Aviemore for this trip I got a drysuit (see Mods) which meant everytime the Sunny swamped itself through a bit of whitewater I could sit in the water-filled boat in reasonable comfort until I could get ashore to drain it, as above (this swamping left caused by the pathetic riffle on the right of the pic).
At sea up to 1m swell, 30-knot wind
I did a 5-day trip around Shark Bay in Western Australia in 2006 alongside a heavy plastic Perception tandem hardshell that could carry a ton. The Sunny and gear was easy to check-in for the flight over without going over the 23-kg limit, and was a pleasure to paddle, even when nasty conditions set in. Stability was never an issue. Instead, when it got rough I needed to bail with a pump every 20 minutes or so while being towed by the Perception to stop me drifting away.
Occasional waves simply spilled in over the rounded sides as the boat sagged in the troughs (left) – or came over the bow as it drove off the white caps, but it wasn’t cold and I wasn’t alone so it was more inconvenient than a drama. The quartering head wind with a lack of rudder did make it tough on my ‘downwind arm’, but I enjoyed the exercise and using the big OE Gumotex skeg, maintaining direction was not a problem. These were all reasons why I moved on to an Incept K40 – but then moved on to a more do-it-all, Sunny-like Grabner Amigo and back to Gumotex with a Seawave.
We’ve also paddled in the sea among the sheltered Summer Isles and various sea lochs off northwestern Scotland, very enjoyable and after the Spey did a day on Loch Linnhe (below) and Rannoch Moor.
The idea of anything more exposed in the UK freaks me out in the Sunny. The way I see it, tall-above-the-water IKs are comparatively wind-prone compared to a proper sea kayak which sits just a few inches above the water. Haven’t tried beach surfing yet; it looks like fun, but of course the boat would swamp every time. The nippy little Solar might be better for that – or of course the self-bailing Safari.
Transportation, loading and capacity
I could carry the boat on my back for a couple of kms but it’s tough on the shoulders as the OE ‘gumbag’ lacks a hip belt; a packframe or packharness are much better. Mine tore at the shoulder straps, although it worked OK as a dry bag as long as the seal is off the deck. If not on a day trip, I used trolleys and public transport where possible; it’s part of the environmental ethos of IKs! When you do use a car, the great thing with gumboats is you don’t need a rack, just chuck them in the back or on the roof and drive home.
Lashing points were limited on the Sunny but with a bit of thought using the deck lines at each end you can fix most things down to stay put (or at least attached) should you flip.
Two-up paddling on easy rivers
In 2005 we did a few days on the easy Vezere river in France two-up with basic camping gear. G-friend is half my weight but we managed and it was fun. I’ve never done tandem paddling before and found it initially irritating to get synchronised after a great week solo down the Dordogne, but it was nice to share the paddling, have a chat and goof about. Since then I’ve also goofed off two-up on a canal in Devon when setting up matey’s folder was too much hassle. Easy or warm whitewater would be fun two-up and unloaded, but to do that in the UK you have to leave the country or dress up.
For what I paid and what I did with it, my 2005 model Sunny was a great introduction to IKs. My sea and WW experiences above flag up it’s limitations: a lack of self-bailing/easy swampage, but let’s face it, with a name like ‘Sunny’ it’s clearly pitched as a rec boat. While this may be the case, I get the impression it was one of the best rec boats in its class, even with rising prices. It’s stability, ease of use and of course portability (pic above right: take-out on the Thames near London Bridge) is all part of this appeal.
The last model before it got discontinued in Europe – the ‘Mk 3’ Sunny (see below) retained all the improvements of the ‘Mk 2’ 2007 makeover (many which I’d applied to my ‘Mk1’), but significantly, returned to Nitrilon coating inside the hull which the Mk 2 LitePack model dropped. If you’re buying a used Sunny, make sure you know the difference. The Mk 3 weighs 1 kilo more than the LitePack Mk2 (or same as Mk 1), but has full coating inside making it quicker drying and much more durable.
For the moment Gumo are still making the Innova-branded Sunny for the US, where it costs $999. In other words in the US a new Sunny costs the same as the new Gumotex 410C does in Europe. And the 410C is merely a slightly longer Sunny.
Gumotex Sunny model history
Mk1: (old model – my old boat)
Mk2: 2007-9 (LitePack)
Mk3: 2009- (still sold in North America)
Recognising the popularity of the original Sunny model, in 2007 Gumotex made many improvements to what I call the Mk2 Sunny (right). The flatter seats could be lent back on properly; there were nifty handles at each end plus an adjustable footrest. All these were changes I made to my original Mk1 model so I considered the Mk2 a big improvement.
They also made it a couple of kilos lighter (14kg) by using a so-called LitePack material. The inner surfaces (grey, above) are not coated with shiny, hard-wearing, low friction Nitrilon but were bare fabric which saved weight and cost, but took longer to dry and will be less durable and less easy to clean. You’ll also notice along the top of the sides where the coloured and grey parts meet there’s a lifted edge or flap at the join which is a bit cheap too. On my Mk1 model that was glued down but still had a sharp edge; passing strokes could ‘paper cut’ your fingers unless you covered the edge with duct tape. It’s significant that the entire Gumotex range of IKs didn’t go LitePack and overall, the Mk2 Sunny looked like a cost cutting exercise, but read on…
BTW you mention the new style [Mk 2] Solar and say you think it’s probably an improvement. Well, design-wise it may be, but be aware that many of the new generation Gumotexes use their new ‘lite-pack’ material (the grey, non-shiny stuff) for much of their build. Frankly, it’s nowhere near as good as the old Nitrilon material (still used for the Safari and the larger/more serious boats). They’re obviously looking to cut costs, but it’s a real shame – the lite pack material is less strong, less rigid, less resilient etc. I’d never buy one…
Dom P (old Safari owner)
More lite-pack feedback
The LitePack fabric was a Gumotex initiative. The first versions of it were fine at the factory tests, but the rubber interior coating was found to be affected by ozone. We had some warranty returns for air seepage on this early LitePack. Since 2009 the LitePack has been quite good at air retention. Still, there are pros and cons to the LitePack. On the plus side, it knocks about 12% off the weight of the boats when used on the interior and decks, it folds more compactly than the fully-coated versions, and some people prefer the feel of the LitePack polyester cloth on their bare skin over the feel of rubber. On the negative side, LitePack cloth wets out and takes longer to dry than Nitrylon rubber [though much less time than bladder boats], LitePack gets dirty easier, and LitePack is somewhat less stiff than Nitrilon in an inflated kayak. The drying time and stain resistance can be somewhat improved by treating the LitePack with ScotchGard, which beads up water on the cloth and resists soiling.
Tim R (US Innova importer)
2008 review excerpt (Gumo’ Helios 1):
…But Innova loses points for jacking up the prices just as they “go cheap” on the models by removing the coating that used to cover all of their boats and leave some of the most sensitive parts of the boat open to discoloration and, quite likely, accelerated wear and tear. I’d gladly lug around two or three, or even five more pounds, to have a boat as bomb-proof as the Safari…
See this series of youtube videos too. Looks terrible so better to avoid Litepack from this era…
Mk3 – Full-coat Sunny (2009-2010)
It seems Gumotex heard these ‘one-sided’ complaints and in mid-2009 returned to ‘full Nitrilon’ coating for the two Helios and Sunny, just like the pre-2007s. This is what I call a ‘Mk3’ Sunny (all the benefits of the 2007 Mk2 improvements plus the durability, easy cleaning and quick drying of full-coat Mk1 at a slight weight penalty (now ~ 16kg again).
The optional skeg or fin on 2009-on Gumos is a less over-sized, quick-fit nylon item (left; a similar size to the ones I got made for my Mk1 years ago) but it slots into the patch with no fiddly screws and with a bit of jiggling can be fitted or removed with the boat inflated. This is a big improvement as there’ll be times in the shallows on when dragging over grass when you may want to remove it temporarily.