…The sit-in vs sit-on saga is complex and deep because it doesn’t just involve design, seaworthiness and technical stuff such as stability and comfort. You’ve got to throw tradition, experience, pride, machismo and credibility into the mix.Lone Kayaker
I came across Rupert K’s Lone Kayaker blog, an intrepid Devon based chap who has an uncanny knack in spotting and photographing marine life from his kayak. I tracked his online adventures from the Southwest up to a sail-boat assisted visit to the Western Isles, including a nail-biting solo lap of St Kilda. Even in a spell of good weather, that’s still pretty out there.
I assumed all this had been knocked out in the usual high-end hardshell sea kayak, but looking more closely at the few photos, it seemed to be some sort of Sit-on-Top I’d not seen before: long and low and slim like a proper sea kayak – but with the legs airing off under the breezy sky. Well I never.
Just as people write-off IKs on the basis of gaudy, vinyl beach toys seen flying past in a gust of wind, I too had made a similar assumption that ‘all SoTs’ may be fun, easy to paddle and cheap, but are wide and heavy.
Not a 22-kilo, 5.5m, 22-inch-wide Cobra Expedition with something called a kick-down venturi bailer*. They don’t make the Cobra X any more, but it looks like it and similar touring SoTs are based on the surfski idea (left): long, narrow, tippy but fast ocean playboats popular in the warm waters of South Africa and ANZ, but not a thing you’d go touring in. A rudder is vital to keep on top of things, but unlike a typical surfski, the Cobra had hatches to enable storage in the sealed, unsinkable hull.
* A kick-down venturi bailer is some sort of heel-operated cockpit water dump valve which opens a backward pointing drain spout. It derived from small, racing sail boats and moved on to surfskis – probably. Kick the valve open and as you move through the water, any water in the kayak’s footwell or cockpit gets sucked down and drawn out in a few seconds (the venturi effect), after which you close the valve clamp to reseal the footwell. With the valve open at a standstill, the low footwell might partly fill up with water. You will see in the Cobra reviews on paddling.com that some owners complain about leaking seals on their venturi valves.
Self-bailers – certainly IKs like the ROBfin or most Aire IKs – need to have the floor well well above the bailing drain holes and general water level if the paddler isn’t to be sitting in water most of the time. But seating a super-slim surfski needs to be as low as possible if there is to be any chance of not tipping out. You get wet anyway in a surfski or SoT, but a valve like this enables a low floor plus hands-free bailing on the move. I imagine a slim surfski is like a bicycle: you need to keep moving to not fall over.
You do wonder if these valves might eventually find their way on to fixed-floor drop-stitch IKs. As we know, many have floor plugs anyway to aid draining and drying of unreachable cavities. The thing is, SoT’s and surfskis have basin-like floor and seat wells which drain easily. The idea will work less well with a flat D-S floor.
Like me, he’s enjoyed owning a lot of boats over the years to find what suits him best and listed a Top Ten here. It even includes a couple of Gumboats and also lists many of the SoTs: RTM Disco, Scupper Pro, Prowler – which I briefly considered after reaching the limits of my bendy Sunny in Shark Bay. Then I discovered the K40 – like the Cobra, another Kiwi design – and a whole lot of other IKs better suited to my kind of paddling.
There are more provocative SoT vs Sink thoughts here (quoted top of the page) which, depressingly, references the occasional snobbery of SINKers, especially towards IKs. As I say here, my theory is this contempt is initially based on the appearance of the cheapest IKs: there sure are some hideous Bloaty MacBloatface IKs out there!
It’s worth reading his summary at the end of his Scottish trip (quoted below). I couldn’t agree more and is why I can never see myself buying a hardshell, even if they perform better most of the time. There’s more to paddling than that. As an avowed packboater, I won’t get getting an 18-foot SoT either, but it’s good to now know such things exist and as Lone Kayaker proves, enable SINK-like exploration.
… And of course hugely safe. If you have a spill you just climb back on. Or do you? In the same way as I would suspect that a average paddler in a conventional sea kayak could not roll up if they get tipped over in a big sea (and if they did, they would be subject to exactly the same conditions that just tipped them over, so they would probably go over again), I would worry that I may not be able to get back on my SOT. It’s fine if it’s flat, but conditions bad enough to result in a capsize (surf excluded) would be pretty nasty anyway.Lone Kayaker
However at least I would have the chance of a simple re-entry and not be struggling with a swamped kayak, pumping it out, etc.
The sit-on-top/sit-in kayak (SINK) debate is potentially very long. I just like to keep things ultra simple. Simplicity means more time on the water and less time faffing about. Float it out onto the water.Sit on and go. No struggling with a spray deck on the beach and then scrunching across the stones it into the sea.
Yes OK you need a decent drysuit for all season SOT paddling, but apart from that, clutter is a minimum.
Considering my expedition round the west of Scotland as a whole, there were three or four occasions when I was concerned about my safety because of the sea state. Probably unnecessarily so, as I never came close to capsize. But paddling round the ‘dark side’ of St. Kilda I would have been in a state of severe anxiety if I was in a SINK. The unsinkable, unswampable feature of SOTs with their drainage holes provide a feeling of security.
I suppose it boils down to enjoyment. My expedition was probably 80% enjoyment, 20% worry. If I was in a SINK that would have been 50%/50%.
I could go on and on, and be a bit of a bore about the SOT advantages. Maybe it’s because they are so sneered at by most SINK sea kayakers.