Tag Archives: full dropstitch kayak

Tested: Sandbanks Style Optimal inflatable kayak review

See also:
Full drop-stitch inflatable kayaks main page
Advanced Elements AirVolution (similar design)

In a line
Stable, good looking and good value two-chamber full dropstitch IK.

• Reassuringly stable but not too slow
• Easy to get in and out
• Everything in the bag bar a buoyancy aid
• Effortless two-way Bravo SUP pump
• Capacious wheelie-rucksack bag
• Three-year warranty

• Usual budget paddles; a bit short too
• Minimal underdeck storage
• Thin, hard seatbases
• Floor-mounted backrest supports
• No footrests
• No repair kit included/listed online

What They Say
The Optimal is an inflatable, crossover kayak that truly excels in any water and is designed to feel just like a solid kayak and not compromise on performance. The Optimal will help inspire confidence in with a balanced rocker profile for speed on the flat and manoeuvrability in whitewater. The V-shaped hull is designed for stability and also helps the Optimal cut through the water effortlessly. The rounded stern sheds water easily, making it forgiving in moving water. There are luggage straps at the front and rear so it has plenty of room for dry bags and gear for your day on the water.  

  • Inflated: 427cm long x 89cm wide (14′ x 35″)
  • Deflated 105cm x 58cm x 30cm
  • Kayak 19kg
  • Maximum load 231kg
  • Three year warranty
  • Price: £769 [at time of review]. Early 2022: £849.00 sale £619.00

Thanks to Sandbanks Style for the boat loan

On the Quay

Based by Poole Harbour, established iSUP-board brand Sandbanks Style now offer a couple of full dropstitch (FDS) inflatable kayaks: three-panel ‘Explorer’ similar to the Shipwreck Arrowstream I tested, and this two-panel Optimal, also in solo and tandem lengths. The Optimal resembles (but is not a clone of) Advanced Elements’ AirVolution – as far as I know the first to use this design in 2020. The AquaTec Ottawa Pro (scroll down the linked page) is a similar design and can be found priced more closely to the Sandbanks.

These types of FDS IKs use two slightly folded dropstitch panels wrapped in a PVC envelope; a ‘clamshell’ design which creates a low cavity under each deck. The upper panel is more of an elongated ring; the aperture forming the cockpit you sit inside. It’s similar to Perception’s Prodigy 145 hardshell (right), a kayak design favoured by recreational paddlers who prefer IK-like ease of access over a fixed deck, but don’t want a tippier and more wind-prone canoe.

All tandem Sandbanks kayaks come with a pair of four-part 220cm paddles, a two-way, two-litre Bravo 100 SUP pump, a skeg and a huge wheeled bag to carry it all. The whole package for the Optimal double weighs nearly 27 kilos with room to spare in the bag. The rolled up boat itself seemed less bulky, or at least folded up more compactly than the Shipwreck. The turquoise/white PVC did have a nice, pliant texture which may have had something to do with it. The quality and feel of PVC varies greatly.

Inflation took about 7 minutes to reach an indicated 12psi on the pump’s gauge, which matched the reading on my handheld manometer. Using the 65-cm high pump means less stooping and was initially so effortless I thought I hadn’t plugged it in correctly. For the floor I flicked the switch to down-pumping only, but for the top chamber, with a better stance (left) I was able to reach full pressure using faster but more effortful up-and-down (two-way) pumping. I didn’t notice a deflation port on the pump to help suck the boat down for repacking, which is a shame. This is clearly a gangly iSUP pump which isn’t expected to be taken on the water.

Once inflated the top and bottom panels press together along the edges, sealing off a cavity with the outer hull envelope that wraps around the two panels (see graphic above). In this way it’s similar to my Seawave, making a side channel where water and debris can collect. The Optimal’s two panels may press together but water and debris got in the channel too. But, compared to most three-panel FDS IKs, you can directly access this part of the boat for proper cleaning.
Measuring up the inflated boat gave the dimensions below; at 440cm (14′ 5″) a bit longer, wider and heavier than what appears on Sandbanks’ website. Dividing length by width gives an LxW ratio of 4.78 which, compared to the table here prioritises stability over speed, though other factors, not least hull shape and rigidity as well as wind and waves, will influence the latter.

Thanks to glue-free heat-welding the whole high-pressure assembly is very clean with no untoward creases or anomalies. Only the black plastic end-cones stayed a bit deformed. I also noticed that after inflation the floor protruded a couple of inches on one side. But by the time I got back, a little hull flexing had realigned the two panels correctly. Underneath you’ll notice a ‘blister’ in the dropstitch (above right). This isn’t a flaw as some have thought, it’s opposite the floor panel’s inflation valve where there is no stitching.

Straight away you can see it’s not just two flat slabs of dropstitch, but a floor somehow folded up into a shallow ‘V’ to make a keel line (left) which, combined with the deep skeg, ought to ensure the Optimal paddles arrow-straight. The top panel has a similar downturn like the AE AirVolution, to ensure water run off the decks. These ‘clamshell’ angles create a space underneath each deck, but they’re too low to be of much use for storage.

At over 2.3 metres or 7.5 feet long and up to 50cm wide, the cockpit feels roomy for two adults. There are four D-rings on the floor for the backrest straps (but see below), with a four more rings up on the sides to counter-tension the backrests.
A side benefit of the cockpit’s overhanging side rim is you can easily pick up and carry the boat. If there are two of you, use the nicely padded carry handles at each end.

The floor’s shallow V is reflected inside, so any water will pool along the centre line and, depending on the boat’s trim, will run back towards the drain plug hole at the back of the floor. In my opinion this a bafflingly redundant and marginally effective gimmick that gets copied from boat to boat. Either flip the boat over to drain, or position the drain in the stern cone
A rear paddler could benefit from the back deck edge to lean on, and the front paddler might be able to use the edge of the front deck as a footrest. You might shove a folded bag under either deck, otherwise gear will have to go under the paddlers’ knees or on top of each deck, using the bungy cords. It’s a commonly seen and inexpensive ‘feature’ on IKs, but I’ve never thought it a great place to lash gear that’s hard to access once on the water. As it is, used solo, there would be enough room to stash a camping load low on the wide floor.

Seats are the usual light, stiff foam items, with four, two-point straps and brass-coated? clips to keep the backrest upright and get your position just right. The floor mounted D-rings for the forward straps would be better positioned on the sides, like the rear strap mounts, putting them in line with the direction of tension. Otherwise the backrest tends to pull down as you rest against it.

Thanks to these long straps I was able to fit the seat in the optimal rear-of-centre position for solo paddling, using all four of the higher D-rings on the sides, resulting in good back support. I knew the main problem would be the lack of a footrest and the ~inch-thick seatbase sat on a hard, 12psi floor; within an hour the backside and legs would be numb and the back sore from slouching. (I notice Sandbanks’ three-panel Explorers do come with footrests.) Expecting this, I’d brought an inflatable packraft seatbase to try-out, as well as a strap to rig up a footrest off the floor D-rings. Pushing off a some kind of footrest stops you sliding down the seat, so enabling a proper upright paddling posture.

The 220cm four-part, alloy shaft paddle weighs around 950g and has three blade-angle adjustment holes about 45° either side of flat. It will do the job in calm conditions, but the soft plastic blade easily deforms. Expecting a mushy budget paddle, I brought my own Werner paddle.

Underneath the stern goes the slot-and-peg skeg. At 20cm high, combined with the V hull, the Optimal ought to track like a TGV.
There’s no conformity label stating recommended pressures, payloads, CE stamp and so on, but I noticed a serial number (‘HIN’) at the back. This was a used boat, but there was no repair kit in the wheelie bag pocket, nor is a kit listed online, but the Optimal comes with a three-year warranty.

On the Water

Putting in at Salterns jetty on the northeast shore of Poole harbour, I had various plans for my test paddle. Maybe a five-mile run out through the narrow harbour mouth to Old Harry Rocks which I’ve been keen to revisit. Or at the very least, a lap around Brownsea Island; about the same distance.
But on the day a chilly, 20mph NNW wind reduced my options. Even a quick crossing to Brownsea would have made getting back tricky in an unfamiliar boat, especially as the peak of a spring tide would be running southeast with the wind by the early afternoon.

So I set off into the wind, heading towards Poole. Taking it on the nose with the Werner paddle was an effort, but with no fetch, the water surface was only a little ruffled and the Optimal cut through at a up to 4kph. But as soon as I turned a little off the wind the front was pushed round and required a lot of correcting (as would any buoyant and tall-sided IK on a day like today).
I reached the shelter of another marina where above me the wind whistled merrily through a forest of masts, and the orange windsock waggled about a few degrees below horizontal.

Here I decided to rig up a footrest strap to help brace myself in the seat and improve my draw, then set out with the four-part paddle. I could feel the blades flexing as soon as I left the shelter of the marina and had to dig in, and also found the 220-cm length a bit short; at 92cm or three feet, the Optimal is as wide as a packraft. These budget four-parters with riveted-on blades are great for beginners and mellow paddles, but over time the joints will loosen up, creating even more slack. After a few minutes I swapped back to my stiff Werner.

The wind flattened the water with no chop to speak of, so I tried paddling across the wind – tricky in any paddle boat. The deep skeg meant the bow pivoted downwind, requiring masses of correction. Better to know this now than when trying to get back from Brownsea Island with a train to catch, so I put that idea to bed. Any IK would have struggled to hold it’s line broadside to the gusting 20mph wind, but if the plastic skeg was trimmed to half its length I suspect the hull would be more balanced across the wind, while not sacrificing any tracking. This goes for any of the current crop of IKs with these overlong slot-in skegs. A spare skeg might cost a tenner, so the experiment poses little risk.

Turning the boat back into the wind was a huge effort; I was having to yank on my paddle from the middle to get it to turn. Once back on line I carried on up to some buoys and tried the boat downwind where it held it’s line well; the deep skeg and the flat water meant little weathercocking (back end coming round). As with any kayak, wavier conditions which momentarily lifted the skeg out of the water would have been a different matter.

I headed for a park on the north side of the harbour to hop out and see how the Optimal handled without the skeg. Coming back downwind, the boat tracked no worse than my unskeged Seawave might have done. You can’t paddle quite as hard while maintaining a straight line, but you can easily weave tight figure-of-eights in and out of some buoys. On a river with a current the added manoeuvrability (and clearance) without a skeg might be a better set-up.

I also inflated my packraft seatbase (left) to see if the raised position and air cushion would be more comfortable. But on the hard seatbase and floor, it merely wobbled around like a jelly and made things worse. I know from similar accessory pads for motorbikes that you want just enough air to support your weight, but on a surface with no give it just didn’t work. A better solution would be to add a foam block similar to what came with the Arrowstream (but which on that boat I couldn’t use as the raised height made it unstable).

The wind was blowing me in the right direction anyway, but I decided to take back control and slip into what maps call the Blue Lagoon, an inlet ringed by houses with private jetties. Maybe ‘Blue Lagoon’ was cooked up by estate agents; it’s dais this side of Poole Harbour has the highest density of Britain’s most expensive houses.

Appropriately, the tide dropping through the bay’s narrow entrance made accessing the Blue Lagoon tricky. I squeezed in along the edge of the current which was a good demonstration the boat’s agility and responsiveness. But once inside things were already getting too shallow, so I backed out and threw myself into the modest tidal race then ferried across it just to see if I could. Maybe the lack of a skeg (but with the footbrace) made this sort of manoeuvre easier.

I refitted the skeg and drifted south round to the lee side of my Salterns marina put in where all was calm as long as I kept close to the wall. Overall, with a skeg was better but as said, I’d try chopping a spare down by half.

After ticking off a few selfies with the camera balanced on a buoy, I only just made it back round the corner to the jetty against the funnelled tide and wind, then bounced over the clapotis to where the sea had already dropped a foot, exposing Poole Harbour’s notorious mudflats. As newbs on a foggy day back in 2005, we’d got caught out on one of my very first IK paddles in a Gumotex Safari. Tides? Mud? Oh, I see.

Once on shore the Optimal rolled up into the bag easily, though having both valves at the same end would make purging the air in one roll easier (or having a pump with a suction port). Had I the chance, I’d have rinsed it by resting the bow up on something, open the stern drain and then deflate the floor. This ought to give you access to the otherwise sealed-off side cavities where debris and water collect and, as I noted, sliminess had developed. Then hose from the top and most of it will flush out the drain hole before a wipe down.

It was a shame not being able to get stuck into a proper paddle to somewhere, but enjoyed my brief spin on the Optimal. For £769 – about £150 less than similar, heavily discounted Ottawa Pro doubles you might find online, and nearly half the price of the AE AirVolution, the Optimal is a solid double FDS which would work well solo once you add a footrest tube (easily done using the floor D-rings). Budget paddles and thin seats are what you’d expect at this price – as it is, comfortable seats are an issue with many IKs. But the boat looks well made and the pump is easily up to the job. Plus you’re buying from an actual UK shop you can go and visit, not some shouty, sell-it-all web-based entity with flakey customer service.

As FDS IKs go, I prefer the two-panel ‘clamshell’ design. It feels more sophisticated, or is dynamically no worse than the the masses of three-chamber FDSs which sell for a bit less. The crux is stability which most recreational IK users rightly prioritise (or soon learn to). The Optimal may have that to excess, but as I also found on that first paddle in 2005, better too much than not enough.

Tested: Shipwreck ArrowStream drop-stitch inflatable kayak review

See also:
Full drop-stitch inflatable kayaks main page

In a line
Great value full drop-stitch tandem kayak with all the kit.

• Keen price and in stock in the UK now
• Not excessively wide but stable enough
• Everything in the box except a lifejacket and some water
• Clean, crease-free finish and assembly
• Supportive backrest
• Pumps up fast




• Folded-up, the boat is massive
• Very hard to turn with the skeg fitted
• Felt tippy with (removable) seat pad in place
• White surfaces may get grubby
• Seat base is hard
• Footrest tubes too small and bendy
• Wide side-tops rub on the paddle

What They Say
High quality drop stitch kayak comes with everything you need to get started on the water.

  • Inflated: 440cm long, 80cm wide
  • Deflated 85cm, 50cm 22cm
  • Kayak : 18.3 Kgs
  • Total : 24 Kgs
  • Maximum load 340Kg
  • Price: £549 (at time of review; now £800)

Test boat loaned for review by Shipwreck

Out of the box

Shipwreck is the latest contender in self-branded full drop-stitch (FD-S) IKs customised in China to an importer’s specifications. With the ArrowStream – not a bad name – you get all the kit including two four-part paddles and a two-way barrel pump.
The box it came in weighed a staggering 29.5kg – I could barely get up the stairs; it’s twice the volume of my Seawave 2. But once unwrapped, the whole kit: everything in the bag, weighs 25.4kg.

The bare boat itself is only 17.8kg, and with one seat and footrest, the splash vizors and the skeg comes in at 19.7kg on the water (plus pump and bag) according to my kitchen and suitcase scales. By comparison, had I kept the stock seat and footrest on my Seawave 2, it would have been 17.7 kg on the water, so that’s not as bad as the bulk – about 90cm x 70cm x 35cm boat alone in the bag – might suggest.
According to my tape it’s 431cm long and 83cm wide. That gives it an LxW ratio of 5.19 which, compared to the table here is also pretty good. And don’t forget the maximum width is measured high up on the outward-angled sides; the actual width at the waterline is around 60cm or 23.6 inches – fairly slender by IK standards. More on that later. The big advantage with these slim, 10cm-thick side panels compared to round tubes is loads more space inside. The interior width is 45cm at floor level and 66cm at the top of the sides.

The seats include a hefty 9cm-thick seat base incorporating a firm, 6cm foam block which can be zipped out. I can see that foam feeling a bit hard sat on the hard, 10psi floor after a few hours, but it could be easily replaced with something softer or lower. Or you could even zip an inflatable cushion in there to reduce the packed volume. The backrest is tall and wide, with loads of tensioning straps to get the position and angle to your liking. You can reposition a solo seat in the middle, a big benefit with any open tandem IK.

The footrests add up to a couple of 4cm ø hard foam tubes. This diametre is too small for a secure foot placement and they squidge once you push on them. For the test I replaced it with a section of 10cm PVC drainpipe. There are two pairs of D-rings on the floor to attach the tube, presumably with the two packing straps supplied. But that means adjustment is only forwards, away from each seat. So if they’re too far away for your feet you’ll need to adjust the seats forward which may not ideal for trim. However, in the tandem video above the attachment D-rings appear to be in the right spot, even if the trim at 2:09 appears a bit front-heavy. For my solo paddle I joined the two straps into a loop (above left) to use the footrest pipe. Pushing off a proper footrest makes sitting more comfortable and less slouchy. The important thing is the D-rings are there.

Flexible plastic splash visors slip under the rims of the short decks, and the slot-in skeg is the usual (for this type of boat) 9-inch monster. There are handles at each end and a pair on the sides.

The supplied mesh-sided backpack is commendably huge: big enough to get everything in. There are cinch-down straps on the sides and the top, and a big zip plus a clear pocket on the front. The mesh sides will help a wet boat air off. But considering the weight it’s carrying, you do wonder if the shoulder straps will survive too much heaving on and off on public transport. I know my Gumotex backpack didn’t, and neither did the similarly huge Kokopelli Moki bag.

The whole assembly of the boat is very clean – that’s the wonder of heat-welding compared to messier rubber gluing. An exception are stray thread ends inside where a tape covers the floor–sides cavity (left). Once inflated I could see no blisters in the D-S panels which, with threads every 5mm, adds up to an estimated 4 kilometres metres of space yarn! Maybe that’s what explains the bulk, but once vacuum sucked down, I don’t think so. It’s more that the stiff but soft-textured PVC can only be loosely folded over, not rolled up. Half the bulk is just air.
The supplied four-part 220cm alloy paddles weigh only 950g and have blade-angle adjustment holes 45° either sides of flat. The blades also have little hooks cut in the sides which are actually quite handy, now I think about it. Assembled, there’s quite a lot of slack in the three joints which will only get worse with use but they’ll certainly get you moving until you decide to upgrade.

Pumping stations
Pumping up the ArrowStream to an indicated 10psi measured by the 1.7-litre barrel pump’s built-in manometer took less than 90 seconds for the floor and a minute for each side. The pressures may be high but there’s much less volume here than a tubed IK. The pump comes with a nifty red cap which you easily unscrew to switch to downward-action-only to help attain higher pressures. I actually managed those times on double action all the way to 10psi. It’s manageable, but others will welcome the lighter pumping option as pumping effort increases. Checking against my accurate Bravo hand manometer, the 10psi figure on the dial was spot on. Good to know.

One good thing about the 64cm tall pump is that, I at least, stoop less compared to my 45cm Bravo. That makes pumping a whole lot more comfortable, though conversely shorter pumpers may find the height awkward. As mentioned here, a barrel pump suited to high D-S pressures needs to be relatively tall but slim.
The raft valve nozzle on the end of the hose had the bridge inside to press open the inflation valve once clamped on, so as to ease the pumping effort. This also enables sucking the boat down to maximum compactness. I’ve only just realised these nozzle bridges are the key to compact suction packing, as long as you have push-push valves. After shrink-packing, as you quickly remove the nozzle the valve closes and virtually no air in sucked back in.
One thing you don’t get on a self-branded boat like this is a conformity table stating recommended pressures, HIN, payloads, ISO rating, CE stamp and so on. But there’s a one year warranty against manufacturers defects.

On the Water

I’ve been speculating about these boxy, hardshell-stiff full drop-stitchers for years and finally had a chance to try one. I picked a 21km (13 mile) section of the Thames from Shepperton to Richmond with three lock portages on the way.
From where I live it’s an hour and a half by train, then a 20-minute walk to the river: a good test of real-world packboating. All I had to do now was sit back and wait for a sunny, mid-December day. In the end I settled for a dry day and once I got there, it dawned on me I’ve not been to my local train station for 9 months or more. To spare the mesh backpack, I used an old folding trolley. It can hack rough treatment but these days most London stations have lifts, so the whole trip was rather effortless.

A 15-minute walk from Shepperton station, I’d located a perfect put-in off Google maps: a paved dock down a bank tucked between trees and just a foot above the water (left). As so often happens when setting up in the more populated south, as I set up a passing chap was curious about the boat. Little do these people know they’ve stumbled upon the UK’s self-styled inflatable guru! A comprehensive exultation of The Packboating Way may have been more than they bargained for.

The planned route broke down as: 4km to Sunbury Lock; about the same to Molesey Lock; another 8 to Teddington and 4 or so to Richmond. As I wrote recently in an IK guidebook (out later): first time in a new boat choose a quiet, safe and easy spot and if in doubt, do the tippy test before you let go of the river bank. Perched on the thick 9cm seatbase, the ArrowStream felt wobbly on its relatively narrow hull that’s about 60cm wide at the waterline where you sit. At a guess my Seawave 2 might be 70cm or less at the water level, but the difference must be that the Seawave sags a bit and leans over onto round side tubes (below right) which vaguely maintain the waterline width; the Shipwreck’s super-stiffness and near-vertical sides are what I’ve decided to call a ‘flowerpot’ profile (below left) which quickly narrows and has less to support it as it leans over.

Had it been a lovely summer’s day in a shallow pool, it would have been interesting to push the tippy test past the limit. And also find out how easy it was to re-enter the ArrowStream from deep water. But it was a cheerless mid-December day on the Thames. I suspect the Shipwreck is more stable than it feels: what they call low primary (upright) stability but good secondary (leaning) stability, though some think latter concept is bollocks; a kayak either feels stable to you or it doesn’t. As for deep-water re-entry, like a canoe, the tall, thin sides may make that tricky, depending on how well you can dolphin-launch yourself up and into the boat without pulling more water in.
Luckily I had the option to zip out the 6cm foam block from the 3cm padded seatbase envelope and sit nearly on the floor. I could try the block later when I was more accustomed to the boat. Sat lower, the boat felt normal. It can be rocked side-to-side more readily than my Seawave and you have to make sure you sit right on the centre line. As others have said it may tip off centre but it won’t go right over, at least on flat water.

On this first stage, in the interests of analytical rigour I planned to use the four-part paddle before switching to my trusty Werner. In fact it worked perfectly well for an alloy straight-shaft. You don’t really notice the slack joints, though the width of the boat’s high sides caused the paddle to brush against them. It was the same with my Werner later, so it might be an idea to tape this area against wear. Sat on the seat foam block or other added padding would get you higher for more paddle side-clearance.
Once I got on the move the biggest problem was as anticipated: the tendency of the ArrowStream to track straight as an arrow. Normal inputs to fine-tune the direction had no effect and progress became an annoying succession of straight lines broken by occasional hard hauling or jamming in a stern rudder/forward pry (it’ll all be in the book!) to get it on track. This was the same issue we had with the Moki a few months back. Is it the stiff D-S floor? Is it the huge skeg? The sculpted hard plastic bow and stern prows? Read on, but I got to Sunbury in less than half an hour which was a pretty good 5mph with help from the current.

Here I didn’t think to investigate what had looked on Google like a fish-ladder/mini weir on the left of the lock. I now realise it was a very handy canoe roller ramp: a slopping drop which would have made portaging near effortless. I’ve never seen these before; with a little more excavation they could be made into chutes as found uniquely on the Medway but perhaps the Thames’ current gets too strong for them. Instead, I hauled the kayak up onto the towpath, carried it past the lock and clambered back down a dockside ladder. Grabbing one side-handle, a solo paddler can rest the boat on the hip and carry it a short distance.

Paddling off with the weight (trolley, pump, spare paddle) now in the back and my Werner in hand, progress improved. A favourite paddle of 15 years fits like a well worn pair of boots, except boots would never last that long. I still hadn’t got to grips with steering nuance. There is just no way skipping a few strokes on one side will make any difference: the Arrow Streams full ahead like a rocket sled on rails. Of course, it’s better that way round than the other.
Somewhere downriver a mate who lived nearby was standing by to grab some drone footage, but you’ll see better video at the top of the page. A few stills below.

With half an hour spent chatting or in a holding pattern while the drone buzzed overhead, annoying all in earshot, I wondered if I’d left it too late to get to Richmond before dark. At Molesey Lock I nearly made the same portaging mistake had not a kayaker catching up scooted down the ramp (below). They may not be as much fun as a chute, but with shallow water on either side, you can hop out and portage in a minute, even without using the rollers. It’s probable the day’s three locks (plus Richmond’s tidal barrier, just downstream of town) are the only such roller-ramps on the Thames’ 45 locks.

From here it was an 8-km stretch to Teddington where I thought I might bail if I felt tired. That’s the great thing with a packboat: you can change plans as you go. After passing rows of cute riverside dwellings and many seemingly abandoned boats, from here on the river was less grubby and urbanised as it passed the vast grounds of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace.
Right from the start I’d been surprised at the number and variety of birds on the Thames, not least the hordes of swans (which were protected by ancient royal decree until 1998). I noticed one had a cunning way of fluffing its wings out into a pair of downwind sails to tale advantage of the tailwind.

Like a weary traveller, I came upon a glittering riverside metropolis and for the life of me couldn’t work out where this was. Happy shoppers and joggers where cruising along the waterfront. Cafes, bars and patisseries were making the most of it before Covid restrictions ramped back up in a few days. Was Thames Ditton really like a mini-Manhattan? Or have I been cooped up indoors a little too long.
I asked a passing boatman what was this place of wonder.
“It’s Kingston, mate. Why, wherja think it was?”
I hadn’t the heart to tell him.

As I paddled past, I clocked the distinctive slabby flanks of an Aqua Marina Tomahawk tucked between two raptor-like speed boats. That particular boat was about as good value an FD-S IK as you could buy until this Shipwreck washed up on the ebbing tide.

I drifted under Kingston Bridge which I must have ridden over scores of times in a past life, when the Miracle of Kingston delivered one final benefaction: the setting sun burst out from beneath the carpet of clouds which had smothered the London skies for the past week.
The shock was so great and the light so stunning against the steel-blue clouds, it could not have been a better time for the cold to get to the camera’s battery. I managed to rub it into delivering one last shot of the stately riverside plane trees before it packed up for good.
This illuminated setting invigorated me for the final lap to Teddington Lock and Richmond beyond, but three hours in, the old butt was getting sore. One good thing with the ArrowStream and similar is you can lift yourself up on the hard sides to aire le derriere.
This turned out to be one of the nicest stretches on the Thames I can recall. The riverside sticky-beaking, enigmatic islands and doubtless loads of history if you care to investigate, makes me realise that without its sporty chutes, Kent’s Medway is just another ordinary, agri-saturated Southeastern drain.

Converging on Teddington Lock with a quartet of silver-haired sea kayaking ladies, like a well-conditioned lab rat, I knew the form by now: canoe ramp, river left. Here I decided to remove the skeg. Straight away I set off at a faster paddling rhythm and found the boat much more lively, but in a good way. Yes, small corrections were needed to keep track, but now I was off the monorail and could wander and weave around like a normal IK. I wish I’d done this earlier. As suggested elsewhere; the sweet spot must lie with chopping that dorsal fin down. At the lock I also slipped the seat block back under the seat … for as many nano-seconds it took to realise that was still a bad idea. Something softer but less thick is needed.

The trees of what I thought was Richmond Park (actually the near-contiguous Ham Lands) glowed orangey-red as I cruised below Richmond Hill and under another familiar road bridge to arrive at the ramp where Steve and I had set off for Greenwich nine years ago, just after the last London riots. Lord know there’s plenty more to riot about these days, but now it’s all conducted online which is much more hygienic.
Like Kingston, twilight on Richmond waterside was throbbing with ducks and Christmas revellers. I took my time draining and folding up the boat (chatting IKs with another curious chappy), rather pleased I’d managed the distance in exactly four hours without ending up too knackered. Part of that must be down to a backwind and the Thames’ swift winter current, but most of it’s owed to the Shipwreck ArrowStream, a fast flatwater cruiser whose potential is released once you dial in the right amount of skeg which may be none at all.
It’s hard to see that price of £550 lasting for much longer.

Drying
The twin drain plugs at the back worked fairly well on the ramp at Richmond; a pint or two spilled out from the cavity formed between the sides and the floor and which will almost certainly not dry out fully. The mesh-sided backpack helped, but you could tell it would take more to dry the boat off fully prior to long-term storage. In our flat I left it in the warm hallway (with an appropriate warning sign) and gave it what I thought was a final wipe down, but folding it up more water splashed out from somewhere, possibly the hollow prow beaks at either end.
If you have the space the best way would be to lean it inflated on a wall in a warm room (or out in the sunshine), let what’s in there run to one end and deal with it there. If you’re really serious about the side cavities, you might get to them from either end with a hose attached to a hair dryer set on low.

Review: Aqua Marina Tomahawk Air-K 375 full drop-stitch kayak

See also:
Full drop-stitch inflatable kayaks main page

Andrew Cassely (guest reviewer)

I recently bought myself an Aqua Marina Tomahawk Air-K 375, after floating around on a cheap Bestway Hydro Force (right) over the summer. The choice was partly driven by availability – the Tomahawk was still on sale where others had sold out, perhaps because it was specifically listed as an intermediate to advanced kayak, while beginners are driving the shortage.

Overall I am pretty satisfied with the boat, though it’s not perfect. It comes in a fairly hefty package, but it is manageable for myself, an average fitness male. Smaller people and/or those with less strength may struggle a bit. The bag fits well and it technically a backpack. I wouldn’t want to go far with it but it works sufficiently well to get it out of the flat, down the stairs, and into the car.

Some work is required for set-up – the included pump is effective but needs some effort towards the end when approaching 10PSI. I may invest in an electric at some point. In fact the hardest bit is fitting the twin skegs: these are very stiff, and it’s difficult to apply pressure to the thin edge. I may need to take some sandpaper to get these to fit better, though I’ll try some silicone grease first. The seat and footrest are effective, a little strap threading is needed for the latter, nothing terrible. The seat straps keep their tension once set up, but the footrest doesn’t. Total setup time is about 20 mins, though that may reduce as I get more familiar with the kayak.

On the water it is a step change from the basic inflatable, though you’d expect that based on the price! It’s much faster, tracks amazingly well, and is a lot less tiring to paddle. The addition of an entry-level carbon fibre paddle provides a lot more range before fatigue sets in (though I still need to improve my stamina!). It turns relatively slowly to compensate, but I’ll take the better tracking any day.

I removed the front skeg to see if it would make it turn better. Turning was indeed a little easier, but the tracking was noticeably less effective (though still far better than the budget IK). In the end I decided I preferred both skegs, plus it’s reasonably heavy and right at the bottom of the boat and so provides a bit more stability.
It would work fine without through so it’s more a case of personal preference. It is noticeably tricky in the wind – because it’s relatively light, I’m slower in a headwind than a friend with a Point 65 sit-on-top. In crosswinds the high sides catch the air which makes stability less good in a gust.

It feels a lot less stable than the Bestway (I’m 77kg). I’m constantly working to balance it though I think more use will see that become less of a worry. Once or twice I’ve had a wobble and almost felt like I’ve gone over. However I think it’s actually a little better than it seemed. I deliberately flipped it to ensure I could re-enter and it took a lot more leaning over than I thought to capsize. It is probably not suitable for beginners whose balance is questionable, though. Re-entry was a little tricky put perfectly doable.

Packing up is reasonably quick – note that I do it with minimal drying on site, then re-inflate it fully once home to give it a proper wipe-down and time to dry. The drainage issue mentioned in the article is definitely evident: it’s basically impossible to get every last drop of water out, though I’d say no more than a tablespoonful was left which is not terrible. The joins between the floor and the sides also tend to attract sand and grit – the wipe-down gets rid of most, but I suspect at least a little is starting to build up there, though I don’t know how much of an issue this is in the long run as they shouldn’t rub against each other.

Despite the ‘Intermediate to advanced’ labelling, I think a beginner wanting to move on from an Intex or similar could do worse as long as they have at least a modicum of balance and confidence. I don’t think it would be for everyone though, as there are definitely more stable FDS kayaks out there. Overall I’m pretty pleased with with the Tomahawk, and hope the construction is good enough to provide many years of kayaking to come!

Paddling with a Yakkair Full HP2 dropstitch IK

See also:
Full drop-stitch inflatable kayaks main page

Late 2021: Bic Sport rebranded Tahe and this boat is a Breeze HP2. Price unchanged

Tahe Breeze HP2
image.png

French paddleboat, board and ball-point dinghy manufacturer BIC Sport joined the full dropstitch (FDS) market a few of years back with three models of Yakkair Full HP: the 1, 2 and le trois. Made in Vietnam, the HP2 goes for around £1200 in the UK under the new for 2021 Tahe brand.

Yak owner Robbo uses an ultralight ripstop, rip-cord
paragliding backpack-bag for his Bic.

The ‘Full’ is an important addition to the name which gets emblazoned on the hull, because the previous Yakkair models (above right) were just called HP 1, 2 and maybe 3. They had a DS floor between regular round side tubes.
The old models didn’t really jump out off my IK radar; they looked too much like some Advanced Elements IKs. But looking at the inset diagram above, it looks like they tried to address the flat-floor with a keel tube tucked underneath the outer shell.

On the water under the weight of a paddler it supposedly deformed to produce a double concave profile – a bit like the Kxone/DS Kajak AirTrek floors – and which looks like it will work better than a totally flat floor. Even with a skeg at the back, this barge-like flat floor common to DS IKs does make me wonder how they’d handle or track.
Bic owner Robbo has a variety of slip-on skegs and for this run he selected a medium in orange.

You get two clip-in SoT contoured-foam seats which have a well-braced backrest but, with bases an inch or two thick, won’t raise the butt above the ankles to give an efficient paddling posture, IMHO. Many IKs are like this out of the box, but raising or replacing the seat base is dead easy. I put my shoes under my Sunny seat: much better, but really you can’t beat an inflatable seat base like a packraft seat.

For solo use it looks possible to position the front seat back to the next D-rings, except there’s nowhere to clip the foot brace, which on the Yakkair are just a couple of padded straps. You could maybe use the front seat mounts. A good way to make a firmer and more effective foot brace is to slip a bit of 4-inch ø plastic drainpipe over the strap (right).

At each end you have two chunky carry handles as well as those fairly useless elasto-nets so common to many IKs. What would you put there that wouldn’t be more secure and more accessible lashed down by your feet or behind you? Not needed today, but the Yakkety Yak has a dinky slip-in spray visor up front to keep the splash out.

Talking of splash, I was keen to see the notorious side-floor join I wrote about. Sure enough, the Yakk’s floor is glued to the hull casing floor beneath and taped the side panels. But not all the way and so water and crud will run into the cavities at each end (below left) and then run down behind the tape along the sides. You could get rid of most of it by standing the boat on its end and opening the drain at the stern. And if you think there’s a lot of grit and other debris in there, hose from the top and let it run down the inside edges and out the drain. As for drying: that will take as long as it takes.

Sat inside, the boat is over half a metre wide because so much space is saved by the flat DS panels. But measured at 87cm wide (33.5″), the FHP 2 looks a bit on the wide side. Many FDS IKs look the same but have various widths: the HP2 seems about average. The much cheaper Decathlon Itiwit X500 is an unnerving 64cm, but even it seemed pretty wide when I looked at one in the shop. My Sunny was some 20cm less wide – and that’s with round tubes!

yakfhp2-4way

Flipped over, the bow looks a lot better formed than a typical full-tube IK, perhaps to compensate for the flatter floor. It’s actually a solid plastic moulding so should be immune to wear as the boat comes in to shore. But coming back down the Adur into the wind and against the flow, E & L had some trouble tracking straight. The two of them combined probably weighed less than me and with the featherlight L in front, the lifted bow was not cutting down through the water – the trim was out. Swapping seats with the heavier E up front would have fixed that, but it was thought the more powerful paddler should be at the back. Kayaking lore seems to agree, though two-up in my IKs (same-ish length) my generous mass is better distributed up front. To me it’s obvious: better to have the larger mass (my torso) towards the centre of the boat, not the stern.

Watching the Yakk navigate 20-km of flatwater for a few hours didn’t me inspire to even ask for a go, far less to own one. Used to being snuggly jammed into IKs & Ps, the canoe-like width and low seats put me off and set-up was without footrests would have made it too much like sitting on a log. L & E were first-timers in this boat afaik and initially found it tippy though soon got accustomed (they looked pretty relaxed).

The quality of assembly certainly corresponded with a four-figure IK and it sure looks less bloaty than a Decathlon Itiwit we met – the IK sales hit of 2020. I suspect this image is the attraction to many FDS buyers, but for me the water and grit-trapping cavities would add extra maintenance, even if it wouldn’t be that hard to fabricate and glue in a PVC cone to seal them off for good. Then you could simply rinse, drain, deflate, wipe off and dry the Yakkair like a regular tubeless IK. And the other drawbacks: seats; footrests; thigh straps are easily added. The you’d have a stiff and spacious tourer with great paddler ergos.

New Yakkair HP1 owner, Kevin A, adds:
Having just bought a Bic Yakkair Full HP1 to replace an ageing Walker Bay Airis which has become porous after about ten years of excellent service, I was very interested to read this review and I thought I would add some early impressions of my own boat.  So far, I have only had it on the water once because I have ordered a new combo paddle which can be a kayak paddle, a canoe paddle or a SUP paddle – I generally prefer using a single canoe paddle but the one which I have been using for years is a bit too short for the wider new boat.  You mention the width of the HP1 in your review and you say that you prefer a narrower boat but, for me, the extra width was part of the attraction.  I’m not sure yet about how it affects the stability and handling but, tbh, I just prefer the appearance of the wider boat even though, as you suggest, it does make a footrest essential so that you can brace yourself better – in my other boat, I was held fairly firmly at the thighs by the narrow interior.  The footrest which came with my boat seems to be a bit more substantial than the one you describe in your review.
Looking around at the various marketing pictures, I think some of the details of the package are a bit variable and maybe the footrest falls into that category.  But the biggest difference I have spotted is the style of the carry bag for the boat and I have to say that the carry bag which I have been supplied with is fantastic.  It is superbly well made and looks like a fairly upmarket piece of luggage – on the occasions when I take the boat on public transport I will no longer feel quite so conspicuous (the downside – there’s always a downside! – is that the bag itself adds weight to the whole package).  The real surprise about the carry bag is that it swallows up the entire rig – hull, paddle, pump and seat and there is still room for all the normal bits and pieces of personal kit.  The downside of that, of course, is that it is very big and only just about manageable by a single person – there is definitely no chance that it will ever be carried on my back using the excellent quality backpack straps which are part of the bag’s construction (I’m seriously tempted to cut the straps off).
The only area which I still have to work out is, as you say, how to deal with getting the water out of the joints between the three panels.  I’m not sure that the material itself will absorb much moisture and I’m hoping that removing the end plug and propping the boat up on end for a decent length of time (half an hour?) will allow the joints to drain pretty thoroughly – if necessary, I will have to re-inflate the boat at some point in order to ensure that it is completely dry.  By the way, I think that the so-called self-bailing drains are only really intended for use in seriously white water when the boat is in danger of filling up completely – in those conditions, it would be quite normal for the boat to have quite a lot of water sloshing around but the self-bailers would help to keep the level down (I only ever paddle on flat water so I have no idea how effective the self-bailers are in practice).
Happy paddling!

Advanced Elements AirVolution Dropstitch Kayak

See also:
Sandbanks Style Optimal (similar to AirVolution)
Full drop-stitch inflatable kayaks main page
Advanced Elements AirFusion

US IK and iSUp brand Advance Elements have come up with a sleek and innovative new angle on full dropstitch kayaks (FDS IK): The AirVolutions feature a high-pressure two chamber ‘clamshell’ design where the upper DS panel is a demi-deck. With minimal stowage below the decks at each end, it resembles a Sit-On-Top, except (though not currently offered) you could fit a spray skirt round that coaming (cockpit rim) to be sealed right off.

Airvolutions do not have a ton of storage space below deck [and] are designed to be Recreational/Day Touring kayaks

There are Solo and Double/Solo models with dimensions below. The more I study these Full DS IKs, the more I think what you gain in rigidity you pay for in weight and especially bulk over similar non-FDS IKs, some with just a DS floor. Maybe PVC tough enough to handle the intended use and pressures is simply a bulky fabric. In its wheeled duffle the folded up AirVolution2 is a massive 4 feet high and 18″ wide. As with many US-branded IKs, the Airvolutions are on the wide side, but it’s claimed they can be stand-up paddled if you have good balance. That’s me out, then!

LengthWidthWeightPayload
Solo13′ / 3.9m33″ / 84cm39lbs / 17.7kg300lbs / 136kg
Double14.5′ / 4.5m37″ / 94cm52lbs / 23.5kg550lbs / 249kg

Both models are rated at 10 psi / 0.7 bar (though they will work with less) and have another DS IK innovation: Pressure Relief Valves (PRVs) on both panels set to now purge at 14psi (2021 onwards). Why not 10psi so you can blithely inflate away till the PRVs hiss? Some pressure might be purged over a hot day from the top deck but not enough to matter.

A few iSUps have PRVS, but I’ve not seen them on FDS IKs before and many potential owners will be reassured, as it should aid the as-yet untested longevity of DS panels. PRVs limit potentially destructive over-pressurisation when inflatable boats are left in the sun.

Looks like AE listened: the 2021 models got 14psi PRVs, as well as an inflatable footrest (mentioned below), a better backrest, and other detailed tidying. And they chuck in a low pressure battery pump to get the bulk of the air in. You’ll still need a 2-stage barrel pump to get it up to 10-12psi.

AirKayaks™ IK in the US seem to be a favoured AE outlet right now and have detailed reviews of both boats with loads of photos and measurements, followed by a quick flatwater spin.
There you can read the double’s open hatch is over 7.5 feet (231cm) long) and, oddly, there are no footrests (until 2021 models). A stuffed bag would work, or it would be easy to glue on some D-rings to run a footrest strap and hard tube. On a raft-wide IK like the AirVo2, it may not be worth bothering with thigh straps. Both models run a huge 9-inch skeg which will ground easily in shallows and suggests tracking with the flat floor may need help. It’s easily be replaced with a cut-down spare.

The AirVolution2 looks like a great day kayak for two, but from the photo above, even tall solo users may be better off with the less huge AirVolution, unless you add a foot brace tube. With this design, either boat has less low-down storage space than a conventional fat sidetube IK like a Seawave. Storing gear under the deck bungies just adds windage and hampers steering and stability. For touring, what gear is less than 4-5 inches high could squeeze under the covered ends, and when used solo the double has about half a metre of room behind the seat and some in front.

It’s hard to be sure, but inside it does look like the two panels have been ‘wallpapered over’ leaving no crevices to trap water and much more potentially damaging grit. This is a big improvement over hitherto conventional boxy three-panelFull DS IKs where water and crud gets in all sorts of hard-to-clean places. Being smooth inside, you’d think the AirVolutions could easily be drained by tipping upside down, then wiped down to dry. Maybe, but they’ve added a big plugged drain in the middle of the floor (left) to make that easier (it won’t work for self-bailing unless you’re very light). Judged against some of AE’s other ‘busy’ graphics, the blue boats don’t look too bad.

Up to now AE used far less elegant solutions to the problem of rigidity in long IKs. The AirVolutions: a pair of iSUp boards wrapped up and glued in the blue skin, are an interesting idea with some compromises, mostly in storage. These are day boats, not tourers, but there are many, many more day-paddlers out there.

It would be a struggle carrying a 23-kilo boat too far so for your money you get a wheelie duffle but with tiny, pavement-only wheels and clearance. There’s also a repair kit and a high-pressure, two-way switchable barrel pump which may need some brawn to reach the full 10+psi. Because high-pressure IK pumps need to be tall and slim, they’re low volume so take a while. AirKayaks reported it needed 100-150 strokes to inflate each chamber. That is a whole lot of pumping for a DS boat, but a battery pump now comes with the 2021s.
Prices in the US for 2021 are now $1200/$1500; in the UK the boat works out a bit more in £s; not such a good deal with obscure-branded 3-panel FDS IKs going for half that price. Or indeed a similar Sandbanks Optimal.