For 2016 Gumotex have a new model of the self-bailing white-water/surf Safari called 330 or 330 XL. According to the stats the new boat is 26cm or ten inches longer than the regular Safari and now 80cm- or no less than three inches wider, which means buoyancy is up 30% to a rated 130kg. Weight is down 500g too to 12kg.
I had the original pre-2003 Safari (left and right) – my very first IK and a very tippy boat for which I was too heavy and perhaps just too big. Part of the reason for tippiness is you’re sat high because a self-bailer needs a thick floor to put the your butt above the water level swilling around the draining holes in the floor. If that boat is also narrow and you’re an over-fed newb, then you both sit in water and have trouble keeping upright. Post 2003 Safaris were said to be much less tippy.
The new 330 retains the all-important thigh straps but will be a more stable, user-friendly IK that’s still suited to rapids and surf without the need for decks (as on the Framura or Swings) or for frequent bank-side visits to drain it (right). But you get the horrible, old-school Gumotex footrest and a seat with no back support. I’d glue on some hull-top patches for a proper backrest like on my Seawave or Grabner, and a footrest tube too. The claimed specs are: 330cm long; 80cm wide; 12kg; max load 130kg and 3psi pressure with a PRV in the floor. The preceding Safari was: 304 x 72cm; 12.5kg; max load 100kg and runs the same pressure and PRV.
Lurking deep in the weeds we find Gumo’s other new IK, a fishing kayak called the Halibut. I do like a tasty halibut fried in butter and lemon, and this well-equipped trawler is high-seated, heavy but reassuringly wide (3.75m long, 96cm wide, 21kg).
It also comes with a floor plate for standing, but energetic casting might take some skill to pull off. At €999 it’s quite pricey too, but there are probably more fishing kayakers out there (mostly in hardshell SoTs) than the rest of us put together.
Gumotex Safari (pre-2003) Back when I didn’t know an IK from JK Rowling, my very first IK was a used Safari. And light and tough though it was, this early model Safari was a mistake. The Mk1 was a tad over 3 metres long (same as a Solar 1), 72cm wide and weighted 12kg. I pretty much knew it was not for me when I bought it used in 2004 for £120 from boatpark.cz, but it was so cheap it was worth the punt. At my weight I pretty much maxed-out the boat’s 100-kilo payload, and at 6.1” I looked like I was sat in a small bath.
Without a skeg I also found it impossible to paddle straight (but had no experience then; see this). It felt nice and fast but way too tippy to inspire confidence in a large beginner. It’s the only IK I’ve ever had which I could barely stay in. And for me it was way too cramped to pack a useful load for a few day’s touring which was my plan all along.
Anyone with a bit of experience would have realised this before they bought it, but I just wanted to check out a proper IK close up before moving on. I soon got a Sunny and have never looked back with Gumotex IKs; the Safari was passed on to my g-friend who’s a foot shorter and half my weight.
A great feature on the Safari were the thigh straps (visible in the pics above). They really connect you to the boat and help you to paddle hard by controlling the yawing, as well as the roll to correct tipping: great for the back and stomach muscles. Knowing now that later Safari models are more stable, I’d be quite keen to try one again as a play/day boat.
Note. I’m told post-2003 Safaris (below) have a different hull design and are less tippy. The newer one had twin side tubes but still a rounded hull profile. BoatPeople in CA don’t mince their words when they talk about it still being tippy in certain conditions, and the current short Safari is not the same hull shape as an old and stable Solar 300 we still owned. As for weight limit, I doubt that’s different.
North American Innova importer Tim R. told me “I would rate the Solar’s stability as a 9 out of 10, the old Safari would be a 6 and the new Safari an 8. The very first Safari prototype was a 3!”
New or old, a Safari is also a self-bailer which is highly desirable when the going gets even a little rough, but only if you’re not too heavy to end up sitting in pooled water, as I was. G-friend used the Safari in Croatia and found she needed about 10kg of rock ballast in either end (see pic above) to make the boat stable and, as it happened, faster. Without them the boat sat high and even she felt tippy. Therefore the optimum weight for a pre-2003 Safari would be around 70kg. Now you know. We sold the Safari and got a Solar 1 or 300. The Safari is still in the Gumo line up. For a small WW fiend, a Safari would be a great little boat. There are plenty of videos online testifying to that fact.
They don’t make the Solar 300 anymore – it’s been superseded by the lighter Twists, although the similar full-coat, white-water Safari is still made All these Gumboats and a few others may benefit from the footrest mod as described below, as might bigger Gumboats which both use a similarly mushy footrest pillow. Our Solar dated from 2006 and although (or because) it doesn’t get used much it still looks like new. And it’s lost no air to speak of lying in the garden for over a month (can’t say the same for my Incept K40).
But the seat/footrest arrangement is poor, like all Gumos from that era. The seat pivots at the right angle base as you lean on it, because the top edge is attached to the bottom edge instead of the actual boat, like any sensible IK. You lean back, it lifts up – no good. I messed around a lot with my old Sunny before I got smart and simply glued some D-rings onto the top of the hull sides, which Gumo started doing soon after. This way when you lean back or brace against the footrest, you’re locked to the boat and so get more drive.
The pillow thwart footrest is OK, but I ditched that at the same time on my Sunny to use a small Otter box. For the Solar, the g-friend is short and can’t reach the footrest pillow even set right back.
I glued on a pair of big D-rings with Aquaseal (hopefully bonding PVC D-rings to the Nitrilon hull) to the top of the hull sides to provide a fixed point to tension the seat back. And I removed the footrest pillow and replaced it with a bit of sawn-off four-inch drain pipe, tapeing the pipe ends to limit any rubbing against the hull. The seat straps were sewn into a loop and clipped to the D-rings.
This mod will improve bracing in the Solar: the bane of all IKs (and SoTs for that matter) which without bracing are like paddling a log. The footrest (the tape goes through a slot under the pipe) can easily be moved, even when inflated and will transform the Solar which is a nippy IK. The next step would be to fit thigh straps as found on the current Safari – then you can do cool stuff like this – but for the use our Solar gets, the current improvements will do.
Recently I also glued on the later style skeg patch to take the plastic fin. No more faffing about with butterfly nuts and bolts and bits of bent alloy. The patch costs £12 and so does the skeg, which I also fitted to my Grabner Amigo.
A skeg is like a fixed rudder under the back of the boat and it’s easier to go straight while paddling as hard as you like. Only the very cheapest single-skin vinyl IKs don’t have one (Grabner, one of the most expensive IKs, is an exception; though it’s an option). If you’re IK doesn’t have one, it’s easy to glue on a skeg kit (see below).
Some flat-floored models have up to three (imo, a gimmick) and many skegs on Chinese-made IKs are unnecessarily tall (too deep) which makes them snap-prone. Just about all skegs can be easily removed by hand, because in shallow rivers you might want to do so to avoid grounding. You can as easily buy a spare and trim it with a hacksaw.
Years ago Gumotex introduced a slip-on, black plastic tracking fin (skeg, above) which was near identical in shape to one I’d had made to replace the oversized alloy skeg (left). A smaller skeg made better clearance and still tracked fine. But metal bends; tough plastic is much better and that’s what their boats come with now. I’ve fitted these plastic skegs to older Gumotex IKs and other IKs. The kit is about £25 + glue, and the plastic skeg is pretty much unbreakable. Just make sure you glue the mounting patch on really well; it helps if your boat is made from a matching rubber fabric as the supplied Nitrilon patch or make your own patch from same fabric. But I have glued PVC to rubber successfully – use good two-part glue. The pictures below help you see where to position a skeg.
I fitted the Gumotex plastic skeg to my Grabner Amigo IK (above) and at sea used it all the time. But on the shallow River Spey (below) this boat didn’t handle at all well without a skeg, possibly because the the tailwind pushed the kicked-up stern around. It was really quite annoying because a few years earlier my broadly similar Sunny managed the Spey just fine without a skeg, so skeg-free tracking clearly varies from boat to boat.
Paddling without a skeg If you’re an experienced paddler you’ll have acquired the knack of going straight without a skeg – handy for paddling shallow rivers where the skeg would ground. A little more paddling finesse and constant smallcorrections are required, especially if powering on. It’s good to learn this technique before you need to: fix your eyes on a tree or marker on a distant bank and paddle as gently as you like towards it, not looking away and keeping the nose of the boat in line with the marker. By using very light strokes you’ll see it can be done if it’s not too windy when again, a skeg helps with tracking (going straight).
I even found I could paddle a ten-foot Solar 300 (above) without a skeg. Once you know you can go straight without a skeg, it’s just a matter of adopting the same finesse but with a bit more power. Only when you attempt the speeds of a Maori war party will the bow deflection or yawing get too much because to paddle faster and still go straight you need a skeg. Out at sea or on busier rivers, I always use a skeg.
I’ve often thought a hinged retractable skeg would be a good idea: it would pivot backwards when dragging in shallows, then drop back down when there’s enough depth. It seems SUPs need skegs and in the US, FrogFish have made such a thing for boards, but you hear the spring can be a weak point. If your kayak has a rudder mount (or you can make one), another way of doing it is fitting a swing-down skeg similar to kayak rudders. It works the same way as a rudder with a looped cord swinging the skeg up over the stern, or down into the water. The pivot skeg shown top right is made by Advanced Elements for their AirFusion IK and costs about $/£80. Or have a look here.
On shorter, wider, slower packrafts the consensus used to be that skegs made little difference. Especially when unloaded and with a full-weight paddler, the bow yaws merrily left to right as your paddling pivots the boat from the back. Or so I used to think until I tried the skeg on my Rebel 2K. Up to then I’d been ambivalent about them – using the same boat fully loaded a few weeks earlier on a fast flowing river, yawing had not been an issue. But unloaded (and with my generous 95kg of ballast) yawing was notably reduced with a skeg. Speed however, was not any greater, or was too small to measure.
One reason some packrafts may manage without a skeg is that way back in 2011 Alpacka invented the ingenious extended stern (right). It helped limit yawing much like a skeg, and effectively positioned the paddler more towards the centre of the boat, like a kayak, while also adding buoyancy. This idea has been widely copied by just about everyone since and it definitely works, compared to the original Alpackas. But as mentioned, once there’s a good load over the bow, yawing is reduced in any packraft. Anfibio sell a detachable shallow skeg and glue-on patch for €21. My Rebel 2K came with a skeg and I must admit I use it most of the time now. But it does not have a fully extended stern like the Alpacka above right. Then again, my longer Nomad tracked great without the skeg.