Tag Archives: gumotex seawave kayak

The Secrets of Priest Island

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prstmapHigh pressure alert! No, my range of recreational leisurecraft weren’t about to blow, it’s the weather – and that’s not about to blow. Far from it. A high was about to lasso the north of Scotland with its concentric isobars. It may be mid-October but it’s been the sunniest and calmest spell up here for two months. Never mind Indian summer, this was turning into an Arapaho autumn. It all added up to good chance to make a break for that most troublesome and distant of the Summer Isles: Priest Island – or Eilean a’ Chleirich; ‘Island of Clerics’.


Whichever way you look at it Priest looks way out there for someone used to staying within a mile of the shore. Mainlandwise, it’s over six miles out of Old Dornie, nearly four miles off Mellon Udrigle on the other side, and a bit more from the end of the Scoraig peninsula. Far enough out to need the full length of a good day and someone for backup. Luckily Jon thought so too and rode up late Thursday night with his Peckett & McNabb Scorchio LV.

prst-02Friday, soon after dawn we were putting in at the top of the tide at Old Dornie. ETA Priest north shore: 2.5 hours. The forecast was a 6mph SE till late morning after which time it was set to drop right off to the southwest.
Once clear of the back of Tanera Beg’s lee I expected things to kick up a bit. But what a difference it is having someone else along for the ride to quell the usual neuroses. Jon agreed that he too would be nervous of taking a run out to Priest alone, and he was sea kayaking by the book: UHF, spare paddle, bluetooth bilge pump and the Semaphore Handbook in six languages, including Gaelic.
Of course this was all in a day’s work for someone like Gael A who was up here a couple of years ago in an Incept K40 at the end of his Scottish Sea Kayak Trail when he wrote.

J4-1 - Slaggan Bay to Priest IslandI headed towards the closest, Priest Island some 5km away. Halfway through the passage, the wind died off and the sea glassed over. The uncanny cries of the guillemots emphasised the eerie atmosphere; I felt like I was entering an unearthly space. From the SE tip of the Priest Island I carried on around the west side. It was another paddling paradise with endless features to explore in the good company of seabirds and seals.

prst-04Back to now and I was typically under-dressed, making a concession to the season with some Ron Hill leggings and my warmer pfd. It may have been mid-October but I knew I’d cook in my drysuit and as I guessed correctly, my high-waisted Kokotat overtrousers would complicate the inevitable pee breaks long before I got to set foot on Priest.
Good thing a calm was setting in then. As we left Old Dornie Jon asked me to pull down his jammy skeg, and in the ten seconds it took me to locate it, my arm went numb with cold. Falling in out there would really not bear thinking about. The cold shock would lock your lungs like a slamming safe door. As it was, once past the back of Tanera Beg the sideslap never got that unnerving and as we sploshed along I knew not to be concerned if the distant dark crags of Priest appeared not to grow any nearer.


Only 90 minutes in the marker of Glas Leac Beag (small green rock – above) came up on the right. I visited the bigger counterpart, Glas Leac Mor the other week, but Glas Leac Beag’s consolation in an emergency was purely hypothetical as the only way to get on it would be to leap from a boat like a frog.
prst-05Still, we were going quicker than I expected despite the chop and corrections against the sidewind. The skeg-rudder idea of fellow Gumotard, Jim, would have been handy here. Every once in a while I had to give a double haul on the right. Jon’s hardshell worked by balancing the variable drop of the skeg against the force of a sidewind which would otherwise push his stern round: more sidewind, more skeg, or something like that. In that sense skegs are more like optional rudders on hardshell cheesecutters which have no need of directional aids like windprone IK bloats.
prst-08Looking a Priest with the low sun in my face (above left) it was impossible to discern any perspective to the foreshore – it was all one long dark line of crags. The map lay right in my lap but who looks at maps once they’re on the move? I failed to recognise that the bouldered landing beach we were aiming for was further to the east, while we were heading down to the western end. Once I realised that, we changed course and passed the tip of Priest and an arch (not the needle-eye arch on the west end) which only Jon noticed. And as predicted, the wind dropped off to nothing.
prst-10We were searching for the cobble stoned beach created by the island’s NE/SW glacial gouging. We put in up a cleft (left) and staggered ashore, but it was all wrong – we had made the deadly mistake of pre-emption, scourge of the hasty navigator! If we wanted to spend any time on land, the dropping 12-foot tide would make getting back out of the cleft tricky.
PriestIslandBack into the boats on the slippery seaweed boulders – surely the most awkward and risky part of sea yaking, short of tackling a typhoon. Soon we got to the correct stony beach I’d clocked on Google. A stumbly 5-minute portage from here would have led to the glassy half-km-long Lochan prst-15Fada which cuts right to the heart of the island, one of nine freshwater sources on the Priest. But, great picture though it may have made, I was a bit pooped and more interested in ham butties.
We sat on a hill overlooking the still lochan when Jon noticed the back of a signboard at the other landing beach. It was a plea by the island’s RSPB owners for visitors to be careful not to crush the burrows and eggs of the 2000-strong colony of storm petrels which inhabit Priest Island.


As it happens that was made easier by a few paths leading from the two landing beaches. One led past the RSPB shed from where I carried on to the south side to check out the ‘prehistoric’ stone circles. The ones I saw (picture far below) looked more like rude shepherd shelters than mysterious Neolithic monuments (there’s more on Wiki), but to be fair I didn’t see the others just to the north. That was because it took a bit of reorienting to locate the island’s sole ruin, a substantial but roofless four-room bothy supposedly on the site of a sixth-century Christian chapel, suggesting an origin to the island’s name. I was curious to see this place as it’s said in 1975 a pair of unlikely criminals hid out here for a few months, on the run from a collapsing series of scams.millbell

pftpGoogle ‘Jim Miller and John Bellord, Southern Organs Scandal’ and you’ll soon find Geoff Green’s recent book: Paying for the Past. In it the author admits to falling under Miller’s mesmeric spell in the early sixties and eventually becoming one of the entrepreneurs’ close business associates. Along with many others, he was invited toalvis make a quick buck by investing into loans to supposedly supply churches with expensive electric organs, and was later drawn into a racy, high-profile lifestyle as the manager of Southern Organs’ GP sponsorship endeavour. Alvin Stardust (right) and other celebs were part of the gang, but then around 1975 the whole cosy investment scam which supported the racing sponsorship began to crumble.

millerbelordAlthough he knew nothing of the area, it was Green who came up with the idea for the pair to hide out on Priest Island. They jetted off on an long overdue holiday to Calais, sent postcards  back home saying they’d killed themselves, ferried back to Dover the same day where Green met them and drove up to Ullapool. He then RIB’ed over from Dundonnell to Priest, leaving them with provisions and an inadequate two-metre dinghy with an outboard.
I read the book curious to discover if this claim – that these urbane middle-aged gents (Miller lightly crippled with polio) could really have lived for ‘262 days’ on Priest Island, frying up storm petrel omelettes and brewing peat tea. Over eight months sounded far-fetched for two conmen fleeing a Rolls Royce-champagne-and-helicopter cjcjlifestyle before clumsily faking their suicides from Calais, like Reggie Perrin on telly, John Stonehouse the MP, Lucan and more recently, our hardshelled friend, Canoe Man. A desperate, ex-para axe murdering survivalist might have been able to hack Priest for that long. But with these two, insisting as they did on a chemical toilet, it all seemed improbable. Crofting on the mainland is hard enough. What chance on a 120-hectare island, even with half-a-dozen lochans? On their release they went on to explain in a BBC documentary:

… the island had reaffirmed our belief in the simple things and helped us to clear away a mass of valueless and extraneous paraphernalia with which we, like so many, has cluttered our lives.

greenPaying for the Past is a bit light on clerical details and dates as, after dropping them off on Priest one stormy September day (a slightly over-written episode with some implausible embellishments, IMO), the author (right) was never to see his friends again. It’s only towards the end of the book that Green suggests they may not have been on the island anywhere near as long as he claims, and once recovered to the mainland, probably used their well polished charm and remaining cash to secure local support in Ullapool, as explained in the book.
This video is part of a documentary that portrays the events from the point of view of a psychic detective who was hired by the Express, though it wasn’t shot on Priest Island. And for all our man’s alleged clairvoyance, it was simply the police tip-off from Geoff Green (under pressure from legions of debtors and with leniency guaranteed) that got the two arrested in Ullapool. Ironically though, it was Miller’s similar esoteric beliefs in radionics, among other ‘faith healing’ therapies, that founded and then funded what became the duo’s glamourous empire.
prst-19When I found the ruin in which they say they hid, it was clearly not your average Coigach crofter’s bothy, but a more substantial dwelling supposedly built on the site of an old chapel, either by a sixth-century monk on retreat, or a banished russellsheep rustler with a talent for masonry. As a sign (right) we saw on the Dundonnell Estate near Scoraig last week proves, ovine rustling is still an issue here in the wild nor’ west.
islandyearsThe way Green tells it, it was his auspicious discovery and reading of Frank Fraser Darling’s book Island Years, Island Farm (1943, left) which gave him the bright idea for the pair to hide out on Priest Island until it all blew over. Apparently Miller and Bellord had holidayed in Ullapool and were fond of the area – that was all it took. Any bushcraft savvy they could pick up along the way. Darling’s Island Years mostly deals with experimenting with sustainable crofting agriculture on Tanera Mor (left) tmordin the early 1940s (Island Farm), but he and his resilient family first tried to give a go for a few months on Priest Island a few years earlier. Having now read that book I wouldn’t say the account of Arctic-grade tents being torn to shreds would evoke a great place for a hideaway holiday, but as we know with northwest Scotland, when the weather is calm it’s brilliant, and when it’s not you just knuckle down. The Fraser Darling family went on to camp on the Treshnish even endured a spell on North Rona where the author had been funded to study grey seals and their effect on commercial fishing.
prst-18Miller and Bellord come across as an intriguing pair and you can see why their background, interests and activities captured the attention of the media, and why Geoff Green’s 2014 book has gone down well with readers.
In this video published by Green a couple of weeks ago he returns again to Priest Island, but in it he mistakes the hut circles I saw (left) for the bothy which appears on the 25k OS map shown on this page, and even more clearly on Google aerial imagery. It remains as intact as it was in the first, 1979 BBC Everyman documentary featured at the end of the video above, with a bit of unsightly plastic rubbish in the adjacent burn – a job for the next RSPB volunteer visit, or anyone with a bin bag and space.

PriestIslandAnyway. Enough true crime confessionals.  We returned to the boats and headed southeast across the big bay towards some interesting looking cliffs and clefts. One chasm led deep into the crag with promising daylight peaking out the far end. We edged in deeper, pushing off the sides, and between the swells got far enough through to see there was no way out at this point, halfway down the tide. We tried from the other end, slipping behind the outer stack visible on aerial images, but that too needed at least another foot of water to paddle through. Finally at Aird Glas, Priest’s eastern extremity, we managed to paddle behind a stack and commence our glide across the now mirrored water to Bottle Island.


prst-26It all seemed so effortless. We could have aimed at any Summer Isle we chose – over to Carn nan Sgeir even – and paddled straight there with ease. prst-30What was all the fuss about? On Bottle I was hoping to lead Jon through the southern passage I found last year, but as on Priest, the water was too low to pass through the narrower exit tunnel (right).
prst-33All that remained now was to follow the island chain over to nearby Carn Iar/Deas and from there pass over the sandy green channel of Caolas nan Sgeirean Glasa (I throw all these Gaelic names about like I didn’t just type them carefully off an OS map).
prst-32We pulled in for tea break on the jetty of Eilean Dubh, ahead of the final six-mile surge back to Old Dornie. I found this handy refuge last year and we agreed that a: the jetty was a bit short for the tidal span and b: even if it’s nice to have a secluded island cabin (right) well sheltered from the prevailing winds, it had a comparatively ordinary view back towards Achiltibuie and a chilly, sunless aspect this time of year.
prst-37The tide was on the turn now as we passed Tanera’s tidal lagoon and crossed Badetarbet Bay on home ground. I’d been asked to pick up some heavy bags of winkles somewhere on the north side of the bay prst-35on Rubhan na Buaile and drop them off at Old Dornie. But clambering along the grubby shore while Jon towed my boat, neither of use could find any trace of them. There was clearly a need for some CCTV surveillance round here, too.
prst-40We got back to Old Dornie just as everything was getting bathed in the same rosy-orange glow it has been when we set out, nine hours earlier. And after 30 clicks of sea paddling and very little similar exercise, I wasn’t as shagged as I’d expected to be, something that I’d partly put down to a lack of tension of not doing it alone.
The Bottle Island run last year was 22km but pushing the bow of the Amigo had been enough of a slog to make me buy the Seawave. I think there’s barely one kph in it, but that’s nearly 20%, and with the Seawave’s many other benefits not least  its sharper bow, I can conclude that, like the name suggests, it’s a better all-round sea boat, and also that Priest Island would be a great place to revisit.


Seawaving, not drowning

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sww-glaslikI’ve had a chance to do a few day trips in the Seawave, including trying it out as a tandem boat.
The main view west from our place is  over to Glas-leac Mor, one of the peripheral Summer Isles, with a corresponding Glas-leac Beag nearly three miles further out and less than a mile from Priest Island.
sww-cormThe day came round to loop the loop on Glas-leac Mor and maybe even carry on around the peninsula to Achnahaird. That idea was rained upon when the promised sunny skies turned out to be heavily overcast. Soon out of Old Dornie harbour The Call of the Bladder insisted I interrupt some basking seals on the unnamed skerry (left) close to Glas’s southern tip. Halfway down the east side I noticed a big stony beach, the only way of getting onto the island. There’s a lochan on Glas too, so it could be a good hide out.
sww-cavsww-caveOn the Minch side of these islands I always feel exposed on the swell that feels bigger than anything i can do with a paddle. It got a bit clapotty-choppy near the top of the island as I made a beeline north for Mullagrach. I was looking for a new cave I recently heard about and sure enough, north of the well known arch an unnoticed inlet led under the island (right). (This was at the low end of the tide.)
The GPS shows a rather unlikely subterranean track; sww-caverI think it’s more of a southerly fault that’s part of the main arch and it’s adjacent cave. It was pitch black before I got to the end of the geo, but with a flash photo and from the sound of the slap-slopping swell, it felt like another 10-20 feet. But it was getting less than paddle wide and I didn’t fancy getting jammed on some old storm-mangled shopping trolley or stolen moped, in a bid to find out.
sww-mphhAccording to the GPS, I had been cruising at around 3.5mph but I wasn’t feeling that fast as I’ve not done much paddling exercise. So round the headland to Achnahaird felt a bit much. Instead I settled on a short hop further north reeferaito ‘Reiff Cove’, as I call it, a nice sandy bay a mile or so above Reiff Bay where the houses are. As I got near, the swell was slapping back off the cliffs. This is a great place to watch crashing waves when there’s a good westerly on (right).
sww-coveOn the beach I found a superb giant salami of polystyrene – former use unknown but for me a very handy boat perch and lunchtime bottom warmer.
Up on the cliffs I checked out the locked bothy which looked like it’d had a new roof, all the while wishing I’d dragged my boat a bit further up the beach. I do this every time.


sww-reeferUp there I also clocked what I later realised was the back end of Loch of Reiff which fills and drains on the highest tides, making a fun ‘mini-rapid’ along the build-up canal under the bridge where a small quay used to be. If the timing had been right I could have done the short portage into the top of the loch (left) and got flushed out the south end into Reiff Bay. One for next time when the timing’s right, maybe even in a packraft. From Reiff Bay it was a couple of miles of coast hopping back down to Old Dornie, with just enough bars on the phone to call in the taxi.
sww-thiiI’ve hooked up some lightweight packraft thigh braces from the Packraft Store. Simple 50mm straps with a ‘delta strap’ to additionally attach to the side to add instant tension when you brace or roll a packraft.
I used a couple of hull top D-rings to clip them on. but they don’t sit as well as the heavy SoT straps I used on the previous Grabner Amigo. Mostly it’s because I had to glue four D-rings on the floor of the otherwise bare Amigo, whereas on the Seawave tanglethe mounts are  higher so the straps don’t hook over the knees so well.
I suppose I ought to get round to gluing floor D-rings but it’s a big job to do well. For the moment the ‘delta straps’ can be clip together like a sternum strap on a backpack (above), and hold the straps in place. ‘Warning – Entanglement hazard!’ I hear you cry, and quite right too. If it gets that gnarly I’ll unclip, pronto. And probably inflate my pfd, too.

sww-camasAnother fine day, another fine paddle. As usual I plan big but then snap out of it and think: why end up hauling ass all day when we can just have a sticky beak in some new corner of the locality.
Ardmair harbour, home of the famous Ardmair weather station, often looks like such a place, a striking bay just over the hill from Ullapool. One often sees tourists stopping here to admire it’s perfection. With a beach made of distinctive flat stones, I bet I am not the first person to say this would be a great location for a stone skimming championship.
swward-fortsrathTwo-up, we set off to round Isle Martin clockwise. The winds were forecast to be in single figures, but coming round the west end of the island I could see the line of the north-easterly F4 blowing hard out of the Strath Canaird valley onto us.
But with barely a mile of fetch to gather up, the chop was only a foot high, so we tucked in and hammered along until we were close enough under the 1000-foot cone of Beannan Beaga to get a bit less chop along the northern shore. We bounced along that as tight in as we could, setting the seals off until we reached to the stoney sweep of Camas Mor beach.
swward-trepUp in the warm grass for a midge free snack, I went for a wander and soon realised we were right below the jumbled rubble remains of Dun Canna Iron Age fort from about 0BC. You can see it would have mad an excellent defensive position with good resources all around and over in the smaller Camas Beag (every Mor – ‘big’ – has its adjecent Beag – ‘small’ – hereabouts) bay to the north, what looked like a tidal fish trap (left). Sorry to say the fort’s rubble was not quite compelling enough to be honoured with a photo.
BrockFreyandFreyjaA couple walked by, looking for driftwood with which to make ornamental clocks. And I was later told that gems and who knows –maybe even the Lost Hoard of Brisingamen – lay among among the stones of Camas Mor.
From the headland looking west towards the Summers, the ruffled sea and scrubbed, autumnal sky were as blue as John Lee Hooker with a hangover and a tax bill.


Time to ship the heck out. My plan was to edge south enjoying the lee, then poke the boat right up the Strath Canaird estuary until the winds, current and outgoing tide suffocated out brassy spirit of exploration. Reading our GPS track that now seems a lot less further than it felt, but was enough to uncover a new habitat of seaweed dangling over mussel beds and dazzling highland villas once belonging to cider magnates, according to the knowledgeable driftwood couple. It’s odd how everyone around here knows which well-to-do-family owned but then sold what bit of land or island to whom.
swward-weedswward-wedOf course I’d long ago clocked Strath Canaird as a potential river paddle excursion, probably in a packraft from Strathcanaird hamlet on the A835. Now I’ve seen its lower end that 4-mile paddle looks a bit more intriguing.
Once we’d had enough battling the elements, we let them flip the Seawave round and scooted back to Ardmair Bay for a final nose around the moored up boats by the campsite and then out round the point and back to Ardmair Beach.

Two up or solo, the Seawave’s speed seems to be about 3.5–4mph, with the odd freak burst up to 5mph. That doesn’t seem to be much different to the Grabner I replaced it with, but it’s still an easier boat to use: PRVs all round means it needs a quick ten jabs with the K-Pump Mini after a few days off in the outdoors, but never needs a manometer check. Masses of D-rings compared to the Grabner’s zero. The optional deck, the OE skeg and two feet of extra space.
And though the Amigo is long discontinued, the Seawave costs less. The nearest Grabner now would be the ruddered Grabner biggerH2 but its over half a metre shorter; the H3 is half a metre longer but we’re still talking between €1800-2100 for well-made but rather bare boats. My Seawave with extra bits came in at €1000 from Czecho so to paraphrase the bloke from Jaws: ‘We’re ain’t gonna need a better boat‘.
Well, not for a while.

Seawave vs Gumotex 410C + skeg-rudder mod

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The new Solar 3

gumsee02I had a visit from former Olympic slalom trainer and canoeist Jim the other day. He bought a Solar 410C after browsing IK&P and declares it one of his favourite boats. I ran the previous version Sunny for years before I felt I’d squeezed all the potential from it and started changing IKs every year. The Sunny was a tough do-it-all boat and the 410 is the same, but 20cm longer. It was more space but also the greater rigidity of higher-pressure boats I was after.
qefWe were hoping to go out for splish-splosh but for the last few days a cold offshore F4-5 northerly has been spinning off a North Atlantic High and bearing down on the Summers so games are off. Right now the chilling drizzle is nearly horizontal as it blows past the window. Oh hold on, it’s gone sunny now. Is it autumn already?
gumsee03The 3-seat, 410cm Solar went for as little as £550 in the UK or up to £100 less from Boatpark in Czech when on special. Both do free delivery anywhere. The Seawave costs about half as much again.
The 410 is a foot shorter than my Seawave, an inch wider maybe, less slim and pointy at the ends and runs 0.2 bar/3 psi compared to my Seawave’s 0.25 (I run my Seawave sides at 0.33/4.8psi). The old style Nitrilon is thicker so the weight’s the same at 17kg, maybe less with one seat. The Seawave has a bit of a more pronounced keel rib along the middle too, but neither struggle to track without a skeg. It’s just that a skeg enables you to spend less time and effort correcting and so you can power on. Handy at sea, less essential in flowing rivers.
gumsee07gumsee05Jim showed me an interesting mod to make his skeg into a rudder to enable paddling into steady winds. By simply not fitting the back of the skeg into the sleeve, he’s able to pivot it off the front and modify the angle with a bit of string attached to the back of his seat (right). No probs with the skeg sliding out and if it does on a rock, chances are you’ll be close to shore and the boat won’t exactly become suddenly uncontrollable anyway.
gumsee08I usually deal with quartering – ’10 or 2 o’clock’ – headwinds by just pulling harder on one arm, leaning into the wind or repositioning the paddle in my hands longer on the leeward side. I rather lost faith in rudders on the Incept in Australia when it was maddeningly ineffective in controlling the boat in strong backwinds, although I fitted one on the Seawave in the end. But without all the foot control faffery this could be a simple, non-permanent mod to any Gumboat which runs the robust, slip-in black skeg. And unlike my Incept rudder, it won’t come out of the water and be ineffective on steep backwaves.
gumsee10He also showed me a way of simply rigging up his roof rack tie-downs into thin knee braces (left). Like me, Jim agrees they’re a great benefit to paddling efficiency in an otherwise unbraced IK. I have some Packrafting Store ones on the Seawave – a lot lighter than my old SoT braces.
And he also said he’s successfully tried an idea I though of in my Sunny days, but never tried: hull rigidity rods to make the long but low pressure boat flex less. Either two on the sides which requires gluing fixtures to work best, or as he’s found, simply putting a thick broom stick or whatever under the seat in the middle of the boat.

In other news, I’ve been persuaded to cough up 25 quid a year to dump the automated ads on IK&P. I never see them as I’m always logged in, but they sure are tacky.


Gumotex Seawave in Venice

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gumboeveniI’ve had the Seawave a few months but paddling in Venice last week was my first proper outing. Venice lagoon was pretty calm on the day – there was more wash inside the Grand Canal from the vaporetti water taxis. It may have been calm but some 34kms without a river current and some tidal flow is still a pretty good outing.
It was an opportunity to try my high pressure modification. I’m running 35% more pressure in the side tubes (4.8psi as opposed to the advised 3.6) but have fitted PRVs (pressure release valves) rated at the higher pressure to prevent the boat getting damaged if it gets hot. Full story on how I did that here.
swine-01swine-04It took about 15 minutes to pump up the Gumotex with the compact K-Pump (left) but before we lowered it down to the canal (above) it went flat. Oh dear – did I do something wrong? Turns out one side-chamber inflation valve (not new PRV) was leaking. I unscrewed it, blew at it, put it back and it held all day. Probably just a bit of grit, though that’s never happened to me before.
swine-05My impression was the high pressure sides made the Seawave faster and more responsive – well it’s bound to isn’t it. Returning to the appartment I didn’t feel like I’d paddled 21 miles, though I can’t say I was full of beans next day and my hands were swollen from using my swine-084-piece paddle (easier on Easyjet) instead of my bent Camaro. I found it easy to keep up with my mate Steve in his Big yellow Kahuna and even found myself passing the odd hardshell sea kayak or double folders. gumbovenOn earlier trips in the Amigo I couldn’t catch the Kahuna. All those benefits might change in windy or choppy conditions, though there’s much to be said for an IK’s stability when things get gnarly.
swine-10So three cheers for my Seawave HP. The short terms gains of high pressure sides are not so elusive, of course. What remains to be seen is if running the boat 35% over the factory-advised pressure affects durability – ie; did I go too far choosing the PRV setting. I doubt it as poking the sides felt very much like my previous 2psi Gumo kayaks on a hot sunny day. The sides being less in the water will always be prone to getting warm and tight but have no I-beams to get stressed like the floor. Those boats never suffered so I’m sure the Seawave can hack it.


Paddling the Venice Vogalonga

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voga-67‘Viva La Vogalonga! Viva Venezia! VIVA SAN MARCO!’

With the above proclamation and a shot from a cannon the 41st Vogalonga, a huge paddling regatta, got underway. Fettuccini’s stirring aria, La Forcola boomed from the speakers and the colourful, hand-powered flotilla pulled away from of the east end of Venice’s Grand Canal opposite Piazza San Marco and set off alongside the classic Venetian vista.
veneziaNot that it was any kind of race, you understand – and it was pure coincidence we happened to be at the start on time. You took as long as you chose over the 30-odd kilometres up to Burano and back via Murano to re-enter Venice from the other end of the Grand Canal. There was no starting line or prizes for first place or wackiest outfit.
voga-07I flew in the night before and on the day Steve and I lowered our boats off his mate’s canal-side apartment balcony and set off to join the melee. Soon I realised I was in Italy not in a BCU training video: the official bibs were optional (included in the €20 entry fee along with a t-shirt, poster and certificate) and so were pfds. After all, who’s ever seen a rower or a gondolier in a pfd?
Around us was every type of paddle or oar boat under the sun, from 20-oar-power dragon boats paddling to a drum beat like in Ben Hur, four-up forward standing ‘frontelli‘ rowing skiffs, right down to inflatable SUP boards you could carry under your arm. Kayaks were probably the most numerous craft as this is one day you can cruise down the Grand Canal without getting terrorised by the vaporetti water taxis and their wake.
Dolomites aheadOut past San Elena point we dragged our left blades and pivoted north. The snow-clad Dolomites appeared on the horizon (left) which also sent in a light breeze giving us something to lean against. IKs and packboats of all shapes and sizes bobbed around me: Gumos, Kleppers and their klönes, Grabners, Feathercraft and Sevies. Passing islands or tidal mud flats became uninhibited pee stops as people joined in the paddle-powered cavalcade.
Turning round at Burano, the cooling effect of the breeze dropped off and the 5km open water haul to Murano was hot work. Three hours in and you could see all around the pace was flagging, not least when some tidal eddy made the last stretch into Murano a bit of an effort. It was here that Venice’s precious medieval glass industry flourished; I’ve come across Venetian glass beads in places as remote as Tichit in Mauritania.
voga-40Just two Sorbettos – only €15 – then we rocked up at the other end of the Grand Canal where a huge bottleneck of paddle boats had built up at the entrance. It turned out the narrow Ponte dei Tre Archi was the cause – it could only take one rowed boat at a time and with some 2000 boats to filter, the police voga-43where trying to keep some order. Dodging low flying oars and prodding prows, it was all a good-natured bundle back into the canal where things quickly eased up for the home run back to San Marco, passing the Grand’s iconic palazzos, well-wishers cheering from the ponti and the acclaimed waterside vistas of La Serenissima.
voga-52Within hours the vaporetti taxiboats had reclaimed the Canal from which it’s said kayaks and the like are excluded except to quickly nip across. But I see now that you can still have a great time paddling around Venice and the lagoon as long as you keep off the main canal and ferry channels, and out of the congested gondola tourist circuit between Ponte Rialto and the Bridge of Sighs. That still leaves plenty of quiet back canals to explore as well as the sheltered lagoon and its countless islands. Bring your packboat to the 42nd Vogalonga. If like me you’ve never been before, it’s a great way to tick off Venice.

Modifications to my Gumotex Seawave

Seawave main page

yaldingGrappling to get the boat out of the muddy Medway river at Yalding the other day put a light scrape on the hull. It reminded me that, along with the PRVs, another winter job was to fit a protective strake under the bow where most scraping occurs. Better to get the protection in early while the boat is newish.
Upstream the Medway had been high and even had a noticeable current. Two-up we were flying along at a good 5mph+ at times. Some of the chutes I was looking forward to were closed even though they look merely ‘sporty’, but then weir by weir, lock by lock the level started dropping so that never before seen eddies, whorls and rocks appeared. The super-sporty chute at Sluice Weir Lock was high and dry (clambering out onto the nearby jetty was a real effort) and by the time we got to Yalding near the end there was a 6-foot drop with muddy banks to either side on which you sank up to your knees.
medclosedSoon covered in muck, we managed to clamber out over the mossy weir wall and haul the boat up. Had I been less cavalier about my preparations I’d have read what was going on right here. Looks like the Medway chutes will be out of action till March (right). Knowing that would have saved half the next morning hosing myself and all the gear down.
strakerBack to the strake. A 70 x 15cm Hypalon off-cut (close enough to Nitrilon) was 14 quid on ebay and once trimmed left enough for another strake or two. I had some Polymarine two-part adhesive (below) and glued the strip to the boat’s curved form with the floor inflated, ami-polyeven if that meant working the roller to press it all together was less effective. I then slathered some Seam Seal around the nose of the strake to protect it from unpeeling (less runny Aquaseal would have been better but a Seam Seal tube was open. More on glues here).
footerWhile the boat was filling the hallway and causing a hazard to domestic navigation I also bodged up a better system for the all-important footrest. A bit of inner tube now counter-tensions the footrest from the bow to keep it in position. It means the thing is now fully adjustable across a wide range ofsw-cantilastic positions, can easily be fine tuned from the water, removes in seconds for boat cleaning/drying and needed no extra fittings glued to the boat. Once great thing about the Seawave is the multitude of attachment points on the floor and sides.
While on the river my aged Mk1 Alpacka U-seat base went flat, split right in the U. This seat is part of a lighter and comfier system I brought over from my Amigo – an improvement on the one-piece Seawave seats. It’s currently unfixed to the boat and the thin nylon must have ripped while yanking it into position on the river after getting back in. Again, I’m trying to avoid gluing extra D-rings to the hull – they’d limit seat base adjustment options anyway.
sw12Better then to attach the seat base to the base of the backrest (right) with a couple of zip ties. The whole backrest/seat base can then slide forward and back off the backrest side straps and it all unclips from the boat in less than 3.7 seconds. alpacka-seatI glued up the punctured U-seat but it won’t last, so I’ve ordered MkII Alpacka seats (left) from Packrafting Store: €70 delivered for a pair. From Alpacka US the seats cost $25 but their auto-calculated international postage is nuts, let alone tax and VAT issues. These seats have the U filled in like a webbed foot: stronger and less floppy for just ~12g extra weight.
Since then I decided not to fit the seat base to the backrest, but simply attach it to the floor between a similar the same adjustable strap and elastic tension system used on the footrest. So far so good. Will add a photo next time the boat’s out.
SOTstrapI’ve also ditched my old my SoT thigh straps (right). Nanfistrapsicely padded and effective though they were, the brass spring connectors and padding made them feel heavy and bulky at ~720g.
Instead I got some non-padded Anfibio packrafting straps from the Packrafting Store (without their biners or D-ring patches). With my biners they come in at 270g. The delta-straps dangling off the sides are a clever idea, designed to give a fpy165more direct pull when rolling a packraft for example. Can’t see myself doing that in any of my boats, but if there happens to be a handy attachment point on the Seawave’s hull I may give them a go (normally you’d have to glue on the D-ring patches supplied). Whether you’re rolling or just paddling, in rough water the more direct connection with the boat the better. I’m a big fan of these light but effective straps now. No need for paddling

Fitting 4.8 psi PRVs on a Gumotex Seawave

Seawave main page
General article covering PRVs
Updated February 2018 – see Adam’s comment below

yaldingMy current Gumotex Seawave is a well spec’d IK for my sort of inshore paddling and occasional touring, especially as it’s factory rated to run at a higher-than-usual 0.25bar or 3.6psi (normal is 0.2 on Helios, Palava, 410C, etc). That means greater rigidity which adds up to less longitudinal sag caused by paddler weight (who, me?!) and also better glide. My previous Amigo and Incept both ran an even higher 0.3 bar, and it’s said that this Gumotex can also be pushed to that sort of pressure on the side tubes without risking damaging the structure. Factory hull pressures are set on the conservative side, perhaps to limit warranty claims.
Like all the Gumboats I’ve owned, the more vulnerable I-beam floor chamber has a factory-fitted PRV, presumably set at 0.25bar/3.6psi (confirmed below). PRVs are important here as if an IK gets hot (typically out of the water on a sunny day) internal air pressure can increase to the point where seams can separate or the boat can blow. If separation happens to an internal I-beam in the floor it will balloon up and make for a very difficult repair. I would not meddle with the factory-set PRV in the Seawave’s floor.

PRV-PalaverIn a discussion with a French Gumtexer, he suggested that Gumotex use the same orange dot  0.243 PRVs in all their boats, irrespective of the stated official rating which is either ‘0.2’ like most or ‘0.25’ like the Seawave. He sent me a photo of his 2016 Palava floor PRV (right) – orangey-pink, same as my Seawave and classified by Ceredi as 0.243.
Officially the Palava is a ‘normal pressure’ 0.2 bar canoe. Upshot? Your Gumboat’s floor may be rated at higher pressure than you think or is officially
 stated and you’d assume the tubed sides can handle at least as much pressure. Then again, in the table below, Ceredi state the orange PRV  will open between 0.21 and 0.243 so perhaps we all just need to calm down a bit.

PRVs use springs set to purge air before it reaches structure-damaging levels. Then again, my Amigo had no PRVs at all so you assume Grabner were confident their floor construction was solid enough to handle occasional neglect. But I’ve been caught out before and always try to ensure a boat remains in the cooling water when moored up on hot days – even getting up to throw on a cooling splash as the sides tighten up like a drum.
Guatemala, Fuego volcano, Strombolian eruptionLike most IKs with single side tubes, my Seawave had no PRVs in the side tubes as the rounded profile can handle higher pressures better than a flat, ‘lilo-like’ floor. However, if you’re planning to run them over-pressure as I am suggesting, that could be risky. The answer: fit PRVs in the two side chambers – just like my old Incept. That way you can safely leave you IK out of the water in the tropics, go and hike up a volcano (which could be called ‘the planet’s ‘PRVs’) knowing that all three chambers on your IK will harmlessly purge any excess pressure. Sure, when it all cools again the boat may be saggy, but better a quick top up with your K-Pump than pulling bits of shredded Nitrilon out of the palm trees.
Ideally I was looking for a PRV set at a reasonable 30% over the factory figure of 0.25 bar – i.e.: something around 0.33 bar or 4.8psi.

Well-known IK valve-makers Leafield and Halkey didn’t make anything matching my needs (or don’t sell to individuals). The Seawave’s valves are stamped ‘Ceredi Italy’ and once I managed to track them down online, I saw the same Ceredi 6600 PRV series came in options including Red 4.78 psi or 0.33 bar, (left and below). In the UK they were a special order via IBS and cost £35 a pair posted.


I admit that the colours look pretty close
but it’s pinky-orange for the OE floor and red for my 0.33s

Fitting the valves

Tools and time needed
grabtoolGumotex inflation valve removing tool (fits Ceredi PRVs also). Right;  £12 on ebay

• Narrow-bladed knife
• Water pump/lock channel pliers
• 30 mins

Short version
• Choose your spot, mark and then cut a 37mm hole in each side chamber. The Ceredi-suggested 35mm was not enough
• Remove the side chamber’s main inflation valve with the tool
• Squeeze the PRV’s threaded back collar through the bigger inflation valve hole, shuffle it over to the 37mm hole and screw on the external part of the PRV by hand
• Reassemble the inflation valve and tighten both valves with the tool
• Fit push-on caps to the PRVs
• Pump up and check for leaks. Maybe retighten some valves with tool


Long version I chose to fit the PRVs close to the inflation valves and at about the same level. There are mysterious markings on the inside of the Seawave to aid symmetrical positioning (Pic 2, below). HadronI used a narrow-bladed knife and of course took care to gather up the hull skin so I wouldn’t inadvertently puncture the other side of the side tube. I assumed the 35mm hole would be big enough to take the back nut. When it wasn’t I was a bit flummoxed. Now I had a gaping hole in my boat, but no way of getting the back of the PRV inside the boat without performing a Caesarian on my Seawave. Luckily two brain cells dropped into my Hadron Collider and it occurred to me that once, removed, the nearby main inflation valve’s hole might be bigger. And it was – just.
One valve was extremely hard to undo. I wondered if it had mistakenly been glued in or that the plastic valve removal tool would snap. When the other side undid with less effort I knew it had to be possible.

Another problem is that the internal collar or nut is only 10cm deep (pic 4, below) and so was hard to grab through the hull fabric. Until I realised this, I was grabbing the inside part of the outer valve body which screws through the collar from the outside. Trying to ‘unscrew’ the valve body from itself is like trying to pull you head off –  eventually  the valve tool would break. Another ‘Higgs boson’ moment came over me and I realised that by chance the two valve holes in the boat were close enough for me to get some water-pump pliers in there, grab the back collar and finish the job (pic 6, below). After that, no more problems. One thing I noticed while doing all this was the unseen protective patch on the inside of the hull opposite the inflation valves to limit wear and rubbing between valve body and hull when the boat’s delated. Nice touch, Gumotex ;-)
I did all the valves up as hard as possible with tool and hand, and in a year or three have has no problems. On a hot day in the sun I can hear the high-pressure side PRVs hissing away. The gallery below shows the job in chronological order.


The bits you need


Incision, but the right-sized 37-mm hole is too small to pass through the ’35mm’ PRV back collar


37mm hole is better, but still not wide enough to pass through the inside ‘retaining nut’ of PRV assembly


You need to remove the main inflation valve  (it’s hard to grab the inside part by hand). Then the PRV back nut just squeezes through main valve hole and can be shuffled along towards the new hole


Holding the PRV back nut in place to tighten is hard by hand. So pass pliers through the main valve hole…


… to clamp onto the back of the PRV assembly. This is why it helps to cut the PRV hole close to the main valve


PRV done. Now replace main valve


Clamp them all up


PRVs as far as the eye can see

Now it’ll be good know that should I doze off as the tide ebbs away, I won’t be rudely woken by an exploding boat.


Seawave: windy test run

Seawave main page

swv1The new boat had to get christened in what they call a ‘fresh breeze’. It was only going to get windier over the next few days. Either that or it would stay rolled up till the new year.
I went to freshwater Loch Ra round the back where I took my packraft for a ‘gale test‘ one time. It’s a safe place for this sort of thing. My new wind gauge – a tenner on ebay – was reading a moderate 15 mph, but it felt like more. I do wonder about the accuracy of that thing. Turns out Ardmair near Ullapool was registering a solid 25 with a spike up to 35 around the time I was out. So let’s call it at least 20 mph – not footardreally IK weather. I pumped the sides up to about 0.33 bar (4.8psi) and jury rigged a quick footrest stirrup, but under the deck it was hard to line up quickly when you’re getting in while being blown around. I have a better idea to counter-tension it into position from the other end with an elastic (left). That, or copy the Amigo set up with D-rings – less straps cluttering up the floor that way.
Used to hoping effortlessly into open boats and setting off whatever the conditions, the need to negotiate the deck made getting in all the more awkward – though a grounding skeg is also a factor. With an onshore wind, I figured out a nose-to-the-shore angle but had the paddle blown out of my hands just as I was slotted in. I retrieved it and tried again using those nifty deck elastics for the stick, then backed up and swung into the wind.
As expected progress was slow until I found a rhythm, and then just very effortful – like hauling a head hose uphill. The Seawave’s more rounded hull means it’s a little more tippy than the mattress-flat Amigo, but in a good way. I never thought I’d write that line, but a little rolling means side waves need not push you over if you counter brace, though I can’t say the Amigo riding side waves flat like a raft was ever a problem. If it didn’t tilt with the waves water would pour over the sides. With the Seawave’s deck, lateral sea waves need not deck the Seawave.
Before I got too far out I checked to see I felt in control across the wind. It was blowing so hard I only needed to paddle on one side to go straight, but no stability worries. Then downwind with no untoward weathercocking either, all things considered. Further out on the small loch the fetch flattened a bit but another side-to-the-wind run saw the long boat extremely hard to bring back into the wind. A rudder would be handy, or maybe more aggressive leaning or my weight further back. It felt like my position was a bit too far forward to lever the bow round while the wind pushed on me and the sides. Not sure if that makes actual hydrodynamic sense, but without knowing the seawave2dekSeawave’s normal seat position, there’s certainly room to move my seat back in the cockpit a few inches to see if it makes a difference: more ‘rudder effect’ with a rearward paddler. This animated gif on the right shows the seat about 4 inches further back. Of course these were conditions where you’d expect a long, unloaded, over-buoyant IK to handle like a drifting log.
swv-speedsUpwind it felt like I was crawling along but I got to an island faster than expected, got beached then carefully inched around it. As I knew well, a backwind may be less effort but can be as hard if you can’t keep the back of the boat from coming round – a common flaw with wind-prone IKs. But the Seawave tracked pretty well, right on- and then just off the wind, with only the occasional double pull on one side to level up. I did a bit more crosswind practise but by now I was pooped and even needed to drink out of the loch. Any hope of more tests without the skeg, without deck, at factory pressures and so on would all have to wait.
Back home the GPS showed up some surprises (right). Into the wind I was hacking at a surprising 3mph, across it at 4 and downwind at up to 5mph. All much more than it felt. I’m pretty sure the Incept would have managed the same – and it was less effort than in the Amigo.

Gumotex Seawave kayak preview – 0.25 bar

Seawave main page

seawavesThe Seawave was released in 2013 and in 2016 a very similar model was released with a rudder option.
The Seawave can be run as a single, double or triple and is being sold in France and Germany for around €990 and in Czecho for around €700 and up to a staggering £1140 in the UK with extras.
My stats are 4.5m, 78cm wide and 17kg with a claimed payload of 250kg which sounds plausible. Initially I did wonder if it was an elongated and additionally modified Swing 2; the bow seemed the same.
However, the Seawave’s pressure is rated at 0.25 bar (3.6psi), midway between the Gumotex IK norm of 0.2 and Grabner’s 0.3 bar. Some of Gumotex’s orange series whitewater boats run 0.25 and their IKs were never that shoddy, but perhaps the higher price reflects a better build quality which may include vulcanising, as opposed to gluing. Having said that, the PRV in the floor of the Seawave has the same ordinary rating you’ll find in a Twist or a Palava or probably any other Gumotex IK (more here). Perhaps it’s the sides that are now rated to take 0.25 bar, not 0.2. What they now call Nitrilon is not like the old hypalon-like Nitrilon of a few years ago. Increasing hull pressure is one way of getting a more rigid and therefore faster IK, but it’s the integrity of the ‘I-beam’ floor that’s the usual limitation. The Seawave has a pressure-release valve in the floor but not on the side tubes, and I hear that these pressures are said to be on the conservative side. Gumboats can handle more in the side beams providing you watch it when out of the water in the heat.

seawavecatLooking at the stills and other pics of what may have been an unbranded prototype at Le Ciotat, the Seawave definitely isn’t just a regular 410C with an optional, €200 velcro deck supported by curved alloy spars (similar to my old Incept K40). Velcro’s a trick I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to consider on my old Sunny in an effort to make it drier.
gumtipThe Seawave is long for an IK, but with just a skeg (also optional – but there’s a  rudder now), you wonder if this could be hard work to turn into the wind. However, in France kayaks destined for sea use (beyond a certain distance from the shore) must be homologated or approved in some way, and the Seawave has passed this test.
The great thing with the velcro deck (for one or two) is that it can be taken right off; on my Incept I paddled like this 99.9% of the time, with the deck rolled to one side.20130404-100017-AM.jpgEven at the slightly higher pressures, I have to say at one point in the video I noticed the Seawave bending with the swell. My Sunny used to do this, taking on water over the low sides, but with a deck that ought not be a problem, even if you imagine there’ll be some seepage through the velcro in heavy conditions or white water.
grabendFlexing is a problem with any long inflatable and even my short and high-pressure Grabner will flex (right) in certain conditions. Manufacturers get round it with metal hull frames (Feathercraft, Advanced Elements), twin side tubes (some Grabners, Gumo Seakers, Incept) stiff fabric (Incept) or just high pressures like Grabner, but that demands very good construction.

ScottyThere are more impressions as well as some nice pictures from an actual owner, Norman, right here (translated from French). He ran a 410C for a few years and talks of pumping his Seawave right up to 0.35 (5psi) bar which makes for good speed (6kph average he claims). That is 40% above the recommendation so let’s hope the seams on the Seawave can take it, cap’n.
mod-drainersw14It looks like grey, Halkey-like valves in the back, not the old-style black ones that Gumo used. And I see that Gumotex have again adapted an idea that I had on my Sunny years ago (right), a drain hole at the back. Only theirs features a neat sliding cover. It could all be the normal process of improvement of course, but I recall that after I had some smaller skegs made for my Sunny (and sold to a few others), Gumotex reduced the size of theirs to the current black plastic ones. And then the velcro deck idea. Whatever, it’s gratifying to see ideas I have tried or written about actually making it into production.
Enough speculation. Actual impressions on receiving my boat here. Also, check out Vincent Nicolet’s other vids all featuring red hot Gumo action.