A quick check over my old Gumotex Sunny proved it looked as good as when I gave it away nine years ago. So I bunged it in the car and drove to Tonbridge for the ever-reliable Medway Canoe Trail. With half a dozen fun chutes to dodge lock portages, it’s about as exciting as a river gets in Southeast England. As the lush summer verdure passes its peak, in places you feel you could be somewhere exotic. It was to be a cooler day promising thunderstorms and violent downpours – a relief and an added thrill after a week of 30°C+ temperatures.
I was going to run at the official 0.2 bar (3psi), paddle for a bit then put some more in the sides to see if I noticed a dramatic difference. But when the floor PRV hissed at presumably 0.2, it felt so mushy I went right ahead and cranked the sides up to around 0.3bar (4.3psi). There was no blazing sun today so it shouldn’t be too risky, and they’ve felt that tight before.
Using my big-bladed ‘whitewater’ Corry paddle, initially it was all a bit of an effort, but that was just me adjusting to the task, not the boat. Soon I found my rhythm and by the way the lush, berry-laden river banks skimmed by, I’d guess I was cruising at 3.5mph. Not bad, but this was flatwater.
The first canoe chute came up, then the steeper East Lock and Oak Weir Lock chutes where local boys were sliding down on their backsides. I often worry that these unsedated teenagers may do something stupid to show off to their mates, like try and jump on my boat from a bridge. But the worst I got coming off a chute was a cooling facefull of splash and a cheeky “Oh, sorry mate!”.
A couple of other IKs were out, including a well-used and now ubiquitous lime green Itiwit which must be the hit of the summer for Decathlon who seem to have anticipated the demand. Passing a camping field, I also observed a new-to-me spin on the novelty inflatable toy theme: a pizza slice. It was inappropriate to sneak a photo, but it nevertheless makes me marvel anew at the sheer joyous breadth of human creativity.
In about 2 hours I reached the daunting sounding Grade 3 Sluice Lock chute which the Sunny swept down in its stride. By now I was feeling a bit saddle sore. Since I originally owned the Sunny I’ve leaned a whole lot, including the value of solid footrests and a slightly raised seat for an efficient paddling stance and comfort. What came first: civilisation or chairs? When I see pictures of me paddling Shark Bay all those years ago it’s clear I’m sitting too low with feet at butt level, if not even higher due to the sag. The Aire Cheetah seat which I thought was so hot in 2006 may have been better than the stock seats but is nothing special and doesn’t spread the side tubes out. This helps make the Sunny a slender 30″ wide, but adds to discomfort on the jammed in hips. A pad (or my shoes) underneath the seat would raise me above the sidetubes and greatly improve the paddling position to something more akin to driving a go-kart.
A footrest I’ve yet to reimagine, and may not bother before selling the Sunny. I like the look of the Grabner alloy footbars which are width adjustable and cleverly jam down between the inflated floor and sides. They cost a reasonable (for Grabner…) €80 and come in various sizes for all sorts of Grabner IKs. It might be possible to easily MYO from 1-inch copper tube or something, but welded alloy would be best at the T-join where the stress is.
With leaden skies and near constant rumbling thunder to the north, I was disappointed to dodge a good summer downpour and arrived at Hampton Lock in 2.5 hours, 8 miles and surprisingly not knackered. I splayed out the Sunny like a dissection experiment; it was clean and dry in minutes.
Someone on YouTube made a good point about drying which otherwise seems so inconsequential. When you arrive back from a tiring paddle the last thing you want to do is spend ages carefully dismantling and drying your boat. And drying it back home may not be an option because lack of space was why you bought an IK in the first place! That’s why we appreciate ‘wipe-down’ bladder-free ‘tubeless’, IKs like the Sunny.
I sure do regret selling my Seawave. Lockdown-related production delays as well as travel-dodging staycations plus, in the UK at least, a hot summer, have seen Gumotex Rushs and a lot of other decent IKs become out of stock till the autumn. As a result, used prices have shot up. The other day a 20-year-old Sunny (below; in very good condition it must be said) went for £325 on eBay! If you have an old IK rotting in the shed, now is the time to flog it!
Chances are that old Sunny has another 20 summers in it. The Nitrilon from that era was more raft-like and one likes to think fewer corners were cut (as the 2007 LitePack Outrage proved). Something happened to Gumotex around this time: maybe someone new took over or got involved. Within a few years Gumotex prices soared as more sophisticated models were released. But not all of them: today you can still buy the Sunny’s lo-fi descendant, the Solar 3 (aka; Solar 019), a 0.2 bar, three-tube dinosaur, now 4.1m long.
I bought my 3.9-m Sunny from boatpark.cz in 2005. Stuck for a kayak in 2020, I asked the mate who I gave it to in 2011 whether he’d like to give it back. With his kids now young men and the boat unused, he was happy to oblige.
Unpacking, the Sunny was covered in damp sand and with the valves open. Some people just don’t know how to look after their boats! A quick hose down and it looks in great shape, less faded than my Seawave. Some of my old D-rings applied with crappy Gumotex glue have come adrift and there’s UV-discoloured factory glue at the seams, but the colours are still pretty bright and no seams are lifting.
I forgot about those annoying black twist-lock inflation valves with the annoyingly stiff dust caps. I blew the grit out and plugged in the aged Bravo bellows which is now so soggy it struggles to set off the PRV at 0.2bar with me putting my full weight on the pump. Was the PRV seized? I hooked up my new two-way barrel (with home-made manometer) and in seconds the PRV is spewing sand and spray. I keep going to blast any remaining crud out then give the sidetubes a taught 25%-over, 0.25 bar. Nothing rips or explodes.
I fall into the modification/improvement trap and consider replacing them with current Gumotex Push-Push valves, and even adding PRVs in the sides, as on my Seawave. But I remind myself valves can be tool-breakingly stiff and I’ll probably keep the Sunny until a Rush 2 becomes available, or maybe the rumoured DS-floored Seawave is released. That won’t be until autumn.
My clip-in Aire seat with crucial backrest supports glued on to the sidetube tops (as on the current Solar, above) works better than the crumby originals which folded in on themselves as you lent back (see the eBay Sunny, above). But with sidetube supports my Amigo / Seawave system: packraft seatbase + SoT backrest would be lighter, adjustably higher and more comfortable. Again, it’s not worth mixing the glue up unless I decide to keep the Sunny as a spare.
The long strap loop running clipped to the seat base via the second seat mounts used to clip to a small Peli box which doubled as a footrest. I remember now: to use solo you flipped the front seat to face the other way, replaced the back seat with a footrest pillow and moved the skeg to the other end. That’s why my boat unusually has the valve and PRV at the front. But for a good brace the reach was too great, even for my legs. I prefer my plastic drainpipe idea but that needs a couple of added D-rings. As it is, the seat could probably go back a bit further for solo use, so it may have to be a box or some other bodge, as my legs definitely won’t reach. Or maybe I can just do without a footrest which only really matters on long or dynamic paddles. These days I prefer a Peli under my knees where I can actually get to it without having to do 45 minutes of hot yoga.
Underneath it has that crappy old Gumotex alloy skeg system – and at each end, too. Did I do that? The original oversized alloy skeg is deeply corroded along the smaller ones I got made, and even sold to fellow Gumotards. A modern plastic skeg needs a different patch but I bet there’s a way to adapt the alloy patch to take a plastic skeg. Below, a picture of new and old skegs on our old Solar 300.
Other than that, the old dog is in good shape and would look better once I clean off the dried duct tape residue and stray glue. I weighed it off some suitcase scales: 12.7kg + another 1.5kg for the seat. First run I’m going to risk 0.25bar (3.6 psi) in the sides to see if it glides like a Seawave and stings like a bee. What’s the worst that can happen?
Le Grand Gonflateur himself, Gael A sent me this image to illustrate something. Its composition and colouring was so magical I’m compelled to elevate it to the IK&P Picture of the Week. Captured in 2005, the location is the River Epte, a tributary of the Seine in Normandy and site of Monet’s no less idyllic 1899 painting, ‘Waterlilly Pond’ (left). It looks like Gael is sliding down a burst canal bank on his H2, while his trusty compadre observers from the reassuringly stable platform of a Mk1 Sunny gumboat. Behind him a sign warns ‘Access Interdite – Danger [sauf gonflards] and nearby a docile cow nuzzles the trunk of an oak tree quivering in its prime. A serene snapshot of rubber boating bliss.
In early 2016, Feathecraft dropped the Java/Gemini and Aironaut to stick with folding kayaks. In 2017 Feathecraft closed for good.
In 2007 I was already looking to move on from my Sunny to something a bit longer and self-bailing (I thought this was a good idea at the time). The two boats that appealed to me were Aire’s hefty and wide Super Lynx and a Feathercraft Java (since then many new contenders have come on the scene). I decided to treat myself to the more expensive but lighter Java and picked one up from the clued-up FC dealer in Durango.
Set up is pretty straightforward: you slot in the alloy keel- and skeg pole and then the side poles, velcro them all in place, attach the seat by too many straps, pump up the four sponsons and off you go. Realistically, 20 minutes is a good assembly time. It’s a sleek-looking boat for an IK; still today nothing else comes close, but one of the biggest hassles are the cheapinflation valves: basic turn-and-lock elbow valves seemingly off the end of a Thermarest (or indeed an Alpacka packraft where they work fine to top up, not inflate). The thin plastic hose on the hand pump supplied pushes on, but when it’s hot or wet it twists off, or if you pump too hard it blows off and the air leaks out. As it’s an open (not one-way) valve, you have to screw it shut quick. Maddening! I thought for a while there was some component missing from the pump but no, this was it. I found holding the hose onto the valve with one hand while pumping the two-way pump with the other was an awkward but more effective way of inflating. Even if it’s bigger, give me a foot pump any day. Or regular one-way Halkey valves and a K-Pump. At 28 inches (71cm) wide, it’s just two inches narrower than the Sunny but feels much morem chiefly because you sit high ON it, rather than in it. FC are right in describing the Java as an inflatable sit-on-top. As you can see in the pics, under my 95kg weight, the poles are more there to aid the hull profile than enable longitudinal rigidity. It’s 15 feet 4 inches (4.65m) long but you can’t get much into the last foot-and-a-half at each end; the usual problem with IKs. The thigh straps are a nice touch or an admission that you may need them to keep upright. I took it out for a scoot across the Vallecito reservoir in Colorado one evening with the two inner (floor) bladders not too firm and was relieved to find it not too tippy. On the way back I struggled with the pump some more to firm up the inner sponsons and found it less stable but still OK, and probably faster. And before I got caught out, I practiced getting back in off the water; as long as I crawled aboard without any sudden movements it could be done in calm flat water. But who ever falls out in calm water?
The retractable skeg is a great idea that’s only really possible on a self-bailer, but with the middle sponsons firmly pumped up the actuating string which comes up between them gets jammed. It’s best to manually make sure the skeg is fully down before setting off – but this negates the retractable feature. At least you know that if it snags on the river bed it will just pivot up (but then won’t come down again). A good fix to help the skeg pivot with the string lever would be to have the string passing through a short section of thick garden hose or plastic tube jammed between the sponsons so enabling it to slide freely. The slot through which the skeg passes is also the bailing hole, designed I am told, to suck water out of the boat with a venturi effect as it moves over still water (less effective in a current going with the boat). Can’t say I noticed water rising as I stopped, but it sounds plausible.
Paddling without the skeg was OK on flat water but with it deployed you can power on. The solid footrests, thigh straps and comfy seat (also inflatable) all help here. One problem with the footrests is the angle they sit on: the poles force your knees outwards into the paddle arc. I also wondered how secure they were, screwed down to merely butt against a protruding rivet in the pole. A flat rather than pointy end to the securing screw pin sitting against the 2mm-high rivet might be better and could easily be done. Anyway they never shifted during the easy paddling I did.
The Java has neat cargo nets: easy to use and secure. I’ve since bought a pair for my Sunny. Inflation valve design apart, workmanship is what you’d expect for over $2000 with good attention to detail. The ‘envelope’ or hull doesn’t really need to be sealed in any way as the four sponsons or bladders slot into their respective cases and, with the poles, make this pile of nylon and rubber into the only IK I know that looks close to a proper sea kayak.
Next day in Colorado disaster struck. I left the boat drying on the roof of the car in the forest camp – black hull side up… and went out very early to Silverton on the steam train. It had been a week of huge storms in the Rockies and camped in the forest I figured it would be OK in the shade and probable afternoon storm. But on the way back, when the bus driver mentioned it was a hot afternoon in Durango I thought “oh dear, I hope it hasn’t…”
It had. The thick black hull rubber had caught the sun nicely as it passed over the clearing and ruptured three of the bladders or sponsons. My lovely new boat, not one day out of the bag was a floppy mess. I yanked out a limp bladders (easily done) and found the rather light, flysheet-like ripstop nylon split, and pinprick holes in the airtight PU coating. That was the end of my Java paddling in CO. (A happy ending. I ordered a full set of sponsons from FC in Vancouver and when they discovered the boat was nearly new they generously offered to supply them free of charge. Good on you FC.)
Back home with new bladders, we went to Scotland and I tried out the re-bladdered Java alongside my old Gumotex Sunny. G-friend’s first impression was that I was too big for it probably due to its SoT stance. She had a point. And also it was too fiddly to set-up for my keep-it-simple prefs. She had a point again, and although it’s amazingly light for what it was, it’s still pretty bulky. In Denver I’d spend hours packing it carefully for the flight back for fear of having the near yard-long hull poles damaged in transit. On my bathroom scales in the blue holdall ready to paddle it weighs 17kg (37.5lbs). The boat’s envelope alone (no seat or tubes) weighs 9kg (19.8lbs). In other words, about the same as my Sunny but two and a half feet longer.
On the lochs the long, thin Java slipped along, with a speedof 10kph (6.2 mph) flashing on the GPS for a second, though 4mph was a more sustainable speed (video above). Let me tell you that is a very good speed for an IK, comparable with the Incept K40 I bought a few years later. (There are more useful speed stats on inlotusland’s blog about a lake near Vancouver in a blue Java.).
The Java kayak didn’t really feel right to me: the old problem of too narrow and me sitting too high for my weight. An experienced hardsheller would probably not have any issues. We went on to a freshwater loch, a little windier by now. I tried to visualise myself in a fairly normal one-metre swell out at sea. The rocks I added for ballast hadn’t really added an impression of stability (as they can do on other tippy IKs) and overall, with the height/width relationship I didn’t feel confident anticipating the less than flat calm conditions I wanted to be able to face.
Back at the chalet the biggest hassle of all: the Java takes hours to dry, maybe even days. But dry well it surely must, especially when rinsed after a sea paddle. Sure, I’d read about this in some reviews, but it now dawned on me that the problem was common to all bladder IKs (like all Aires). Water will always get in the hull sleeves/envelopes holding the bladders as well as other crannies, and once there will always take a while to evaporate. A spin in my basic Gumotex Sunny reminded me what a great boat it was: quick to set up, fast drying and good enough performance. If only it bailed. [2020: I now think self-baling is not essential for a tour boat; i just used my Sunny beyond its abilities].
The Java got itself sold on ebay. Lesson: try before you buy and if it’s not possible (as it wasn’t for me in the UK), be prepared to eat your mistake.
In 2011 I gave my sun-faded Sunny away and got myself an Incept K40 Tasman. The K40 was less fiddly than the Java to set up, though the time taken is about the same, but I still miss the ‘pump and go’ simplicity of the Sunny. That is why I then got myself a Grabner Amigo. But I sold that and got a Seawave, my best IK yet.
“My solution: Gumotex Solar 410C … the difference is ludicrous!” Happy Gumotex owner after running a Sevylor Hudson for a few years.
Great website – what a wealth of information. I wish I had read it before buying my Sevylor Pointer K2, I would have bought a Gumotex. Never too late; it just costs you more. Anna M.
The Gumotex kayak above looks similar to the Austrian Semperit Forelle from around that era.
For my sort of paddling the Czech-based Gumotex make the best-value, proper IKs (in North America they’re branded ‘Innova’). Starting in the 1950s and capitalising on new, rubber-coated fabrics, along with Semperit, they were among the early innovators of IKs (Zodiac, in the 1930s, made the very first). Now all you have to do is see if Gumotex have an Ik for your needs. Gumotex also made some expensive, high-pressure, white water models, such as these raft-wide Ks.
In 2011 they stopped selling the Sunny in Europe. The 25cm longer, but otherwise similar Solar 410C took its place and in 2017 that became the near-identical Solar 3. In 2019 it got renamed the Solar 019 alongside a similar new model called the Thaya with a rigid dropstitch floor. Hybrid dropstitch hulls using their rubber-based Nitrilon fabric looks like the new direction for Gumotex IKs. The same durability but better performing boats which glide like hardshells but roll into a bag. The Rush models of 2020 took this a step further.
Compared to some IKs, Gumotex are simple, robust, slim like a kayak not wide as a raft, and are gimmick free. Over the years the design and fittings have been refined: better skeg fitment, better removable seats (but still heavy), better valves, while in most cases keeping PRVs in the floors. The current Nitrilon feels lighter and more pliable and now there are fitted or removable decked boats like the Seawave, Framura and Rush. The sporty Safari (with a 330XL version) the Solar 3/019 as well as the Framura and the versatile Seawave are all great touring boats, while the Nitrilon Twists are light rec boats. I haven’t owned or tried every Gumotex IK mentioned here, but in most cases know people who do- or have. The video below shows what sort of whitewater fun you can have with Gumotex IKs and even canoes.
Gumotex IKs are what I call ‘tubeless’. There’s more here but in short this is the ‘European’ way of making IKs with no ‘inner tube ‘bladders’ supporting a hull shell. Instead all the sections are vulcanised in an autoclave and glued up to make a sealed inflatable vessel, like a packraft. (In the US, Sea Eagle make their Explorer IKs the same way, but use PVC). It’s expensive but has advantages over the the more common bladder ‘inner tube’ boats, principally in quick and easy cleaning and drying. Gumotex IKs are made from Nitrilon, their own version of DuPont’s hypalon: the original tough, EDPM-like synthetic rubber-coated fabric as used on white water rafts and which lasts for decades. (Grabner, by comparison, buy in their EDPM from Germany). In 2007 Gumotex introduced LitePack (later called Nitrilon Lite) on lower-end IKs like the Twists, with the rubber coating only on the outside of the hull. It saved weight but boats proved to be less durable and Nitrilon Lite was quietly dropped in 2018. (A mate of mine has many failures with his Lite Twists). As mentioned, the current Nitrilon (as on my Seawave) feels thinner and more supple than the original less shiny and stiffer Nitrilon of the Sunny era.
One thing you should know with Gumotex IKs is that all except the Seawave, Rush (and the Ks) are rated at 0.2 bar or 2.9psi, something for which a Bravo footpump can just about manage. This is more than cheaper bladder IKs which run just 1psi before they blow apart. However, Incept and Grabner run super-stiff 0.3 bar and of course dropstitch technology is changing all this.
I’ve read of Gumboaters running more than the recommended pressure in the side tubes to make the boats stiffer and more responsive. I suspect they could take it, as long as they don’t get too hot when left out of the water. Running at the recommended 0.2 bar pressure can mean that when a boat is over 3.5m long – like the Solar – it will flex in the swell or on rough water. This was a nuisance with my Sunny in roughish seas because it swamped over the sides. Fwiw, I ran my Seawave side tubes for years at 0.33 bar – 50% more than the recommended 0.25. I had no problems but importantly, I added 0.33-rated PRVsso that the sides would purge air if they got too hot.
On flat water, long boat flexing can mean reduced speeds if you’re heavy like me. Apart from going on a diet, I considered various ideas to fix that in my old Sunny (which I took back in 2020), but in the end settled on a Grabner Amigo, a basic boat best described as a ‘high pressure’ Sunny. It was solid as a brick, but expensive. I sold the Amigo and from 2014 ran a Seawave which I adapted in various ways, including running over-pressure side tubes, as mentioned.
For waterside holiday fun to longer touring expeditions, you can’t go wrong with a Gumotex IK. Prices have got high and used boats are very rare, but I much prefer the tubeless design and durable rubber fabrics to anything in PVC, let alone bladders, as well as the solid improvements they’ve made over the years.
Paddling the <a class="wp-gallery mceItem" style="color: #000000;" title="Kayaking and packrafting in southern France Haute Allier in France in a Sunny required frequent visits to the bank. Not to get money out of the ATM but to drain the swamped boat. And on Shark Bay in Western Australia one crossing of a very windy bay required frequent pumping out. The water came in over the sides as the boat flexed over the swell (below).
On a river, flipping the boat is the quickest way of doing this, but can make a mess of the packing. Tipping it up on-end works less well because of a triangular patch at each end. It’s a handle of sorts but also keeps some water in. I cut a small hole in the back so I could drag it up a steep bank to drain itself (see little fountain, left).
Making the Sunny a bailer? I’ve considered drilling bailing holes (easily and reliably reversible with duct tape I found on the old Safari, left) but am pretty sure the floor of the Sunny is below the water line with me in it. Loads at either end help, as would the hull sticks or plank described below, along with a thicker seat pad. It could be something worth trying to not end up sitting in water. Lighter solo paddlers in a Sunny may get away with cutting bailing holes without doing all these bodges because the boat won’t sink so low in the water (see graphic below).
In the end, I decided I didn’t really need self-bailing for the sort of tame touring I did in the Sunny. If I was more into white water I’d get something like a self-bailing Safari. I never used my Java IK long enough to appreciate the benefits of its self-bailing feature and some later IKs (and packrafts) I’ve owned had zip on decks which are an alternative way to avoid water in the boat, although I used them even less. Away from flat water, a bit of splash gets in the boat most of the time but it takes a while before it’s sloshing about. The stiff and high-sided Incept was much less prone to swamping and the similar-to-Sunny Grabner seems the same. Longitudinal hull flex was the problem.
Making the Sunny/Solar 410C hull more rigid
The Sunny is 3.85-m long but runs 0.2 bar (2.9psi). The replacement Solar 410C is even longer at 4.1metres but runs the same pressure. Since I originally wrote this I’ve realised that higher pressure IKs are indeed more rigid. I have read of people running a Solar 410 at 0.3 bar. I think this would take more than a regular Bravo foot pump could manage (or at least, my old example) and the push-fit valves (as opposed to more secure bayonet fitting) may pop the hose off. A way around that would be to use a push-fit hand pump like a K-Pump. I never tried it, but I have to say my experience with Gumotex IKs suggests that they feel sufficiently well built to take 50% more pressure. But to blow a seam in a tubeless IK like a Solar or a Sunny would be hard to repair.
Can you see any difference whatsoever in the pictures on the right? It’s supposed to show the Sunny with no load (top) – quite bent; the boat equalised with a heavy load – low and relatively level (middle); and at the bottom with a light load with some straight branches jammed in the sides (see below) – less bent than it would be. No, you probably can’t, they all look the same.
While paddling the Tarn Gorge in 2007 I tried ways to help stop the hull on my 13-foot Sunny sagging with my weight. The handy gap where the side tube meets the floor tube was just right for jamming a stick in. Up to that point I had found that leaning far back on the seat and taking the weight off your butt and onto your heels and shoulders was a way to unsag the middle of the Sunny and could mean the difference between scraping through a shallow shingle rapid without punting or walking the boat through. I was going to buy a pair of broom handles in France one time but forgot, so later by the Tarn river I found a couple of branches that were pretty straight over 5 feet and jammed them in between the floor and the side tubes more or less in the middle of the boat. My unscientific impression was that the Sunny was indeed more rigid, responsive and faster, leveling the boat out in the water. Later I found some light metal tubes (right) but never did anything about it. The fact that the river sticks popped out through some rapids shows how much the Sunny flexed in rough water. A year or two later I was reminded what a good idea a pair of stiffening side floor poles could be on a Sunny and how easily that can be achieved. Of course, the poles will be more junk to carry around, but as I was considering using the old Sunny more in the sea it felt worth doing. I cannibalised an old TNP paddle and with a saw and a hot knife trimmed off the blades. Now I had two 1.55-metre long sticks although 1.75 would have been better as this is the distance where the starts to taper in to each end.
A series of attachment points needed to be glued to the 3-inch wide flat strip where floor meets the side tubes. I got as far as this (right) but then someone told about the Incept K40 which seemed a more seaworthy boat so I gave the Sunny away. But – if I owned a Solar 410C and paddled solo and out at sea, it’s something I’d consider trying. It’s easy to do and harmless to try. There’s more on hull flexing here.
With three months on the coast of northwest Scotland lined up for 2011 I was looking for a more seaworthy boat than the Sunny or making the Sunny faster (see this and this). Two weeks watching the weather blow through September 2010 showed it changes a lot up there. First from the east then the west, it blew at up to 50mph so when it’s good you’ve got to drop everything and get out there. But if it changes on the water while most probably paddling alone you want to be sure you can get back fast and not have to jeopardise making progress by either bailing in a frenzy or struggling to re-board. Well, that’s the way I see it. In Shark Bay, it didn’t take much of a swell – maybe a metre – to fill the Sunny up every 20 minutes or so. I’d hook onto Jeff’s tandem and they paddled while I pumped. And that was the warm Indian Ocean not The Minch, off the North Atlantic. It’s not like I’ll be setting off for St Kilda every weekend to pick up half a dozen gannet eggs, but either a deck or self-bailage is needed to be able to paddle alone around there with security. As you do, over the previous months I gone through periodic frenzies of internet research. A hardshell SinK was never in the running. I don’t like being jammed in those things, they’re awkward to transport and would need getting rid of after. Plus I can rent a decent sea kayak locally. Instead, I wondered about the other extreme, an SoT; very popular with the rec paddling masses who may not know a hard chine from a Chinese burn, but have a whole lot of inshore fun nevertheless. Most SoTs are wide enough to do the Can-Can while wearing flippers and come in awful ‘explosion-in-a-paint-factory’ colour schemes.
The angler-oriented models are less hideous and I narrowed it down to an Ocean Kayak Prowler 15 (above left) or OK’s slimmer Scupper Pro (above). One went on ebay for just 300 quid while I was thinking about where I could store it. They say an SP is from the same mould as an RTM Tempo (left; 24kg 4.5, on 67cm) and their Disco (below right; 23kg 4.3, on 65cm) looks pretty good too for a plastic sea clog (the shape I mean – not the colour). Fast I imagine, easy as a bike to get on and off, but might require suiting up too often to be fun without getting chilled. Either of these would be a lot of fun if I lived in Florida or the Aegean. Not so sure about northwest Scotland.
So according to my calculations that left a folder, and for me the pick of the bunch has always been Feathercraft’s Big Kahuna (left; 4.5m x 64cm; 16kg – 14′ 9″ x 25″; 35lbs) featuring an extra big cockpit for creaky old men who can’t bend like they used to could. Feathercrafts are expensive and the marked up price new in the UK is so far beyond the pale to give them an admiring cachet among paddlers. I missed one in the UK for £1800 then tracked down another in Hawaii with every last option plus a few extras for £2200. I could have brought it back and then sold it in the UK for what it cost after 3 months paddling.
It then turned out matey down the road had a Big K so we went out for a spin on the local, freezing river this week. Moreaboutthat here. Short version: the BK would be a flaming good yak that could be left assembled for the duration and wouldn’t get turned away by security at the Sea Kayak Christmas Ball. On the scungy Medway it took a bit of turning in my clumsy hands but tracked fine, glided smoothly and weighs only 16kg; easy enough to portage on the shoulder. But it still has that unnerving SinKiness I don’t like and is a bit awkward to get out of – well for a spaz like me with a dodgy shin and who’s used to IKs you can fall into drunk. The Feathercraft would have been a lovely boat up in the Isles, but has the same re-entry issues as any SinK. The way I see it, if it’s bad enough that you tip over, getting back in and staying upright long enough to pump it out is going to take some luck alone. Until I learn how to roll a kayak I don’t fancy that at all. Nevertheless, I was all set on buying the slinky BK as it would cost me nothing once sold on and doubtless have been a pleasure to behold. Then Gael from SSKT slapped me out of it and pointed out that Incept from NZ will be selling their decked K40 IK in the UK next year – and without a usual horrendous UK mark up (Knoydart take note…). UK distributors Seakayakoban tell me they have a demo in stock now with the next delivery in March for around £1500.
The K40 is similar to the Grabner Holiday II which might be classed as one of the original twin-side beam IKs which begat the Gumotex Seakers I and II. The solo Seaker 1 (left; 4.8m x 75cm – 18 inches more than a K40 and 3 inches wider) is officially as expensive as the K40, though has been going at half price ($1500) from Innova in the US. A fellow IK blogger recently got one. At just £1000 that’s a great price, but the problem is the deck is fixed (packing and drying issues, IMO) and it manages to weigh no less than 33 kilos/73lbs according to the Gumo.cz website (US distributors Innova claim 60lbs/27kg). Whatever it is, I had a chance to buy a used Seaker from Czecho a year or two back for just £800, but pulled out when I appreciated you can’t take a boat that heavy on a plane too easily, nor haul it too far.
Readers have occasionally emailed me about decking a Sunny. It could be done I suppose by gluing velcro or a zip onto the sides or maybe some understraps, or even an elastic-edged canopy, like fitted bed sheets. How good will that look if I was left to do it?
It’s actually something that might be a little easier to achieve with a semi-decked Gumo Helios II (above left) were it not for those ghastly sewn-in seats they have. In fact I see Grabner offer such a thing with their Helios-like Explorer II (right; 5m x 75cm) as part of the €600 accessory package. Nein danke.
So, the Incept K40 Tasman Like Gumotex, Aire, NRS and the rest, Incept seems to be an established raft manufacturer who’s turned to IKs. The Incept K40 Tasman (4.3m x 69cm; 17kg. 14′ 3″ x 27; 37lbs) seems to have been refined since I last looked at their website at which time there was no UK distribution that I could see. There seem to have been at least two other versions but this one looks the most complete by far and following this investigation I bought a K40. I don’t know about you but for an IK, that picture below is of a pretty good looking boat. I do wonder about the 27-inch width, being used to the 30-inch Sunny, but at 30-inches I cannot imagine ever tipping out of a Sunny short of getting crossed up against a rock or branch a couple of times. If I measure 27 inches across my lap, it looks just right as long as you’re sat low. The simple answer is of course to go up to Oban for a demo.
Just like the Alpacka the K40 has a deck that zips across to one side to roll up for sunny, calm days. We like that about IKs; it keeps the legs tanned and makes packing, drying and, if necessary, draining the boat mid-water so much easier.
The hull is composed of three I-beamed chambers with twin-beam sides to help give its 14 feet better rigidity. The Sunny had round, single chamber sides which, although they get nice and taut on a hot day, the boat still flexes with the swell or even just with my weight in it. With I-beam chambers the K40 features pressure-relief valves on all three chambers including the sides rated at 5psi which are out of the water. This reduces the strain on the welded I-beam seams but it’s possible that some air will be purged through the valves as it expands in the course of a hot day. For this reason I see that Incept recommends carrying a small, top-up pump (right) as can be seen on the deck of the kayak pictured above. With it, you can re-pressurise the boat for maximum performance, and this can be done on the move as the valves (grey) are right there in the cockpit (the sidewall PRVs are behind the seat). The twin beams also add up to less width (69cm or 27 inches – 3-4 inches less than my Sunny) and so more speed – although re-entry may be harder and all without – I hope – making it too tippy. It’s got a rudder because those high sides may catch a crosswind at times. Scoffed at by Brit sea kayakers who use boats that have hull profiles designed to turn when leaning out (very odd if you’re a motorbiker!), with a rudder you can paddle normally across the wind and use the rudder to correct the tracking.
A rudder will be good for sailing too. The boat also comes with a neoprene spray deck, a handy K-Pump and even thigh straps to enable control across a swell, better core muscle work-outs I reckon, and even eskimo rolling. In fact my boat came with no spray deck, no straps, no strap fittings (though there are markers), but it did have a K-Pump. Thigh straps are one thing I missed on a Sunny, more for the efficiency of paddling effort against the torso, than balance and control of tippiness (not a problem with that boat outside of hurricane conditions). While getting the drum on the K40 I came across this videoof a Kiwi guy who did an NZ South Island coast-to-coast over a fortnight. That is, upstream from the Tasman Sea, tough portage to a pass, then paddling down to the Pacific. (Ain’t these guys heard of packrafts!) His less driven mate came along in a 100-year old wooden replica boat – they were engaged in a historic C2C re-enactment using old and new craft.
It’s actually three, short videos of two guys having a little Kiwi back country adventure. Have a look at the K40 in action on vid II at 2:20. Many times on the rivers and seas you’ll see how a relatively modest waves wash over the deck of the K40 – a Gumo Sunny would be a brimming paddling pool at this point. And again the vid reminds me of the advantages of an IK when it comes to bouncing off rocks and general abuse that would hurt a hardshell or loosen the joints of a taut folder like a Big Kahuna.
After nearly six years of splashing about, this week I gave my sun-faded Gumotex Sunny away to a mate and his kids. It was probably only worth £100. Coincidentally, Gumotex confirmed they’ve stopped selling the Sunny in Europe while introducing the new and near-identical Solar 410C.
In North America Innova (Gumotex importers) continue to sell the Sunny, although theboatpeople in California have taken it upon themselves to import the 410C direct from Gumotex alongside the slightly cheaper Sunny. There are stats on that model right here and a comparison with vaguely similar IKs here. I can confidently say I got my £220-worth out of my Sunny Gumboat since I bought it in 2006. It has at least as many years of use left in it and never failed in any way other than filling with water when the going got too rough. It’s a tough old boat and like your first decent car or motorbike, I’ll always have a soft spot for the Sunny for introducing me to packboat touring.
My only regret is I didn’t get a chance to try it out with my home made sail. Or keep it long enough to try out the hull-stiffening rods to see if they made any difference whatsoever. It’s an idea that may need doing on a Solar 410C. The Incept K40 is notably stiffer and in the pics and vid doesn’t appear to sag at all with me in it. Much of what I liked and disliked about my old Mk1 Sunny or the much-improved final Mk3 Sunny, will apply to the new Solar 410C. Be warned though, at 4.1m it might sag if you’re a solo bloater like me. The hull is covered in ‘Max 0.2 bar’ stamps but you can try giving it 5psi/0.3bar (50% more than recommended) to make it stiffer.
In 2013 I sold the Incept and went back to basics with a discontinued Grabner Amigo (above). Like the Incept, it’s rated at 5psi, but comes with no rudder, deck, PRVs, footrests or even seats to speak of. It’s what you might call a high-pressure (super rigid) Sunny or 410C.
Here’s my gallery of a run down the Spey river we did one September in 2007; three days from Aviemore to the sea – about 85 kms or 53 miles, camping two nights. Me in my Sunny and a new dry suit, Steve in a Pouch tandem folding battleship, Dave in a Klepper folder and Jon in a red kayak made of rigid, hard plastic called a Carolina; quite robust and fast it was, but a bit heavy and not something he could transport easily on a bus. It remains to be seen if these ‘hard shells’ will catch on. The Spey is a famous Scottish canoe run; it’s also famed for salmon fishing and its malt whiskey distilleries. Although the river is said to be open all year to paddlers (see the online guide below for details), when an estate is charging an overseas tourist hundreds of pounds a day to fish off their banks, they don’t want you getting too close and upsetting the client’s concentration. As far as we knew we were there on the last weekend of the salmon season and only once got waved away from a bank of anglers.
That year the river was a bit shallow in places, though none of us quite needed to get out and walk. Even then my Sunny filled on a couple of occasions, despite some piffling rapids, so a dry suit was a good call. Jon was the only one to fall out which just goes to show what lethal boats these SinKs can be – that thing is less than 26 inches wide! It is of course very satisfying to follow a river down to the sea, watch it change and paddle right into to the waves (oddly the tides only reach in a few hundred metres at Spey Bay). Whatever boat you’re in it’s a great run with easy white water, and easy side access. Anything rated for a canoe is fine in an IK. ForDave unfortunately it all ended on the morning of Day 2 when his Klepper snagged on an embedded metal stake (an old fence post?) and ripped a foot-long hole in his hull. Kleput!
There’s a road close to the Spey all the way and he managed to get a lift back to his car and was there that night to drive us to the campsite in Aberlour, 2.5kms from the river. I do recall a very nice meal in the pub that night, in a bar with scores on malts lined up on the back shelf. Dave was also able to pick us up from Spey Bay where there’s a formica-era cafe. The nearest station is Elgin, about 13 miles away. You could packraft the Spey too; it would be fast enough and if you combine it with the Loch Morar stage I packrafted last summer down to Gairlochy, after a 40-mile transit up the A86 to Newtonmore (20 miles upstream from Aviemore) you’ve completed a ~150-mile Scottish coast-to-coast run; Atlantic to the North Sea. I know of a couple of packrafters who have done most of it, including these two guys in the freezing winter of 2009-10. Along with many other reports, there’s a detailed online guide here. Harveys make a waterproof map of the Speyside Way walk which of course follows the river closely.