Le Grand Gonflateur himself, Gael A sent me this image to illustrate something. It’s composition and colouring was so magical I’m compelled to elevate it without delay 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’ (right). It looks like Gael is sliding down a burst canal bank on his H2, while in the back 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 looking to move on from my Sunny to something a bit longer and self-bailing. The two boats that appealed to me at the time 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 a few weeks after originally ordering it from a less reliable counterpart in NYC. Set up is pretty straightforward: you slot in the keel- and skeg pole and then the side poles, velcro it all in place, attach the seat by seemingly 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 inflation valves: basic turn-and-lock elbow valves seemingly off the end of a cheap Thermarest (or indeed an Alpacka 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 there’s no one-way valve, you have to screw it shut quick.
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 valves and a K-Pump. At 28 inches (71cm) wide, it’s just 2 inches narrower than the Sunny but feels much narrower – 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.
I took it out for a scoot across the Vallecito reservoir in Colorado one evening with the two inner (floor) sponsons 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 a bit 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 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 which partly 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 forces 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 hull envelopes 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 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 sponsons. My lovely new boat, not one day out of the bag was a floppy mess. I yanked out a limp sponson (easily done) and found the rather light, flysheet-like ripstop nylon cover material split, and pinprick holes in the airtight polyurethane that the nylon was bonded to. 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 that 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 initial high speeds were with a backwind but seem only a little better than my Grabner. Coming back next day he was down to 2.5mph so that must have been a stiff headwind.
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 hadn’t really added an impression of stability (as they can do on other tippy IKs) and overall, with the height/width relationship (left) I didn’t feel confident anticipating less than 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 sponson/bladder IKs (like all Aires). Some 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. 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, short of flying to Vancouver), be prepared to make a mistake.
Another Java review by a Brit sea angler here. That must have been two Javas in the UK! And there’s some Java chat on FoldingKayak.org. This guy in BC also had a Java then got a Gumo 410C. Looking at his pictures, I’m struck how ‘perched’ he looks while still being high in the water.
In 2011 I gave my sun-faded Sunny away and got myself an Incept K40 Tasman (see stats at the top of the page). 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. I’ve had it 4 years.
“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.
In my opinion the long-established Czech Gumotex rubber factory in Břeclav make the best-value, proper IKs in Europe (in North America branded ‘Innova’). All you have to do is pick the best one for your needs. To see the 2020 catalog click this. Gumotex also made some expensive, high-pressure, super-tough models, such as these raft-wide Ks.
In 2011 they stopped selling the Sunny in Europe. The 25cm longer, but similar Solar 410C took its place and in 2017 became the near-identical Solar 3. In 2019 that got renamed the Solar 019 with a new identical model called Thaya featuring a more rigid drop stitch floor. Hybrid drop stitch 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 up into a bag. The Rush models of 2020 took this a step further.
Compared to some IKs, Gumotex are simple, robust and gimmick free, and over the years the design has been refined: better skeg fitment, better removable seats (but still heavy), lighter material options while in most cases keeping PRVs in the floors. Better push-push valves as well as lighter Nitrilon, and now with 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, and the Nitrilon Twists are light. 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’ (this definition has since been adopted by Innova). There’s more here but in short this is the ‘European’ way of making IKs: simply gluing all the sections into a sealed inflatable vessel, like a packraft. It’s expensive but has advantages over the bladder ‘inner tube’ boats more common in the US. Most Gumotex IKs are made out of Nitrilon, their version of DuPont’s hypalon: the original tough, EDPM-like synthetic rubber-coated fabric as used on white water rafts that lasts forever but has now been superseded by similar but lighter fabrics. You might have thought that full-coat Nitrilon over a bit OTT so a few years ago Gumotex introduced LitePack (later called Nitrilon Lite) on low-end IKs like the Twist, with the rubber coating only on the outside. It saved weight but the 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 years ago. Maybe it’s not as tough but I bet it’s lighter.
One thing you should know with Gumboats 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 is fine. This is better pressure than many other IKs, but not like the 0.3 bar boats from Incept and Grabner.
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 out of the water. Running at the recommended pressure can mean that when a boat gets over 3.5m long – like the Solar 3 – it will flex in the swell or 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 with the thing peeling apart but importantly, I did add 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, but in the end settled on a Grabner Amigo, a basic boat best described as a ‘high pressure’ Solar 3. 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 with added PRVs, as mentioned.
For waterside holiday fun to longer touring expeditions, you can’t go wrong with a Gumotex IK.
Paddling the 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 (right). On a river turning the boat upside down 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 of material on 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 thin 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 round 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.
Missed the K40 intro? – it’s here.
For a brief test run and video of the Incept K40 kayak, skip to this.
For my initial impressions of my K40, go 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 if I feel I’ve got over my SinKing phobia. 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 (left). 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 (top right; 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. More about that 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 (right; 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. 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 recommend 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 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 with 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 (left). 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.
Canoes also heading downriver
Jon heads into the North Sea
The folders are lead to the water
At the campsite in Aberdour
Day 2 – misty
Approaching Spey Bay
Draining the Sunny again
Dave’s Klepper catches a spike and is kleput
Put in at Aviemore
Snow on the Cairngorms at the back
The fifty year old Puch needs a bit of bilgeing
‘I don’t have to worry about river spikes, me.’
First night in a field behind a farm building
The injured Klepp is lead away by paramedics
I have a go in the barge – without a rudder it would be a handful
See also this about rudders And read this about decks
Short answer: Yes. It’s easier to go straight while paddling as hard as you like, and since 2014 all Gumotex come with them, as do many other IKs. Some can be mounted or removed by hand even from an inflated boat. And if not, it’s easy to glue a kit to any IK (see below).
A few years ago Gumotex introduced a slip-on skeg which was near identical in shape to one I’d had made in the alloy-skeg days, but in tough plastic and with clever tool-less mounting (above). I’ve fitted these plastic skegs to older Gumotex IKs and other IKs. The kit is under £20 + glue, and the skeg is tough. Just make sure you glue it on really well; it helps if your boat is made from a matching rubber fabric as the supplied Nitrilon patch. or make your own patch from same fabric.
I fitted the tough Gumotex skeg to my Grabner Amigo IK (above) and at sea used it all the time. But on the shallow Spey (below) that boat didn’t handle at all well without a skeg, possibly because the a tailwind pushed the high back around. It was really quite annoying as a few years earlier my broadly similar Sunny managed the Spey fine, so it clearly varies from boat to boat.
If you’re an experienced paddler you’ll have acquired the knack of going straight without a skeg – handy for paddling shallow rivers where the skeg would drag. A little more paddling finesse and small constant correction is required, especially if powering on. It’s good to learn the technique: fix your eyes on a tree or marker on a distant bank and paddle as gently as you like towards it, not looking away and keeping the nose of the boat in line with the marker. By using very light strokes you’ll see it can be done if it’s not too windy when again, a skeg helps with tracking (going straight).
I even found I could paddle a ten-foot Solar (below) without a skeg. Once you know you can go straight without a skeg, it’s just a matter of adopting the same finesse but with a bit more power. Only when you attempt the speeds of a Maori war party will the deflection get too much because you can paddle faster and still go straight with a skeg. Out at sea or on busier rivers, I always use a skeg.
I’ve often thought a hinged retractable skeg with a spring or just weight could be a good idea: it would pivot backwards when dragging in shallows, then drop back down when there’s enough depth. Seems SUPs also have this problem and in the US, FrogFish have made such a thing for boards, but they say the spring can be a weak point. I’ve envisaged something more normal skeg size as I can imagine in rapids drifting sideways into a rock or something might put a lot of leverage on such a long skeg. SUPs don’t normally do rapids. Especially if your kayak has a rudder mount, I think it would be quite easy to make one, if you think it’s worthwhile.
On a shorter, wider, slower packraft the consensus seems to be skegs make little difference. I can believe it before I knew it and now I know it. The bow still yaws or pivots a little left to right as you paddle; less so with a load mounted on the bow. Tracking – going straight – is not the same thing and not a problem on a packraft because you can’t go that fast. You move along with a moderate left-right bow shuffle which it’s true, does limit your speed – but speed is limited by a packraft’s hull shape anyway. Or is it? If anything, a packraft skeg fitted under the bow rather than the stern might limit this yawing, but I imagine you’ll destroy the instant turning ability for little actual benefit. Good for crossing a long lake in a hurry maybe. Can’t say I’ve seen this idea mentioned, though I am sure someone’s tried it. In 2011 Alpacka invented the extended stern (right; bottom) which has the same effect as a skeg. It’s been widely copied by other manufacturers and it definitely works. below; clip on skeg on my MRS Nomad. Tried it once but generally not needed.