We can all chuckle about IK vlogger Karl’s repeated attempts in practicing re-entering his IKs from a deep canal, but it is definitely something you should try to master before heading out onto open water in a new boat. And note, this means deep water: ie, not being able to stand on the bottom.
Karl is practising in benign, controlled circumstances: calm water and conditions; mate and banks at arm’s reach, warm and buoyant wetsuit. Even so, you can see how the effort and cold water soon wears him down, even in a small canal. Falling out in deep water too far from the shore usually happens in rougher more intimidating conditions.
In the video he tries two different IKs: his Gumotex Twist 2 and Story FDS – and reminds me of me when I was keen to learn new skills in my early years. I’m not at all surprised he found it impossible to re-enter the boxy, high-sided Story FDS. As I’ve seen done with hardshell sea kayaks, crawling up over the bow or stern can work, but good luck with that in choppy waters that just tipped you out.
One solution is a handily accessible paddle float: a blow up bag you slip and inflate over your paddle blade, a bit like water wings. This makes your paddle into a stable outrigger to remount the IK. With no float bag use a suitable drybag (left) or your pdf if desperate. This also needs practising if you’ve found you can’t re-enter you IK normally.
With his non-dropstitch Twist Karl nearly makes it. I found years ago in a similar Sunny that dipping down then launching up and over the side like a breaching salmon works, kicking hard as you go. You need that extra drive from your paddling legs to lift you up and over.
He notes his buoyant, wetsuit-clad legs get pulled under the boat. Too much buoyancy can make moving around difficult in the water. Lying flat on his front with legs behind and driving in from the side might work better. Swim in hard from the side and launch yourself across the boat like a Roman siege galleon. As with many athletic moves, once you get the knack it becomes easier because you know you’ve done it before. Of course, with someone else around to hold the far side of the boat or using their bow for added support, the whole drama becomes easier. In dodgy conditions not going out alone is the biggest lesson of all, but this is not always possible so we need to learn how to self rescue.
As mate was getting out of a current-model full-NitrilonTwist 2 the part of the boat under a jetty rose up into the sharp end of a bolt securing a mooring ring.
.. a two-and-a-half foot rip tore across the top of the hull in both directions with a puff of South Moravian talc. As it’s a largely linear rip in an accessible location, making the repair was fairly straightforward: sew, then patch.
[FYI: I know of two other Twists which have suffered similar long rips: here and here. But not any other Gumotex model].
Because the coated core of the red Nitrilon fabric is a woven mat, sewing is an effective way of holding the two sides of the rip together to reduce the tension on the eventual glued-on patch once the boat is inflated. You need an awl spike to pre-poke each hole for the thick polyester thread. This fabric is hard to cut with sharp scissors, let alone thread with a needle.
Rip neatly sewed up with a special cobbler’s reverse herring backflip cross-stitch. One thing that got forgotten was sanding then cleaning the surfaces alongside the rift before sewing began.
Completed repair. This would work on a PVC IK too, but most of them are shell and bladder or drop-stitch. PVC is a bit harder to glue well.
In the beginning when I was keen to try anything, I paddled Sussex’s River Arun and the upper Rother too. Neither made me want to rush back to tick off the other tidal rivers of southeast England. You feel you’re in a sunken, silty, reed-chocked ditch passing below treeless agricultural land and with limited, muddy take-outs. But Robbo was taking his Full DS Yakkair for a burn up; a good chance for me to check the boat out as well as try something new. He’d worked out the tides: putting in on a 6.5-m spring tide at 11am in Upper Bedding (the former medieval port of Steyning) would scoot us up 10km to the tidal limit under the A281 bridge near Shermanbury.
In Beeding there’s a free car park at the east end of the village by the playing fields (maybe toilets), plus a garage and a Subway nearby. Arriving with Kahuna Steve at the steep east bank just south of the bridge at 10.30 (above), the river was flowing downstream like rivers do and faster than we could paddle against it. Had we timed it all wrong? But by the time Rob and his two young chums were on the water with us an hour later, the moon was doing its work and the river was flowing as fast in the opposite direction, backed by the southerly breeze pushing through the Steyning Gap in the South Downs.
Yes it’s another tidal Sussex ditch with lots of day-amblers either side, but who can complain being on the water on a sunny day in a boat you brought in on your back and gangs of menacing swans to dodge? Robbo was spinning like a break-dancing turtle in his tiny Twist, Steve was piloting his old Feathercraft Kahuna, the folder nursing a broken plastic rib from last year’s Danube run. And E&L were in Rob’s dropstitch Yakkair which you can read about here.
As we cruised effortlessly northward, the chat subsided and the river got narrower. Reeds and fallen trees closed in to just a boat’s width at times. Upstream I noticed a couple of access steps on the west bank – maybe private but the only way of getting off the river with some elegance, if needed.
We reached the fork in about an hour 20. Northwest leads to Bines Bridge, romantically depicted by renowned 1960s illustrator, Michael Codd. Look him up: he’s rendered loads of idealised Sussex illustrations from the late-medieval iron ore industry right back to Neolithic hunting scenes.
Taking off up the east arm, very soon a submerged weir slowed down the three skeged IKs. The Yakkair needed a lift over. Then a fallen tree appeared to block the way but the boats squeezed through. Here we met a local couple in their new Itiwit 3-seater. These must be the most popular IKs around right now, maybe because Decathlon were able to meet the huge demand after the first lockdown this summer.
From here the scenery picked up briefly. The fields didn’t run to the water’s edge and riverside willows dangled over the stream. We reached the four-arched bridge near Shermanbury about 2pm for a snack (easy take out on the right), but had it in our heads we should turn round pronto. It soon became clear the spring tide here kept rising up to 3pm, a full 2 hours after Shoreham, maybe pushed up by the day’s wind.
The weir bar that has been six inches below the surface on the way up was now two feet under. Good to know The wind had strengthened and was now in out face so there was nothing left but to have a work-out. Steve and I pulled ahead as gradually the flow turned our way; the Downs making a good marker for where we were headed. We got back in about an hour 30 and managed to crawl out without covering ourselves and the boats in mud. As Steve sagely observed, anywhere else in the world there’d be a civilised jetty to encourage paddling.
About the Adur tides: High tide in Upper Beeding (Steyning) is about 45 minutes after Shoreham and about 2 hours at Shermanbury. That brings up the brain-twisting notion that water levels are rising upriver while falling at the estuary. Somewhere a spooky patch of slack water is migrating silently upstream. With a skeg the weir bar is submerged enough about an hour before a high spring tide at Shermanbury bridge. Neap tides may not submerge it so just take the left fork towards Bines Bridge and see how far you get.
Next time it would be fun to start in Shoreham, at least 7km downstream from Upper Beedimng, and take more time at the top end – maybe at the Bull Inn near Shermanbury bridge – before riding the current and tide all the way back. You’d hope there’s a mud-free take out or slipway somewhere in Shoreham harbour.
We set out to paddle from Chichester Town Basin, down the old ship canal into the tidal Chichester Harbour at Birdham Lock. Lois and Austin in two do-it-all, drop-skeg Venture Flex 11s (left) Robin and Elliot in an old Gumo Twist 2 and a newer Nitrilon one, both of which fitted into carrier bags. Plus my Seawave lashed to a trolley.
Nearly two hundred years ago Turner depicted tall ships gliding serenely along the then new 4.5-mile canal (left). During the canal boom preceding the railways, it linked Roman-era Chichester with the huge natural inlet of Chichester Harbour and the adjacent naval fleet at Portsmouth. To the east was a canal to the Arun & Wey navigation (left), a short-lived inland link between London and Portsmouth commissioned at a time when Napoleonic fleets threatened the English Channel.
Our original plan had been no less grand – a 15-mile lap of Hayling Island, but today the tides and winds were all wrong for that, and even with Plan B we’d arrive at Birdham at low tide to face an undignified sludgey put in.
On Google maps the canal looked clear, with maybe a quick carry around a lock or two. But just two miles from the basin, a thick mat of Sargasso frogweed clogged the channel at the B2201 Selsey Road bridge (left), reducing speeds to a crawl. Worse still, over the bridge this unallied carpet of errant biomass ran on forever, and probably all the way to Birdham Lock.
Was it a high-summer frogweed bloom? The initial two miles are kept clear by rowers, paddlers and the 32-seater cruise boat which hooted past us with a lone passenger tapping at his phone. But nothing bar the Solent breeze stirred the canal west of the B2201, allowing the thick Sargassian spinach to fester and choke navigation for even the pluckiest of mallards. A picture from 2008 (left) shows less weed at the bridge and a rather squeezy thrutch through a spider-clogged culvert under the road.
Abandon Plan B all ye who Venture Flex here. Austin called in an Uber: ETA 4 mins; ET back to his Volvo: 6 mins. Total elapsed recovery time: 16 mins, give or take. The internet of things – how modern! Soon the hardshells were lashed to the roof and the rolled-up IKs heaved into the spacious boot of the Swedish landraft with class-leading crumple zones.
A quick map check and I proposed Plan C: Pagham Harbour just down the road and out of the rising southwesterlies. I’d never heard of this medieval-era port which was now a bird sanctuary-cum-sludge bank, but Elliot had been spotting here so knew the way to the chapel at Church Norton, thought to be the mythical 7th-C source of the overdue Christianisation of pagan Sussex.
A 5-minute haul led to the shore, except the tide – which should have turned over an hour ago – was still way out, leaving only snaking channels accessible down muddy banks. We ate lunch, waiting, like Al Gore, for sea levels to rise. But when the time came nothing but irksome clouds of marsh gnats stirred as we padded over the springy salt-scrub to the nearest channel (above).
All around, collapsed jetties, concrete groynes and other arcane structures (right) recalled Pagham’s 19th-century heyday. Back then, the sea had been successfully sealed off and the land reclaimed for farming until a storm in 1910 broke through the embankment, reflooding the harbour for fair and fowl.
Another portage over a shingle bank got us to the main outlet leading to the sea and where the water was rushing out when it should have been filling. I realised that narrow-necked inlets like Pagham Harbour act like reservoirs, releasing their tidal fill gradually for hours after the sea tide has turned. In the tropical fjords of northwestern Australia’s Kimberley it can produce bizarre spectacles like the Horizontal Waterfall (left).
We drifted and boat-hauled through a strange, desert-like landscape of barren shingle banks speckled with forlorn fishermen and demure nudists until the spit spat us out into the English Channel like five bits of unwanted, flavourless chewing gum.
According to images and video on Save Pagham Beach (left), it’s staggering how fast the spit has grown once shingle management ceased around 2004; part of a new ‘natural coastline’ policy. The spit has repositioned tidal erosion eastwards and along the shore, accelerating the scouring of Pagham’s foreshore and endangering the homes immediately behind. Recutting the Harbour’s outlet to the west (bottom picture, left) is thought to be a solution, but may transfer the flooding risk inside the harbour. Add in the protected SSSI status of the Harbour and the ‘homes vs terns’ debate becomes complex. Who’d have thought we just went out for a simple paddle.
Eastward along the coast, the assembled infrastructure of Bognor Regis rose from the horizon, while behind us the promontory of Selsey Bill kept the worst of the wind off the waves. With a helping tide and backwind we bobbed with little effort in the swell which gradually grew and started white-capping once clear of the bill. But as I often find, a sunny day and not paddling alone reduced the feeling of exposure and imminent watery doom. Only when a stray cloud blocked the sun for a minute did the tumbling swell take on a more threatening, malevolent tone. The buoyant Twists – hardly sea kayaks – managed the conditions fine and the lower, unskirted Ventures only took the odd interior rinse.
Talking of which, All Is Lost (right) was on telly the other night. Lone yatchsman Robert Redford battles against compounding reversals in the Indian Ocean after a collision with floating cargo container wrecks his boat. A great movie with almost zero dialogue. Just near Bognor all was lost for real (above and right). Only a fortnight earlier, a similar, lone-helmed sailing boat had lost its engine and unable to sail, drifted onto Bognor’s serried timber groynes. Less than two weeks had passed and already the hull was now cracked like an eggshell and the masts were gone (maybe removed). But unlike the doomed Redford character, on the day the Norway-bound sailsman had been able to scramble ashore.
These groyne stumps – designed to limit longshore shingle drift – could also be a bit tricky in a hardshell if the swell dropped as you passed over one. And just along the shore was another wreck (above) protruding gnarly, rusted studs which may well have sliced up an IK. Mostly submerged when we passed, some post-facto internetery revealed it to be the remains of a Mulberry Harbour pontoon, one of many built in secret during WWII as far as northwest Scotland, then floated out on D-Day in 1944 to enable the sea assault on Normandy.
Our own beach assault ended at the truncated remains of Bognor pier, proving the sea eats away at this whole coast. Bognor is a step back to Hi-de-Hi! Sixties Britain when we did like to be beside the seaside. All together now! So ended a great day of paddle exploring. Uber!
On the way back from some riding in the Pyrenees I persuaded my lift that a day’s paddling in southern France’s famous Tarn Gorge would be a good use of our time. The 20-odd kms between La Malene and Le Rozier via Les Vignes (see map) is about as good a day in the gorge as you’ll get. We last did the full 75km from Florac to Le Cresse in 2007 with a Solar and the Sunny and had a great time. Since then i did it in my Alpacka again.
On this occasion IKing chum Robin was baptising his new Gumotex Twist 2, an entry-level IK which in the MkII version has gone back to shiny Nitrilon Light inside and out. I do read here that one unhappy customer found out it was ‘70% less strong and only 30% lighter’ than the regular Nitrilon as used on Seawaves, 410C, Helios and so on. His boat flipped in the wind and punctured on a stick which does sound like a gale combined with an exceedingly sharp stick.
According to the Gumotex graphic (left) it appears like Nitrilon Light uses the same layering as the Nitrilon in the higher spec Gumboats, but due to a lower-strength fabric core Nitrilon Lighthas about a third of the tensile strength. Many older Gumo IKs were over-built with tough, commercial raft fabric and so the result is a light and affordable IK with a slick interior that wipes down and dries fast. As a reminder the T2 is 3.6m long, a generous and stable 83cm wide and weighs 11kg (2kg more than the old model). Payload is said to be 180kg. Robin has the original Lite Pack Twists but found they weren’t so practical or robust, at least not on the submerged light industrial detritus found in his neighbourhood. However, Nitrilon Lite was dropped from the Gumotex lineup in 2018 and since then all Twists are made from the same Nitrilon you’ll get in the bigger and pricier Gumoboats. That also means a post-2018 Twist weighs 13kg.
These MkII Twists also have detachable and adjustable seats – a big improvement (or return to former practises) because it means they can be easily replaced with something better. There’s nothing wrong with the blow-up seat base but the inflatable back section lacks support. Robin’s fitted some sort of SoT seat pad (above, in his T1). Another improvement on the MkIIs is making the top seam on the side tubes overlapping flat, not just pressed together which maybe simplifies assembly in the factory but looks cheap. There’s a mushy inflatable footrest for the front paddler; the back paddler adjusts their seat to use the back of the front seat as a footrest. And there’s now also a PRV in the floor chamber which the Lite Pack Twists didn’t have. We like PRVs here at IK&P. We even like PRVs all round.
The £350 T2 could actually be a good lightweight alternative to the 60cm longer 410C (later the Solar 2) which at the time costs £200 more (in the UK), as it still has a useful length for a solo touring paddler. Problem is, using just the back seat tips the weight back and the bow up unless there’s a hefty counterbalancing load on the front. The boat paddles OK like this and probably turns quicker, but yawed more than my packraft so seemed slower and just looked wrong. For a while Robin knelt canoe-style which looked more balanced but isn’t a really a sustainable way of paddling without a bench. the post 2018 models have a third pair of D-rings in the middle to position a solo seat in the right place.
We set off, me assuming my Alpacka would be a lot slower, but Robin likes to bimble along, waving his bow around. The Tarn was shallow and so his skeg took quite a beating, made worse by the rearward weight bias. They’re pretty much unbreakable but I’d have removed it even if the tracking may have suffered.
With careful scanning the Alpacka just about scraped through the shallows, with me occasionally resorting to ‘planking’ where you lift your butt by leaning back on the stern to improve clearance. As you can see right, the derriere is the lowest point which I why I glued on a butt patch. On the Twist Robin could only shove forward or get out and pull. By the end the Twist’s skeg patch was a little torn which takes some doing.
It took 90 minutes to cover the 9km of Grade 1 riffles to the Pas de Soucy where a rockfall blocks the river (left) and makes some very nasty strainers. Midway en portage we nipped up to the lookout for the view then had lunch and put back in for the 12km stage to Le Rozier and the van.
Soon after Pas de Soucy is the chute or glissade at Les Vignes where a typical indestructable rental brick tends to plough in at the bottom, while an airy inflatable surfs over the pile. The missing fourth frame in the pictures below is the blue SoT flipping over. ‘Prends pas le photo!’ No harm done on a 30°C day in sunny France.
This section of the gorge has some juicier rapids, but it’s still nothing that would freak out a first timer; that’s what makes the Tarn such a classic paddle: great scenery, some white water action, easy camping and the fun of splashing about among the flotillas of SoT rentals. There are several campings below the road right by the river, though this time of year they’re all packed out. On arrival we got the last pitch between two noisy young groups at Le Rozier and a free lift next morning up to La Malene from the kayak rental agency next door. There’s also a shuttle bus running up and down the gorge. Read more about southern France paddling here thenn hop on the TGV with your packboat.
News of the new 3psi/ 0.2bar Gumotex Twists made of slicker, full-coat Nitrilon Light came out in 2015. Then in 2017 they dropped that fabric and returned to regular Nitrilon. Weights went up, so did the price, but the boats ought be bombproof which you could not say for the original models. (But see below). The 3.60-metre x 83cm T2 double now goes for around £500 and weighs 13kg. The 2.6-metre x 79cm T1 (green, left) costs £400 and weighs 9kg. This >2018 model should have three pairs of D-ring seat mounts on the hull top.
Both come with proper removable and adjustable seats and footrests. On the original Twists both these things were regarded as cost and weight-saving measures and even though the boats were very light a mate who has both found them not at all robust (he’s since bought a T2) Now with the slick fabric coated on both inside and out, the boat ought to be tougher and will certainly be much quicker drying.
Gumotex Junior At ‘only’ 10kg (we thought that was light, back in 2005) I thought this would be ideal for lightweight g-friend and even for me in a pre-packrafting sort of way. However our conclusion was it was merely a heavy, boat-shaped paddling pool made out of unusually tough material.
With my weight I of course had about 3mm of freeboard but it was a hopeless tracker (not that we wereexperts back then) and all in all felt a bit of a half-baked design (it was actually based on an old Barum Sip). Gumotex sure made some turkeys bck then, but they don’t make this one anymore. Then again, in 2009 feedbacker Chris reported: “We opted for two Juniors and these are fine for what we need and really light for the motorhome as we are restricted on weight.” But he did report one was splitting at each end, possibly from overheating? For a small, compact IK the Twist 1 is better and lighter,or if that’s important, a packraft is even better.