I recently bought myself an Aqua Marina Tomahawk Air-K 375, after floating around on a cheap Bestway Hydro Force (right) over the summer. The choice was partly driven by availability – the Tomahawk was still on sale where others had sold out, perhaps because it was specifically listed as an intermediate to advanced kayak, while beginners are driving the shortage.
Overall I am pretty satisfied with the boat, though it’s not perfect. It comes in a fairly hefty package, but it is manageable for myself, an average fitness male. Smaller people and/or those with less strength may struggle a bit. The bag fits well and it technically a backpack. I wouldn’t want to go far with it but it works sufficiently well to get it out of the flat, down the stairs, and into the car.
Some work is required for set-up – the included pump is effective but needs some effort towards the end when approaching 10PSI. I may invest in an electric at some point. In fact the hardest bit is fitting the twin skegs: these are very stiff, and it’s difficult to apply pressure to the thin edge. I may need to take some sandpaper to get these to fit better, though I’ll try some silicone grease first. The seat and footrest are effective, a little strap threading is needed for the latter, nothing terrible. The seat straps keep their tension once set up, but the footrest doesn’t. Total setup time is about 20 mins, though that may reduce as I get more familiar with the kayak.
On the water it is a step change from the basic inflatable, though you’d expect that based on the price! It’s much faster, tracks amazingly well, and is a lot less tiring to paddle. The addition of an entry-level carbon fibre paddle provides a lot more range before fatigue sets in (though I still need to improve my stamina!). It turns relatively slowly to compensate, but I’ll take the better tracking any day.
I removed the front skeg to see if it would make it turn better. Turning was indeed a little easier, but the tracking was noticeably less effective (though still far better than the budget IK). In the end I decided I preferred both skegs, plus it’s reasonably heavy and right at the bottom of the boat and so provides a bit more stability. It would work fine without through so it’s more a case of personal preference. It is noticeably tricky in the wind – because it’s relatively light, I’m slower in a headwind than a friend with a Point 65 sit-on-top. In crosswinds the high sides catch the air which makes stability less good in a gust.
It feels a lot less stable than the Bestway (I’m 77kg). I’m constantly working to balance it though I think more use will see that become less of a worry. Once or twice I’ve had a wobble and almost felt like I’ve gone over. However I think it’s actually a little better than it seemed. I deliberately flipped it to ensure I could re-enter and it took a lot more leaning over than I thought to capsize. It is probably not suitable for beginners whose balance is questionable, though. Re-entry was a little tricky put perfectly doable.
Packing up is reasonably quick – note that I do it with minimal drying on site, then re-inflate it fully once home to give it a proper wipe-down and time to dry. The drainage issue mentioned in the article is definitely evident: it’s basically impossible to get every last drop of water out, though I’d say no more than a tablespoonful was left which is not terrible. The joins between the floor and the sides also tend to attract sand and grit – the wipe-down gets rid of most, but I suspect at least a little is starting to build up there, though I don’t know how much of an issue this is in the long run as they shouldn’t rub against each other.
Despite the ‘Intermediate to advanced’ labelling, I think a beginner wanting to move on from an Intex or similar could do worse as long as they have at least a modicum of balance and confidence. I don’t think it would be for everyone though, as there are definitely more stable FDS kayaks out there. Overall I’m pretty pleased with with the Tomahawk, and hope the construction is good enough to provide many years of kayaking to come!
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.
Some observations made here have been corrected once I actually bought and used a K40.
A couple of months ago I speculated that the Incept K40 may well be the long-sought successor to my ageing Gumotex Sunny, a great IK which I feel I’ve taken to the limit over the years. You may want to read the bottom half of that page first to get the drum on the Incept, but now I’ve actually spent an afternoon paddling a K40 around Shuna Island north of Oban and can conclude that apart from price, the Incept K40 ticks all the boxes. The other boat you see in the pictures is Jon’s P&H Scorpio LV – or SinK to you and me.
Weight in dimensions I didn’t get a chance to measure and weigh the boat. The K40 is said to be 4-6 inches narrower than a Sunny and a foot and a half longer. It’s nowhere near as narrow as that sounds, as you can see on the left (Jon’s P&H Scorpio LV is only 21″ wide – cripes!) but the twin side tube construction gives higher, swamp-proof sides and more internal storage space. And it certainly looks higher in the water than a Sunny which is both good and bad.
Material and construction According to the brochure the K40 is heat-welded from “a heavy-duty but light weight high-tech Polyurethane alloy [with PVC coating] … with 1100 dernier Polyester reinforcing [which is] exceptionally strong and hard wearing and is UV protected…”. Handling the deflated boat out of the water my impression was that it felt no heavier than my 14-kilo Sunny, while the fabric felt harder, stiffer, less elastic and possibly a tad thinner than Sunny-era Nitrilon; a bit more like lino compared to a Sunny’s rafting fabric. That means when you deflate it it doesn’t collapse flat like a Sunny and it may take some effort to get it into the holdall supplied. On the Incept website they admit the material they use is less foldable than Hypalon. The stiffness (good thing for performance – less good for packing) shows when you inflate it using the supplied K-Pump K100 hand pump. I was expecting many minutes and a sore arm, but before I knew it and with very little effort the three chambers were purging their pressure release valves (PRVs) and the boat was suddenly as stiff as a board. Yes, the K40 has PRVs on all three chambers, probably because there are I-beams in the sidetubes.
It’s notable that the K40 has it’s inflation valves set in the cockpit. Should you lose pressure via the PRVs over the course of a hot day (and so lose some rigidity and performance) you could top-up on the water. One valve on the test boat was a bit stiff to release for pumping (left). The seat and footrest pump up quickly by mouth with elbow valves, like an Alpacka, but with notably thicker fabric than Alpacka uses for its seat. Once set up for your size and with the rudder attached, I imagine the boat takes no longer to get on the water than a Sunny, that’s about 10 minutes. I can’t say I scrutinised it very closely, but the quality of construction on this example looked pretty good; at least as good as a Gumo. They say heat welding means no glue to deteriorate over the years and maybe less weight too (though some parts of the boat are glued).
Getting in and out Before I saw the boat I feared the cockpit was on the small side, but it’s not. With one leg down in the boat and sat in the seat, I can bend the other leg and slide it inside; and this with full dry suit and other clobber on. No real need to sit on the back deck like on a hardshell or a Big Kahuna and best of all, while doing so the boat remains pretty stable. For getting out you can just pull out a leg, put it on the ground/seabed and stand up. Knowing this, my idea of stepping into the boat with the deck unzipped, pulling the hatch over me and then zipping up wasn’t necessary, except perhaps when you’ve unzipped to crawl back aboard after capsizing – something we tried later.
This zip-off deck really is a great idea for access, cooked up they say by IK pioneer Audrey Sutherland. How many folders and hard-shellers struggle cramming little bags through awkward deck hatches and then squeeze gingerly into their boats? I watched Jon doing just this after lunch on Shuna island. It’s the price you pay for speed on the water. With the Incept I can bung my Watershed UDB in the back, lash the other bag or a lunch box to the front deck and put more in front of my feet so I can easily see a week’s worth of supplies fitting with room to spare. I don’t recall seeing any lashing points, easily glued on one imagines, and not strictly necessary with a deck, anyway, but then again spec sheets say there are 25 of them somewhere [not on this boat]. As for paddling undecked, it can be easily achieved by removing the stiff hatch coaming road. The deck also features four curved GRP batons which slip into sleeves and are very chunky while not being bulky like Gumo Seawave alloy frames. It would still be desirable to be able to ride the K40 with the top down on a sunny summertime river in France.
I didn’t get fully to grips with the thigh straps and anyway didn’t really need them in the calm conditions, but it sure is nice to have them there as standard [they’re not], with easy-to-hand micro adjusters. I had a feeling the Java or some boat I had (the Safari?) had curved straps which sat over the knee better. It did take a conscious effort to brace against them and power on, but with the unusual stiffness of the Tasman that all helped achieve the surprisingly high speeds I recorded. In choppier conditions I’d imagine you’d use them to brace against tipping, or of course for rolling the boat, a trick I may yet learn one day.
Speed, stability and tracking The weather conditions for the test day in early March were very calm with a high pressure, white cloud and some mist, all clearing by the afternoon. On the water we headed out southwest against an incoming tide backed by a wind said to be 4mph (6kph), about as calm as it gets out on Loch Linnhe. In a couple of days it was forecast for 30mph+ out of Oban and was much calmer than our previous visit here. In these conditions stability was hardly tested but felt fine which was a relief considering the boat is 4-6 inches narrower than a Sunny and less even than the Java which was less confidence inspiring for me.
Although I took it pretty easy I never had ‘a moment’ in the K40, not even getting in and out. So with stability not an issue, next test was to see what this baby will do flat out! Jon had already cranked up 9kph on his Scorpio while I was faffing about, and hammering away with the 220-cm paddle the shop lent me (20cm shorter than I’m used to) I clocked 9.8kph (6mph) at some point against the breeze and tide, with a more readily sustainable 6-7kph (4mph).
This boat is definitely faster than my Sunny and these are about the same speeds I recorded in my Feathercraft Java a few years ago, also in calm conditions. The Incept is about 15% narrower and longer than the Sunny and a foot (30cm) shorter than the Java which is apparently wider but I very much doubt it. It has to be said that after less than 10km on the water that day I was worn out and aching, but I hadn’t paddled for nearly two months. Out with a speedy hardshell, I was sometimes ahead, not because I was faster than Jon’s P&H, but because compared to previous runs in my Sunny with him, it took him more time than he expected to catch me up when I was ahead. We had a bit of a race as you do, and he certainly pulled away faster, but I had a feeling I caught up and if I’d had my normal paddle and spandex ski jumping suit I’d have had him! One day soon we’ll do a race round two points on a loch somewhere to see how our speed and turning match up, boat for boat. We did a similar test once in the desert, jump starting a loaded Honda XR650L. I lost that one and it’s gnawed at me for years.
Speaking of which, I’ve never owned a boat with a rudder before, though I’ve tried others here and there and it was fun, especially when engaged in ramming (above). Initially I didn’t bother with steering and just used it as a trailing skeg. Foot pedal actuation seemed a bit vague as you press flaps on top of the inflatable footrest thwart to move the rudder lines, but by the end of my session I’d got the knack and with the wind and tide behind us, I was ruddering a lot more and finding it useful. A bit more experimentation with positioning and tension would pin it down. Early on I tried paddling with the rudder up, and into the wind the K40 did spin out after a few strokes if I didn’t correct hard, but then so did my Sunny before I got the knack of skeg-free paddling. Jon in his Scorpio was also deploying his retractable skeg in the same conditions and explained that in a proper Brit-style sea kayak you’d edge a bit to counteract the deflection of the wind on the front; the skeg is there to balance the defelction more than aid racking. Anyway, with the rudder always there and not vulnerable to fouling like a fixed skeg, why would you not use it except when paddling backwards, in which case it’s dead easy to flip it up and reverse all engines.
So there it is… What in Neptune’s name is there not to like about the K40 apart from the hefty price and I suppose the IK’s bete noir: appearance? Looks like a sort of over-buoyant torpedo to me, sat high in the water, but I can get over that if it takes me to more places than my Sunny.
2020: The K40 is hard to find new other than direct from Incept in NZ. Prices are high but you get a lot for your money. The rudder is not an extra and they should come with an K-Pump and a big dry bag and repair kit, but spray deck and thigh straps may be extra. The ’25 D-rings and attachment points’ you read about were not present on the test boat or the one I eventually bought. More on this post. It’s worth noting with boats like the similar Grabners, many of these basic items are expensive extras.
When I decided to buy an IK back in 1998 there were not as many models available as today. And information about inflatables was very scarce. I intended to make multi-day trips with this boat, but the only paddler I had heard of doing so was the late Audrey Sutherland. In a Sea Kayaker magazine article she mentioned she paddled a 13-foot Semperit Forelle III for extended trips in Alaska. I wanted the same boat because it was obviously proven as a durable expedition craft by her many summer trips done there.
Doing some research on the Internet I also found a very convincing article by Marge Nichols. We got in touch by e-mail and she gave me valuable information about her Grabner Holiday, almost identical to the Forelle, but now manufactured by Grabner. The good news was that Grabner was a European company and they had a reseller in Paris so I could have a look at the boat before ordering one.
I wanted a boat that I could use for multi-day solo trips, and day trips in tandem with my wife, or for taking the kids around. The boat would be paddled mostly on the sea, wherever we would take it during our vacations. It would be transported by car, bus, train or plane. As we are living in an apartment in Paris, it would be stored in our small basement unit.
The boat itself is very well made and the material is very sturdy. It doesn’t take long to inflate up to 0.3 bars (4.5 psi); less time than installing the rudder. The aluminum tubes used for backrests look like crap compared to the hull, the rudder pedals or the rudder head. The plastic part of the backrest is attached with tiny screws that did not last long and I soon replaced them with bigger screws. The wooden rudder blade is tough but not very hydrodynamically profiled. I use the rudder in a following sea (backwind) to go straight, or in beam [side] winds as the rudder helps control drifting leeward.
Compared to my rigid sea kayak the H2 is a good 30% slower. But the main performance difference is that the H2 cannot be accelerated beyond 3 knots (3.4mph), while I can boost my rigid kayak beyond 5 knots (5.7mph) for a while if need be. In a following sea the H2 doesn’t surf without a steep wave. Paddling against a short wind-induced chop is a trudge as you can’t control it with hips and knees as in a SinK, it bobs like a cork on the waves, which is annoying if it lasts a few hours.
The 3.95 metre H2 floats high on the water. Even though this means more windage, it also means less water splashing in. It does take water so I always sit in a pond, but not to the point I need to bail, except after some hours being beaten by a rough chop. I was sometimes swamped by some dumping waves when paddling inside the impact zone along exposed shores but the boat didn’t sink and was still manoeuvrable. I just had to escape the impact zone then bail the cockpit.
Being 75 cm (29.5″) wide the H2 is very stable, even more when loaded down with gear, and I never felt I was on the verge of capsizing. Just in case I did some capsizing/re-entry exercises in deep water. It’s easier to get back on board using a looped rope hanging from the boat. The H2 is short and highly manoeuvrable. It turns on itself with a few paddle strokes. Draw strokes work very well and there is no need to edge it on its chine to make a sharp turn as with a hard shell sea kayak. This makes exploring caves and rock gardens easy. There are plenty of useless footrest adjustment fittings in the cockpit (left) and none for attaching gear. I bought some D-ring fittings from Grabner and glued them in the front on each inside of the bottom tubes. Drybags are maintained by shock cord and secured by a leash. In order to push the cylindrical bag further in the front, I deflate the deck. The dry bags buoyancy is enough to compensate for the loss of the front deck buoyancy. When I stop on the shore while the tide is ebbing, if I don’t want the boat to be grounded by the receding water, I install a mooring fore and aft. For achieving this I use two painters and a netbag (made of a piece of fishing net found while beachcombing). I fill the netbag with pebbles and secure it to the aft painter. I put the bag on the rear deck so that it falls in the water if I shake the boat. The fore painter is attached to a rock or a tree on the shore. I push the boat off. When the front painter pulls the boat back, the bag falls in the water and anchors the boat. When I want to get the boat back, I just pull on the front painter and the boat comes dragging the pebble bag. Then I haul in the bag with the aft painter, remove the pebbles, tidy the painters and we’re done. When the wind is offshore I just need the fore painter. Paddles I carry two identical two-piece paddles (one spare), 230cm long with narrow grp blades, Lendal GRP shaft made by Plasmor, #1 sea kayak manufacturer in France. When traveling by plane, I carry a Lendal Kinetic 4-piece split paddle. I use shorter paddles, 218cm, with my regular rigid sea kayaks. But the width and height of the sides of the H2 require longer paddles for reaching water.