Tag Archives: Inflatable kayak skeg

Feathercraft Java kayak review

In early 2016, Feathecraft dropped the Java/Gemini and Aironaut to stick with folding kayaks.
In 2017 Feathecraft closed for good.

javasectionIn 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 javahullto 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 speed of 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 javabailerhave 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. 

Inflatable kayaks – do you need a skeg?

Revised summer 2018
See also this about rudders
And read this about decks

gumoldnewskeg

ami-skegwayShort 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 others. Some can be mounted or removed by hand even from an inflated boat, and it’s easy to glue a kit to any IK (left and right).

mod-mashskeg
gumlowskegA few years ago Gumotex IKs came with a horrible optional bolt-on alloy skeg (right) that was way too big and bent easily. After testing a smaller home-made version (left), I got some stronger low-profile alloy skegs made (behind the black one, right) and even sold a few to fellow Gumboaters. Then Gumotex introduced gumonewskega skeg near identical in shape, but in tough plastic and with clever tool-less mounting (right). I’ve fitted these plastic skegs to older Gumotex IKs and other IKs. The kit (right) is under £20 + glue, and the skeg is very tough. Just make sure you glue it on really well; it helps if your boat is made from a matching rubber fabric.

spey1304If 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 occasional correction is required, especially if powering on – for that a skeg is definitely better. grabgumskegI fitted the tough Gumotex skeg to my Grabner Amigo IK (right) and at sea used it all the time. But on the shallow Spey (left) that boat didn’t handle well without a skeg, possibly a tailwind pushed the 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.
fitskegrazorskegIt’s good to learn the technique of going straight without a skeg. 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). cezesolar
I even found I could paddle a ten-foot Solar cezesolarportwithout 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.
frogfishI’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 quite 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.

Packrafts

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On a 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 bobs a little left to right as you paddle; less so with a load mounted on the bow. Tracking – actually 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 considered it. Since 2011 we have the more pointy Alpackas where the extended stern has the same effect as a skeg. The idea has been widely copied by other manufacturers and it definitely works.

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