I sure do regret selling my Seawave. Lockdown-related production delays as well as travel-dodging staycations plus, in the UK at least, a hot summer, have seen Gumotex Rushs and a lot of other decent IKs become out of stock till the autumn. As a result, used prices have shot up. The other day a 20-year-old Sunny (below; in very good condition it must be said) went for £325 on eBay! If you have an old IK rotting in the shed, now is the time to flog it!
Chances are that old Sunny has another 20 summers in it. The Nitrilon from that era was more raft-like and one likes to think fewer corners were cut (as the 2007 LitePack Outrage proved). Something happened to Gumotex around this time: maybe someone new took over or got involved. Within a few years Gumotex prices soared as more sophisticated models were released. But not all of them: today you can still buy the Sunny’s lo-fi descendant, the Solar 3 (aka; Solar 019), a 0.2 bar, three-tube dinosaur, now 4.1m long.
I bought my 3.9-m Sunny from boatpark.cz in 2005. Stuck for a kayak in 2020, I asked the mate who I gave it to in 2011 whether he’d like to give it back. With his kids now young men and the boat unused, he was happy to oblige.
Unpacking, the Sunny was covered in damp sand and with the valves open. Some people just don’t know how to look after their boats! A quick hose down and it looks in great shape, less faded than my Seawave. Some of my old D-rings applied with crappy Gumotex glue have come adrift and there’s UV-discoloured factory glue at the seams, but the colours are still pretty bright and no seams are lifting.
I forgot about those annoying black twist-lock inflation valves with the annoyingly stiff dust caps. I blew the grit out and plugged in the aged Bravo bellows which is now so soggy it struggles to set off the PRV at 0.2bar with me putting my full weight on the pump. Was the PRV seized? I hooked up my new two-way barrel (with home-made manometer) and in seconds the PRV is spewing sand and spray. I keep going to blast any remaining crud out then give the sidetubes a taught 25%-over, 0.25 bar. Nothing rips or explodes.
I fall into the modification/improvement trap and consider replacing them with current Gumotex Push-Push valves, and even adding PRVs in the sides, as on my Seawave. But I remind myself valves can be tool-breakingly stiff and I’ll probably keep the Sunny until a Rush 2 becomes available, or maybe the rumoured DS-floored Seawave is released. That won’t be until autumn.
My clip-in Aire seat with crucial backrest supports glued on to the sidetube tops (as on the current Solar, above) works better than the crumby originals which folded in on themselves as you lent back (see the eBay Sunny, above). But with sidetube supports my Amigo / Seawave system: packraft seatbase + SoT backrest would be lighter, adjustably higher and more comfortable. Again, it’s not worth mixing the glue up unless I decide to keep the Sunny as a spare.
The long strap loop running clipped to the seat base via the second seat mounts used to clip to a small Peli box which doubled as a footrest. I remember now: to use solo you flipped the front seat to face the other way, replaced the back seat with a footrest pillow and moved the skeg to the other end. That’s why my boat unusually has the valve and PRV at the front. But for a good brace the reach was too great, even for my legs. I prefer my plastic drainpipe idea but that needs a couple of added D-rings. As it is, the seat could probably go back a bit further for solo use, so it may have to be a box or some other bodge, as my legs definitely won’t reach. Or maybe I can just do without a footrest which only really matters on long or dynamic paddles. These days I prefer a Peli under my knees where I can actually get to it without having to do 45 minutes of hot yoga.
Underneath it has that crappy old Gumotex alloy skeg system – and at each end, too. Did I do that? The original oversized alloy skeg is deeply corroded along the smaller ones I got made, and even sold to fellow Gumotards. A modern plastic skeg needs a different patch but I bet there’s a way to adapt the alloy patch to take a plastic skeg. Below, a picture of new and old skegs on our old Solar 300.
Other than that, the old dog is in good shape and would look better once I clean off the dried duct tape residue and stray glue. I weighed it off some suitcase scales: 12.7kg + another 1.5kg for the seat. First run I’m going to risk 0.25bar (3.6 psi) in the sides to see if it glides like a Seawave and stings like a bee. What’s the worst that can happen?
After a few weeks, a couple of trips and a refurb I sold the Sunny. What a great boat that was.
“Why doesn’t anyone paddle around Shark Bay, Jeff? It seems ideal for beginners like us.”
“Name puts them off I reckon. It’s famous for big tiger sharks. National Geographic did a doco there once.”
“Oh really?” I said. “I thought it was just a name…” and took a thoughtful sip from my coffee.
It was 2am in a roadhouse on the Coastal Highway north of Perth, Western Australia (WA). I’d flown in from London that evening with my boat-in-a-bag and together with Jeff’s girlfriend Sharon, we’d hit the road for the 1000-kilometre drive to Shark Bay.
Perth-based Jeff and Sharon were river paddlers and windsurfers and I’d done a couple of French rivers in my trusty Gumotex Sunny as well as some coastal days, but the three of us were new to sea kayak touring. All we wanted was a safe but inspiring introduction and despite the name, we were sure the shallow, sheltered waters of Shark Bay fitted the bill.
The Bay itself is really a stretch of the otherwise exposed WA coast on the Indian Ocean, and the Shark Bay area is protected by two thin peninsulas which protrude north for 200 kilometres, like elongated harbour walls. But at an average depth of only ten metres, Shark Bay is of little use to shipping and is best known for the daily dolphin visits at Monkey Mia beach. A regular tide of tourists flow in and out of the resort, but having made regular visits there myself as a guidebook writer, I’d long suspected there was more to this ‘Australian Baja’ than beachside photo opportunities with Flipper and the family.
Apart from anything else, Shark Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site, at the time one of only a handful which fulfilled all four criteria, being an area of evolutionary significance; ongoing ecological processes; superlative natural phenomena and biological diversity. With such impressive credentials we were sure its less-visited corners would be ideal for a mid-winter’s exploration in kayaks.
Once I established with the local parks service that paddling in such an exalted environment was permitted (Australia is full of rules), I was surprised to find just one online account of a kayak tour of the Bay: a quick visit by Australian canoeing legend Terry Bolland. Compared to Bolland’s adventures in the croc-ridden inlets of WA’s northern coast where ten-metre tides run like rivers, his Shark Bay excursion read like Lance Armstrong pedalling down to the shops to buy some milk.
Jetlag meant I was conveniently wide awake for the overnight drive and as the sky coloured with the dawn, we crossed the 26th parallel and passed a sign welcoming us to the fabled ‘Nor’ West’. We rolled into Denham, halfway up the Peron Peninsula and Shark Bay’s only settlement, populated by a mixture of snowbirds living cheek-by-jowl in the caravan park, permanent retirees in pristine bungalows and some fishing and tourist operations. We parked outside the café and waited for it to open.
For once the plan was not too ambitious. Paddle north from Denham about 60 kilometres to the tip of the Peron Peninsula, round Cape Peron to the east side, then cover the same distance south to Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, a trip that might take up to a week. We aimed to take advantage of the prevailing southwesterlies on the exposed west side of the Peron and deal with the same as headwinds on the more sheltered southbound leg.
There was no fresh water anywhere on our route, and even the townsfolk of Denham had to pay a premium for desalinated drinking water. So after breakfast we followed a network of 4×4 tracks to the tip of Cape Peron, our halfway point, and buried a cache of water and snacks. It saved carrying very heavy loads and should take us about two days to paddle here.
Setting Off With our cache stashed under the paprika-red cliffs of Cape Peron, we set off from Denham at dawn the following day. Jeff and Sharon had a Perception Eco tandem kayak the size and weight of a tanker.
The waters were soothingly calm and soon a reliable southwesterly saw Jeff hoist his Pacific Action sail on. “Bye,” I said forlornly “see you later.”
These propitious conditions didn’t last long. Soon the wind swung to the northwest, obliging us to dig in for what was to be two-and-a-half days of relentless battling. I actually enjoyed getting my teeth into a headwind, buoyed up by sightings of the extraordinarily rich marine life that give Shark Bay its special UNESCO status.
J and S took pity on my kayak-shaped lilo and hooked me up for a tow to the first of many mostly unnamed capes by which we’d measure our progress across a marine chart.
Sharon had chalked up a checklist of ‘must sees’: turtles, sharks, rays, dolphins and dugongs (sea cows). By our first beach break a green turtle had already passed beneath her bows and later, as we towed our boats through the knee-deep shallows up to half a mile off shore to rest the arms, startled manta rays submerged on the sandy seabed took flight as if shot from a bow.
Our destination that first day was the intriguing Big Lagoon which probed the peninsula’s flank like a tidal glove and promised a sheltered camp site. Twenty kilometres out to sea, Dirk Hartog Island broke the horizon: Australia’s westernmost point. The Dutch seafarer recorded the first European landing there in 1616, nailing an inscribed pewter plate to a pole. What he saw of the newfound Terra Australis was uninspiring: flat, arid and dense with scrub. It was another 150 years before Captain Cook mapped Australia’s less harsh east coast and brought about British colonisation.
A less historic lone pole marked the mouth of Big Lagoon, and as we rounded the entrance a mass of cormorants took flight, the air filling with the whiff of their oily wings. Though we’d snacked on some oysters during our afternoon wade, the day’s hard paddling had given us all an appetite so we pulled over among some mangroves for an overdue feed and a reappraisal.
It was already 4pm, and with the tide and the wind now against us we decided to leave the exploration of Big Lagoon for another day and scooted across the channel to the nearest sandy beach to make camp. We hauled out boats the last few hundred metres to the tide line.
Walking with Sharks Though only ranging around a metre, the tides in Shark Bay seem to have a mind of their own. Some days there are two as normal, but the following day there might be only one-and-a-half, or even a single 13-hour high.
This had caused Jeff some consternation with the tables, but dawn brought the tide right to our feet and once loaded up, we glided out across the mirrored lagoon. It was to be only a momentary pleasure watching our boats speed silently over the seabed; out in the open the northwesterly was hunched up, fists drawn and waiting. Heads down, we worked our way up the coastline, stopping to investigate an old pearl divers’ camp. Western Australia’s famous pearl industry had begun in Shark Bay in the mid-1800s and the corrugated iron stumps of the shacks around us, now brittle with rust, dated from that period.
Tiny fishes skimming over the surface alerted us to the distinctive tail and dorsal fins chasing them. Soon metre-long sharks began darting between our boats, racing at us then veering off at the last second in a flurry of spray. We assumed the bulky silhouettes of our trailing kayaks kept the young sharks from attacking, a theory that gained credibility when Sharon ended up running towards the beach, screaming as the sharklets circled her menacingly.
Presently the waters cleared and we hopped back into the boats, steering out into the wind around sandbanks as a long line of ochre-red cliffs long passed by. As they ended we hauled the boats ashore to set up another camp and, with daylight to spare, wandered off to explore the beach.
I found a washed-up conch the size of a watermelon while Sharon and Jeff came across a midden of oyster shells left either by 19th-century pearlers or maybe the Yamatji Aboriginal people who’d occupied the Bay prior to colonisation.
To Cape Peron Up with the sun again, but there was no calm put-in this morning. It would be another tough haul to reach Cape Peron and our mouth-watering cache. By 9am Jeff estimated it was blowing at 20 knots. “What’s that in English!?” I yelled, although the answer was immaterial. “About 30 clicks!”
Was it possible to paddle against 30kph winds? My gumboat flexed with the swell as the sea surged over the sides. Now, without the protection of Dirk Hartog Island, the unfettered Indian Ocean swells were crashing against the shore. Still, every vicious headwind had has a silver lining and as we hacked at the water, a pair of dolphins popped up to say hello. Less than 48 hours into our sea safari and only the elusive dugongs remained on Sharon’s checklist.
The seas were getting as big as I’d ever experienced, but I figured as long as the Eco did not disappear behind the swell it wasn’t that bad. I still find the idea of sea kayaking intimidating, but two days of hard paddling had toned me up and I felt confident I could face the day’s toil. Partly this was because my Sunny had the reassuring stability of a raft, even if that included comparable agility and speed! It was something I appreciated when, after breaching a gnarly reef to grab another snack on the south end of Broadhurst Bight, we set off to cross the bay to the northern edge.
That turned into a punishing marathon with the confused seas barging at us from all sides. Tying on to Jeff’s stern I’d worked the bilge pump regularly while the distant shore inched steadily by. All around the once-comforting seabed was now an unfathomable inky blue abyss.
Two hours later we staggered onto the sandy headland, having covered just five kilometres. Our morning’s efforts had put us just a couple of clicks from the tip of Cape Peron for a snack and after another forty minute burst, with my boat swilling again with seawater, we landed on the Cape’s sandy beach and retrieved our cache.
Stuffing our faces with jellies, sausage and now with plenty of water, we were keen to round the Cape because at last the wind would out of our face! We pushed out and once rafted up, Jeff hoisted his sail which filled instantly with a satisfying SLAP! Soon we were skimming along at two or three times our paddling speeds, water lapping over our bows, heading southeast into Herauld Bight.
Sailing with Dugongs We were sitting back, our paddles over our knees and enjoying chatting without yelling when Sharon exclaimed “Dugongs!!” Several huge, dun-coloured profiles emerged against the dark seagrass bank on which they’d been feeding, and before long we were right among a herd of twenty sea cows, caught unawares by our stealthy windborne raft. At times our bows nearly ran over them, the water ahead exploding as their powerful tail flukes blasted them out of range.
By dusk our unexpected run downwind had doubled our day’s mileage. Once ashore I foraged for firewood while Sharon and Jeff got cooking. As we wolfed down our food, wafts of a gorgeous aroma drifted over from the fire. Intrigued, I walked over and realised one especially large chunk or timber was precious sandalwood. A century ago WA had got rich quick supplying this raw material for incense to nearby Asia. Now the last reserves in WA were said to be in Shark Bay. We pulled the log off, finished off the meal and with the wind still blasting down the bight, retreated to our tents.
Across Hopeless Reach By the time I’d dried out my tent after it blew into the sea, the tide had come in to meet us again and under sail we windsurfed round into Hopeless Reach. Here, prophetically, the wind dropped and it was back to good old-fashioned paddling, albeit on much calmer seas. By mid-afternoon we could see Cape Rose a few kilometres from Monkey Mia resort. We didn’t want it to end yet and so strung out the day with fruitless fishing and exploring the scrubby cliff tops on foot.
As we approached Monkey Mia next morning, bottle-nosed dolphins cruised past, soon followed by a tourist catamaran and all the commotion of the resort. We beached the boats one last time and while Jeff hitched back to Denham to get the van another ranger-led dolphin visitation ensued before a line of excited tourists.
Sure it’s fun seeing a dolphin close up, but the three of us couldn’t help feeling rather smug about our thrilling encounters out in the Bay. The tourists were standing ankle deep with half-tame dolphins, but we’d worn the paint off our paddle shafts, sailed with sea cows and walked with sharks!
With three months on the coast of northwest Scotland lined up for 2011 I was looking for a more seaworthy boat than the Sunny or making the Sunny faster (see this and this). Two weeks watching the weather blow through September 2010 showed it changes a lot up there. First from the east then the west, it blew at up to 50mph so when it’s good you’ve got to drop everything and get out there. But if it changes on the water while most probably paddling alone you want to be sure you can get back fast and not have to jeopardise making progress by either bailing in a frenzy or struggling to re-board. Well, that’s the way I see it. In Shark Bay, it didn’t take much of a swell – maybe a metre – to fill the Sunny up every 20 minutes or so. I’d hook onto Jeff’s tandem and they paddled while I pumped. And that was the warm Indian Ocean not The Minch, off the North Atlantic. It’s not like I’ll be setting off for St Kilda every weekend to pick up half a dozen gannet eggs, but either a deck or self-bailage is needed to be able to paddle alone around there with security. As you do, over the previous months I gone through periodic frenzies of internet research. A hardshell SinK was never in the running. I don’t like being jammed in those things, they’re awkward to transport and would need getting rid of after. Plus I can rent a decent sea kayak locally. Instead, I wondered about the other extreme, an SoT; very popular with the rec paddling masses who may not know a hard chine from a Chinese burn, but have a whole lot of inshore fun nevertheless. Most SoTs are wide enough to do the Can-Can while wearing flippers and come in awful ‘explosion-in-a-paint-factory’ colour schemes.
The angler-oriented models are less hideous and I narrowed it down to an Ocean Kayak Prowler 15 (above left) or OK’s slimmer Scupper Pro (above). One went on ebay for just 300 quid while I was thinking about where I could store it. They say an SP is from the same mould as an RTM Tempo (left; 24kg 4.5, on 67cm) and their Disco (below right; 23kg 4.3, on 65cm) looks pretty good too for a plastic sea clog (the shape I mean – not the colour). Fast I imagine, easy as a bike to get on and off, but might require suiting up too often to be fun without getting chilled. Either of these would be a lot of fun if I lived in Florida or the Aegean. Not so sure about northwest Scotland.
So according to my calculations that left a folder, and for me the pick of the bunch has always been Feathercraft’s Big Kahuna (left; 4.5m x 64cm; 16kg – 14′ 9″ x 25″; 35lbs) featuring an extra big cockpit for creaky old men who can’t bend like they used to could. Feathercrafts are expensive and the marked up price new in the UK is so far beyond the pale to give them an admiring cachet among paddlers. I missed one in the UK for £1800 then tracked down another in Hawaii with every last option plus a few extras for £2200. I could have brought it back and then sold it in the UK for what it cost after 3 months paddling.
It then turned out matey down the road had a Big K so we went out for a spin on the local, freezing river this week. Moreaboutthat here. Short version: the BK would be a flaming good yak that could be left assembled for the duration and wouldn’t get turned away by security at the Sea Kayak Christmas Ball. On the scungy Medway it took a bit of turning in my clumsy hands but tracked fine, glided smoothly and weighs only 16kg; easy enough to portage on the shoulder. But it still has that unnerving SinKiness I don’t like and is a bit awkward to get out of – well for a spaz like me with a dodgy shin and who’s used to IKs you can fall into drunk. The Feathercraft would have been a lovely boat up in the Isles, but has the same re-entry issues as any SinK. The way I see it, if it’s bad enough that you tip over, getting back in and staying upright long enough to pump it out is going to take some luck alone. Until I learn how to roll a kayak I don’t fancy that at all. Nevertheless, I was all set on buying the slinky BK as it would cost me nothing once sold on and doubtless have been a pleasure to behold. Then Gael from SSKT slapped me out of it and pointed out that Incept from NZ will be selling their decked K40 IK in the UK next year – and without a usual horrendous UK mark up (Knoydart take note…). UK distributors Seakayakoban tell me they have a demo in stock now with the next delivery in March for around £1500.
The K40 is similar to the Grabner Holiday II which might be classed as one of the original twin-side beam IKs which begat the Gumotex Seakers I and II. The solo Seaker 1 (left; 4.8m x 75cm – 18 inches more than a K40 and 3 inches wider) is officially as expensive as the K40, though has been going at half price ($1500) from Innova in the US. A fellow IK blogger recently got one. At just £1000 that’s a great price, but the problem is the deck is fixed (packing and drying issues, IMO) and it manages to weigh no less than 33 kilos/73lbs according to the Gumo.cz website (US distributors Innova claim 60lbs/27kg). Whatever it is, I had a chance to buy a used Seaker from Czecho a year or two back for just £800, but pulled out when I appreciated you can’t take a boat that heavy on a plane too easily, nor haul it too far.
Readers have occasionally emailed me about decking a Sunny. It could be done I suppose by gluing velcro or a zip onto the sides or maybe some understraps, or even an elastic-edged canopy, like fitted bed sheets. How good will that look if I was left to do it?
It’s actually something that might be a little easier to achieve with a semi-decked Gumo Helios II (above left) were it not for those ghastly sewn-in seats they have. In fact I see Grabner offer such a thing with their Helios-like Explorer II (right; 5m x 75cm) as part of the €600 accessory package. Nein danke.
So, the Incept K40 Tasman Like Gumotex, Aire, NRS and the rest, Incept seems to be an established raft manufacturer who’s turned to IKs. The Incept K40 Tasman (4.3m x 69cm; 17kg. 14′ 3″ x 27; 37lbs) seems to have been refined since I last looked at their website at which time there was no UK distribution that I could see. There seem to have been at least two other versions but this one looks the most complete by far and following this investigation I bought a K40. I don’t know about you but for an IK, that picture below is of a pretty good looking boat. I do wonder about the 27-inch width, being used to the 30-inch Sunny, but at 30-inches I cannot imagine ever tipping out of a Sunny short of getting crossed up against a rock or branch a couple of times. If I measure 27 inches across my lap, it looks just right as long as you’re sat low. The simple answer is of course to go up to Oban for a demo.
Just like the Alpacka the K40 has a deck that zips across to one side to roll up for sunny, calm days. We like that about IKs; it keeps the legs tanned and makes packing, drying and, if necessary, draining the boat mid-water so much easier.
The hull is composed of three I-beamed chambers with twin-beam sides to help give its 14 feet better rigidity. The Sunny had round, single chamber sides which, although they get nice and taut on a hot day, the boat still flexes with the swell or even just with my weight in it. With I-beam chambers the K40 features pressure-relief valves on all three chambers including the sides rated at 5psi which are out of the water. This reduces the strain on the welded I-beam seams but it’s possible that some air will be purged through the valves as it expands in the course of a hot day. For this reason I see that Incept recommends carrying a small, top-up pump (right) as can be seen on the deck of the kayak pictured above. With it, you can re-pressurise the boat for maximum performance, and this can be done on the move as the valves (grey) are right there in the cockpit (the sidewall PRVs are behind the seat). The twin beams also add up to less width (69cm or 27 inches – 3-4 inches less than my Sunny) and so more speed – although re-entry may be harder and all without – I hope – making it too tippy. It’s got a rudder because those high sides may catch a crosswind at times. Scoffed at by Brit sea kayakers who use boats that have hull profiles designed to turn when leaning out (very odd if you’re a motorbiker!), with a rudder you can paddle normally across the wind and use the rudder to correct the tracking.
A rudder will be good for sailing too. The boat also comes with a neoprene spray deck, a handy K-Pump and even thigh straps to enable control across a swell, better core muscle work-outs I reckon, and even eskimo rolling. In fact my boat came with no spray deck, no straps, no strap fittings (though there are markers), but it did have a K-Pump. Thigh straps are one thing I missed on a Sunny, more for the efficiency of paddling effort against the torso, than balance and control of tippiness (not a problem with that boat outside of hurricane conditions). While getting the drum on the K40 I came across this videoof a Kiwi guy who did an NZ South Island coast-to-coast over a fortnight. That is, upstream from the Tasman Sea, tough portage to a pass, then paddling down to the Pacific. (Ain’t these guys heard of packrafts!) His less driven mate came along in a 100-year old wooden replica boat – they were engaged in a historic C2C re-enactment using old and new craft.
It’s actually three, short videos of two guys having a little Kiwi back country adventure. Have a look at the K40 in action on vid II at 2:20. Many times on the rivers and seas you’ll see how a relatively modest waves wash over the deck of the K40 – a Gumo Sunny would be a brimming paddling pool at this point. And again the vid reminds me of the advantages of an IK when it comes to bouncing off rocks and general abuse that would hurt a hardshell or loosen the joints of a taut folder like a Big Kahuna.
After nearly six years of splashing about, this week I gave my sun-faded Gumotex Sunny away to a mate and his kids. It was probably only worth £100. Coincidentally, Gumotex confirmed they’ve stopped selling the Sunny in Europe while introducing the new and near-identical Solar 410C.
In North America Innova (Gumotex importers) continue to sell the Sunny, although theboatpeople in California have taken it upon themselves to import the 410C direct from Gumotex alongside the slightly cheaper Sunny. There are stats on that model right here and a comparison with vaguely similar IKs here. I can confidently say I got my £220-worth out of my Sunny Gumboat since I bought it in 2006. It has at least as many years of use left in it and never failed in any way other than filling with water when the going got too rough. It’s a tough old boat and like your first decent car or motorbike, I’ll always have a soft spot for the Sunny for introducing me to packboat touring.
My only regret is I didn’t get a chance to try it out with my home made sail. Or keep it long enough to try out the hull-stiffening rods to see if they made any difference whatsoever. It’s an idea that may need doing on a Solar 410C. The Incept K40 is notably stiffer and in the pics and vid doesn’t appear to sag at all with me in it. Much of what I liked and disliked about my old Mk1 Sunny or the much-improved final Mk3 Sunny, will apply to the new Solar 410C. Be warned though, at 4.1m it might sag if you’re a solo bloater like me. The hull is covered in ‘Max 0.2 bar’ stamps but you can try giving it 5psi/0.3bar (50% more than recommended) to make it stiffer.
In 2013 I sold the Incept and went back to basics with a discontinued Grabner Amigo (above). Like the Incept, it’s rated at 5psi, but comes with no rudder, deck, PRVs, footrests or even seats to speak of. It’s what you might call a high-pressure (super rigid) Sunny or 410C.
A short slide show of an afternoon’s paddling we did a couple of years ago after the Spey. Jon in the Carolina found this route description in this book, winding in and out of a few islands and so never far from a shore which was fine by us. It’s hardly ‘out there’ but for us it was quite a step up, calculating the tides, wind, currents, UV refraction index and negotiating the swell that might have exceeded two feet at times – plus dealing with some dodgy rip on the way back that was there just where the route description said it would be. After the castle, coming back in between Shuna island and the shore, the wind or tide or something was against me while Jon glided effortlessly forth in his hard plastic boat. That’s the good thing with an IK, you get a free work out! All in all, a lovely October’s day on the Scottish west coast.
The Aire Cheetah seat (left) turned out to be no worse than the inflatable original, but was a bit lighter – even though it weighs just over 2kg. I’ve also set it up so I clip the seat to the boat’s seat mounts (which originally used a knotted bit of rope) so I can take it out at camps or to dry/clean the boat. Plus, along with the box for a footrest (below), it’s one less thing to pump up.
Firm backresting was a problem with the OE seat; or to be precise, fitting points to hold the back of the seat upright as you push back with your feet. Because the support strap is attached from the seat top to the front seat base, as you lean bank it just pivots rather than supports. The 410C is much better in this respect. To cut a long story short, I imitated them by gluing mounts to the hull’s side tubes to attach to the seat top. This way the pulling force is in a better line and the seat doesn’t pull down. Some say though that the old-style seat have better back support than the plain Mk2/3 style Sunny seats. Since fitting on the side tube mounts (the real answer to this problem) I don’t think about the seat now which must mean it works. The Aire seat is still a bit heavy though.
Footrest The OE inflatable footrest pillow was non-adjustable (on the 410C it is) and always too far away to be effective, even for me at 6′ 1″, so I replaced it with a 5010 Otter box (left), which of course has uses to store stuff on the water.
However I then noticed the strain of me pushing back off the box was tearing the lower seat mount tabs glued to the hull (where the rope used to be). The box is now attached directly to the seat with adjustable slings. This way I now push inside a ‘closed loop’ made up of the seat and box, so only straining the sling and clip joins which make up the loop – and not the boat mounts. Of course this does mean there’s some energy-absorbing slack between me and the boat, but it’s a gumboat not a K1 racer alas, so will have to do.
Although I find I’m happy to paddle with my legs lying flat, when you want to go for it a firm foot brace and a bent knee are much better, but require a fairly solid seat to push against. The long box-to-seat strap loop seems to work OK and I discovered a side benefit; the straps can be pulled over my knees to make thigh braces (right); another possibly handy feature when the going gets rough. It’s not like bracing directly off the hull or anywhere near as good as with a SinK’s ‘underdeck’; it’s more to achieve good paddle thrust using the core not the arms which they keep telling you to do. And anyway, even in the roughest rapids I’ve done, the Sunny feels stable enough without thigh braces and if anything I prefer having my legs free to stick out to steady myself (or fall out neatly). The Sunny usually swamps long before things get hairy enough to tip it over.
As mentioned above, sometimes I feel with the Cheetah seat that my butt ought to be a bit higher. It’s also pretty heavy at 2 kilos (4.5 lbs). Now I’ve inherited a spare new-style Alpacka packraft seat (left), I may try and adapt it to fit the Sunny. The Alpacka seat is not half as robust as the OE Gumo Nitrilon seat so it needs to be supported in a way that won’t wreck it. I haven’t worked out how to do that is yet; maybe a stick across the hull like a Grabner, but that requires gluing. This seat will be higher than the Aire which is an important feature with kayaks: butt higher than heels is much more sustainable, comfortable and efficient for paddling, so you want to set a seat as high as you feel safe, bearing in mind CoG and stability as discussed here. The Alpacka seat also weighs just 220 grams (half a pound), saving nearly 1.5 kilos, or nearly 10% of a Sunny, and a bit of bulk… (but I got rid of the Sunny before I had a chance to work this one out).
A skeg is like a fixed ‘rudder’ under the back of the boat and makes it easier to go straight (track). Only the very cheapest single-skin vinyl IKs don’t have skegs (Grabner, one of the most expensive IKs, is an exception; though it’s an option). If you’re IK doesn’t have one, it’s easy to glue one on (see below).
Some flat-floored IKS have up to three (imo, a gimmick) and many skegs on Chinese-made IKs are unnecessarily tall (too deep) which makes them snap-prone. Just about all skegs can be easily removed by hand, because in shallow rivers you might want to do so to avoid grounding. You can as easily buy a spare and trim it with a hacksaw.
Years ago Gumotex introduced a slip-on, black plastic tracking fin (skeg, above) which was near identical in shape to one I’d had made to replace the old-style oversized alloy skeg (left). A smaller skeg made better clearance and still tracked fine. But metal bends; tough plastic is much better and that’s what all their boats come with now. I’ve fitted these plastic skegs to older Gumotex IKs and other IKs. The kit is about £25 + glue, and the plastic skeg is pretty much unbreakable. Just make sure you glue the mounting patch 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. But I have glued PVC to rubber successfully – use good two-part glue. The pictures below help you see where to position a skeg.
I fitted the Gumotex plastic skeg to my Grabner Amigo IK (above) and at sea used it all the time. But on the shallow River Spey (below) this boat didn’t handle at all well without a skeg, possibly because the tailwind pushed the kicked-up stern around. It was really quite annoying because a few years earlier my broadly similar Sunny managed the Spey just fine without a skeg, so skeg-free tracking clearly varies from boat to boat.
Paddling without a skeg 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 ground. A little more paddling finesse and constant smallcorrections are required, especially if powering on. It’s good to learn this technique before you need to: 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 300 (above) 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 Viking longship will bow deflection or yawing get too much because to paddle faster and still go straight you need a skeg. Out at sea or on busier rivers, I always use a skeg.
I’ve often thought a hinged retractable skeg would be a good idea: it would pivot backwards when dragging in shallows, then drop back down when there’s enough depth. It seems SUPs need skegs and in the US, FrogFish have made such a thing for boards, but you hear the spring can be a weak point. If your kayak has a rudder mount (or you can make one), another way of doing it is fitting a swing-down skeg similar to kayak rudders. It works the same way as a rudder with a looped cord swinging the skeg up over the stern, or down into the water. The pivot skeg shown top right is made by Advanced Elements for their AirFusion IK and costs about $/£80. Or have a look here.
On shorter, wider, slower solo packrafts the consensus used to be that skegs made little difference. Especially when unloaded and with a full-weight paddler, the bow yaws merrily left to right as your paddling pivots the boat from the back. Or so I used to think until I tried the skeg on my Rebel 2K. Up to then I’d been ambivalent about them – using the same boat fully loaded a few weeks earlier on a fast flowing river, yawing had not been an issue. But unloaded (and with my generous 95kg of ballast) yawing was notably reduced with a skeg. Speed however, was the same or was too small to measure.
One reason some packrafts may manage without a skeg is that way back in 2011 Alpacka invented the ingenious extended stern (right). It helped limit yawing much like a skeg, and effectively positioned the paddler more centrally, like a kayak, while also adding trim. This idea has been widely copied by just about everyone since and it definitely works, compared to the original Alpackas. But as mentioned, once there’s a good load over the bow, yawing is reduced in any packraft. Anfibio sell a detachable shallow skeg and glue-on patch for €21. My Rebel 2K came with a skeg and I must admit I use it most of the time now. But it does not have a fully extended stern like the Alpacka above right. Then again, my longer Nomad tracked great without the skeg.
Frontal skeg? Now I have a longer 2.8-m Anfibio Sigma TXL and I am curious to see if adding a frontal skeg will take a difference. Seated centrally or two-up, this boat does not yaw from the boat like an unloaded solo packraft, but it does wander a bit (track poorly), especially with the inflated floor pad). Results soon.