Tag Archives: Ocean Kayak Prowler

The Case for Open Boats (SoT, IK, SuP)

…The sit-in vs sit-on saga is complex and deep because it doesn’t just involve design, seaworthiness and technical stuff such as stability and comfort. You’ve got to throw tradition, experience, pride, machismo and credibility into the mix.

Lone Kayaker

I came across Rupert K’s Lone Kayaker blog, an intrepid Devon based chap who has an uncanny knack in spotting and photographing marine life from his kayak. I tracked his online adventures from the Southwest up to a sail-boat assisted visit to the Western Isles, including a nail-biting solo lap of St Kilda. Even in a spell of good weather, that’s still pretty out there.

I assumed all this had been knocked out in the usual high-end hardshell sea kayak, but looking more closely at the few photos, it seemed to be some sort of Sit-on-Top I’d not seen before: long and low and slim like a proper sea kayak – but with the legs airing off under the breezy sky. Well I never.
Just as people write-off IKs on the basis of gaudy, vinyl beach toys seen flying past in a gust of wind, I too had made a similar assumption that ‘all SoTs’ may be fun, easy to paddle and cheap, but are wide and heavy.

Not a 22-kilo, 5.5m, 22-inch-wide Cobra Expedition with something called a kick-down venturi bailer*. They don’t make the Cobra X any more, but it looks like it and similar touring SoTs are based on the surfski idea (left): long, narrow, tippy but fast ocean playboats popular in the warm waters of South Africa and ANZ, but not a thing you’d go touring in. A rudder is vital to keep on top of things, but unlike a typical surfski, the Cobra had hatches to enable storage in the sealed, unsinkable hull.

* A kick-down venturi bailer is some sort of heel-operated cockpit water dump valve which opens a backward pointing drain spout. It derived from small, racing sail boats and moved on to surfskis – probably. Kick the valve open and as you move through the water, any water in the kayak’s footwell or cockpit gets sucked down and drawn out in a few seconds (the venturi effect), after which you close the valve clamp to reseal the footwell. With the valve open at a standstill, the low footwell might partly fill up with water. You will see in the Cobra reviews on paddling.com that some owners complain about leaking seals on their venturi valves.
Self-bailers – certainly IKs like the ROBfin or most Aire IKs – need to have the floor well well above the bailing drain holes and general water level if the paddler isn’t to be sitting in water most of the time. But seating a super-slim surfski needs to be as low as possible if there is to be any chance of not tipping out. You get wet anyway in a surfski or SoT, but a valve like this enables a low floor plus hands-free bailing on the move. I imagine a slim surfski is like a bicycle: you need to keep moving to not fall over.
You do wonder if these valves might eventually find their way on to fixed-floor drop-stitch IKs. As we know, many have floor plugs anyway to aid draining and drying of unreachable cavities. The thing is, SoT’s and surfskis have basin-like floor and seat wells which drain easily. The idea will work less well with a flat D-S floor.

Like me, he’s enjoyed owning a lot of boats over the years to find what suits him best and listed a Top Ten here. It even includes a couple of Gumboats and also lists many of the SoTs: RTM Disco, Scupper Pro, Prowler – which I briefly considered after reaching the limits of my bendy Sunny in Shark Bay. Then I discovered the K40 – like the Cobra, another Kiwi design – and a whole lot of other IKs better suited to my kind of paddling.
There are more provocative SoT vs Sink thoughts here (quoted top of the page) which, depressingly, references the occasional snobbery of SINKers, especially towards IKs. As I say here, my theory is this contempt is initially based on the appearance of the cheapest IKs: there sure are some hideous Bloaty MacBloatface IKs out there!

It’s worth reading his summary at the end of his Scottish trip (quoted below). I couldn’t agree more and is why I can never see myself buying a hardshell, even if they perform better most of the time. There’s more to paddling than that. As an avowed packboater, I won’t get getting an 18-foot SoT either, but it’s good to now know such things exist and as Lone Kayaker proves, enable SINK-like exploration.

… And of course hugely safe. If you have a spill you just climb back on. Or do you? In the same way as I would suspect that a average paddler in a conventional sea kayak could not roll up if they get tipped over in a big sea (and if they did, they would be subject to exactly the same conditions that just tipped them over, so they would probably go over again), I would worry that I may not be able to get back on my SOT. It’s fine if it’s flat, but conditions bad enough to result in a capsize (surf excluded) would be pretty nasty anyway.
However at least I would have the chance of a simple re-entry and not be struggling with a swamped kayak, pumping it out, etc.
The sit-on-top/sit-in kayak (SINK)  debate is potentially very long. I just like to keep things ultra simple. Simplicity means more time on the water and less time faffing about. Float it out onto the water.Sit on and go. No struggling with a spray deck on the beach and then scrunching across the stones it into the sea.
Yes OK you need a decent drysuit for all season SOT paddling, but apart from that, clutter is a minimum.
Considering my expedition round the west of Scotland as a whole, there were three or four occasions when I was concerned about my safety because of the sea state. Probably unnecessarily so, as I never came close to capsize. But paddling round the ‘dark side’ of St. Kilda I would have been in a state of severe anxiety if I was in a SINK. The unsinkable, unswampable feature of SOTs with their drainage holes provide a feeling of security.
I suppose it boils down to enjoyment. My expedition was probably 80% enjoyment, 20% worry. If I was in a SINK that would have been 50%/50%.
I could go on and on, and be a bit of a bore about the SOT advantages. Maybe it’s because they are so sneered at by most SINK sea kayakers.

Lone Kayaker

Preview: Incept K40 Tasman kayak

Missed the K40 intro? – it’s here.
For a brief test run, skip to this.
For initial impressions of my K40, go here.

With three months on the coast of northwest Scotland lined up for 2011 I was looking for a more seaworthy boat than the Sunny or making the Sunny faster (see this and this). Two weeks watching the weather blow through September 2010 showed it changes a lot up there. First from the east then the west, it blew at up to 50mph so when it’s good you’ve got to drop everything and get out there. But if it changes on the water while most probably paddling alone you want to be sure you can get back fast and not have to jeopardise making progress by either bailing in a frenzy or struggling to re-board. Well, that’s the way I see it.
In Shark Bay, it didn’t take much of a swell – maybe a metre – to fill the Sunny up every 20 minutes or so. I’d hook onto Jeff’s tandem and they paddled while I pumped. And that was the warm Indian Ocean not The Minch, off the North Atlantic.
It’s not like I’ll be setting off for St Kilda every weekend to pick up half a dozen gannet eggs, but either a deck or self-bailage is needed to be able to paddle alone around there with security.
As you do, over the previous months I gone through periodic frenzies of internet research. A hardshell SinK was never in the running. I don’t like being jammed in those things, they’re awkward to transport and would need getting rid of after. Plus I can rent a decent sea kayak locally.
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. More about that here. Short version: the BK would be a flaming good yak that could be left assembled for the duration and wouldn’t get turned away by security at the Sea Kayak Christmas Ball. On the scungy Medway it took a bit of turning in my clumsy hands but tracked fine, glided smoothly and weighs only 16kg; easy enough to portage on the shoulder. But it still has that unnerving SinKiness I don’t like and is a bit awkward to get out of – well for a spaz like me with a dodgy shin and who’s used to IKs you can fall into drunk.
The Feathercraft would have been a lovely boat up in the Isles, but has the same re-entry issues as any SinK. The way I see it, if it’s bad enough that you tip over, getting back in and staying upright long enough to pump it out is going to take some luck alone. Until I learn how to roll a kayak I don’t fancy that at all.
Nevertheless, I was all set on buying the slinky BK as it would cost me nothing once sold on and doubtless have been a pleasure to behold. Then Gael from SSKT slapped me out of it and pointed out that Incept from NZ will be selling their decked K40 IK in the UK next year – and without a usual horrendous UK mark up (Knoydart take note…). UK distributors Seakayakoban tell me they have a demo in stock now with the next delivery in March for around £1500.

The K40 is similar to the Grabner Holiday II which might be classed as one of the original twin-side beam IKs which begat the Gumotex Seakers I and II. The solo Seaker 1 (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 video of 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.