Gale warning 23 May 09:53 UTC Violent storm force 11 veering northwesterly imminent, decreasing gale force 8
That storm hit some 200 miles west of here in Rockall, but you get the picture; it’s kite-shredding weather round here right now. Friday afternoon Ardmair near Ullapool recorded nearly 100 kph (62 mph), while we sat at the window and watched the sound run with streaks of foam. The way it’s blowing now I’d not be surprised if it gets over a 100 this week. As it turns out, along with us, the weather station up the loch went down in a 4-hour power cut at the height of the storm, but by then I read it reached 100 mph (160 kph) on the other side of Scotland.
A week ago intrepid French IK sea kayaker Gael A. set off from Skye to complete the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail (SSKT) which he started last August and wrote up for this blog. At that time he managed a fair chunk of the route before the weather turned. This time he was far less lucky; after a record hot April in the UK, May is turning into a bonanza harvest for wind farmers. By last Tuesday Gael had crossed over from Rona island to the mouth of Loch Torridon (above left, midway on the 9km crossing) and got up as far as he could before the fierce wind forced him back to camp.
Next day he reached Sheildaig, at one point noting the spring tide flooding a patch of wildflowers. The forecast summaries I was texting him were not promising: days of F5-7 ahead. He was in a fix because from Torridon he had an exposed 45-km section past Gairloch to get around Rubha Reidh headland before turning east towards Loch Ewe, the Summer Isles and Ullapool, the finish line of the SSKT. Providing we could handle the conditions, Jon and I had hoped to meet him ‘after the scary bit’ somewhere around Loch Ewe and paddle for a couple of days together.
Gael is pretty experienced – 40 years sea yaking man and boy – so by Wednesday night he knew the game was up in the time he had left. Next day I drove down to pick him up and take him back to his car on Skye, if for no other reason than it’s a fabulous drive across Wester Ross that I’d not done before. There are scores of dramatic valleys like that up here and Loch Torridon itself is a fabulous spot I’d like to return to with my packboats. The whole of the northwest above Skye really is something else as the many touring bikers and pushbikers were no doubt finding out for themselves. The tiny hamlet of Sheildaig is a time-lost, lobster-pot fantasy tucked up an inlet. It didn’t take long to find Gael so we went over to his camp by the jetty, loaded the car and headed to Skye.
The Sound of Sleat off Kyleakin (left) was calm enough, but out beyond the bridge the sea had a bit of a head on it. We had a 1970s-era lunch, Gael checked out with the police in Lochalsh and decided to hang out up here on the off chance the weather improved and he or we could make a little tour of the Summer Isles. He was also keen to try out my Incept as his Grabner was showing the years. In fact is was he who last year pointed out that Incept K40 had evolved since I last checked it out. For me it was also a good chance to interrogate an experienced sea kayaker about the Ways of the Sea. Among the many skills I feel I lack is the judgement to know when it’s safe to got out and when I ought to turn back: interpreting clouds and wind changes, forecasts and sea states. It’s a lot of stuff to understand so we spent Friday chatting while refreshing various forecast websites: Saturday looked like a bit of a lull so Jon came up to for a paddling threesome.
We did the best we could on Saturday and set out from the campsite beach (left) to plant our flags on the calm side of Isle Ristol (which you can walk to at very low tide). Old Dornie was standing room only that day as a local skiff racing regatta was on, postponed from last weekend when Jon and I spent our time daring ourselves to do something and go somewhere.
Sat in the back of his aged H2 Grabner like a canoeist, Gael was far more confident than us – pushing out over some surf raised by a reef while we scurried away, appalled. We beached on Ristol for lunch then turned around into the wind blowing through Old Dornie harbour, dodging the skiffing crews (right) hauling out to a buoy and back to the cheers of the crowds until – to quote Gael – it got at least as ‘lively’ (below) as the previous weekend when we’d taken a while to get the hang of it all. Hauling against the wind the two clicks to the main Summer Isles looked a bit of a reach.
We turned back to the campsite launch as it filled with tooled-up sea kayakers who I fear were not going to have the great weekend’s paddling they’d come for. We headed over to Achnahaird Beach on the north side which ought to be either sheltered or with an offshore wind, depending on how you looked at it. Once in, I pointed to a Point and said let’s go there! but the Wise Old Man of the Sea advised we keep along the leeside cliffs in case the wind picked up as was predicted. The sea was flat enough between gusts but had a big, rolling swell which was an odd sensation I’ve not experienced before. I wasn’t sure if I should be anxious or just enjoy the ride.
Once in a while a series of bigger swells rolled by and churned around the outcrops, or crashed against the red sandstone cliffs, but without any real danger to a boater as there was no surf. We’ve all seen impressive sea kayaking long lens shots like that; relaxed yaker in profile with a backdrop of white-foam carnage. Even under skies which looked like they were about to collapse under their own weight (choose any pic nearby), it was a nice end to the day, running past the moss-clad cliffs and spooky caves from which pealed unrecognisable squawks. A lone seal popped up from a distance to check us out and to the east rose the naked spurs of Suilven, Cul Mor and Stac, carved out of the Assynt’s bedrock during the last Ice Age.
Jon glided along in his LV like he was on rails; you got to hand it to these hardshell SinKs, they may be a pain to carry on the Tube but they sure look good on the water – viewed from the stable-as-a-cow-pat perch of an IK, of course! Heck, it all felt like proper sea kayaking. Further up, around Rubha na Coigach headland I dare say it all gets pretty hairy, but it sure would be nice to cruise further along this coast with the Mrs some warm, calm and sunny evening.
And before the weekend was done, Gael got onto Sea Kayak Oban and bought their K40 test boat which I tried out last March. He got a great deal all things considered; I’d have bought it myself had I not already ordered my yellow boat. So that’s at least two K40s in action on the high seas; mine, his and maybe yours too soon.
What’s in the bag? The other night I tipped out the contents of the blue bag and unrolled the boat from a factory-packed volume which, like a new Alpacka, it’s never likely to regain (see below in red). It all added up to:
Blue roll top dry bag Boat with deck lines and all rudder controls/lines Rudder assembly Flexible hatch coaming rod Inflatable seat Four GRP battens which slip into the deck to give it form K-Pump in a bag with adaptors and grease Boat repair kit (glue, a dozen patches and a valve adaptor, see red) Basic instructions and an NZ leaflet on safe sea kayaking
Dimensions According to my atomically calibrated measuring instruments, the boat alone weighs 14.8kg + 2.2kg for rudder, seat, repair kit and pump. It’s 4.3m long, 69cm wide and 45cm wide inside (32.6 lb + 4.8 lb; 14′ 1″; 27″; 18″). The table from this post compares dimensions on similar IKs. At 17kg the K40 actually feels pretty light and as long as it’s empty, not too windy and the path is easy, I can carry the kayak on my head or the back of my shoulders.
What’s not in the bag – a spray deck. You get the impression that it’s a special shape/item and so ought to be included, but I’m told it’s €103 euros for the one Incept recommend. It’s hard to ascertain exactly what you’re buying from the small image buried on their website, but similar skirts go for around half that price in the UK. I bought a nylon cheapie to be getting on with. It’s actually not badly made for 19 quid, with taped seams and a decent coated material; it’s just way too long, so I had to cut it down.
Aa K40 sits a lot higher than a regular hardshell kayak, so I imagine a skirt would only be necessary when it gets really rough (by which time you probably have other issues) or cold, or you confidently expect to be able to extract yourself from capsizing with one smooth swipe of your blade. It would be nice to master a roll, but I suspect that crawling back into a K40 with decks unzipped is less difficult, especially with a paddle float. More on that here.
The hatch is 71cm long, 41cm wide and 186cm circumference (28″ x 16″ x 73″), if that helps you select a spray deck. Although it’s statistically small, I’ve sat in worse and as it’s not rigid, even I can pull my legs up to get out while still seated.
Thigh straps are a €66 option. Fair enough, but my boat has no D-rings (left, Incept’s pic) for the straps, just markings where to fix them. Some boats get patches, some don’t I was informed (probably heat-welded, left). Otherwise it’s a lot messy work gluing some on (below left), which will either cost you over £50 for four Incept patches sent over from NZ. Or you can spend hours on the internet looking for alternatives. I fretted, thinking I must buy actual Incept ones which are made from the same PVC-urethane material as the hull. As well as clean surfaces and a good roller, on inflatables the adhesive/material combination is critical for a good, permanent seal.
The actual Incept PVC patches cost $NZ12, similar to the UK from places like PolyMarine. Or good old NRS have all sorts of patches here and among other places, they now have an outlet in Ireland (so all import taxes paid (until Brexit happened).
I bought a dozen #2097s (left) which are a bit big at nearly 5″ (120mm) but can be trimmed. NRS said that Aquaseal (aka: Aquasure in Europe) will do the job on PVC-to-PVC as well as anything, but actually one D-ring stuck on with Aquaseal came off three times. Probably my bad application so eventually I tried the small unbranded tube of Ultraseal 777 which came with the boat’s repair kit. It’s a much thinner and runnier than Aquaseal and smells like classic Bostik, and because it was not ‘filling’ but just adhering, I thought it made a better, more pliant seal and it cured quickly too. I’ll find out for sure how the 777 patches worked in comparison with the Aquaseal. Unfortunately, though it’s made by Bostik, I couldn’t divine whether 777 has a magical formula that perfectly suits Incepts polyurethane alloy fabric, but in future I’ll clean off with MEK solvent and use Bostik 1782 – the nearest I could guess and found cheap on ebay. While my back was turned Bostik seem to have diversified into scores of glues from my youth when the classic, pink-tubed all-purpose glue did it all. Now they sell a glue for scores of uses which the cynical consumer can’t help thinking is marketing- rather than function led.
The SeakayakOban test boat I tried had thigh straps – straight, not as comfortable as pre-curved ones I recall having on other IKs. Pre-curved straps hook better over the knees, so I got a pair for an SoT off amazon for £33 (left). With those brass-plated clippy things they’re heavy, but seeing as they’re so fat they could double up as cushier backpacking straps on a boat-hauling packframe.
One more annoyance: I was expecting to get the Bravo footpump which the shop I bought it from pictured and confirmed by email. I received the better, hard plastic K-Pump after I went out of my way and bought one. This inconsistency with Incept’s info (including images of models with old colour schemes, velcro decks and talk of ’25 D-rings…’ in current brochures) gets frustrating. You get the feeling Incept aren’t focussed on promoting these IKs, as if they’re a sideline to the raft business. But as long as the people on the factory floor with the scissors and heat guns are on the ball, I’m sure I’ll get over it.
Sadly, quality of construction is also inconsistent. Most of the boat is heat-welded but closer inspection revealed a lifted seam at the glued-on rudder patch (below left). The cavity here was an inch deep and took repeated injections of Aquaseal to fill, but I presume this is a patch glued on the hull, otherwise I’d have a pretty flaccid boat by now. Nearby, a couple of hull seams had also lifted a mil or two (middle pic). It’s hard to think these would have slipped past any inspection (assuming there is one), so I presume they lifted after that point. These are the only manufacturing flaws I’ve spotted on an otherwise clean job. And to be fair the rudder patch glues around a curve where two other layers meet, so it’s a difficult join. I’ve laddled the whole area with Aquaseal (last pic) and it’s now sealed for good.
Incepts are made from 1100 dtex Polyester fabric coated in a PVC-urethane blend. It’s notably less thick than an old-style Gumotex. Stiffer is harder to glue into tight forms (as proved above) but makes a faster boat on the water. It’s also more awkward to pack, especially when cold. I can’t see me ever rolling it up as compact as the image at the top of the page (see red text , below). I go on further about IK materials here and once, theboatpeople spoke sagely about Incepts, though it’s unclear if they’ve actually seen one in the raw (never stopped me!).
As the enclosed instructions say, the biggest risk to damaging a PVC craft is when a sharp and stiff corner of a rolled up boat scrapes on concrete or tarmac; it grinds off the coating real quick. I must remember never to do that. It’s unlikely that the PVC-U is as durable as synthetic rubbers like Nitrilon or Grabner’s EPDM, but with care, regular rinsing, squirts of 303 and the odd dab of glue, it should last. In fact the K40 is the only IK I’ve ever punctured: a tiny thorn tip picked up while pumping up on Loch Moidart. The second owner’s similarly punctured the side while pushing past a thorn three on a river, and again at sea later. Knowing all this in retrospect I would say Incept’s choice of fabric for the K40 may not be durable enough, but the only other owner of an older red and yellow boat has had no flats at all. It’;s possible earlier boats used different fabrics.
Out of the bag I pumped it up for the night and fitted and adjusted the rudder which was dead easy. Next morning all was still pleasingly firm, so off to one of the local lochs. Down on a small beach near a road, again I was surprised how effortlessly the K-Pump inflated the K’s three chambers until the PRVs start hissing at 5 psi or 0.34 bar – as high as any non-DS IK. I like the idea that on the water you’re able to top up the pump from inside the cockpit as all the valves are located accessibly by your lap, though over the course of that warm day – leaving it in the sun here, there and on the car’s roof – it wasn’t necessary. And I sure like the fact that the Halkey Roberts’ valve caps (left) twist off easily and back on securely, unlike my old Sunny’s horribly stiff and awkward items which never relented in all years or use.
Packing up a Tasman As mentioned, the stiff PVC which responds so well on the water makes rolling and packing up a K40 a bit of a challenge, especially if space is important and it’s not warm. After a few weeks of ownership I finally gave it a go. First thing to do is the suck all the air out that you can’t do by just rolling; this is something a K-Pump does not claim to do (despite what you may read), but I’ve only lately discovered a Bravo pump (left) can do once you switch the hose to the other port. With the Halkey valve opened (pressed down) the spring in the Bravo’s bellows sucks stoically until you can hear the PVC creaking. All you have to do then is yank off the push-fit hose and close the valve quick against the boat’s partial vacuum – tricky with fingers; you may need pliers.
The ABS K-Pump is heavier and as bulky as a Bravo footpump, but it’s more robust and for a hand pump is amazingly effortless. The K is the pump to use even if it doesn’t suck, but the boat comes with a bayonet valve adaptor in the spares kit. Pop that on a short length of hose and you have a manual – or oral – sucking tube to compact the K40 for transit. If this is all TMI, just say ;-).
First impressions on the water were a bit shaky compared to the test day a few weeks back when conditions were about the same, if not even calmer. Maybe because I was alone, ill-dressed for the very cold water, and the valley caught the odd gust off the big mountains. Who knows what was up, but I doddered around like a beginner, then parked up on another beach for a walkabout, and on the way back paddled with the deck unrolled which was fun. This convertible deck arrangement is such a great idea. It’s like owning a brolly or a mac: you don’t always want it but sometimes you need it.
Part of the reason deck-free is possible is that the K uses a removable bendy nylon rod for the hatch rim or coaming (left). Remove the four chunky GRP deck-supporting battens, roll the deck back to the right side and hey presto, the legs can breath, you can get in and out gracefully and maybe even carry a light passenger. Though thick and strong, the battens don’t seem to have any influence on pushing the boat’s sides out as far as I could tell, it’s more likely a zipped up deck holds the sides in if anything, so inhibiting longitudinal flex of the hull in rough conditions with a heavy paddler.
The rudder mounts easily and looks like a well made unit, though again, I’m no expert. Foot control is off some flaps on an adjustable air bag footrest using string and elastic. Not surprisingly, it’s all a bit mushy, but I don’t think any IK or even any K will have a system as solid as the Amoco Cadiz. It centres naturally and so works fine as a simple straight tracking skeg which is all you want most of the time. For an impression of rudder free paddling, read this. If you want to slide forward down the boat (perhaps to pull the deck on or have a snooze) you can easily slip your feet under the semi-inflated footrest/rudder pedal air bag. Turning circle on full rudder lock is about 10 metres, same as our Nissan, and I also observed that you can do a 360 in this boat on the spot with 5 back strokes; in other words: less strokes than you’d imagine. Backing up is also easy with the rudder up and the rudder lift line works fine. A rudder of course came into its own to correct tracking when paddling downwind or at 45° to the wind in either direction, though here is where the mushiness was noticeable. A bit more experimentation with the footrest/rudder pedal air bag pressures and seating/footrest positions may tighten things up. So far the seat is fine and I’ve had no complaints since. It’s light and simple, but made from thick nylon (compared to an Alpacka) with two elbow valves – and it clips out in seconds, just like the modified seat in my old Sunny. But like on my old Alpacka Llama, you sometimes sit on the squashed down backrest when getting in with the deck on, which could be a pain if the situation was choppy or awkward. There is more back support with the deck on I’ve found, as you lean on the back coaming a bit. I’ve also since found even at sea it’s safe and stable to sit sideways on the seat with your feet in the water.
By the time I got back a couple of hours later I was in the mood for more so I strapped the boat onto the car (another great aspect of frameless IKs) and scooted over to the main beach opposite the Summer Isles. That morning there’d been no less than nine cars or vans with kayak racks heading out for the day. Quite right too as it was amazing weather, so much so that the blooming gorse in the hills caught fire. As I came back, the village fire engine dashed past me, trailing cobwebs and heading for the smoke palling over the Assynt to the north. Out in the bay a pair of late hardshellers were heading out and it seemed a bit less gust prone out in the open water. After dicking about for a bit, I headed across to Tanera Mor island, about two miles across the bay. We look over to Tanera all day from our place, and on many previous occasions in the Sunny I’ve thought about it but never dared. I suspect the relative speed and higher sides of the Incept gave me the edge and the confidence. In the island’s anchorage, flushed with the success of my monumental traverse from the mainland of Britain, I pulled over by a salmon pen and watched the caged fish flit across the surface, I presume enacting their instinctive upstream spawning surge, but here destined only for the slicer and the smokehouse. On the way back I decided to deck up for no other reason than I could, noting that when fully unzipped, I can just about reach the zip ends fore and aft to pull them closed, as long as I used the fishpen side for stability. Out at sea if it was rough a boat alongside would be needed. I’ve since lengthened the tabs on the zip ends to make them more reachable. A small island ferry left the nearby jetty at the same time as me, and mid-crossing its parallel wake crept ever closer until at the last minute I panicked a bit and turned into it to be on the safe side. Later, a bigger fishing boat came across my bows leaving a bigger wake which was no bother taken side on. I’ve since found the K40 is fine in side waves that can make a slinky hardshell a little nervous. No GPS but I timed myself; 25 mins to cover 2 miles which were a bit choppier than on the way out. That’s 7.2kph or 4.5mph or 3.9 knots if you must. Not bad at all and it all rather neatly validates exactly what I ruminated on earlier about getting a better boat for my time up here: dashing alone across what I would classify as ‘open’ water was one of the main reasons I wanted a faster, decked IK. The Incept has delivered on Day 1.