As we’re normally way up north for the British summer, I’ve forgotten how great a sunny 26-° southern English day feels. It’s been years. If it was France it’d be normal, but in the UK it’s not which adds to the magic. A perfect day then to bang out a Medway run from Tonbridge to Yalding in my newish Alpacka Yak. Even the wind was up for it, with a stiff, 15mph breeze forecast from the southwest.
With shoes, shirt and pfd in the wet bag, I slid down the chute off Tonbridge’s Town Lock, sat up straight and set sail. Overhead the wind was lifting the leaves, exposing their lighter underside, and with the river course (below) oriented right on it, I suspected this was going to be a good run. Eldridge Lock chute rolled up in under 20 minutes and that felt like at least a mile (1.3). And with no shoes or pfd the Yak felt roomy so I pushed the backrest low to get nicely jammed in. Paddle at eye level, a full draw from the feet, and I crack on.
Porters Lock already? OK then. How far is it to Yalding, anyway? Twelve something; couldn’t remember if it was kms or miles (13km), but I knew when we did it last June in my new IK that I was pooped well before the end. After Porters I pass some canoe-ers crouched on the floor of their boat, battling upstream. There’s no current but they’re sure fighting the wind. Further down the river, a couple with a camo-pattern IK are lunching by one of the locks. With the trees in full summer bloom and yellow lilies at the banks, in places the pea-soup Medway could pass for a backwater in Kakadu, with salties lurking in the shallows, eyeing up wading jabirus.
Much sooner than expected it’s the big slide down Sluice Weir Lock (above) which I knew was near the end. The short Yak surfs over the frothing base a lot better than a nose-burying kayak. I took no water on any of the chutes and the backwind even helped keep the paddle splash off me. After a quick visit to water the bushes, I top off the seat and hull. Holy moly, now the firmed up Yak is skimming along like a surf ski under the big-bladed Corry paddle. This last section was a l o n g haul last time, but I power on and there is, the Anchor Inn at Yalding. Don’t want to eat there again, so I finish off my water and check the watch. Two hours twenty. That seems fast; it was an all-dayer last time.
It’s another 5-10 minutes scoot down to the take-out at Hampstead Lock and a short walk to the station where it costs over a fiver to ride three stops back to Tonbridge. When I get home I Google Map the river distance: 7.5 miles or about 12 clicks to the Anchor. In two twenty that’s a pretty surprising 3.4mph or nearly 3 knots. I’d be pleased with that in my 14-foot IK, but in dumpy packraft? Not bad at all.
A sunny day in the south of England saw me back on the water with the Big Kahuna Man after many months off. It was a chance to anoint my new Grabner Amigo’s slick, factory-oiled hull with the Medway’s occluded discharge. If you’re interested, there’s more on why I got myself an Amigo right here.
BK Man and I started out of Tonbridge with a plan to replicate our icy winter run of last year when at times we had to crack our way down the river. Assembling the Amigo for the first time was of course simple once I had the bayonet adaptor fitted to the end of my aged Bravo foot pump, but that pump could barely manage to get the requisite 0.3 bar (4.3psi) the Amigo runs. More about all that malarkey on the mods page.
We slipped down the rather tame Tonbridge Town Lock chute (right) where it soon became obvious the Amigo was not going to break any speed records. This may be a false impression as there was a stiff head-breeze, negligible current and my lack of paddling fitness and of course the Amigo’s 3.75m and 80cm width – over half a metre shorter and 11cm or 4.3 inches wider than my old Incept. All that made for hard yakka while the slick Kahuna glided effortlessly by.
On a positive note the Medway hereabouts now appears to be fully chuted up for canoes – we could have got all the way to Yalding without getting out. As mentioned, some chutes are rather dull affairs where fixed bristles churn up the water and slow a boat down. Others, as we knew well, were steeper and more sporty numbers that you attack at full pelt (left). We like those!
The recently fitted Gumotex skeg tracked flawlessly but still kept the curly ended Amigo turnable. It will be good to try paddling without it; not such a good idea at sea but always handy in shallow rivers where the current should provide the speed you otherwise gain from being able to paddle harder with a skeg.
In between the fun chutes, the simpering Medway crept by. BK Man combed the water as gently as if he was brushing Kate Middleton’s perfumed hair, while I hacked away like the Barber of Seville with my too-large Corryvreckan paddle; very light and stiff it may be but it’s not the blade of choice when unfit. Also, the boat’s secondary seat lugs tended to catch my thumbs, the spare packraft seat was a bit sloppy on the factory oil and I was in dire need of a footrest: all things to refine or fit once relocated up north. Later I just rested on the seat back with no air padding from the Alpacka seat and that was fine and enabled a good back posture, though I do worry about snapping that seat bar in a hard hit or clumsy moment. It did dislodge a couple of times as the boat flexed down steeper chutes. I suppose a stick or even just a strap will make do as a replacement.
You can see from the pic on the right that even with my weight and only .25 bar in the side tubes, the Amigo is as straight as a boiled hardshell and unlike the Sunny of old. In future I’ll pump it up to 0.33 or so to compensate for the cooling once it gets in the water.
By the time we got to the sporty Sluice Weir Chute (lef and right) I was knackered, sore and starving, a torment made worse by the gusting breeze and the succulent aroma of wild garlic emanating from the lush, green river banks. Southern England in early summer really is a great place to be an insect.
We had high hopes of snaring a good feed at Ye Olde Anchor Inn at Yalding, but it was so poor it wasn’t even worth a picture. I ate as well in primary school back in 1968. What a waste of a great location; someone keel-haul the chef! Next time we’ll revert to the tea room on the other bank. As we approached the Inn we were puzzled by a string of schoolkids in mini kayaks lining up to slip down the flat Yalding weir face. Like some neoprene Pied Piper, their teacher or guide was actually pushing away the orange safety booms so the little mites could slip through and potentially plummet to their deaths. I suppose the river police must allow it. At the low levels we knew the flat slide down the weir face was not so suited to our long boats – the Kahuna’s nose would dig in to the concrete at the base and spin the back around while I’d scrape my skeg all the way down to the sound of melting plastic. Btw, check out this vid of what happens at Yalding when they open the taps. Scary!
Gastronomically unsatisfied, we lowered ourselves back into our boats for the short hop to Hampstead Lock (no chute). Here, in the full spirit of The Pack Boating Way, we dismantled our boats, walked 5 minutes the station and caught the train back to Tonbridge. I can confide that like a Sunny, an Amigo is so easy to dry, just splay it out (right) like a Peruvian hamster entree, give it a wipe, roll it up and off you go.
One thing I can to say about the Grabner – you do appear to get what you pay for. Construction appears to be flawless – far superior to the Incept, better than Gumoes I’ve had and with not a smudge of stray glue or ill-adhered creases, gaps or lumps. Once the set up is optimised it’s an IK that ought to last many, many years. More Amigo action to come up in the Summer Isles in the next couple of months
Don’t get excited, we’re talking a few hundred metres of Class 1.1, but that’s as good as it gets around here. We’ve had a lot of rain in the last week, enough to make the only paddleable river – the short Osgaig – worth a poke with a paddle. I was here with the Yak last year at slightly lower levels, so this time was expecting a smoother run in the Solar (now with an improved seat-foot set up), followed immediately by a comparison run in the Alpacka Yak.
Gumotex Solar IK The good thing with the Solar is it’s old, worth next to nothing but tough, so can be dragged like a hardshell with the Yak in the back. I considered jury rigging some thigh straps; it could be done now through the new footrest pipe and around the seat mounts, but looking at the river as I drove up, it wasn’t really worth it. Thigh straps are what makes any deckless boat – air-filled or hard-shelled – much more controllable when things get choppy. Even WW packrafters insist straps are the way to go.
With the skeg off, it’s easy to seal launch off a grassy bank and into the scrum just below the waterfall which looks a bit complicated so was no less inviting this year. As I spilled over the first little step I tried surfing like people do. But the Solar wasn’t especially dynamic or there wasn’t a strong enough recirculation going on to make it feel interesting. So I swung round and set off. Even at full flow, the Osgaig is a shallow, bony river better suited to an injection-molded TNP ‘spaddle’, not 220 quid’s worth of carbon-light Werner Corry which was picking up new scrapes as I jabbed at the water to keep the boat on line. It was really quite effortful with the Solar, at 3m or nearly 10 feet it’s perhaps a bit long for this sort of thing. I hit the one or two rapids full face, kicking up a satisfying splash and remembering that ‘bring it on’ exhilaration when trying an IK and white watering for the very first time on the Salmon River in Idaho all those years ago.
The river branched near the Loch; left looked all froth but too shallow so I swung right but again scrapped and shoved from one bar to the next. I was hoping to make it all the way to Loch Osgaig but up ahead I saw the tree strainer I recalled from last year so, stuck on another rock and by now steaming out of the ears in my heavy drysuit, I stepped out and walked back upriver.
Alpacka Yak Packraft A few minutes later I hopped into the snug Yak, spun round and slipped over the first drop. Spinning back, I tried to surf as I’d just done in the Sunny but it wasn’t happening. I guess the Yak is just too wide, light and too much drag to fight the flow. Off I went downstream, trying to avoid getting snagged while lining up to take the peak of what waves there were. Jammed in the yellow tub, sat lower and with higher sides, it felt much more responsive than the longer Solar and so was less effort to ride. Perhaps part of it was that a good line is less vital; most of the rapids I could have taken backwards and that added up to more fun. So there it is: a tight-fitting packraft is more fun on easy white water than a 3-metre IK. When I got snagged towards the end, I just stepped out, threw the boat ashore, and staggered out over the slimy boulders.
I do like a good storm. On the left today’s coastal forecast for the Minch. You might call it the first big storm of the autumn. Some 250 miles to the north, out on the Faeroes and towards Norway it’s blowing at Force 10 with 40-foot waves, like something out of the Perfect Storm movie before it gets really scary.
What can it be like to paddle a packraft against a wind gusting up to 50mph, I wonder? Is it even possible? Many times I’ve surprised myself how fast an IK can move – 2-3mph – into a headwind of around 25mph. You can’t sustain that all day, but last year I managed to plough along like that for an hour or two when I gave up on the Ningaloo Reef and turned back into the wind. Seeing as gale-force is the only paddling available for the next few days, I rolled up the Alpacka and went to find out. Sorry to disappoint you but heading out to sea alone, even on the beach with the onshore wind felt too risky. I figured there was a good chance of a gust flipping the back-heavy Yak in a kind of ‘frontal bandersnatch’ as it crested a wave. Better to stick to my ‘play-loch’, site of many paddling experiments and where there’s just wind and not much wave to deal with. In the given conditions inflating the Alpacka in the back of the car was effortless; it took just six bagfuls to fill up the boat, instead of the usual ten. Getting my yellow windsock onto the water was less easy, so once I slapped it down I jumped in quick, clipped the raft to myself via the paddle and tried to leave the shore at the downwind end of Loch Raa.
There was no fetch to speak of and using my large-bladed but light Werner Corrywrecken paddle, I jabbed at the water head down, trying to make headway. The waves rushing by gave the impression I was flying but a sideways glance to the shore showed the raft was barely creeping along. And when a gust hit, it didn’t actually move at all despite my huffing and puffing. Even though I’d probably missed the peak of the day’s winds, not surprisingly I’ve never experienced a paddling effort like it. It felt like some sort of horizontal pull-up machine in a gym set on ’10’ and my hands gripped way out on the ends of the shaft to increase the leverage. Soon any ideas about paddling to the far shore, only 700 metres away, were surrendered. From a video’s timeline it seems it took me 8 minutes of flat-out effort to cover 250 metres – just over 1mph with brief rests every couple of minutes.
I felt safe in the Yak; the gust-borne waves weren’t even a foot high and it was actually a good little workout. Once I’d had enough, I swung round and shot back to shore at what turned out to be 4mph, but felt like sitting still while the wind blew past from behind. Interestingly the raft was easy to handle; no weathercocking. Walking the empty Yak to shore, it took off like a kite. Had I not been strung onto that thing it would have been on it’s way to Inverness quicker than the RAF Tornadoes which tear across the skies hereabouts on a fine day.
London made worldwide headlines this week for rioting, arson and looting. Along with scores of others, our own high street got done Monday night, and next afternoon all the shops were closed, braced for a re-run that instead moved to other English cities. The map on the right only shows the bigger events in London up to Tuesday; many more passed unreported.
But Wednesday the tides were favourable and the weather were fair for a 17-mile cruise down the River Thames from Richmond to Tower Bridge. We’d planned the run before all this aggro kicked off as I’d not paddled through London for years and fancied doing it in the Incept. In fact we ended up paddling all the way to Greenwich, about 21 fast and briefly hairy miles.
Richmond is a prosperous suburb stuck under the Heathrow airport flight path; no rampaging here, thank you very much. Steve and I set off just below the town bridge at 1pm, right at the turn of the tide, even though 20 minutes earlier the water was still clearly charging upstream. In fact I read that in the upper tidal reaches, the Thames floods quickly and ebbs slowly. Again, the K-Pump was used to inflate the Solar which Steve was using as his Feathercraft was in detention. I’ve found the K is much more effective at getting a firm fill than the squidgy Bravo footpump. Maybe it’s a river and gravity thing, but when the tide ebbs with the mild Thames current, it’s on the move almost straight away. With the help of a strong southwesterly that day, very soon we were cruising along at an easy 5 or 6 mph, and that speed barely relented until the very end when we took out just before low tide at Greenwich.
The 15-mile run-up to Westminster initially feels quite rural in places. Riverside willows swung their tresses in the 15mph breeze as we passed the handsome riverside dwellings of affluent west London with barely a high-rise in sight. By Putney, home of the famous Oxford-Cambridge boat race, we were halfway to Tower Bridge and the greenery give way to urban development and the odd industrial site. Around here you get a few people rowing those slim Oxbridge rowboats, and it occurred to me later that for some reason they’re excused from wearing life jackets. A boy drowned near here in one of these rowboats, a week or two ago. Near Battersea heliport the wobbling wind sock stuck out sideways like a road sign, pointing downriver towards banks of million-pound apartments built in the last boom-but-one to accommodate London’s growing class of needy oligarchs. There were more barges and pontoons moored mid-river now. All easily avoided of course and just as well as the way the current was ripping along, their flat prows made a nasty hazard; like an an upside-down weir, that might easily pull a kayak down and drag it along under the entire length of the barge.
At Vauxhall Bridge, by the snazzy MI5 secret service HQ, we saw one of the London Duck amphibious tourist barge-buses drive down the bank. It submerged itself into the river and chugged past (left), managing to look as ungainly on the water as it does on land. The Ducks do a token 10-minute sweep of the river past Parliament, but having gone on one years ago, I can tell you it’s a hot, noisy ride. I reckon they are more fun to watch than to be in.
We grabbed a few shots as we passed the Houses of Parliament (that how HP Sauce gets its name), and I thought it was going to be a smooth, quiet passage through the busy two-mile section of the river from Westminster to Tower Bridge, as it had been last time.
But as soon as we passed under Westminster Bridge alongside Big Ben, the character of the river changed and waves were standing up to 5 feet high. The flow gets constricted and backs up by the pier supporting the London Eye which, along with the masses of tourist boats, effectively halves the width of the river, while the current and tide pushed through, exacerbated by the wind. I’d heard of these waves below London Bridge but had never seen them this big. We’d come down so fast from Richmond that we’d hit the busiest section of the Thames, packed with manoeuvring tour boats and jetties, at the peak of the tidal flow. Suddenly the river was rather lively.
Rush hour on the river As always the best kayaking shots are the one you’ll never see: of Steve in the 10-foot long Solar teetering over wave crests and my long bow rising and then slapping down into the troughs. What pics I grabbed were pretty mild. Holy moly, you don’t see all this looking down from Waterloo Bridge with a flat white and a Telegraph in hand, but it may only last a short time or be limited to certain conditions. It’s worrying too, how you’re quickly transfixed with dealing with your own predicament; if one of us had tipped in here, the other would have had real trouble turning back in the current and traffic. But we got through (I’ve probably exaggerated it all) and even got used to the more manageable standing waves, if not always the cross swell flung out by the wake of passing tour barges. These wide, twin-hull Thames Clippers can really shift, accelerating up to 15-20 knots, although it’s actually the older, mono-hull tour boats that punch out a wake you want to watch out for, and is probably why their speed is limited. As it is, I read there’s no speed limit on the tidal Thames below Wandsworth, merely common sense is required, plus a risk of a big fine from the PLA. I was momentarily freaked out by all this, but although I didn’t dare glance back or try and take photos, Steve seemed to be keeping pretty cool in the tiny Solar. I’d not applied any of the mods I’d lavished on my old Sunny, and with its crap seat and soggy footrest offering little support, paddling the Solar in heavy conditions was a bit like balancing on a midstream log. This was all at times more intimidating than anything we’d done on the Class II Ardeche a couple of weeks ago, and I was thinking it really was high time I slipped on my Incept’s thigh braces. We stopped off for a breather at the South Bank and enjoyed a coffee and lemonade for only £5 each while tourists wrote messages in the sand of the now exposed river bed.
On to Blackfriars, Southwark and London Bridge, where mid-stream there were ranks of frothing, churning whitecaps. We didn’t want to go there, and kept to the right, looking for less speed and flatter water behind the HMS Belfast tourist warship and on to Tower Bridge where all was calm and it was no drama to pass under the middle, as more tourists above waved.
It may sound like a scene from a James Bond movie, but in 1952 a #78 double-decker bus successfully jumped a three-foot gap when one of the ‘bascules’ lifted unexpectedly. The postcard (left) dramatises the event. Having got to this point so fast, we decided we may as well carry on the hour or so to Greenwich, as we knew down here the river opened out, tourist boat traffic dropped off and there were no more bridges or other fluvial furniture to cause weird wave formations.
Out past Wapping and Rotherhithe, the Thames is lined with converted warehouses or new apartments, shielding the less glamorous council estates of the East End. Soon we’re passing Canary Wharf, once the Port of London, now a mini-Manhattan of office blocks built in the 1980s when the financial boom kicked off in London. Those guys weren’t having such a good week either – one trader on the TV news was filmed swatting his Perrier off his desk in frustration at that day’s collapse, but at least they weren’t running amok and setting fire to their ties.
The river meandered south putting us into the wind, but it was good to crank up some solid effort. Even here the odd Greenwich-bound tour boat still threw out their mini tsunamis which crashed with a roar along the banks behind us and were fun to negotiate up to the point where you thought, ‘ooo-er, hold on a minute, am I’m surfing here!?’ Otherwise, the broad river gets a bit dull along this section and soon enough the wooded hill of Greenwich Observatory and the prime meridian peeped out from behind a bend. Steve was a bit pooped for spinning the ill-fitting Solar along at Incept speeds. And having used my huge Werner Corry paddle, I too was suffering from some elbowitis. We came ashore by the Cutty Sark tea clipper, lifted the boats carefully over the broken glass and gravel, up over a fence, aired down and headed for the station. We did this 21-mile run on a neapish tide of just 3.8m – they drop to 3.5m and rise to 5m this time of year at Richmond (it’s about a metre more at London Bridge). That took us only 4 hours actual paddling which must be the fastest 20 miles I’ve ever done in a paddle boat. Slowed down by locks, inland of Richmond the freshwater Thames can be a bit boring, but I wouldn’t fancy coming through Westminster at the height of an ebbing spring tide on a busy summer’s day with a backwind. At such times it’s probably not a place for total beginners in tippy hardshells, but as long as you’re ready to get stuck in, it is of course good fun and you can be sure of a big audience. Just make sure you clip on a Go Pro to catch the action! The tidal Thames starts at Teddington Lock, about three miles upriver from Richmond. You need to time Richmond Lock just downstream of the Twickenham Bridge (A316) correctly, 10 minutes downstream from our put-in at Water Lane. I did not notice it as it’s flooded at HW when it’s just another bridge. It’s actually a barrage to hold water upriver around Richmond once the tide turns. There’s a roller pass for kayaks on the left, if you find it closed.
You don’t need any sort of permit or BCU membership to kayak the tidal Thames, as you technically do upstream of Teddington. As long as you’re wearing a pfd, keep right and stay out of the way, the police patrolling the river will probably ignore you.
A fun shorter packboating section would be the 8 miles from Putney to Tower Bridge, both with good transport links and passing all the classic London icons which people of my age will recognise from the idealised Thames TV logo (left) from the 1970s. Once the tide drops enough, exposing the sandy riverbed, taking out is easy enough with a packboat, even if it means climbing up a vertical ladder as we did last time (above). Elsewhere there are several steps or jetties.
Not much wind today, but with a few refinements to try out it was worth taking the Pacific Action sail out on a regular ride over to the island. I chose my big-faced Corry paddle and it has to be said it’s quite a strain (the opposite of a Greenland paddle) when you’re a bit out of condition. But then I bought it primarily for the packraft. What felt like a worthwhile breeze heading out to the island was probably more than doubled by the 4mph I was chucking out. Knowing I could afford to be, I was pretty tired once I reached Tanera Mor’s rocky shore. The state of the tide? who knows – coming in I think so it was with the wind, but I really think it makes little difference around here most days. As the graph left and the video below both show, I had a bit of trouble getting it up and never got close paddling speeds while sailing back. But once I did get on the wind, it was a bit of a revelation to find I could pin the sail at a certain stance and, providing the rudder was on the case to, just sit back and enjoy the slow ride. It may have taken me longer to get back, but I could have easily read the Sunday papers, checked my email or just looked around and enjoyed the scenery, had most of it not been suffocated by the clouds of an imminent downpour.
It was also a surprise to learn I was not the prisoner of a given wind angle, but could modify it by up to 180° or maybe even more. At one point back near the beach, from the lapping of the passing waves across my beam it looked like I was paddling a few degrees upwind. Conditions were exceedingly tame but the cord-lock things worked pretty well and their position alongside the cockpit was just fine to slide them up and down. At one point I tried paddling with the sail which I’d assumed would be rather tricky. Sure, the control cords got in the way a bit, touching my hands as I paddled, but it was possible to paddle lightly and so – as the graph shows – raise the speed with little effort to 4mph. Had I tried paddling harder I think I’d have outrun the sail, but it proves a good point: it need not be either paddle hard into the wind or sit back and sail; you can sail and paddle too if conditions allow- or enable it, gaining a bit more speed and exercise. I may try fixing the shock cord a little further forward to the nose which may help keep the sail up at marginal (low) angles or low wind speeds. I also need to tighten the webbing a little more, so the mast feet touch directly toe-to-toe so that, at the angle they’ve been locked against the masts, they’ll splay the sail out more readily. The Google Earth screenshot of the GPS track on the right features the long-sought OS layer – useful as GE’s close-up resolution hereabouts is terrible. With it you can depict all the accuracy of a true GPS track over a detailed OS map. It’s a simple kml file found here. Download and open with GE and it’s there to click in the sidebar on the left when/if you choose to view OS maps in GE. Thanks to Gael A. for sending the link. As things stand today I’m pleased I bought the PA sail; primarily for its simplicity of installation, deployment and possible repairs, its ease of use in the hands of a sailing beginner like me, the compactness when furled, as well as its ability to pulled down fast and attached/removed from the Incept in a minute or two. All that remains to be assessed is the kayak’s stability in rougher and windier conditions. The forecast shows a bit more wind on Tuesday so hopefully, there might be some surf-slicing sail action to grab then.
Like most beginners I started my IK-ing with a super cheap 3-piece TNP shovel. Then, after picking up a much better used 2-piece fibreglass Lendal Archipelago which eventually seized up, for Shark Bay in 2006 I splashed out on a decent light, rigid, bent-shaft, adjustable offset, low angle 2-piece, 230cm Werner Camano. At £230, it cost more than my first two boats but in all those years I have no regrets. For me, the Camano just works.
To me bent shafts and an indexed, ovalised grip make ergonomic sense for steady, all-day paddles rather than pulling fast moves in rapids. It’s just more compatible with the non-rectilinear human form. I did notice that when I swapped back to theslightly heavier straight Lendal (before it seized) there was noticeably less flex, but nearly a decade and a half later, the Camano is in great shape and is still my favourite for anything where a compact four piece is not needed.
The Camano is a low-angle paddle, but I think my style, if you can call it that, is high angle, and in fact I read that high angle is the right way to do it. I find that wide, high-sided and relatively unresponsive IKs and packrafts encourage or require an energetic ‘digging’ style compared to a smooth gliding hardshell.
A paddle for packrafting The way I see it, even more so than most IKs, a packraft has high and fat sides and you sit low inside. So that ought to mean a long paddle to get over all that plastic and into the water. Paddling with the 220cm, big-faced Aquabound paddle, I didn’t really notice any issues other than some squeaking as I rub the sides occasionally. Longer would not have made much difference.
At less than 3kg a packraft is extremely light but it’s not an efficient shape for gliding through water like a swan. However, once on the water with a paddler in it, the total weight is nearly the same as a more glidey IK, so it boils down to the need to propel the hull using a paddle with a large surface area. Some might say a bigger blade will mean more yawing, but I figure you just dig less hard and anyway, with practice, yawing is easily controlled. Providing you have the strength, a bigger face ought to give the speed which packrafts and IKs lack. There are times (mostly at sea or on white water) when speed and power can mean safety. In the US I got myself an Aqua Bound Manta Ray 4-piece high-angle in carbon (above right, 220cm). Weighing under 900g this one feels more flexy than the Camano, but fits right in the bag and so makes a great packrafting or back-up paddle – apaddleinyourpack, so to speak. Mine has the two-position snap button offset which I run at 45°. You can also get an infinite-position Posi-Lok version. The compact and light Manta Ray (70cm longest section, left) is ideal on short day trips with public transport and with no load to haul on the water. It has been fine for UK packrafting and makes a great packstaff, too, but it doesn’t always come apart easily like the Werners. Dry or wet, don’t leave it assembled for days or weeks, especially after sea use (that probably goes for all multi-piece paddles). I’ve used my Manta sea kayaking in Australia as well as packrafting – it was fine for both. For the price this is a great paddle – so good I sold it to my Ozzie mate and bought another right away. I’ve never seen a 4-part Manta for sale in the UK, but in Germany the Anfibio Packrafting Store sells TLC Mantas.
Or they used to. Now they sell their range of own-brand sticks. I recently padded with a chap with their four-part Wave which weighs 991g and comes with infinite angle and 10cm of length adjustment (210-220cm). I would guess the blade is <650cm2. The longest section is 64cm and all that for €125 is very reasonable.
I also have a straight, fibreglass-blade Werner Corrywrecken (£200 years ago). It’s the biggest paddle Werner do in 210cm+ 2-piece touring paddles: 721cm2 blade area compared to the Camaro’s middle of the road 650cm2. and 677cm2 for the Manta Ray.
At 220cm (same as the Manta Ray) I’ve also gone as short as I dare to get over the fat sides of a packraft. There’s no indexing on the straight, carbon shaft, just a little ovalisation as on the Aqua Bound. The Corry’s face is a tad bigger than the Manta Ray (left and above) but the whole stick feels much more rigid (it’s 2-piece). It’s 7% lighter than the Manta Ray and 17% lighter than the stiffer Camano – initially you notice this. I compare my Corry and Camano in my Incept sea kayak here.
More weights & measures According to the kitchen scales the weights of these paddles are:
Werner Camano 230, 2-piece – 988g – stiffest
Werner Corrywrecken 220, 2-piece – 816g – lightest
Aqua Bound Manta Ray 220, 4-piece – 880g – least stiff but still fine and cheaper
So now I have a long, comfy low-angle Camano for long, loaded IK sea trips; a straight, rigid, light, shorter big-faced Corry for packboating and guests (the Mrs likes it), and a compact, 4-piece Aqua Bound Manta for travelling.
I’ve been watching a range of weather forecasts in a bid to try and get a feel for things around here. With no hurricanes predicted, last night I went out for a paddle along the shore. Even now it’s light here till 10pm. On a quiet beach I came across a strange installation, an abandoned Wasp Factory or maybe just some kids’ flotsam beach house. In some places the masses of washed-up fishing industry junk is depressing in the otherwise unpolluted surroundings, but it’s also part of what makes beach-combing so intriguing. Whose chopped down wellies were they (different sizes, made in Holland)? When was Calmac man’s (Hebridean ferry service) hard hat blown overboard and did he go with it? All messages without a bottle. If nothing else, as Gael observed last year along the SSKT, there’s always plenty of rope, netting and more usefully, firewood to be found on less visited beaches.
Eight years later it finally succumbed to the Hebridean gales.
Spade or shovel? I paddled open deck that evening and along the way attempted to compare my good old, bent-shaft Werner Camano with my newer Corrywrecken (both discussed in more detail here). In short, over a couple of hours I could hardly tell the difference in operational terms except that the Corry initially felts amazingly light and taught after using the Camano, but going back to the Camano doesn’t exactly feel like falling headfirst down a well. Both are great paddles when compared to a spade tied to a shovel with duct tape. Can’t say the bigger Corry made the boat go any faster, but perhaps the lighter pull of the more ergonomically bent, low-angle Camano felt more natural and sustainable. It’s hard to tell if that’s a genuine impression or just a pre-conditioned response to what sea kayak paddle lore suggests. I think in the Incept I’ll stick with the Camano, only because it continues to work so unobtrusively plus I don’t want to mash or lose the newer Corry any sooner than necessary. Despite being named after a famous tidal whirlpool off Jura, I’d say the Corry is a great white water blade, where you want to pull fast pivots and brisk acceleration to navigate complex rapids.
No rudder I paddled back 2 miles or so with the rudder up under a very light wind and with perhaps a bit of back tide and swell. I’m getting the knack of tracking the K40 a lot quicker than in the Sunny without a skeg – but then I only discovered the Sunny worked skeglessly by mistake after a few weeks. My conclusion in the Incept is that you’re maybe 1kph down on a typical 6.5kph cruise (I had a GPS) because of the correcting finesse and concentration required. Maybe that will subside, but it all takes a little more out of you physically, as your hands are doing the steering/tracking as well as the pulling. Just like in the Sunny, every few minutes you spin offline for no reason you can fathom. So then either you pull hard to bring the front back, or you just spin right out and check out the view behind, then paddle backwards for a bit as if you were planning to turn all along. After a bit of that you lose it anyway, let it swing back around pointing forward and carry on your way.
First sunny spring day around here so we went out to try out the flip-out disc sail I made over the winter on my Llama and Steve’s Big Kahuna. Wind was forecast at about 8 mph but was gusty – a bloke in a dinghy sailboat said it was up to 15 mph. Folded and clipped on the packraft, the sail sits out of the way and can be opened and – more importantly – closed easily with a twist, as long as you have a clip of some sort to keep it closed (and that clip is attached to the sail so it does not spring off and sink to the bottom of the lake…).
Initial impressions were disappointing, I did not rip off across the reservoir like a hooked marlin out of a Roadrunner cartoon. But watching the vid back it’s clear the boat did noticably drift downwind across the reservoir with the sail aloft, often at speeds similar to paddling (about 3 mph). Problem with the sail on the Alpacka was the boat soon turned off the wind one way or the other, swinging left and right. The pointier Kahunayak was better, especially once Steve trailed his paddle like a skeg. Didn’t get to try that on the Llama as I was fiddling about with the string trying angle the sail so as to steer the boat into the wind. This worked quite well in correcting the direction as you can see in the vid, but staying in that position was a problem. Could this be due to ‘wind-spill’ off the flat disc sail which lacks dishing like a WindPaddle? Maybe. It will be interesting to try it on my ruddered Incept IK when it turns up, as well as the new-shape Alpacka which I am picking up next week. More testing to come this summer up in windier Scotland with my all-new packboating flotilla. Or just enjoy this 2014 video from Finland by JP. More here at leftbound.