Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dry Hatch and the Black Beauty

Sea trials are complete and the Romany S forward hatch is bone dry after multiple rolls, braces etc.

Also had some time in the Tahe Marine. Amazing rolling machine, but very small cockpit, small enough to hurt. This would be a fine day paddler for anyone small enough to fit.

Turns well, rolls like a thought, static braces are easy, accelerates quickly and I believe would sustain a four knot speed with ease. I'd really like to see it in rough water.

Not sure if I want to be in the cock pit in rough conditions as it's such a tight squeeze I had serious misgivings of being able to get out should the worst happen. Mike Jackson is sold and I can't fault him for falling in love - fickle man that he is!!!

Mike looks on as Pete M. slides in for a test. For my test we had to call upon our companion with the longest arms to adjust the foot pegs. I could just reach the pegs with my finger tips but could not slide them further into the cockpit to accommodate my legs. If you're long legged, set them up, then don't move them unless you're a real knuckle dragger. Sorry Dan!!!

To do a static brace, which I have always struggled with, Dan and Mike simply leaned back onto the very low back deck then while twisting the torso, so the back will lay flat on the water, let the boat slip out from under them and they were doing a static brace. I'm inspired to try this in the Romany S.

Test and trials where conducted on a great day trip from Oak Bay Marine out around Discovery Island and along the shore of Chatham. I swapped my Romany S for Dan's Gulfstream for the return trip. The trip back reinforced my impression that the Gulfstream is the best kayak built by Current Design. Now if this earlier model only had a lower rear deck.

Here's a link to more photos Tahe

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Moment in the Valley by Doug Lloyd

For a free urban celebration of canoeing and kayaking with a token registration fee for on-water courses, demonstrations - and back at the beach seminars, the third annual Victoria Paddlefest hosted by MEC looked to be another success.

Being a three-decade Valley Canoe Products paddler myself I was pleasantly surprised to see the newer named, Valley Sea Kayaks well represented at Gyro Park now that Ocean River Sports in Victoria carries the Valley brand. Furthermore, Rob Avery was present with some extra Valley kayaks, including Sean Morely’s Nordkapp he’d used for the Vancouver Island Circumnavigation, as well as the nicely updated Valley Anas Acuta that all testers agreed was the most fun kayak of the bunch. It would have been nice if there was the 18’ Valley Q-boat there too.

I was able to test paddle the Nordkapp LV at my new weight of 215 pounds. I’d tried it previously at 170 pounds when the Tidrace kayaks were given a spin out at Trial Island. Both Gordin and I had agreed it was a fine sea kayak though it retained that classic Nordkapp tenderness you either love or hate. I was just able to squeeze into the cockpit and put it through a few manoeuvres. There was a bit of wind and the LV weather cocked far less than the classic Nordy, but it benefited by use of the skeg early. Other kayaks I know take longer before the benefit is essential.

What I did find invaluable this year was the opportunity to discuss kayaks with the very knowledgeable Rob Avery, who is the new Valley sales rep for the west coast region. Sean Morely has moved on to represent P&H and Pyranna kayaks. Rob, based out of Bainbridge, Washington kayakcraft is a BCU Level 3 Sea Kayak Coach and ACA Open Water Instructor. He’s an unassuming fellow, all around grand chap, and now deep in the Valley.

With the Nordkapp LV on my short list, there were some questions I was seeking answers to. There has been a fair bit of feedback from paddlers all over that the new LV unfortunately retained the high back deck. The answer I was given? Lay back rolls are dangerous you know. The kayak was designed as an easier to control unladen version of its bigger brother, the full sized Nordkapp, for smaller paddlers or paddlers looking for performance without the payload. There are no plans to address this rear cockpit height issue as far as Rob knew.

Second point: is there any discussion at Valley regarding front day lockers, such as found on the Rockpools and the new P&H Cetus? No. Is there a possibility to custom order an LV cut down (the seam line is lowered before joining the hull to deck yielding an even lower volume kayak). Given the curves near the seam line it would be highly unlikely.

I asked Rob about some of the rumours about quality control issues at Valley again. He wasn’t aware of any but did admit one boat shop on mainland BC had an out-of-proportion number of skeg issues than anywhere else, which seemed an odd anomaly to him.

Rob did agree that the choice to go with a round bilge hull with its responsiveness to hip movement versus a soft chine hull with better feedback for carving was an intensely personal preference. Furthermore, the Nordkapp series are kayaks you grow with for many years but are kayaks that have years of rewarding performance. Certainly the Nordkapp LV does provide good manoeuvrability though its static stability at rest remains low.

There was a paddler present with his Tiderace Xcite. Like the SKUK kayaks, it was heavy and well built – really stiff, strong, and durable. The owner loved the cockpit ergonomics, seat, knee position and height/angle of the front cockpit. He said if he could get his Nordkapp LV with the same deck, cockpit and seat as his Tidrace, he’d be in the Valley way more.

Victoria Kayak thanks Doug Lloyd for his insights and welcomes accounts from other readers. If you want to share your thoughts click on the comment button at the end of any story. Thanks

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Why do we tempt the gods. A short while ago I published a piece about quality control in the kayak industry. Not long after I took possession of the Romany S that I paddled around the Isle of Man last year. When it arrived the hatches were missing. I borrowed hatches and discovered the front hatch had a leak.

Odd as the front hatch was bone dry through some tumultuous waters in the Irish Sea.

After some good advice from Doug Lloyd I built a pressure hatch by drilling one of the spare hatch covers I now have. I cut a valve out of an old bike tube and squeezed it through the undersized hole. I added lots of Sikaflex around the valve stem.

Next I attached my bicycle foot pump and pumped it up to about 3 BARS. Then I applied soapy water to all the obvious places and low and behold there are bubbles burbling up from one of the deck fittings.

I removed the hatch and stuck my head in and what should I find but a inch and a half seam where the epoxy had flaked off along the edge of the fibreglass tape that holds the fitting in place. This allowed water to seep in around the fitting and then out under the tape and into the hull.

I went back to the tube of Sikaflex and applied it to the outside deck fitting and I am about to apply some wetted glass to the inside seam.

I suspect the epoxy chipped off when the fully loaded boat was dropped onto the cement parking lot at the end of my trip around the Isle of Man. It's not surprising that something like this could have happened. The drop was high enough that the hull was cracked through to the glass.

I have a friend who has been critical of these round deck fittings. A hole is cut in the deck then the fitting epoxied and taped in. I have the same fitting on my Explorer and this is the first to fail. Nevertheless I believe SKUK has gone back to the old style fittings commonly found on Valley boats. They are mechanically attached in recessed moulded pockets. I have never heard of them failing. I now concede the arguement to wiser kayakers and recommend sticking to the older style of fitting.

To date I've spent about six hours hunting down this leak. Previously I applied Sikaflex to all the bulk heads fore, aft and centre, and to the outside rim of the forward hatch. Then fruitlessly filled the compartments with water in the hopes of finding a seeping leak.

I don't know if hatches are pressure tested before leaving the factory but it seems like a good idea. Water tests will follow as soon as the glass is dry.

Mountain Equipment Coop Paddlefest Sat. June 27

Yesterday on Cadboro Bay in sunny but windy Victoria Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) hosted another successful Paddlefest.

As I'd just returned from a torturous week of job training in Vancouver I was more then ready to decompress by hooking up with fellow kayakers to swap lies and fill our boots with the usual banter about hard versus soft, rudder versus skeg and so on.

I did promise myself that I would not paddle any boats. As I explained to my friends I simply cannot afford lust.

My resolve lasted about an hour before I succumbed to the call of Valley Kayaks Avocet LV. Luckily I didn't fit, so on to the Nordkapp LV model. This boat could be made to fit if I removed or reconfigured the seat.

But why bother as I found it not nearly as good as either my NDK Explorer or my Romany S. The profile of the hull of those boats suits me better then that of the Nordkapp. I'm not knocking the Nordkapp and encourage paddlers to try these boats. In fact I suspect the Nordkapp may make you a better paddler over the long term. It simply demands more from the paddler.

I also found water in the day hatch of one of the models. It could have come from a poorly snapped down hatch but always check these out.

Eventually I found myself in the standard Nordkapp which even in the light winds (10 knots) really wanted to weather cock; likely due to the higher fore deck.

The kayak that most impressed me however was the venerable old Anas Acuta. Dating from the 1960's this is the grandfather of all English fibreglass Greenland style boats. After a short paddle I easily understood why this boat has remained so popular.

Ironically it was the boat that most mirrored the handling characteristics of the NDK now Sea Kayak UK or SKUK line. The Annus Acuta's hard chines are clearly the forerunner of the softer chines of the Romany and then the later Explorer. I suppose that should not be so surprising after all Frank Goodman, Nigel Denis et all go back along ways. What's odd is that the link between the Annus Cuta and the NDK or SKUK line seems stronger then that between the Annas Acuta and the Nordkapp. Interesting.

But the boat that stole the show was the Tahe Marine Greenland. Wow! Done up all in black this Estonian wonder woman is the ultimate fibreglass Greenland rolling machine. I witnessed money leaking out of Mike Jacksons pocket. First a couple of standard rolls (there goes a down payment) followed by some more complicated rolls and another payment until finally he'd bought and sold himself on yet another addition to the fleet.

I'm betting there will be a black beauty in the Jackson coral in short order. As for me I stay well clear of fast sleek women wearing black.

Links to Valley and Tahe Marine follow;


Tahe Marine

Op Ed policy

Victoria Kayaker welcomes comments, letters or more specifically to todays world - emails. Whether the comments are favorable or not they will be published. If you have given me your time to read this blog and taken up more of your time writing a reply to something you have read, then Victoria Kayaker owes you the courtesy of publishing your effort.

Liable and slander are of course off the tabble. In addition Victoria Kayaker will not engage in any on going flaming exercise as are common on some west coast kayaking chat lines. Those endeavors are unfair as the publisher, blog owner or moderator, always gets the last word.

Comments will of course appear at he end of each story. To post simply click on the comment button at the bottom and start typing. Sometimes it's best to type your comments and then wait a few hours before hitting send. This gives you time to reflect and maybe even polish ur proze! Rats!!

To those people who read this blog on a regular or irregular basis, thanks for your time.


Monday, June 15, 2009

High Winds in Juan de Fuca Strait

June 13th East Sooke Entrance

It was late in the afternoon by the time I reached the launch site at my in laws. Coming down the long drive way I could clearly see the far western reaches of Juan de Fuca where covered in white horses or white caps if you prefer.

I rushed through unloading the kayak and kit and dashed inside to check my father in laws weather station, winds were WNW at 20 knots at the house. On the computer Environment Canada weather stations at Race Rocks and Sherringham Point where reporting 30 plus knots and a Gale Warning had been issued for the Strait.

Finally I had a good day for paddling. This would be a nice test for the Romany S, the first real day of weather since the kayak came home over a month ago.

I headed almost due west out towards Simpson Point into a strong 4 knot flood and stiff winds that were taking the tops off of the waves. At Grant Rocks, the narrowest part of the Sooke Inlet the winds where being funnelled by the high lands to the east and Whiffin Spit to the west resulting in waves about three feet high. If the wind had of been out of the north-east there would have been a great standing wave at the rocks. But today the it was the wind that provided the challenge.

Each stroke of the paddle had to be pushed forward to make the plant, clearly the wind wanted to play with the paddle. I snuggled up the paddle leash as a precaution.

It was slow going, taking almost 45 minutes to cover 1.5 nautical miles to Simpson Point. Once past the point and out into the open waters of the Strait the wind waves and swell steeped up to maybe one and a half meters or about 5 maybe six feet. Steep enough that the Romany's bow would explode over the top of the waves and be exposed back to the coaming before slamming back into the next trough.

Bamm! Bamm! the hull would slam down, the spray would explode up and be whipped roaring back across my face. Off the top of one roller I swung the bow south to head toward Company Point and the rock gardens just short of the point. The swell was now firmly on my starboard beam not quite strong enough to threaten the use of some timely low or high braces, but close.

I had it in the back of my mind to ride the surf into one of the pocket beaches between Simpson and Company Point but a quick survey dissuaded me. The rocks that guard the small beaches where throwing up huge boomer's and the rock gardens where a zone of white water madness. Alone it didn't seem like such a good idea to go play in there, especially as I was only wearing my light summer kit. (Short sleeve paddling jacket and shorty wet suit.

I spun the Romany about and with the swell and waves now on the port beam headed back the way I'd come. Back at Simpson Point I set up for a fast surf ride back into Sooke Inlet. Did I say fast. What took 45 minutes to crawl into flashed by.

With a few stern rudders it was easy to steer the Romany, it surfs like a board. At the end of Whiffin Spit I raised both paddle blades above my head and let the wind drive me forward.

Back in the bay in front of the launch site I surfed in and worked on steering the boat around the crab pot buoys and kelp fronds. Back and forth until I tired of the game. Then I swung over to work the kayak through the support post on the long pier that juts out into the bay. I use the pier to practice my steering strokes. With the wind and waves it turned into an advance class. More then once I thought the barnacles might take a bite but good fortune and timely paddle strokes saved the gelcoat.

Finally I finished with some rough water rolls and some sculling.

On a day when the water was absolutely flat east of Victoria and the wind was only a whisper in town I'd found near perfect conditions. At times it was just like the Irish Sea, strong winds, high seas, blue skies - just me and the Romany. Perfect!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Quality Control in the Kayak Industry

This high pressure zone over Victoria has absolutely flattened out the ocean. Little wind means few standing waves, and generally flat water. With nothing to surf and little current action I've been riding the web and came across this.

"Generally, Valley kayaks are better made now than in past years. The same can't be said of the NDK made kayaks."

If the guy who wrote that statement (he's a friend of mine) had of done some home work he'd know better. Since NDK's re emergence as Sea Kayak United Kingdom (SKUK)- you've got to love the British sense of humour; quality control has been on the up swing. Check with Leon Somme of Body Boat Blade if you don't believe me.

Yes I have two Nigel Denis kayaks, an Explorer bought used out of Homer Alaska and a Romany S which I purchased last August to paddle around the Isle of Man on my quest to raise funds for cancer research.

The Explorer has been beaten and bashed including being May Tagged in a bolder field while I attended to a kayaker who had just broke his leg attempting to launch into a dumping surf. In spite of the damage inflicted, cracked gel coat, the Explorer has never failed me and has brought me home every time.

I believe two things are contributing to the improved quality of SKUK boats, better quality coming out of the factory and better shipping methods. Improvements in the way the kayaks are being packaged and shipped in the containers has dramatically reduced shipping damages. I've seen this first hand.

When I was in the factory in Holyhead last year the boats ready for shipment where of a very high quality. I had a choice between an Explorer and a Romany S both of which where well built. I could see improvements in build quality over my previous visit to the plant in 2007.

During my circumnavigation of the Isle of Man the Romany developed one fault the skeg cable tubbing came unglued and I was not easily able to deploy the skeg. It barely mattered as the Romany handled so well I hardly needed the skeg. When I got the boat home I fixed the tube down with a piece of fiberglass.

This skeg is on a spring, when you go over a rock or land on a beach if the skeg is down it retracts, but does not kink the cable; slide off the rock and the skeg drops back down to where you had it set. Smart.

Every kayak manufacture struggles with quality issues. There's a well known west coast company that cannot master water proof hatches or bulkheads. There's a story about another that fired almost all it's manufacturing staff when they failed drug tests only to see quality control go into the can.

You can build kayaks while high on crack but it's hard to do without experience. I've heard other accounts of retailers sending entire shipments of North American boats back to the plant because of deficiencies.

Or what about the designer who built a series of hard chined kayaks but did not carry the chine all the way forward to the bow resulting in a weak and flexible bow. After consumers had bought countless kayaks the plug was dropped and a new one built to address the weak bow. Nice of the kayak public to do th R&D for the designer.

I wonder how those owners feel about having boats that didn't quite measure up. Yet these well known manufactures escape the poor quality control tag. Is there a double standard at work?

It could be that the persistent poor quality control tag hung on British boats is due to their market penetration into North America. SKUK or NDK, Valley, and P&H kayaks are easy to spot in North America. I've yet to see a North American made kayak on the Irish Sea let alone for sale in England.

This is of course due to different design parameters. I contend that North American manufactures design kayaks for a large recreational market which wants light strong kayaks. British builders build for a more demanding sea condition. An Explorer is laid up by hand with lots of Gel Coat not for strength but as a sacrificial layer that will chip off when landed in anger on a rocky shore. Thus their boats are heavier. Han laid chop strand glass is use for strength and to minimize the size of cracks when the worst does happen.

Slam a kayak constructed with an H lock between the hull and the deck into a rock during a storm on the Irish Sea and you can crack the glass beneath the 2ml layer of gel coat or you run the real risk of popping the H lock or splitting the fiberglass hull. Any of which will bring your day to an end.

But don't take my word for it. Just take a look at what kayaks are used for extreme adventures - Iceland, Ireland, Great Britain, New Zealand, South Georgia - the vast majority are British built or designed.

Quality issues are normal to any industry based on low wages, rotten working conditions and dangerous chemicals. One retailer recently told me, "a lot of these long time fiberglass layup guys can really drink beer and smoke cigarettes well. Just don't asked them to do math." It comes from breathing all that styrene.

There are inherit strengths and weaknesses in all kayaks and not all kayaks are designed to do the same thing. Some are big recreational kayaks meant for weak long camping trips on benevolent seas, some are pond boats, while others are meant for hard conditions.

"While the NDK designs are amongst the best, it still comes down to the paddler and his or her skills." that's the concluding statement from my friend who I quoted at the beginning.

His statement is only partly true. If you are the skilled paddler and in a boat that runs straight like a train but does not turn, you are going to be using a lot more energy then the equally skilled guy next to you in a boat that runs both straight and can still turn.

Your kayak does not have to be the best at anything but it should be really good at everything. And that's why readers of Sea Kayaker magazine chose the Romany as the best day boat and the Explorer as the best expedition kayak.