Saturday, April 10, 2021

P&H Valkyrie, a long term test and review.


An edited version of this review appeared in Ocean Paddler Magazine issue #71. I have also published it several times on Facebook back in July/August 2019 but of course Facebook is useless for anything you ever want to find again. I keep getting requests for a copy of the Valkyrie test so here it is on good old fashioned Blogger where a Google search will find it!

P&H do not have a composite fast sea kayak (FSK) like the Taran or the Pace in their lineup so the arrival of the RM (rotomoulded plastic) Valkyrie has been much anticipated. The hull shape of the Valkyrie is based on the excellent Pyranha Octane/Think Nitro RM surfski, which was tested in Ocean Paddler magazine #58. I enjoyed paddling the Octane so much that I now own a carbon fibre surfski! The prospect of an economically priced “fast” sea kayak, built from tough RM is very enticing, particularly for those solo paddlers who like covering the ground fast on circumnavigations where rocky landings and launches are difficult without help. So I had great expectations of the Valkyrie! 

Although surfskis are fast, they do have significant hull differences to typical FSKs like the Taran. They have much more overall stern rocker which starts at the cockpit. This helps them catch fast waves and also loosens the rear end so that a relatively small rudder can correct an early broach and keep a surfski running fast and straight down the waves. Surfskis also have a much more tapered (and so low volume bow) than an FSK. The taper starts at the cockpit. In comparison FSKs are more parallel sided and carry significantly more volume towards the bow. Surfski bows are designed to pierce the wave in front and not slow down ((especially when planing down wind). Traditional seakayaks with flared bows (and to a lesser extent FSKs with parallel vertical sides but higher volume bows) tend to rise over the wave in front more than a surfski. This increased pitching causes deceleration but gives a much drier ride.

Test conditions and paddlers.

The Valkyrie was paddled nearly every day for six weeks on the Solway coast of SW Scotland. Conditions varied from flat calm to very rough with winds up to F5/F6 against the tide. Offshore the spring tidal rate is 4 knots and there are tide races at the headlands and round the islands where the flow is accelerated. Prevailing SW wind against ebb spring tides (which are nearly 9m high) create breaking waves, which stretch out well beyond the emptying bays. During the seven weeks testing the Valkyrie, rescue services (including cliff rescue coast guards, two lifeboats and a helicopter) were called to five separate incidents in the area involving kayaks and small dinghies and boats. All in all, these were ideal test conditions for a boat like the Valkyrie. The main tester was 73kg and 172cm tall. Five other testers (who varied up to 92kg and 190cm) paddled the Valkyrie though the largest paddler could not paddle it far due to being too cramped for his 84cm inside leg/size 46 feet. Paddler experience ranged from advanced to occasional summer paddler. It was paddled with a mixture of wing and Euro paddles. It particularly suits wing paddles which were used by the more experienced testers. During the test the Valkyrie was paddled alongside a Taran 18, Taran 16, Atlantic RM, Cetus MV, Scorpio MV, Aries 155 and Think Zen surfski.

Construction and Fittings.

The Valkyrie hull is made of CoreLite X and is remarkably stiff and light for a RM boat. In comparison with its Octane surfski sibling it is still remarkably stiff, despite not having the Octane’s longitudinal foam stringer. Despite its length, this is the stiffest RM kayak I have paddled. A good test for stiffness (you can try in a kayak shop) is to get someone to help you carry it, one on each end. A soft boat will “boing” as you walk. The Valkyrie does not. It has been built light (the one I have on loan weighs 26.5kg including two extra optional hatches) but my experience of CoreLiteX on a series of demo boats is that it is more than tough enough. Standard of moulding is exceptionally high with very well defined water release planing edges to the under hull. Composite kayaks and surfskis  tend to lack these sharp edges as they would be too fragile. I am sure much of the exceptional downwind planing performance of the Octane/Valkyrie is due to these. The surface finish of the hull is a mixture of matt and gloss plastic, which looks very smart. I was delighted that the sides of the bow and the back deck were gloss as these make excellent mounting areas for suction action camera mounts (which do not stick to matt plastic).  

On the foredeck there is a compass recess and a flat to mount a mast base for a sailing rig. A pair of deck line RDFs are fitted laterally to the flat to mount side stays for the mast. Unfortunately, this borrowed kayak lacked the other fittings for a sail so I was not able to try it out paddle sailing. The Octane which I paddled in 2017/18 did have a sail but I felt that it was unnecessary and an encumbrance on an open cockpit surfski. However, I think a sail on the decked Valkyrie would be very manageable and great fun. It could make a great difference, especially if loaded with camping gear. The boat comes with good sized Pyranha alloy carrying handles at bow and stern and a security/tow line mount behind the seat. The carrying handles are streamlined and at the bow create much less spray than end toggles would. The test boat was one of the first out the mould and was leaking at the stern where the hull is pierced by a tube for optional end toggles. The manufacturing problem has been identified and has been corrected on production boats. 

There is a full set of deck-lines and deck elastics. The deck elastics on the foredeck wrap round the front of and interfered with closing the forward mini hatch. I addressed this with a bit of cable tie to hold the elastics forward of the cover.  A clip will be supplied with production versions. The seat is mounted really low and can easily be adjusted 6cm fore and aft with thumbscrews, which screw into threaded inserts on the bottom of the hull. The backrest has ratchet adjusters attached to the thigh grips.  The footrests/rudder pedals are the very easy to operate SmartTrack system and can be adjusted using wands with extend rearwards. These are easy to reach and operate. The rudder cables adjust for footrest position automatically. The rudder is the excellent SmartTrack over-stern unit. It is fitted with a 28cm rudder, which extends 22cm under the hull. The KajakSport hatch covers all fitted easily and were totally watertight. 

Paddling the Valkyrie.

My first outing in the Valkyrie was a pleasant F4 to F5 wind over an ebb tide. Within the first 5 minutes I was totally hooked by the Valkyrie’s speed, performance and ability to generate fun. It has a lot more primary stability than the Octane (which has a surfski’s higher seat to maximise paddling efficiency). As a result I had to shorten my paddle a bit compared to what I use on surfskis but the Valkyrie was only marginally slower on flat water than my Think Zen Ultimate carbon surfski. Paddling out through steep wind over tide waves it was a much more comfortable ride than on the carbon Zen, which slams and shudders in these conditions. Obviously being 16kg heavier than the Zen, it lacked acceleration in comparison and downwind I missed a few waves I would have caught on the Zen (which in a race would have been critical, but not when just having fun). However, once on the wave, the speeds were very similar. It would be difficult to find a faster kayak than the Valkyrie without spending a serious amount of money. One feature I am glad has been carried over from the Octane surfski is the paddle cut out on each side of the hull in front of the cockpit. This allows paddle entry as close to the hull as possible enabling a very efficient stroke. However, it does impinge on the room for your feet. I had to come in and change my size 43 Lomo boots for my much neater windsurf boots.

One of the other testers (with a Northshore Atlantic RM) would like to buy a Taran 18 or Pace 18 for fast touring expeditions but has just bought a house and has a limited budget. He was keen to discover whether the very affordable P&H Valkyrie might be a rotomoulded plastic equivalent. The short answer is yes the Valkyrie is a fast (very) sea kayak but it has three significant differences to mainstream FSKs, like the Taran. Two have been mentioned in the introduction. From its surfski heritage, it has more stern rocker and a more tapered, lower volume bow than FSKs. The third difference is its overall volume is significantly less than an FSK. The Valkyrie volume is 334l which is almost 50l less than a Taran 18 (383l). Not surprisingly these design differences create performance differences between the Valkyrie and other FSKs.

First of all the increased stern rocker makes the Valkyrie incredibly quick to turn after going out through waves. I have paddled the Taran 16 more extensively than the Valkyrie and the Taran 18 a bit less. In both Tarans the turning circle is such that I would look for a wide, flat spot between bigger sets to turn in so that I could set myself up ready to catch the next big wave. Even though the Valkyrie I tested does not have an under hull rudder, it still turns like a surfski.  (An optional understern rudder will be available soon.) I could turn tighter and faster than in an FSK, starting just in front of an approaching bigger wave and still have a good chance of catching it. The increased stern rocker on the Valkyrie (and surf skis in general) also means it is easier to catch faster waves and once on them, it is easier to steer diagonally across them without broaching. Many who paddle British style sea kayaks only manage to catch waves when they slow down in the shallows and form surf. Faster deep water waves just pass under such kayaks’ hulls. Paddling unloaded alongside a Taran 16, Scorpio MV, Cetus MV and Aries 155 the Valkyrie consistently caught more waves and disappeared ahead. Swapping paddlers with the Taran 16, the Valkyrie still had the advantage. The downside of the increased stern rocker is that on flatter water the Valkyrie is not as fast as an FSK. 

Above: comparison of distribution of Valkyrie hull rocker with a typical FSK (Pace).

Also although the Valkyrie is more manoeuvrable than an FSK it is more rudder dependent. With the rudder up the Valkyrie weathercocks significantly more than an FSK like the Taran, making it very much harder to paddle. The Taran 18 owner disliked this feature of the Valkyrie, especially as he normally surfs the Taran with the rudder up. I had no problem with keeping the rudder down in all conditions except reversing into caves! Second, the reduced volume bow of the Valkyrie compared to an FSK means that the bow does pierce through short, steep waves rather than rising over them, even when unloaded. This happens in surfskis too but most of the green water washes off the smooth deck before the cockpit. Unfortunately, on the Valkyrie the water hits the raised forward hatch cover and sprays everywhere including your face. Third, you could not carry as much gear for a long expedition in a Valkyrie as in a Taran or Pace due to the overall reduced volume. However, if your plan was for a weekend outing, say to a distant headland with a tide race or some decent swell curling round, then the Valkyrie would tick all the boxes, especially if there was a rocky landing involved.

Another advantage of the Valkyrie’s is manoeuvrability combined with its tough CoreLite X RM construction means that I have taken it to places in conditions that I would never dream of taking a composite FSK or my carbon fibre surfski. It is obviously not a specialised rock-hopping tool as its sibling the Delphin but it is reassuring to know that choosing a fast kayak like the Valkyrie does not stop you getting up close to the narrow channels and caves of the rocky bits of our coast!

I was worried that the over-stern rudder fitted to the Valkyrie would be less effective than the under-hull rudder of the Octane. So I decided that a longer downwind run along the exposed Solway coast between Kirkcudbright Bay and Fleet Bay would be a great test. On the day a force 4 gusting 5 SE wind was blowing parallel with the rocky coast and running straight into the tide which was SE going, again parallel to the coast. This created some lively sea conditions. Conventional British style kayaks tend to broach in these conditions and require much steering input to keep on course, which slows your progress. The Valkyrie stormed ahead of the British style kayaks on this coast by running true and straight and not broaching once. It was fun, fun, fun all the way, as one screaming run on the plane followed another. Despite the steep, short period waves, I was not aware of the rudder coming out of the water when running down-wind (it does come out when paddling out against the waves, but that doesn't matter as you are going so much more slowly.) So the Valkyrie has lost little of the Octane's response to the rudder or its ability to turn quickly. On flat water turning around a buoy or when turning between waves for the next run in, you can feel the Valkyrie's stern skidding round as it turns tightly, just like on a surfski.

A couple of the testers have said they would prefer it if the Valkyrie tracked straighter without a rudder. Well, another friend had a straight tracking P&H Quest expedition kayak. He had a Karitek retractible under hull rudder fitted but it proved next to useless for turning such a directional kayak. There is always a compromise with kayak design. The rudder could not overcome the Quest hull's straight tracking. The Valkyrie is designed to be used with a rudder and like a surfski has the loose stern to make it very responsive. Some may ask "what if the rudder fails?" Well the Valkyrie is supplied with the excellent SmartTrack rudder. This is a simple robust design and the Valkyrie is fitted with very strong control lines. I have never experienced or heard of a jamming or failure of this rudder. Whatever, I am more than satisfied that the move to an over-stern rudder on the Valkyrie has lost little of the control or manoeuvrability of the Octane with its under-hull rudder. For those that really want it, P&H do offer an under hull rudder as an option on the Valkyrie but personally I would not bother. 

Despite the lively testing conditions I did not accidentally capsize the Valkyrie once. However, I can report that it is extremely easy to roll and once up quickly settles in the vertical position due to its excellent primary stability. It is also one of the easiest kayaks to do a solo remount on.


One advantage of having a test boat long term is that you can really get a feel for ergonomic issues that might be missed on a short paddle at an open day or symposium. The low seat is very comfortable and gives a very stable paddling position. The paddle cutaways in the hull forward of the cockpit really let you get a clean catch, close to the hull. The back rest was very comfortable and it was easy to adjust to just the right tension so as not to inhibit trunk rotation. I only used the thigh braces when rolling. The cockpit was wide enough to allow a knees together and up position for performance paddling. The boat was paddled by six different people. Four had no problems with foot room but the tallest and shortest had significant problems so this is a boat I recommend trying before you buy. My inside leg is 74cm and I have size 43 feet. The test boat was fitted with the forward mini hatch and my toes were restricted between it and the rearmost lateral fore deck elastic RDF mounting points (which extend inside the hull). I found this to be so uncomfortable that I could not paddle the boat for more than 2-3 hours at a time. During my time with the Valkyrie I made the open crossing to the isolated island Ailsa Craig, a 36km round trip. A fast boat like the Valkyrie would have been ideal, especially since the RM construction would have aided the landing on the granite boulder beach. However, I took a much slower composite Aries instead, solely due to foot comfort. 

With short legs I would order a Valkyrie without the mini hatch but even then the RDF mounts would still get in the way. Four of the six testers had no problems with the RDF mounts catching their toes. The footrests/rudder pedals are mounted very low and the pedal axles slope down and in rather than being horizontal as recommended in the SmartTrack installation manual. The arch of my foot was on the rudder pedal rather than my toes (as is the case with the systems fitted to other fast sea kayaks or the Octane and other surfskis). This is not ideal for performance paddling but a couple of the less experienced paddlers who tried it though it felt great. The Taran 18 paddler and myself both prefer higher mounted pedals. P&H are phasing in an alternative mount which may suit you better *.  SmartTrack also offer mounting adapters.

* P&H have now modified both RDF fitting postions in the cockpit area and the mounting angle and height of the SmartTrack rudder pedals. 

Paddling the Valkyrie loaded. 

I weigh 73kg and to test carrying capacity I loaded it with just over 30kg of camping gear. This was just within the recommended overall load limit of the boat. Packing it proved easier than I thought as there is a lot of volume in the shallow but broad stern. So the Valkyrie has enough volume to carry a fair bit of gear but its performance changes as you load it and it would be easy for a heavier paddler to overload it especially at the bow. Like other Swede form designs, like the Cetus, I found a bias to rear weight distribution worked best. Neither the Octane nor the Epic V7 touring surfski have bow hatches (although both have rear hatches) and my experience suggests that it could be too easy to overload the bow of a surfski type hull. Loaded up In a fresh to strong offshore wind with flat water, the Valkyrie still proved easy to hold on any course with the rudder. In short steep waves its surfski heritage showed a disadvantage to a similarly loaded Taran 18 and Cetus MV paddling along side. The Valkyrie stuck its bow deep in every wave, up and down wind. What was a fun feature enhancing downwind speed when unloaded now caused a very wet ride. So although the Valkyrie has a similar overall volume to the Cetus MV, the slower Cetus makes a much better all round camping and touring boat. 

Wear and tear.

The only sign of wear and tear was some corrosion in the alloy carrying handles where they are secured by stainless steel bolts. This is a common problem with such fittings used in salt water and also affects my carbon fibre surfski. I wash with fresh water after every outing and have used some silicone grease between the bolt head and the handle to try and reduce this.


So what sort of kayak is the Valkyrie and who it would suit best?  In the current market it has a pretty unique set of features. In performance terms it is fast yet manoeuvrable. Over the last 17 years I have had the privilege of testing some really great kayaks but seldom have I had such fun and enjoyed myself as much as in the Valkyrie. It is the fastest RM kayak I have ever paddled. Down wind and wave most composite British style touring kayaks will not keep up with the Valkyrie and it is also more than a match for FSKs in these conditions. Unsurprisingly given its origins, the Valkyrie is more related to surfskis than to other FSKs. The Valkyrie is a whole heap of fun on shorter trips when it is more manoeuvrable than an FSK in the turn or on a wave and it is easy to catch fast open water waves. However, in a variety of conditions on longer trips an FSK will carry more gear, faster (and drier). Horses for courses perhaps and these days it is great to have a choice. 

Despite its speed, the Valkyrie is not a difficult boat to paddle. One of the testers was an ambitious newcomer, who was paddling borrowed club boats. He went on to buy a Valkyrie as his first sea kayak. I think a big market for the Valkyrie will be as a second or even third kayak. I think it would be ideal for someone who already has (and wants to keep) a conventional British style sea kayak for touring but who also likes to paddle fast for fitness or fun or even enter an occasional race. The Valkyrie is a fantastic alternative for those who do not want to go to the expense of getting a composite fast sea kayak (or surfski). The fact that a kayak with the performance of the Valkyrie is available in tough RM construction is an incredible bonus to those that might not have the nature to care for a lightweight and fragile composite kayak or surfski. It might also tempt some traditional sea kayakers into down wind, open water, surfski type paddling who might not yet be ready to take the jump to a pure surfski. I think anyone has been paddling for some time and is feeling a bit jaded should consider the Valkyrie. Once you get it out in the waves and experience the acceleration and planing as you catch your first fast wave, your paddling will be rejuvenated. I cannot overemphasise how much fun it is. The fun is pretty similar to the fun I get windsurfing, you don’t actually need go anywhere to have windsurfing fun either.


Length: 540cm, Width: 54cm, Internal cockpit length: 82cm, Internal cockpit width: 41cm, Weight (measured as tested): 26.5kg, Volume: 334l, Load range: 60-115kg. Price (April 2021): £1933.50, +£87.54 optional forward mini hatch.

Conflict of Interest.

With thanks to P&H and Sea Kayak Oban I had free use of the demo Valkyrie from 13/6/2019 until 5/8/2019. I have had a long standing unpaid relationship with Pyranha/P&H in which I have access to new products/prototypes in exchange for feedback. I own several personal kayaks from Dagger, Evolution Kayaks, Pyranha, P&H, Rockpool, Think and Valley so I am not dependent on Pyranha/P&H to go paddling!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

KCS KY-Pro Explore trolley: test and review, a first look.

 I first bought a Mk 1 KCS Expedition trolley in 2003 and it is still in use at my caravan on the Solway. I have since upgraded my main expedition trolley through various versions and currently use the KCS Expedition trolley Mk 5. I do not just use it for getting the kayak from the car to the beach but use it on expeditions to get on and off ferries, for long road portages such as West Loch Tarbert to East Loch Tarbert across the Kintyre peninsula and for rough off tarmac road tracks such as portaging round the falls of Shiel where the River Shiel pours into Loch Moidart at low tide, the Portage across the Tarbert of the Isle of Jura and the portage from salt water Loch Nevis over the hill into fresh water Loch Morar. So the new trolley has a lot to live up to. KCS can be contacted here.

Unlike the previous incremental changes this is a complete redesign but using similar materials.

The driver for the design was to create a more compact trolley when it is disassembled and in this it is spectacularly successful. 

The previous Mk5 trolley is in the red bag on the rear deck. Admittedly it is not fully disassembled, I just took the wheels off, but it is undoubtedly bulkier than the new model.

The new pads have thicker foam than previous models. A nice touch is the smaller pieces fit right at the top of round kayak hatches and the larger pieces fit at the top of oval hatches.

The parts all assemble without tools. The pads push into place using captive headed bolts which push into retaining slots on the crosspiece. The two axle supports then bolt onto the underside of the crosspiece and this secures the pads. The bolts are attached to the axle supports so you wont loose them and they also have large heads so you can use them with cold hands. The axle spacers are permanently attached to the axle supports. The axle is simply threaded through and the wheels secured with spring axle pins.

Like the previous Mk 5 trolley there is an integrated axle stand. I chose the 10" foam filled wheels and tyres. These do not fit in 10" round hatches. 

However, if you buy the 10" pneumatic tyre option and let a little air out you can "roll" them into the hatch by holding the wheel vertically and pushing one side down into the hatch. Alternatively you can buy 8" wheels but these arre not so good on rough ground.

At the moment I am landlocked due to Scottish Covid travel restrictions ,so I have been unable to test the KY-Pro Explore trolley in the field. So how does it compare with the previous Mk5 trolley? 

Well the good news is that the pads are just as wide and just as long as those of the Mk5 trolley, including the T support pad at the back. This is good news as the trolley should be able to handle rough bumps with a fully loaded kayak without twisting forward if the wheels hit an obstruction. (This was the reason for the extended T pad.)

However, if you are reversing a loaded kayak and it hits a bump, the Mk5 trolley could twist back. I overcame this by cutting a slot beneath the T piece and putting an extra strap through it and right round the kayak hull. Why is this important? When would you want to reverse a fully loaded kayak over a bump? Well an example is on the ferry to the Small Isles. 

The MV Loch Nevis serves the Small Isles. It is not a RORO ferry. There is only a stern door. If there are other vehicles on board and they are not getting off at your stop, you have to reverse your kayak off between them as there is no room to turn. There is a real bump at the ramp so stability when reversing is very important.

On the new KY-Pro Explore trolley I have drilled the rear of the two oval hull supports supports and tied loops of 3 mm cord through. This allows a strap to be threaded through the loops and and then wrapped round the hull to secure the rear of the trolley for reversing over bumps.

This extra strap round the hull, from the rear of the trolley (left in photo), resists the trolley body twisting round the axle, if the wheels hit a bump when reversing the a loaded kayak on the trolley. This extra strap also minimises the trolley twisting so that the axle is not at right angles to the direction of travel, if only one wheel hits an obstruction.

On swede-form kayaks, like P&H which have the wide point behind the seat, I do not bother with a third strap going forward from round the axle then forward on either side of the hull and fastening round the front of the cockpit rim. On fish-form kayaks, like the Valley Nordkapp LV, which has the wide point in front of the cockpit, I do use a third strap, to prevent the trolley slipping rearward on bumpy surfaces.

However, a KCS customer with a fish form kayak was troubled with the trolley slipping back and asked if it would be possible to hook the strap onto the cockpit rim with some sort of clip. So KCS came up with these really neat accessory "S" clips that hold the strap forward. These prevent the strap loosening off if a bump tries to force the trolley back. This makes the strap from the axle forward round the cockpit rim unnecessary.

The photo above is a P&H kayak with a swede form, so the strap would tighten if the trolley was forced back. These "S" clips are not necessary on this type of kayak but will prove invaluable on my Nordkapp LV, which has a pronounced fish form. The clips could be used with any brand of trolley carrying a fish form kayak.

Another improvement with the new trolley over the Mk5 is that the pads sit closer to the axle thus lowering the centre of gravity. This is important with a fully loaded boat on an adverse camber as it makes the trolley/kayak much more stable.

This promises to be KCS's best trolley yet. It is £135 compared to £125 for the Mk5, which is still available. I think the new Explore trolley's  main advantage over the Mk5 is more compact packing. It promises to be equally stable and robust. I just need to get it out for a proper test...until then here are some photos of previous KCS trolleys in action.

The portage across Jura.

The Falls of Shiel portage.

The Loch Nevis to Loch Morar portage.

West Loch Tarbert to Tarbert across the Kintyre peninsula. Frequent kerbs made this more challenging for a trolley than it looks.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Flat Earth Kayak Sails Footloose '80 preview.


I was in Glasgow getting a steroid injection into my right shoulder in clinic F then having a pint of blood drained from my left arm in clinic P when I heard the news that a parcel from Australia was waiting for me at my summer home on the Solway. Despite living 50m from the shore for 7 months of the year I have not been very active recently. I last managed a kayak camping trip in May 2017 and have had to give up windsurfing. Since January 2017 I have lost 27kg not to mention over 40 pints of blood and 1.5" in height, so I needed a bit of a boost to get me back on the water!

Well the parcel was, as expected, from Mark Sundin of Expedition Kayaks in Australia. They have taken over Flat Earth Kayak Sails following the sad and untimely death of Mick MacRobb who created Flat Earth. I was privileged to have tested prototypes of each of Mick's previous sails: the original all dacron, the dacron with mylar edges, the Code Zero and finally the Trade Wind.

Each of these designs allowed a lot of twist in the leach which meant the sails would automatically spill winds in the gusts. This made them extremely user friendly, especially for newcomers to paddle sailing. I have no doubt that the international success of Flat Earth Kayak Sails was built on the sails' degree of inbuilt twist.

This photo shows the twist in an early all Dacron Flat Earth sail. However, one disadvantage of twist is that paddling downwind in a loaded boat, when the windspeed is about 3 times or greater than the boat speed,  the leach twists open permanently. This spills wind that might otherwise drive the boat forward. Also when going upwind, the loose leech tends to "motor" when going upwind.

Even the most recent Trade Wind sail has considerable twist as you can see in this staged photo. The bow is directly downwind and there is about 90 degrees difference between the angle of the head of the sail and the boom. If there was zero twist, the head of the sail and the boom would be parallel. Each time I suggested to Mick that he should consider tightening the leach, just a little, he said that he was very reluctant to do that as he did not want to turn Flat Earth sails into "experts only" sails. Anyone who ever had any dealings with Mick would know that he was an egalitarian to the core of his soul. He wanted the Flat Earth Kayak Sail to be accessible to any reasonably competent sea kayaker. He would often give sails away to clubs or individuals who he knew could not afford them. So I was delighted to see that the Footloose sail's logo proudly proclaimed "Designed by Mick MacRobb". In truth many people have influenced the production of this new sail and modest as always, Mick was the always the first to acknowledge the input of others into his previous designs.

Back in May 2016 Tony and I were crossing from Rum to Eigg in the Scottish Hebrides. We were on a broad reach in a fresh wind and were fully loaded with camping gear. I found the degree of twist just a little frustrating as our sails were constantly spilling wind. So when I got back, I tried another tack with Mick.

I suggested that perhaps the time had come for Flat Earth to create an additional new sail for for more advanced users, which would be sold alongside the current Trade Wind sail. It could have a tighter leech, perhaps with an extra batten. I got a reply, almost immediately. In it Mick said he had been feeling a bit tired of late but he had already had talks about this with his mate Rob Mercer (a renowned Australian sea kayaker). They were already developing a design based on a sail Rob had had made for him some years before, by by another sailmaker, for some big expeditions and would I mind keeping it quiet until he (Mick) had some decent prototypes made? Unfortunately (and only a few weeks later) Mick circulated his friends with the news that his "bit tired" was actually a serious illness (from which he died only a few months later).

This new Footloose sail is undoubtedly the sail Mick was referring to and you can read what Rob Mercer says about its history and development here. Rob's expedition sail was a two batten, three panel sail that had been made for him by another Australian, Andrew Eddy, who sent Mick drawings of the original. Mick and Rob worked together tweaking the details. After Mick's death, Flat Earth's new sail maker, Neil Tasker, has done further work to put Mick's prototype into production. Rob has already used it with great success on a 2018 crossing of the Bass Straight. Well after that test, my few words will be pretty insignificant... but here goes!

Design and Construction.

As you can see the Footloose '80 sail has two battens and a relatively low aspect. It is constructed  with modern lightweight sail cloth laminates and uses a semi transparent bottom panel. Quality of construction is still as high as on previous Flat Earth sails. It has clearly been put together with care and craftsmanship.

You can see how it differs from the higher aspect older Trade Wind '80, which is overlaid in this photo and...

...underlaid in this photo. The Footloose sail is supplied with mainsheet, uphaul/forestay and enough non stretch line to have two side stays and two back stays.

Mast and fittings.

The quality fitting kit is up to Flat Earth's usual excellent standard and even comes with two extra surface deck fittings in case your existing deck fittings locations are not suitable for the fore stay/uphaul pulley or the main sheet deck pulley.

The supplied mast is slightly shorter than the one I have been using with my Trade Wind 80 sail. So it can obstruct the view of the horizon.

Here the Footloose '80 is set on my longer Trade Wind '80 mast.

 In this shot I am also using the longer Trade Wind '80 mast and have dropped the boom so that you can see clearly that the foot is truly loose. You can also see what a nice aerofoil curve the foot adopts when it is not attached to the boom along its length.

( I was also experimenting by tinkering with the boom height, lowering it to loosen the foot of the sail and raising it to tighten the foot of the sail, both actions achieved with a sharp knock of the paddle!)

My only very, very minor criticism about the fittings is that the plastic boom fitting for the sheet is perhaps a little over engineered.

Paddle sailing the Footloose.

So far I have only paddled the Flat Earth Footloose sail for three short paddles totalling 27km (the first was only a day after a steroid injection into my shoulder, which has a torn rotator cuff). The wind in each case was a steady 12 knots from the south and I used the sail on an unladen P&H Aries 155. I tried the sail on all points of sailing and I must say I liked it a very great deal. It has a very positive pull to it and...

 ...upwind it paddle sails pretty close to 45 degrees from the wind. In a southerly wind and a north going tide I even managed to beat SE round the outside of the islands with the sail up the whole way (see map above).

 Bearing off onto a beam reach then...

 ...a broad reach followed by a run...

 ...the sail continues to pull strongly and as you ease the sheet out...

 ...the top batten does not angle forward of the mast spilling wind which happens with the Trade Wind. This is especially noticeable when the boat slows down as you drop off a wave and the pressure of the following wind builds up. In the new Footloose, the leech remains tight and the increased wind pressure helps you pick up speed to catch the next wave. Note how my speed and distance covered increases on the broad reach on my trip back from the islands, as soon as I broke free of the lee of the islands, my speed increased by a factor of 3 as the sail helped me catch small swells. (The arrows are all the same time apart.) With the tight leech of the Footloose sail, I caught far more waves than I usually do with the Trade Wind sail, even allowing for my injured shoulder!

The sail gybes very predictably but there a more noticeable "whumph" as the sail fills on the new side. This also applies to launching the sail and it is probably easier to launch the sail on a broad reach so that the sail can spill wind as it is raised, before sheeting in. It is more difficult to spill wind when launching on a run.

 As Rob says on the Flat Earth web site, there is more heeling moment as a gust hits, both across the wind...

...and upwind with the Footloose sail than with the Trade Wind sail,  Experienced paddle sailors will love this direct, powerful feel though newcomers to paddle sailing would do better to look to the Trade Wind sail, which continues in production. I can't wait until I am fit enough to get the Footloose sail out on a camping expedition between the Hebridean Isles!


In conclusion, the Footloose is a fantastic and welcome new addition to the Flat Earth Kayak Sails range. Experienced paddle sailors will love its more powerful and direct feel which really helps you catch more waves downwind. Quality of fittings and construction are to the same high standards as in the Mick MacRobb days. Previously I have tested prototype Flat Earth sails but this sail feels like the finished article. I can think of nothing to suggest that would improve its performance.

Conflict of interest.

I have had a long association with Flat Earth Kayak Sails and have now tested examples of all 5 generations of their sails. Previous minor suggestions of mine have been incorporated into production versions. I have not paid for this sail but I have been happy to pay retail price for my last two Flat Earth sails. However, Mark included a freebie Expedition Kayaks T shirt in the parcel. It is in a most fetching blue, which sets off my blue eyes very nicely. That might just have helped sway my judgement! :o) :o)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Duncan Winning OBE

Today,  I received a phone call from Gordon Brown to tell me that Duncan Winning OBE died yesterday. He had been ill for some time.  I send my sincere condolences to Duncan's family. 

Duncan was a father figure in Scottish sea kayaking and because he gave of his time generously, he started many people off on a lifetime of sea kayaking adeventures. So  many people have stories about Duncan but I have never heard a bad word about him, he was a true gentleman.
I was fortunate to paddle with Duncan on many occasions over the years and how we talked! We were both interested in the history of recreational kayaking (or KAY-a-king as Duncan called it). Of course I was the student and he was the master. Indeed Duncan not only had an encyclopaedic knowledge of kayaking history, he was actually a very important part of its history himself. Duncan was very proud of the fact that all the boats he had owned and paddled since the age of 14 years had been designed by himself. This photo shows Duncan in one of his designs, the GRP Explorer by Island Kayaks of Skye.

We would get so engrossed in our discussions that we would fall far behind the others and finish after dark. I was lucky to paddle with Duncan many times on our home waters of the Firth of Clyde but we also paddled together in the Inner and Outer Hebrides and at the alternating sea kayak symposiums at Skye and Jersey, where he was one of the organisers. 

Duncan had visited the Outer Hebrides over a period of over 40 years. On one of his first visits he and his friend Joe Reid had been caught in a great storm. They were lucky enough to have found a tiny sheltered cove.

He was very keen to find that particular shell sand cove again which was hidden away in the fastnesses of Loch Roag, a huge sea loch on the west coast of Lewis. Unfortunately he could not remember exactly where it was because the storm had blown their map away. During the course of a day's paddle, we stopped at many beautiful white sand Hebridean coves but none was the right one. At last, just as the day was fading, we found Duncan's cove. It was a wonderful moment to share with Duncan.

Duncan's day job also involved the sea. He was an engine room draughtsman in Kincaid's shipyard at Greenock but his true love was designing and building kayaks. 1960 Duncan paddled a kayak that Ken Taylor brought back from Illorsuit (Igdlorssuit) in Greenland. Duncan was so impressed by the handling of this kayak that all his subsequent designs were influenced by it. The above photo taken in 1960 shows Ken in the Igdlorssuit kayak, which had been made for him by local kayak builder Emanuele Korniliussen in 1959.  It is now in the Kelvingrove museum in Glasgow, Scotland. Ken and Duncan were fellow members of Scottish Hostellers Canoe Club.  When Ken left to live in the USA he left the kayak in the care of Duncan and Joe Reid who had taught Duncan to paddle. In 1964 Duncan carefully measured the kayak and made the detailed drawing below.

Duncan freely shared this drawing throughout the small sea kayaking community of the time. Geoff Blackford was one of the people who built a ply-wood version from Duncan's drawing and called it the Anas Acuta. 

In 1972 Valley started to commercially build a GRP version of the Anas Acuta, which is still in production and to this day has infused the British style of sea kayaks with Igdlorssuit roots. This photo shows Andy Spink paddling an Anas Acuta in the waters of Scarp in the Outer Hebrides.

Due to a series of surgical operations I was off the water for some time but Duncan and I kept up our long conversations by phone and, until I could visit him, Duncan came to visit me. I have no doubt that his time spent with me aided and sped my recovery. The last time Duncan and I paddled together was in November 2014. We paddled till long after sunset. It seems just like yesterday. The last time I saw Duncan was about a year ago at Portencross on his beloved Firth of Clyde. His health problem prevented him paddling that day but we enjoyed another of our long conversations.

What a loss his passing is. He was a thoroughly decent and modest family man. His influence in his chosen recreation of sea kayaking is immeasurable due to his gift of time to others, willingness to share knowledge and quiet leadership. Farewell Duncan and thank you.