Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Two fine tuning tips for the sailing rig on the P&H Scorpio mk2 sea kayak.

P&H Sea Kayaks should be lauded for being the first mainstream manufacturer to supply a sea kayak complete with sailing rig, all ready to go paddle sailing: the P&H Scorpio mk2. The sail is manufactured for P&H by Flat Earth Kayak Sails in Australia.

It comes complete with everything you need to go on a paddle sailing adventure on your first trip.

The Scorpio mk2 fore deck has been strengthened for a mast foot, a threaded insert for the mast foot screws has been moulded into the foredeck, two RDFs have been moved forward to be opposite the mast foot to give the side stays the best attachment position on the deck, the rig comes with a separate back stay and it even comes with stainless steel snap shackles for quick attachment and removal....all excellent stuff!

However, I do not like the way the side stays have been attached to the mast as the long fixed loop coming down from the stainless steel saddle on the front of the mast does not give the side stay best mechanical advantage.

Tip 1.
I cut the existing stays off and replace them with thinner 2mm dyneema line and...

...attach them through the saddle and round the mast using a simple sliding hitch knot like this..., though I am not sure what it is called. 

Edit: Many thanks to Mike B for identifying it as a double overhand sliding loop. :o)

Tip 2
I also like to have the ability to adjust the length of the side stays quickly and easily without tying knots. If you are starting off paddle sailing, I recommend Clamcleat Mini Line-Loks CL266. These work well up to F3 winds but slip in F4. They will also slip if you are unlucky enough to capsize in the shore break with your sail up. Then the Line-Lok slipping can save your deck and your mast!  

Once you are ready to paddle sail in stronger winds, an alternative is to learn how to tie the adjustable grip hitch. This will not slip under load yet is very easy to adjust when not loaded. You want to have your side stays "twang tight" when the mast is vertical and being able to tweak the tension in the stays bit by bit make setting up much easier than tying knots by trial and error.

Adjustable grip hitch 1

Adjustable grip hitch 2

Adjustable grip hitch 3, pull tight to complete.

I hope you have as much fun hoisting your P&H/Flat Earth kayak sail as I have had with mine.

I will post a full review of the P&H Scorpio MV mk2 with skudder and sail before the New Year.

PS I have just heard that P&H branded Flat earth sails will soon be made using the same Grand Prix tri-laminate material which I liked so much in the new Flat Earth Trade Wind 80 sail.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Flat Earth Kayak Sails Trade Wind 80, long term test and review.

The number of sea kayakers paddle sailing in British waters, particularly with Flat Earth Kayak Sails, has increased to the extent that designer Mick MacRobb chose Scotland for the World launch of his latest design! It is called the Trade Wind 80 sail and has a new cut and a new trilaminate Grand Prix cloth.

Design and construction 
The Trade Wind is available in 100, 80 and 70 sizes corresponding to 1.0, 0.8 and 0.7 sqm. the sails tested were 0.8sqm in area. This is the most popular size as it has the widest wind range.

The new Trade Wind 80 (red) overlying the previous Code Zero 0.8 (blue), mast tip to mast tip. Note the shorter luff of the Trade Wind 80.

The previous Code Zero 0.8 overlying the new Trade Wind 80. Note the greater roach of the Trade Wind 80.

Trade Wind 80 on the left, Code Zero 0.8 on the right.

Compared with the previous Code Zero sail, the Trade Wind 80 has a slightly shorter luff and has more sail area in the head and roach (upper rear). The outline is similar to the current P&H version of the Code Zero but the material is different.

The new Grand Prix sail cloth is a mylar/scrim/mylar trilaminate. The scrim is made up of carbon and kevlar yarns so it is very resistant to stretching or tearing. This type of trilaminate material is very tough and resistant to UV and has been long used on windsurfer wave sails and they take a real thrashing. The previous Code Zero cloth is great when new. It is a thinner, lighter mylar/dacron bilaminate but it tends to soften with repeat folding and this may be why the leaches of some older Code Zero sails "motor" or flutter in stronger winds. I suspect this will not be an issue with the Grand Prix cloth. It is partially see through.

There is no window option on the Trade Wind 80 sail but the shorter luff on the standard mast means you get a reasonable view to the horizon. The boom of the new sail sits higher on the standard mast than previous sails. This gives all round vision under the sail. You could cut the mast top down and lower the sail but I am not going to do that. I like the sail up higher as the wind gets slower and more turbulent the closer down it is to the surface of the sea.

Trade Wind 80 on the left P&H branded Code Zero 80 on the right.

Recent Code Zero 0.8 and all P&H branded Code Zero sails have no windows. The window only gives a view of the sky anyway.

1st generation Flat Earth sail in the foreground showing a large degree of twist. (2nd generation FEKS in the background.)

The Trade Wind 80 is the fourth generation of the Flat Earth sails that has been available in Europe. It has less twist than previous generations of Flat Earth sails, particularly the first and second generation dacron sails. The twist made the early sails forgiving in gusts but due to the head twisting off , the boom needed to be kept sheeted in a bit when sailing downwind to prevent the roach of the sail moving forward of the mast and spilling wind. The new sail can be sheeted out more on the run making it more efficient.

With less twist, the new sail is indeed a bit more unforgiving and as Mick MacRobb says "aggressive" than the original sails but will retain more power before auto spilling the wind. When the Trade Wind 80 is sheeted in a little further in a reach position I think the fullness low down looks a little further back than in the previous Code Zero which will make it a little more powerful for its size especially on a broad reach. When sheeted right in on a beat the head of the sail is flatter than previous versions but there is still plenty fullness low down. As a windsurfer, I have always liked using sails with a deep belly, a flat head and a roach with controlled twist for their wide wind range. As a sea kayaker, I like this style even more. I think Mick has really nailed it with this particular cut!

The batten, boom and gooseneck fitting are unchanged from previous generations of the sail. Also unchanged is the neat and expert way the sail has been cut, assembled and sewn.

On the water
Phil Toman and I received preview Trade Wind 80 sails in April 2015. Ian Johnstone then bought one of the first production sails and from then until November 2015 we have covered over 900km between us using the Tradewind 80 sail. We have used them extensively with unloaded P&H Quest, Delpin, Aries (with forward fin) Cetus MV and Valley Nordkapp LV kayaks. The Quest and Cetus MVs have also been tested with the sail when fully loaded on camping trips. We were able to test the sails side by side with all three previous generations of FEKS on identical P&H Aries and Cetus MV kayaks. Test conditions varied from force 2 to force 4 on exposed (quite rough) water and force 5-6 on sheltered (pretty flat) water with a fetch of 15km. The sails have been tested in the tidal waters of the Sound of Jura and the Solway Firth, in exposed waters at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde, in more sheltered water among the islands of the Firth of Clyde and...

...along the exposed North Sea coast between Lunan Bay and Arbroath.

Hopefully these GPs tracks  will give some idea of the thoroughness of testing. Each of these loops from summer 2015 is from an 11km circuit of the Isles of Fleet.

After the sail arrived I wasted no time in getting it out onto the water on my P&H Delphin. The wind was very gusty offshore in a sheltered bay from F2 to the bottom of F5. The sea was flat. On all points of sail the sail set with a noticeable lack of wrinkles. When launching the sail, it goes up with a satisfying wumph! One thing to note is that the top batten is now longer than the mast. When launching in stronger winds I like to hold the sail by the tip of the mast for a few seconds and allow the sail to blow free before pulling the uphaul to fully hoist the sail. This checks that I have not folded the sheet right round the sail when I previously furled it. Initially I found myself holding the top batten rather than the mast but I have since learned to go for the shorter mast. The sail has less twist and so is indeed a little less forgiving when you launch it on a broad reach than the original all dacron version. Code Zero FEKS sail users will probably not notice much difference though. The very gusty winds were a good test for me (a relatively experienced paddle sailor) to see how a newcomer might find the sail in steadier, lighter conditions. Well it was no trouble at all. I liked everything about it, launching, tacking upwind, on a reach, running, gybing and furling. There were no scary moments even in the most sudden gusts. In the strongest winds there was not a hint of the leech "motoring".

This sail proved very controllable and powerful downwind in stronger winds. In winds at the top of F4 it gives the extra power to your paddling to overtake the wave in front then climb over it and chase the next wave.

The GPS showed my maximum speed hit 22.9km/hr when paddle sailing the Aries hard in a F4 with following sea and I was frequently hitting over 20km/hr when planing on a wave. The cut and heavier cloth give the Trade Wind 80 sail a very stable feel downwind. When you drop off the plane you slow down and the apparent wind increases (you should paddle hard at this point to maintain speed and reduce the load on the rig). In the older dacron sails if you suddenly slowed, the leech would suddenly twist off spilling wind but this moved the centre of effort and made the sail feel a little unstable. This sail continues to pull hard when you decelerate but in no way does it feel unstable. My one reservation for someone upgrading from a dacron sail is that undoubtedly the stays will be transmitting more force to the hull, especially if you are loaded with expedition gear.

You may wish to reconsider your existing stay anchors. I now use two side stays and two back stays, all anchors are bolted through the kayak seam.


Many kayakers will not bother to use their sails upwind but it is worth the effort learning how to do so. The Grand Prix sail material is stiffer than the original dacron material and it is a little more difficult to judge how high to the wind you can paddle sail without luffing (back winding) the sail. The softer dacron sails definitely showed the when the leading edge back winded at an earlier stage. I was not bothered by this but if beginners are particularly concerned about beating performance (rather than just blasting downwind having fun) they could thread a wool tell tale through the luff of the sail about half way up and in front of the batten. The tell tale should blow horizontal sailing close as possible to the wind but if you point too high into the wind it will start to move vertically. Swapping between two Aries kayaks, one with the Code Zero and one with the Trade Wind 80, the experienced paddler found it easier to out point the other paddler when using the Trade Wind 80 upwind in a F3-F4. However, down wind there was little difference in speed between the two sails. Interestingly the flat area behind and above the batten often appeared to be back winding when close hauled but the full part of the sail below the batten continued to pull strongly.

Close reaching round a headland  in a F4 wind.

One thing I did notice about the new sail is I find it easier to control upwind in stronger winds. It feels much more stable than the previous dacron versions of the sail. Although they may be softer and more forgiving, they lack the feeling of stability and power of this new sail. I think the Trade Wind 80 sail's very solid feel is due to its centre of effort being much more static. Basically I like the feel of Trade Wind 80 a very great deal when going upwind. It also proved particularly effective upwind in combination with the Aries using a forward fin.

Use when fully loaded on expedition

Paddling sailing fully loaded on expedition is very rewarding especially with a favourable wind at the end of the day. However, the kayak will not accelerate so quickly in the gusts and unless you are lucky with the waves it will be more difficult to get it planing. This means you will be travelling slower and when you are paddling downwind the apparent wind will be greater with greater forces acting on the rig. This is another situation where it is important to continue to paddle hard to reduce the pressure on the rig. This is also why I think the 0.8 sqm sail is more suitable for all-round paddle sailing including expedition use than the 1.0sqm sail.

We were recently paddling south down the West Kyle of Bute when a "securite" strong north wind warning was broadcast on the VHF. In the relative shelter, the water was flat but the squalls were coming through the mountains at F5-F6 from various angles. All the yachts dropped their sails and motored home under bare poles. We carried on paddle sailing on a very broad reach. We were in identical Cetus MVs loaded with supplies for 5 nights camping. I had a Trade Wind 80 and Mike had a Code Zero 0.8. In these extreme conditions there was a lot of load on the rigs and I think I had an easier time controlling the Trade Wind 80 than Mike did with the Code Zero.

Two days later we enjoyed a more moderate F3 to F4 downwind blast of 30km across open waters of the Sound of Bute and it was more difficult to differentiate between the two sails' performance and handling.

FEKS 0.8 gen 2, Code Zero 0.8 gen 3 and Trade Wind 80 gen 4.

Wear and tear
At the end of this test there was no sign of wear, cracking or delamination in the three sails on test.


I like what Mick MacRobb has called the "slightly more aggressive" nature of the Trade Wind 80 sail. I felt more of the gust was being transformed into forward drive rather than spilling out off the roach as the sail twisted. The defining characteristic of the Trade Wind 80 is a very stable centre of effort. This makes paddle sailing at the top of your ability and conditions range a joy! This is steady evolution, it certainly won't make your Code Zero or P&H FEKS sail redundant. However, if you have one of the original all dacron (or dacron with mylar reinforcement on the leech) Flat Earth sails, then changing to the Trade Wind 80 would make a significant and noticeable upgrade. You could always sell your old dacron sail to a newcomer to paddle sailing, who might not yet be ready to invest in a new sail and who would appreciate the older sail's softer feel in lighter winds. If you are new to paddle sailing do not be put off by the high tech appearance of the Trade Wind 80, it is actually very easy to handle, especially in the lighter winds you should get to know it in. If you already have a Code Zero or P&H FEKS, the incremental improvement is probably not worth an upgrade at this time, unless you just MUST have all the latest kit! The biggest difference in performance is in winds that will probably be at the top of most people's comfort zones anyway but it also excels if you like going upwind in F4 winds. I cannot think of a better day or expedition sail for paddle sailing in all weathers, summer and winter.

In Europe, the FEKS Trade Wind 80 is available from Kari-Tek. Price in the first batch is the same as the outgoing Code Zero i.e. £198 (exc. mast and fittings) then subsequent deliveries will be £218. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere keep an eye on the Expedition Kayaks web site as they are main distributor in the FEKS's native Australia.

Conflict of interest
Phil and I have been using free loan sails that remain the property of Flat Earth Kayak Sails, the only cost to us was the postage from Australia. I have however, bought three other FEKS sails at full price. Neither Phil nor I have any financial interest in FEKS. Ian bought his sail for full price.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Lettman Black Light Greenland paddle, long-term touring test and review.

Ocean Paddler magazine issue 49 was published this week. Unfortunately a number of gremlins got into the publishing schedule of this issue. In it I wrote a review of the Lettman Blacklight Greenland paddle. Unfortunately a draft version of the test was published instead of the final version which was written after using the paddle for a further 4 months during which I covered almost 500 more kilometres with the paddle. This is the review that should have been published.

Amongst recreational touring paddlers, the Greenland paddle (GP) can be one of the most divisive subjects in sea kayaking. Some view it as a semi mystic object of reverence and pay homage to its centuries of history and will paddle with nothing else. Some GP users delight in perfecting the many different Greenland rolls and but hardly ever tour thereafter. In the other camp, Euro and Wing paddlers view the Greenland paddle as a historical object in much the same way that a smartphone user might view a telephone box on a street corner. The distribution of recreational sea kayakers tends to be polarised into those that use GPs and those who do not with each camp being convinced that their choice is "right". I have kept an open mind about paddle choice and have used a variety of paddle types, Euro, wing and GP over the last 13 years. My main interest is recreational sea kayak touring and I only do two different rolls. So this test of a GP is written from the perspective of a recreational touring kayaker, it is not really intended for those who are already converts (though this has proved to be a most desirable GP.) Rather, it is intended to open the eyes of those who have not considered or tried a GP and those who are unaware of the recent technological advances that have been made in their manufacture and performance.

I have used GPs for about a 15% of my paddling over the last 13 years and about 60% over the last year. I started with a beautiful second-hand, professionally made, laminated one piece wood paddle. This was really too long for me so I made two wooden ones myself. The first from whitewood was just for practice then the second was made from western red cedar. I then bought a Superior Kayaks two piece carbon fibre GP and have also had access to a three piece Northern Light carbon fibre GP. Although I have enjoyed them all, I have never used any of them as my main touring paddle.

Some common conceptions about GPs.
There are some common conceptions about GPs that may or not be true. In no particular order, here are some common beliefs about GPs' advantages or disadvantages. The first is that they are easier on your joints than a Euro paddle. This may well be true of Euros with a high feather angle but since I started paddling I have reduced my Euro and wing paddle feather angles to zero and I cannot truthfully say I notice any difference. However, I am in my seventh decade and like many older people I have torn the rotator cuff in one of my shoulders. This causes a painful arc in the range of movement in the shoulder. When using the canted stroke with a GP I found the GP more painful when touring long distances than when using a wing paddle. Since then I have only used GPs for short trips of less than 15km per day. I then tore the long head of biceps muscle off the shoulder (lifting a polyethylene kayak off my roof rack solo). While fixing this, the surgeon also fixed my rotator cuff and I have been delighted to increase my use of the GP again.

The second is that GPs should be sized using the anthropometric measurements of an arm span and a cubit. This might work for some people in some kayaks but takes no account of back length (which is not directly proportion to arm length), seat height, your weight and kayak volume and whether you are paddling loaded or unloaded. The loom length (between the blade roots just as important as overall length. With a GP you want to be able to sink the blade completely before it reaches your hips, since your pinky will be wrapped round the root of the blade the loom should be long enough that your pinky just gets wet. I suggest taking advice from a good dealer or manufacturer but only make a purchasing decision after you have demoed a variety of sizes of paddles in your own boat.

The third is that GPs are less tiring than other paddles because your hands are closer together on the loom. This means you don't need to lift your arms so high, especially with a high angle stroke. Well on three GP's, two wings and three Euros (cranked and straight) which I have been using recently, my thumbs are the same 50 cm apart on all of them!

The fourth is that GPs flutter more than other paddles and that newcomers need to learn the canted stroke to minimise flutter. To an extent this probably is true though all types of paddle can flutter. In the GP I think it is caused by unstable water flow which flows across the blade one way then the other. My home made GP was the worst GP for flutter I have tried. By canting the paddle forward (the upper edge further away from the body) you can encourage water to flow one way towards the upper edge which then becomes the trailing edge. On a poor GP (like my home made one) you need to use so much cant to reduce flutter that the paddle wants to dive (especially if you use a low angle paddling style) and newcomers can get a feeling of instability. However, you do not need to start off Greenland paddling with a canted stroke. Indeed if you hold the GP correctly with the thumb and fore finger round the loom and the palm and other three fingers round the root of the blade this will automatically create enough cant for the better GPs.

The fifth is that GP's are more buoyant than other paddles and this helps with things like bracing especially static bracing. This might be true of my home made GP with its voluminous blades and thick edges but comparing three carbon fibre GPs with three foam or air core carbon fibre, non GP paddles I have at the moment, two of the conventional paddles are more buoyant than all three GP's!

The sixth is that GPs are slower than Euros or wings for touring. This is nonsense. Unlike racing, when you are touring you seldom maintain your kayak's maximum hull speed for more than a few minutes. In practice, a group of like minded paddlers in a variety of kayaks and with a variety of paddles will usually all be moving at pretty much the same speed.

After considering these conceptions I was left with the feeling that GPs, wings and Euros are actually more similar than they are different and that you get good and bad examples of each. Perhaps we just need to think more of whether a blade is high aspect, low aspect or somewhere in between.

Some things you may not (or want to) know about GPs
One of my "Euro paddle only friends" said "Of course you can't use it with a paddle float." GP only users are probably rolling about in laughter at this. Many traditional GPs had enough volume to use as a stabiliser without a float and were slotted at right angles to the kayak into a Qoorutit on deck. However, due to the extreme thinness of its edges and tip, the Black Light GP has significantly less volume than most GPs and will provide less static support. There is also a serious side to my friend's comment. I developed a new respect for the paddle float from Murty Campbell of Stornoway Canoe Club (he is also cox of the Stornoway RNLI lifeboat). In the late 1980's, he pioneered return solo kayak crossings to many of the outlying islands and rocks to the west and north of the Outer Hebrides. At that time even teams were not risking these exposed crossings. When I first paddled with him. I noticed a paddle float on his boat and asked him about it. He said "By the time you have been paddling for a while, if conditions are extreme enough to knock you in, you cannot guarantee your roll, it's not a competition, out there it's survival. If you are solo, you have to have several re-entry options and these include paddle float re-entry." I do a lot of solo paddling and since talking to Murty, I have always carried and practiced with a paddle float. I can tell my friend that although the paddle float strap will not secure a GP blade, the float will stay on a GP by friction if you blow it up hard enough. You can then use the additional support to do a quick thigh hook entry directly into the cockpit.

Another Euro friend said "But they don't have drip rings!" This may be a statement of the obvious but it does lead to one thing they don't tell you about GPs. Your hands get wetter with a GP, whatever the sea conditions. This may not bother some but in the better weather I like to get my DSLR camera out and using a GP I need to be able to dry my hands first. Also, during a Scottish winter my hands get colder with a GP because they are wetter.

The Lettmann Black Light paddle
My interest in the Black Light paddle was sparked after meeting Roland Woolven with his Black Light GP in the Grey Dogs tide race south of Oban. I knew he had used it for part of his circumnavigation of Britain. So when I had the chance to test one I jumped at it. The Black Light GP was originally an ultra-lightweight, one piece designed by Sara Wegner of Escape Outdoors in Gothenburg. Its development and manufacture in carbon fibre was by Erik Kullgren of Elitecomposit AB. A two piece was developed with the help of Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg in 2011. In late 2012 Klaus Lettman of Lettman GmbH took over the manufacture, distribution and marketing of Black Light paddles and full production models were available from mid 2014.

Specifications, design and construction
The paddle is available in one cm increments from 217cm to 223cm. The test paddle was 222cm with a loom length of 53cm. The loom cross section is ovalised at 36mmx32mm. The smallest one piece weighs 620g, the two piece 222cm paddle as tested weighs 715g. The blade is 85mm wide at the tip and 45mm at the shoulder. The price has recently dropped in the UK and is currently £410 inc VAT (I paid £460 in July!) for either the one piece or the two piece. The paddle is constructed from prepreg carbon fibre and the paddle is hollow. A longitudinal internal spine at right angles to the paddle face divides each blade into two chambers and gives the paddle its incredible stiffness. The paddle tips are rounded and both tips and edges are reinforced with aramid fibres. There would be little point in having a super stiff paddle if the joint was loose. Fortunately the joint is totally rigid but very unobtrusive. On the test paddle an ovalised spigot slides into a plastic liner on the inside of the other loom. (Please see footnote below, the current production paddles use a larger diameter carbon spigot without the plastic liner.) The join is locked by a stainless steel button on the spigot which pops through a tight fitting hole on the female side of the loom. Once assembled your hands hardly notice the join which is important in a GP as your hands will frequently slide the length of the paddle. The two joints on the three piece Northern Light GP feel decidedly loose in comparison, especially after the paddle has seen a season's use. With cold hands it is quite difficult to depress the Black Light button enough to get the two halves apart. I find the point of a key helps push it in.

When you pick this paddle up the lightness is almost shocking, even if you already own carbon fibre paddles. The next thing that will be surprising, even to those that are very familiar with GPs, is the dramatic thinness of the last 15 cm of the blade and of the edges, which get progressively thinner from the blade shoulder to the tip. The oval loom and more rounded edges at the blade shoulders make this paddle extremely comfortable to hold though some more used to traditional paddles might find gripping the ends of the blade during bracing and rolling less comfortable than with a thicker wooden GP.

This test concentrated on the Black Light paddle's use for touring as that is where the designer and manufacturer have emphasised its particular features of light weight, stiffness and thin edges give it advantages over other GPs.

On the water
The test took place over a period of 9 months and just over 1,000km in Scotland, both north and south of Ardnamurchan Point and in the Clyde and Solway Firths. Wind conditions varied up to F4-5 on exposed water and F5-6 on water with a more limited fetch of 15km. It has been used in tide races of up to 5 knots in the Solway and up to 8 Knots round Jura. It has been used in a Delphin 155, Aries 155, Cetus MV and Scorpio MV (both unloaded and fully loaded for camping), a Nordkapp LV and a Taran 16. I am 174cm in height and weighed 90kg at the beginning of the test and 85kg at the end of the test.

I have already mentioned the comfortable grip on the Black Light paddle This gives a great feeling of control, which is assisted by the hands holding the blade roots (which is one of the features I like about GP's in general). Indeed I now prefer my Euro paddles to be either indexed on both sides or cranked so that my hands have a better idea of the orientation of the blade.
The most striking things about the first few strokes were how light it was and how silently and cleanly it enters and leaves the water. There is absolutely no flutter with this paddle no matter how hard you pull. Maybe because I regularly change paddles and paddle non GPs with zero feather, I found I was able to switch from a wing to the Black Light GP and back almost seamlessly. However, I think there is more to it than just familiarity, it definitely takes me longer to adjust to my other GPs if I have not used them for a while. They have more flutter and I find they need a greater angle of cant than the Black Light GP. My Superior Kayaks GP is also light, stiff and made of CF but is a thicker paddle, especially at the edges. I think the very thin edges of the Black Light GP lead to a greater feel for the water flowing over the blades. This is particularly important when blending steering and power strokes or sculling and, in this respect, the Black Light is probably the best paddle of any type I have ever used.

I found it just as much fun to use in all the kayaks I tested it with. It particularly suits the Delphin and the Aries as they are so manoeuvrable when edging that you do not need to depend on those turning strokes that might be better with a Euro paddle. I was also surprised by how well it suited the Taran 16, which is about as far away from a traditional Greenland kayak as you can get. Although my maximum sprint speed with the Black Light GP in the Taran 16 was about 5% less than when using a small wing, I found it just as easy to maintain a fast (for me) touring speed of 8km/hr with either paddle. Even in a force 6 headwind and a F5 cross wind I did not find it as affected by wind as my usual touring small blade wing with zero feather.

Touring and expedition use
Until now my favoured touring paddle has been a wing with a small blade. My first camping trip with the Black Light GP involved the waters round Oban, Kerrera, Seil, the Sound of Luing, the Sound of Jura, the west Coast of Jura, the Sound of Islay, Islay and return by the Sound of Jura. We set off with food and water for 5 days and nights. We encountered tides of up to 8 knots and winds from F0 to F5. We encountered significant wind over tide at the north end of the Sound of Luing. We were all paddling Cetus kayaks, my friends were both using cranked CF Werner Cyprus Euro paddles while I used the Black Light. I adjusted to the GP straight away and found it superb even in the confused tidal waters of the Sound of Luing. The feedback from the stiffness and the narrow edges gives a great feeling for how the water is flowing over the blade and with it comes a great sense of security. Like other GPs, you can use the Black Light GP for high or low angle paddling. I also find myself using a stroke akin to a wing stroke with a GP and again the Black Light GP excels at this. At first I expected the ultra stiff Black Light GP to be tiring (especially when paddling loaded into a wind or tide). I find my own CF Werner Cyprus paddles are too stiff and with them I need to pace my paddling if I want to avoid aching arms. As darkness was approaching on our crossing to Jura we were really pushing on. Using the Black Light GP for the first time with a load I expected to suffer after this but didn't and as a result I began to really appreciate the Black Light GP's touring ability. 
One of my paddling companions is nearly two decades younger than me and normally I get a bit tired keeping up if we are pushing on. The Black Light GP is the first GP I have used and not felt at a disadvantage when trying to keep up with a fitter, younger paddler who is in a hurry with a Euro paddle! 

This is also the best GP paddle I have used for really pulling hard during acceleration or against an adverse current. On the coast of Jura we spent a pleasant hour at peak flow on a spring tide, which was running at 8 knots. There was no wind so the water was flat except at the eddy lines. We fought our way upstream, eddy hopping and ferry gliding from one side of the channel to the other until we could go no further. Then we broke out into the main flow and ran back down to the next eddy and repeated, crossing each eddy line until exhausted. In the past I would not have chosen one of my GP's for this type of paddling but I can honestly say that I felt in no way restricted by the performance of the Black Light GP. At the end of our trip I decided that, for me, the Black Light GP was the best touring paddle of any type that I had ever used. It carries a price premium over other CF paddles which I have used but I think its outstanding touring performance is worth it.
To counter balance the above, another of my younger friends who uses a Werner Cyprus tried the Black Light on a camping trip. After about an hour he developed tendinitis at the elbow. This just demonstrates that our bodies are different and it would be amazing if one paddle was "the best" and suited everybody.

In the surf
Even though the great majority of my surf paddling has been with Euro paddles, I have broken two GPs but only 1 Euro paddle in the surf. So given the expense of the Black Light, I approached the surf with some caution. The spring tidal range in the Solway is nearly 10 metres and the tide goes out for many kilometres leaving a great expanse of gently sloping sands. The ebb tide runs against the prevailing southerly winds and combined with swell coming up the Irish sea, the shoaling water creates breaking waves as far as the eye can see. These are locally known as "the white steeds of the Solway".

My favoured paddle for these conditions is a large bladed VE Explorer Aircore paddle set at zero feather and indexed on both sides of the shaft. However, the Black Light performed perfectly well, though it did not have the acceleration of the VE and I was not catching quite so many waves with it. The Black Light was less effective than the VE at stern steering strokes but it was more effective than my wing. Some argue that GP's offer better bracing than Euros but in the rough and tumble of broken, aerated water, I found the VE paddles better. However, once your body is in the water, the GP's other advantages come to the fore and I particularly liked the feel of the Black Light as I alternated strokes when sculling. I think the sharp edges contribute to this paddle's sculling performance. However, on balance, I prefer the feel of a CF large bladed Euro in the surf.

As mentioned above this is not a test of this paddle's rolling ability through the range of Greenland rolls. By chance, my one roll (two if you count left and right versions!) is the standard Greenland roll. As someone who started as a white water river paddler, my main roll was a "powerful" C to C but I developed dislocating knees and lost my rolling ability with that roll. Fortunately this coincided with a visit by Turner and Cheri of Kayak Ways to the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium in Skye and I learned the standard Greenland roll with a small wing blade and no strain on my knees! Some people may not like the feel of the sharp edges of the end of the Black Light GP blade in the hand during the roll but it did not bother me in the slightest. Just as in sculling I loved how this paddle felt during the transition to the forward sweep during the last stage of the roll compared with my other GPs. However, the difference in feel during rolling alone probably does not justify the extra cost of the Black Light GP over other cheaper CF or wood GP paddles. As mentioned above the Black Light has significantly less flotation than wooden GPs for static braces, though as a tourer (with surfer's nodules in my ears) I cannot pretend to spend much time in the static brace position.

Rock hopping
GP's are not ideal for rock hopping due to the fragility of their edges and the depth their blades need to be immersed for full grip. I find they are not so good in aerated water or for forward steering strokes. Although I would still choose to take a Euro for a specific rock hopping trip, I found I was not keeping away from the rocks with the Black Light GP. The clatter of carbon on rock has often brought a grimace to my face but it has just bounced of the blades. Due to the sharp edges, the Black Light is actually quite good for bow rudders when compared with my other GPs.

Paddle sailing
This is probably not something that many traditional Greenland paddlers would think of doing with a GP. However, recreational paddling, as inspired by MacGregor in the mid 19th century,

started out as paddle sailing. It is still very popular in Australia and New Zealand and interest in the UK and Europe is reawakening. 

The Inuit also used sails as this 1927 photo from the book "Inuit Kayaks in Canada: A Review of Historical Records and Construction" 1995 by EY Arima clearly shows.

One of the real joys of paddle sailing is that it allows you to catch faster waves that are found in deeper water. You still need to paddle very hard to do this. Although many people paddle sail with a GP, the majority use wings or Euros to maximise acceleration when catching waves. Until now I have hardly used my own GP's for paddle sailing as I just did not enjoy trying to accelerate with them as much as with a wing.

However, the Black Light GP is the best accelerating GP I have tried and I have been using it increasingly for paddle sailing, especially when touring with a load.

Wear and tear.
The demo Black Light paddle is nearly two years old and has been used for two symposiums and been on frequent loans. There is not a single chip on any of its edges. The joint is still totally rigid. Apart from a few minor scuffs on the surface, it still looks as new. No water has entered its cavities.

extreme lightness and stiffness
very narrow edges for flutter free grip in the water
ideally suited to long distance touring especially when fully loaded
remarkably robust given its lightness
totally solid two piece joint

Very expensive
Not as customisable as a wooden paddle.

The Lettmann Black Light Greenland paddle is the best recreational touring paddle (GP, wing or Euro) I have ever used. I have bought one at full price from Kari-Tek. Despite the high cost I think it is worth every penny.

Foot note
My own 222 cm Black Light paddle arrived during this review. It was beautifully finished but I was not able to paddle it. The two halves would not fit together. The design of the joint has changed. The spigot has been increased in diameter and now fits directly into the other half, which is no longer lined with a plastic sleeve. Carbon fibre to carbon fibre joins can have a lot of friction but this would not fit and so had to be returned to Kari-Tek the UK distributor. You should check the fit before leaving the shop. Kari-Tek supplied an alternative new 220cm Black Light which I have used for the last two months and not noticed the missing 2cm! It still has a very tight fit and I need to wiggle it back and forward for about 40 seconds to get the two halves together or apart. One advantage of the tight fit is that little water makes its way into the paddle. Due to the volume of air in these hollow blades the halves are not sealed because if the black paddle was lying in the hot sun it would explode if sealed. I spent 3 hours in the water while rolling one afternoon and despite frequent immersions the paddle was bone dry when I pulled it apart. It is unlikely that you will use an expensive paddle such as this as spare splits on deck but if you do it will fill with water.

For expert advice on Greenland paddles and paddling:
Also look out for online and print articles by Greg Stamer (herehere  and here) and Christopher Crowhurst.

Big skies on the Solway, October 2015

For those who would like to follow the thread of this great trip on the Solway from start to finish, I hope this index will be useful.

Setting off with a fair wind and tide on the Solway Firth.

Prospects at the three priapic pillars of Knockbrex.

The follies of Knockbrex and a convenient cave.

Buzzing walls and more follies at Castle Haven.

A couple of Rumblekirns and much friction between Scotland and England.

Erratic moments on the Mull of Ross, which should not be confused with the Ross of Mull.

Pleasant procrastination during our peregrinations round Slack Heuch Head.

Dark clouds gather above Little Ross, an island with a dark past.

No ghosts on Little Ross Island, despite its tragic past.

A shadow at dawn on Little Ross Island.

A rusty cock, mysterious symbols, dead heads, a high and dry ship and a shaded sundial on Little Ross Island.

Little Ross lighthouse, a lens and an alpine garden.

Gunfire, a lost Queen and a wreck in Kirkcudbright Bay.

A slippery approach to the graceful town of Kirkcudbright and the Selkirk Arms.

The Little Ross "tide race" was like a stroll in the park!

The sound of heavy guns and a mushroom cloud rising over the Solway.

The folly of not bringing a trolley to Barlocco.

Fiery matters at a Barlocco dawn.

A room with a view on Murray's Isles and anomalous petrol pumps.

A race against the tide at Corbies Cove.

A rocky epilogue in Corbies Cove.

Slow paddling mode at the end of our Solway trip.

A 64km trip from Fleet Bay. We started from a private caravan site in Fleet Bay but alternative starts with free parking could made from Carrick shore, Brighouse Bay (toilets) or Kirkcudbright (toilets) depending on the tide. There is a pay car park with toilet at Cardoness, (150m to HW mark). If you want a base in the area there is a great basic mobile caravan and camping site right on the beach at Newton Farm 01557 840234, there is no toilet block only an elsan disposal point. You can launch from half way in Fleet Bay 3 hours on either side of high water. Tide times at Hestan Island are a pretty good guide for most of this coast.