Thursday, October 29, 2015

P&H Skudder, a long term test of a sea kayak skeg/rudder system

I have been testing the new P&H Scorpio mk2 MV since early summer for a test that will appear in the next issue of  Ocean Paddler magazine. During that time I have covered over 700km in all weathers, sea and tide states that this summer threw at us. The boat came with the optional P&H skudder which costs an extra £100. A lot of people have been asking what I thought of it so here goes. The only review I saw before I tried it was based on a few minutes paddling on a small lake. The tester was not particularly enamoured with it so perhaps I was not expecting too much from the Skudder. Sometimes that is a very good way to go into a test!

Design and construction

The Skudder is a combined rudder and skeg mounted in the usual skeg position. It has a decent sized blade to aid control. It is also considerably stiffer than the standard P&H skeg. This is it deployed in skeg mode.

On the Scorpio mk2 the skeg/Skudder adjustment has been moved to the top of the cockpit. The Skudder acts as a skeg if you deploy the slider to just over half way back. 

If you pull the adjuster right to the back the blade fully deploys and is free to turn in rudder mode.

It is turned using the excellent self adjusting SmartTrack pedal system which is found on many ruddered boats these days.

All the control cables are contained within the boat and the rear control lever over the rudder is covered by a flush plastic cover on the rear deck.  For a ruddered kayak the Skudder gives very clean and uncluttered lines.

The cover protects the adjustment lever and cables from snagging. The rear hatch looses a little room compared with a simple skeg box but long thin items can still go up either side and had no trouble packing the boat for camping.

In use
I was not expecting a great deal from the Skudder in rudder mode. I was wrong and as the months on test went by, I found I was using the rudder mode more and more, even without the sail! It is not a panacea for manoeuvring a kayak but unlike some systems I have tried, it does have a big enough blade to be effective, even when paddling at 45 degrees to the wind (when some rudder systems are better lifted as they cause lee cocking if you cannot paddle fast enough). The 5* paddler felt there was no need for the rudder as the Scorpio MV was so manoeuvrable when edged. Initially I agreed but then I discovered that the Skudder works remarkably well for more advanced paddlers when used with edging and steering strokes. Then I noticed that two of the early intermediate paddlers had started to automatically edge the kayak when they were using the Skudder! The beginners loved it.

Paddle sailing
When travelling fast downwind with the sail up, you need to be light footed with the Skudder. It is easy to steer too far one way then overcorrect the other. When paddle sailing downwind on an 11km crossing in F4 conditions with two paddle sailors in Cetus MVs, I found I was actually faster using the Skudder in skeg mode than rudder mode. In F4 winds the Skudder is big and effective enough to tack the Scorpio MV through the wind. Most other over stern ruddered kayaks I have used for paddle sailing in such winds are easier to tack if you lift the rudder first.
Any snags?
Well first of all it proved incredibly reliable and  It did not need any adjustment during the test. Unlike the more expensive Kar-itek skeg/rudder (which I have used over many years) it does not self centre as you lift it. This means you need to centre it with your feet first. Until you get used to this, do not leave it till the last minute before landing!

The only downside is that the pivot pin for the Skudder is in an exposed position at the front of the skeg box. The hinge is unaffected by pebbles, shingle, mud, or fine sand but some coarse shell sands (as found on the Outer Solway) can jam it and If the boat has been sitting on such sand you should make sure it is clear after launching but before getting into the boat.

Overall the Skudder grew on me to the extent that over the months on test I ended up using it most of the time! I got so used to it that when I first got back in my Aries 155 I was pushing the bulkhead with my toes every time I turned, trying to get the rudder to turn!  The Skudder is incredibly well designed and engineered, especially given the price of the boat it is fitted to. It works well in either skeg or rudder mode, indeed it is stiffer than the standard P&H skeg. Given the small price premium being asked I suggest that anyone buying a P&H boat that the Skudder is offered with would be mad not to give it a try.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Old Man of the Mull of Logan.

At the Mull of Logan there are a number of hidden inlets which lead to the great rock arch called the Devil's Bridge. Phil, Tony and I had been before but as Maurice had not been before (and we had said nothing to him) he amazed when he found it.

 Those entering the recesses and passing under bthe arch do so under the baleful stone gaze of the Old Man of the Mull of Logan.

 We dallied for some time in this wonderful spot but the tide was still rushing north and we were now going to head south to Port Logan...

 ...against the tide.  There was no eddy on the SE side of the Mull but close in the tide was only running at 4km/hr compared with 9km/hr just a few meters out.

 Soon we were in quiter waters and the coast here has a maze of gullies many of them interconnecting. This arch is called Little Bridge.

 Further along we came to this old cabin before we arrived... Port Logan Bay which is backed by the fertile fields of the Rhins of Galloway.

Our final obstacle was clearing the lines of the many fishermen who lined the old pier. Port Logan was originally called Port Nessock and in the 1
7th century attempts were made by the McDouall family to establish it as a ferry port for Ireland. They also built the Port Logan Inn which is sadly closed at the moment.

The quay and Port Logan Light were built in 1830 by Colonel Andrew McDouall. The light is a conical stone tower with a platform for a lantern. It is not known when it was last lit but for sometime after that it had a bell, which was rung to guide local boats back in foggy conditions. A decent road to the village was not constructed until the early 20th century, so most of the village's trade and traffic depended upon the sea. A life boat station was built at Port Logan in 1866. It closed in 1932 as the RNLI lifeboat at Portpatrick, 18km to the north west, was motorised by then. The boat house is now the village hall which you can find near the quay.

Our 24km trip from the East Tarbet round the Mull of Galloway, Crammag Head and the Mull of Logan is one of the finest paddles in Scotland. However, due to the tides it can be very serious if there is any wind.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Catching the tide from Crammag Head to the Mull of Logan.

This is a return to where I left off our Mull of Galloway trip.

After rounding Crammag Head a little breeze got up and we fairly sped up the North Channel with both tide and wind assistance.

Portencorkie is really the only beach north of West Tarbet and funnily enough each has a huge gas tank. These were washed of a cargo ship in a storm. The beach does trap any detruis and I have only stopped here once so...

 ...we pressed on round...

 ...Laggantullach Head and...

 ...past Clanyard and Port Logan Bays. We stayed out in the tide and made rapid progress towards...

 ...the Mull of Logan, our second Mull in one day.

The flood tide was running like a river at 9km/hr, fortunately the light wind was with the tide otherwise it might not have been as calm as this.

We broke out into a calm eddy behind the Mull. Tony Phil and I knew what to expect. Maurice was in for a surprise...

Monday, October 26, 2015

A series of coincidences on our leaving Cara and Gigha.

 We enjoyed a leisurely first luncheon on the white shell sands of Port Sgiathain on the south west coast of Gigha. (Perhaps it was only second breakfast because I cannot recall if any essence of Jura was consumed.) We were in no hurry as we wished to use the ferry slipway at Tayinloan to recover our kayaks. Having no desire to inconvenience the ferry or experience the unleashing of its ramp we planned our our crossing so that it would coincide withe the ferry's departure from Tayinloan. This meant that it would overtake us on our crossing of the Sound of Gigha so we kept a sharp lookout behind.

The rumble of engines soon announced the passage of the MV Loch Ranza but we were well to the south of her course. For the first time Ian caught a clear sight of the Paps of Jura and I regailed him of the trip Tony and I had made to Jura back in April. So that's another future trip sorted!

 Gradually Gigha, the Paps of Jura and...

...Cara with its white sands, Mull and Brownie slipped astern as we approached...

 ...Tayinloan on the Kintyre side of the Sound.

 We had only the briefest of stops, while the ferry finished loading, during which we had time to admire...

 ...the creel boat Kyra OB469 before...

 ...the Loch Ranza departed with another cheery wave from her captain.

 As the ferry motored her way back to Gigha...

 Ian and I landed on the slipway and strolled back to the cars for our kayak trolleys. It had been a truly laid back and delightful trip and we savoured our last moments on the west coast of Kintyre. We were in no particular hurry and decided to enjoy the delights of Jessie's Ferry Farm Tearoom before heading on our way. Coincidentally Ian and I both chose the daily special, wild boar with chorizo burgers which were literally immensely satisfying! Ian and I now faced equally long drives to diametrically opposite parts of Scotland. Ian to Grampian in the NE and myself to Galloway in the SW. Amazingly we each arrived safely within 10 minute of each other. What a coincidence! But this was not the only coincidence on this trip. I had set my iPod onto shuffle play and remarkably the second song which came on as I was driving north on Kintyre towards West Loch Tarvert was by Paul McCartney and Wings. No it wasn't Mull of Kintyre, with its mist rolling in from the sea (of which we had seen plenty). It was Helen Wheels, which recounts one of the McCartney family trips from their farm on Kintyre to London in their trusty LandRover which they called "Helen Wheels". I am pretty sure that the Brownie of Cara would not know how to hack an iPod shuffle play order....or would he?

Altogether we had enjoyed two half days and one full day paddling 51km round Gigha and Cara. It was probably about my 10th sea kayaking trip but Ian's first. Like me, he plans to return but I do not think that is a chance coincidence!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Farewell to Cara

From the Mull of Cara we paddled up the east coast of the island  where even in the gentle swell there were surf traps for the unwary. The rocks here were still white with cormorant guano though...

 ...only a few birds remained.

We were not the only ones leaving Gigha and Cara. This beautiful yacht had moored overnight at Ardminish Bay on Gigha and was now taking advantage of the settled weather to make her way back from the West Coast to the Isle of Man via the Mull of Kintyre and the North Channel.

We came to a beautiful series of tombola beaches before...

 ...saying our final farewells to Cara and the Brownie and setting off across the Sound of Cara to Gigalum.

 This was another excuse to paddle through the Gigalum reefs...

 ...leaving the Mull of Cara far in our wakes.

The SW coast of Gigha proved to be...

 ...equally rewarding with crystal clear waters.

We could not resist pulling into Port an Sgiathain on Gigha for a leisurely first luncheon before starting the crossing back to Kintyre..

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A meeting with the latter day Brownie of Cara at the Mull.

 When we woke on Cara on the third and last day of our trip the skies were overcast but there was no wind or swell which would make ideal conditions to round the Mull of Cara.

We set off round Cara in an anticlockwise direction which took us through the skerries on the island's NW coast.

 An unmistakable odour revealed a number of the island's large goat population.

As soon as we were out of the shelter of the skerries we encountered swell which is often a reason to keep well out but it was just about as flat as I have ever seen it.

Ian had not being expecting the Mull of Cara to be particularly impressive so he was delighted when we first saw its rocky profile.

 It was so calm we were able to paddle right into Dead Man's Bay to the west of the Mull.

 Ian was dwarfed by the scale of the rocks which had fallen from the Mull in a huge landslide in 1756. The resulting tsunami destroyed coastal houses on Cara, Gigha and the west coast of Kintyre as far north as West Loch Tarbert.

 We took it in turn to paddle out to get some good distance shots. It was slack water but when the tide is running against the wind here, photography would be the last thing on your mind.

 High above the sightless stone eyes of the Cara eagle gazed out to the Atlantic. For a time we had had the impression we were being watched and had caught an occasional sight of a small brown figure flitting from rock to rock. Was it the Brownie?...

 Then we say it. It was the alpha male goat of Cara. He was perched on a comfortable rock...

...high on the cliffs of the Mull...

...watching over his flock below. We paddled on leaving the Mull of Cara to the goats and the Brownie.