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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.