I know inflatables are viewed as rather naff in some quarters but many people look for a boat that does not need a lot of space to store and can be taken on planes, etc.
I was looking for a fun touring kayak to keep on our converted lifeboat without perching it on the roof. Previously Ive done a bit of sea kayaking so got the taste for boats that are fairly fast and responsive.
My requirements were that it should track well. not be too slow, not be too heavy and preferably not look like a beach toy. After the usual obsessive internet research I decided to go for an Advance Elements Advanced frame, a 10 footer.
Comparisons for me are my Epic GP 12ft glassfibre touring boat, a great little boat, fast, light but obviously does not fit into a bag, and a Feathercarft Kahuna which I owned for a while. for anyone unfamiliary with Featerdraft they are highly respected but also highly expensive Canadian folding kayaks.
I tried it for the first time today and I have to say it is a fantastic little boat for the money. (£425 plus a tenner carriage.)
Assembly was so easy, the stiffening bits at the ends are already inserted and stay there, with little ABS sheets that insert on the first assembly into pockets at the the bow and stern. There are 9 tubes to pump up but it was all very easy and takes about 15 minutes. Everything is well made and good quality. Compared to the assembly of a Feathercraft there is no comparison. As 5ft 2 middle aged female I was able to handle this boat on my own, and apart from my Epic there are few boats that fit that criteria. One good feature is the carrying case which for once is high quality and big enough to get the kayak back into it without a struggle.
Some may be put off by the Advance Frame's 32" beam but dont be - it is not that wide at the waterline anyway and does not feel clumsy at all.
The cockpit is huge, easy to get in and out for anyone with limited flexibility. No footrests, but some people will be able to rest their feet on the front bouyancy,. I found resting my knees against the coaming was reasonably comfortable but you could alway improvise some sort of footrest like a closed cell foam block. The seat is the standard sit on top type seat and I will be fitting some lumbar support. The higsh seat back does clash a bit with my BA but wasnt too much of an issue.
I was on flat water with a freshening breeze that got up to a F4-5 by the time I called it a day. It was not quite as fast to accelerate as the Epic, which after all is 2 feet longer, but reached a respectable speed and tracked astonishingly well, with excellent manouevrability. They must have done extensive desingn work on getting the built in skeg just right. Compared to the Kahuna I would say it tracked better, with the wind from any direction building to F5 I never had to fight to control the boat and there was absoutely no weathercocking. Naturally if I stopped I got blown about a bit but it handled that headwind as well as either of the two comparison boats if not better.
If at this point you are thinking," yes but what about edging and rolling " then this may not be the boat for you. You can edge it to enhance turns but it turns easily without. As to rolling I have no idea, I doubt it is relevant to this boat. Initial stability is of course very high. You would have to try very hard to capsize this boat, or be in really big water and then you would probably fall out. Other reviewers have found the rear deck re entry method works. Contrary to one review you may come across I did not find I got a damp bum although it apparently does let some drips in through the zips on the front deck. First time out with plenty of paddle splash my bum was bone dry after 45 minute paddling.
You can get a spray deck but I did not buy it as I wanted to see if my large Reed deck would work. It does but I imagine would be difficult to seal by yourself on the water. If you are planning paddling moving water or sea then the own brand spray deck may be a good idea. I'll probably get one for the winter. Of course you do get drips from your paddle. I just wore my Reed deck to keep my knees dry without sealing it which on the canal was fine.
The concept of an inflatable with added stiffening to produce a boat that is easy to assemble, highly forgiving, manouevrable and above all, straight tracking must represent a real breakthrough in the portable boat market, especially considering the price compared to other folders. It also looks rather nice, I think, like a high tech rucksack. These boats have an accessory 'spine' which is a metal stiffening rod - at my weight (10 stone) the boat performed perfectly well without it but some reviewers recomend it at all times and others for heavier paddlers ( over 200lbs).
I bought my boat from Nick at www.advancedelementskayaks.co.uk - ordered on Monday afternoon it arrived on Wednesday. Overall I would say it is excellent for casual touring, fun and great value for money.
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