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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Test Paddling the Trident Ultra 4.3

I can count the times I've encountered towering waves that broke over the deck of my kayak on one hand (probably with fingers to spare).



There was that time on the Columbia when Fred capsized at its confluence with the Deschutes (for one).



And then there was that time I made my exodus from Long Island into something of a wind tunnel on the east side of Willapa Bay. In both cases my 12.5 foot Tsunami was as stable as an ocean liner, giving me an opportunity to adapt to new conditions without a punitive preliminary dunking.



The Tsunami 125 has been a patient, forgiving tutor. However, while one is actually in it, its two storage hatches are inaccessible, so things you might want (like cameras) are either in the cockpit with you, or lashed to the deck. Do you need to change lenses in the middle of the river? Not unless you like to juggle delicate equipment over the abyss of no return. What if you also want to learn how to fish? Now you have to figure out how to pack fishing poles and tackle boxes so that you have a chance of retaining most of your investment should you tip over. While there is some space behind the seat for waterproof items that can take some squishing, I'm otherwise not too keen to set various dry-bags on my lap or between my legs since, more often than not, I have to remove the spray skirt to get to them, and more significantly, these items become entanglements when attempting to exit the cockpit. After reading accounts of medal winning kayak legends being pinned in their cockpits to drown, I put stuff there only temporarily and with deep foreboding. 


So I'm looking for an improbable watercraft that has the hauling capacity of a canoe (as well as a canoe's flexibility with regard to seating positions and accessibility to cargo), the stability of my Tsunami, the speed of a sea kayak, and, of course, a cup-holder.



Ocean Kayak's Trident Ultra 4.3 is a sit-on-top kayak designed for fishing. As the idea of a 'fishing kayak' has caught on, there has been a sort of a trend to develop ever more stable platforms. This has resulted in something I think they used to call boats (some even have motors). But some of the sit on tops still employ design strategies inherited from sea kayaks. The Ultra 4.3 has noticeable 'rocker', a fairly narrow width at 29.1 inches (just 3 more than my Tsunami) and a nose and tail that look like a keeled craft (for tracking), but a fairly flat belly (for maneuvering).

It's clearly designed to be a fishing kayak because it has four flush-mounted  fishing pole holders and a ruler on the center rectangular hatch for measuring your catch.



The Ultra 4.3 didn't have any cup-holders that I could see. I had to make do with the much publicized pivoting hatch top that spins around (see the fancy silver 'T' hinge at right) so either surface can be hidden away in the giant rectangular hatch. One side of the hatch top has a bottle holder built into it. The other side seems to be designed for mounting a fish finder. The literature says this is handy if, when coming to shore through pounding surf, you'd want to protect your fish finder screen by turning it around to the inside. But the literature doesn't really explain what to do to protect the expensive wine bottle that consequently must be exposed to the elements nor how to fit everything from both sides into the hatch at once.

The rectangular hatch was big enough to accommodate the dry bag that holds my emergency gear and camera gear. However, I was surprised to find that this space was fully enclosed with no access to the interior of the boat. This means there's a good chance that this hatch is actually water-tight. It also means that you won't sink your kayak if you flip it while this hatch is open. But it also means that you won't be putting any fishing poles in it without modifications to your boat.



A padded seat and seat-back clips into the kayak at four connection points around the back end of the molded cockpit. Presumably, the straps are adjustable, but their function, and the benefits for adjusting them remained inscrutable to me for the duration of the trial. As I installed the seat, I noted that the seating area was scarcely higher than the floor of the kayak and the seat cushion itself seemed somewhat underwhelming. 



Once I actually sat in the kayak, I noted that I was pretty much sitting in water. I'm not sure how much water, because I was wearing a dry suit, but I suspect, if it was summer, my butt would look like a prune by the end of a day's journey (and yes, this does imply that my butt does not normally look like a prune).

Observe also that the giant, elevated rectangular hatch gives the otherwise open cockpit the same sense of constriction that you'd expect in an enclosed cockpit. Since it is elevated, it makes reaching the front hatch a risky proposition as you high center yourself over the top.



It turns out, this is what a paddle holder is.



The National Weather Service had predicted that mild November conditions were in the process of rapid change. Clear skies and temperatures in the mid fifties were destined to deteriorate to wind and rain and freezing temperatures. The average wind speed for my excursion was 12.2 mph with the highest wind speed recorded at 25 and the highest gust at 34 (there evidently being a difference between high winds and high gusts).



Ominous dark clouds spent the afternoon racing to block out the sky.



I halfheartedly tried testing out the Ultra 4.3's secondary stability, but I seem to have a dependable self-preservation instinct and didn't ever tip to the point of failure.



I also didn't load the tank well with the 144 frozen beer test load. The peculiar shape of the tank well is custom designed to fit an ice box storage pod. If I was at a point where I could dependably catch fish, I might consider such a device, but for now, it looks like I could stow lots of camping gear here. Looks like you have to come up with your own rigging.


Click on image to see a slightly larger version

Looking downriver. The Willamette empties into the Columbia just about at the end of the tree-line in the center of the picture.



Heading up river and into the wind, I pass a tugboat preparing to launch.

Paddling into the wind and current, the kayak goes where I tell it to go. Even pointed directly into the wind, it tracks straight. However, it doesn't make much headway. I try angling into the wind, but don't notice any advantage I'd hoped to gain by tacking...perhaps because it doesn't have much of a keel. 



The kayak's maneuverability is excellent as I cut through the maze of pilings that support the unlikely docks to which the ships are leashed. Once I start employing the use of windbreaks, the Ultra 4.3 leaps forward.



The St. Johns Bridge is in the distance, but I can tell from the sun's position that I will soon be out of daylight.



Heading downwind, the boat's tail end tends to swing around to the side. I frequently break my paddling cadence to correct the angle. All in all, it takes only a quarter of the time out to return to my launch point.



This is the point where I truly began to appreciate Wilderness System's seating solution.




The tugboat crew puts the finishing touches on the barge package they've been stringing together. I'm reminded of a spider prowling the perimeter of a freshly constructed web.



This is the point where I got yelled at for getting too close.



Once again, I've cut it kind of close concerning whether or not I'll be able to actually see the take out point in the gathering gloom.



Clearly, not everybody got to take Friday off. The rumble of giant conveyor belts and great animal-like pneumatic sighs punctuate the dusk. Artificial light obviously marks this as a stubborn human outpost, launching yet another vessel into an unforgiving ocean.




Pretty much too late, I think to take a picture of the Ultra 4.3's hull configuration.




TSUNAMI 125
TARPON 140
TRIDENT ULTRA 4.3
length (ft.)
12.6
14.0
14.1




width (in.)
26.0
28.0
29.1




weight (lb.)
51.0
68.0
68.0



Conclusions:

I feel confident that the Ultra 4.3 can handle challenging waves and wind, probably more than I am currently willing to voluntarily face. But I don't like the big rectangular hatch in the middle of the floor. It cuts off access to the front hatch and really limits my mobility. With the hinge way at the top, you kind of have to hold it open with one hand, or throw it all the way open, which then makes it not so convenient to close. The rubber strap latching system seems carefully designed to stub cold fingers and break fingernails. The seat was pretty unbearable after 3 hours. Even without being loaded with gear, I got tired of paddling this kayak. But this could very well be because of the inclement weather and the time I spent fighting the wind. It makes me want to try the Tarpon again, but in rougher water to make a fair comparison.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Test Paddling the Tarpon 140

Usually, when a person insinuates that they've outgrown their kayak, they mean they've become so technically experienced and skillful that they've exhausted the capacities of their particular model and are ready for a more advanced craft. But in my case, I've literally outgrown my kayak (thanks carbohydrates and saturated fats) so that when I set sail now, it looks like I'm the commander of a submarine.


So last week I reserved a Tarpon 160 for a test paddle, thinking that, hey it's November, and the Columbia River Gorge up around The Dalles ought to provide the ideal choppy-water test environment.



But not only did I have to settle for a Tarpon 140, about the only wave I saw all day was the three or four that were produced from this tug and barge assembly.



The Tarpon 140 is a 'sit on top' kayak which I guess is kind of like saying it isn't really a kayak. What it looks like it has going for it is a back deck (not pictured) that looks like it could easily carry an ice chest with 144 ice cold beers...



...and a cup holder. 



But the other attractive thing about sit-on-top kayaks is not being encased in a tiny cockpit. While it is true that the sitting arrangement in a more traditional sea-kayak is designed to make you one with the boat - to facilitate instinctive responses to wind, wave and gravity - the sit-on-tops often allow alternative postures, like 'cowboy', 'side-saddle', ...and in some cases even standing up (not 'doggy' so much), not to mention quick exits (sometimes much quicker than you'd think). For instance, I paused in the middle of the Columbia for a picnic lunch under the warm November sun, turning sideways to reach my cooler, legs dangling in the cool (O.K., cold) water, preparing turkey and smoked Gouda cheese on crackers and drinking an (unfortunately) vinegary Riesling (almost perfection). 



It is no small thing to be able to instantly bail out of your boat (which is not the same thing as 'bailing out your boat' which you also don't have to do with a sit-on-top owing to something called scupper holes), in my case to take occasional treks inland for photos, something I'm increasingly reluctant to do in my other kayak.



Geysers of tall grass erupt out of the scorched earth.


Click on images to see slightly larger versions

To me, it seemed easier to put the boat up on edge for maneuvering (I think because the seat is higher it's almost like having leverage) but I suspect it is also easy to lean too far, and that's a hypothesis that I'll probably explore more fully in the summer. I was hopeful that the Tarpon 140's 14 foot length would still make it a noticeably faster, easier boat to paddle (that's why I wanted the 16 foot version), but if it is, it is a small increment up from my 12.5 foot boat. 



I am still not in any danger of growing tired of this scenery.



Last time I rounded this corner into Hell's Gate, I had a visually painful journey squinting into the setting sun, devising methods to tack against the photon stream without going blind. So this time I launched considerably earlier...but forgot about the loss of daylight savings time. 



...and yet a merciful cloud covered for me with a fortuitous eclipse (An odd coincidence that had me wondering if it was probably just me playing with gravity from a 5th dimensional tesseract some time in the future).



It's like,
The sun exits,
sighs with relief,
and sun breath ripples across the water
reminding various ducks
and kayakers
it's night-time
be vigilant
or relax

depending



Click on images to see slightly larger versions




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