The trade aspects of RnR were disappointing. The three main suppliers were Expedition Kaykas, Gudu Kayaks and Rafta Kayaks. I know Australis were there but made no attempt to display themselves. There were sponsors like Roaring 40’s who don’t really have much to put in a show tent but all in all it was a great opportunity missed for vendors. They could really use some Retail Intelligence! Anyway…
I met up with Mark Sundin and Rob Mercer from Expedition Kayaks who sell Impex and Valley boats. Mark is very animated and great to talk to and he had certain views about kayak designs. Nigel Dennis was the star guest and he had some very strong opinions about Australian boats that caused a stir in some circles. His view is that if a kayak needs a rudder to be turned then it is either a bad design or contains a bad paddler. Mark echoed these views and naturally I’ve read these things before but here was Nigel Dennis right in front of us and slamming our boats. Given the preponderance of Mirages it’s no wonder there was lengthy discussion.
Mark urged me to take the Impex Assateague out on a trip which I did. I gave him a full description of the problems I was having with Eco and he felt sure the Assateague would fix this. Henry van der Kolk led a trip up Cullendulla Creek which gave me a great opportunity to test the Assateague. It performed exactly as Mark said it would. Straight tracking, awesome secondary stability, comfortable. I paddled with skeg up most of the time and this boat can spin on it’s axis – almost. We left the creek and went to sea in a gentle 1 metre swell. I felt in control and much more skillful than in Eco. It is clearly a superior boat. It’s not as fast as the Mirages I was with but who cares? This boat can easily out handle a Mirage and an Eco Bezhig. I want one.
I also talked to Laurie Geoghan about his Nadgee expedition boats. They are beautifully made with some impressive design elements like a recessed rudder which both protects it and allows the full length of the rudder to be in the water. Still, it’s a rudder and I already have one on Eco. He has really good skeg options as well but unfortunately I didn’t get to paddle one. The Nadgee is a dedicated expedition craft and I don’t think I’ll ever do a big expedition.
Bob from Rafta was there with the new Sea Leopard. This is a boat with a famous Australian pedigree and a popular choice for Tasmanians and Victorians. It’s built for speed and high sea stability. I could barely fit in the thing though. Once again I didn’t get to paddle it. A shame.
I am firmly convinced now of the need for a rudderless boat. I know it will be the Assateague but to be fair I will test others. I’ll keep Eco because it has it’s advantages but I believe it when Mark said many paddlers who buy Mirages find their skill level plateaus and they become lazy. You can’t help it. The integrated rudder of the Mirage means it is always on. At least in a pull-up rudder you can go rudderless. Nigel Dennis ruffled a few feathers but he has convinced me.