I’m on the larger side of the male average. I am 186cm (6’1″ for the old school) and 110kg. There’s no way I can fit in many of the great boats out there like the Tahe Greenlander (any Greenlander really), the Valley LV boats, Anas Acutas etc. So I get to miss out on experiencing these fantastic craft. That leaves me with larger boats and that’s why my main ride now is the Impex Assateague.
I’ve waxed at length about my Eco Bezhig but let’s face it, the Eco is not in the same class as the entire Impex range. Or the Valley or NDK or Rockpool range for that matter. There are echelons of boat brands in a clearly defined hierarchy of awesomeness and the Eco is sitting at the higher end of entry level. I’ll get back to this boat later.
After a year of Assateague ownership, it’s time to give a more considered appraisal of its performance. I have paddled it now almost exclusively since ownership and my skills have improved to the point where some of the newer guys in the Hunter klan or beginners at Rock n Roll consider me to be a veteran. I certainly don’t think of myself as that but rather as a proficient paddler full aware of how much I can’t do yet. With my regular paddling partner Owen, a 64 year old sea dog, I have explored the NSW coast in all sorts of conditions, chased sharks, paddled at night, got caught in hostile winds, been smashed up surfing, been surfing awesomely and built a pretty outstanding local sea kayak community. So progress has been consistent and reasonably rapid. I owe a fair chunk of this to my boat.
One of the things I love about paddling is the stuff. I like researching, testing and reviewing stuff. Ultimately, I love owning good stuff as well but my nature and career ensure that stuff is central to my enjoyment. Stuff is also one of the biggest motivators for going to Rock n Roll. This year I paddled my own boat, the Assateague, on the formal trips but I was convinced to take out a Nigel Dennis Explorer for a quick sprint to see if I’d like it. Now I know that this is a famous boat from a very famous boat designer so the pedigree is not lost on me. However, my short trip in it was the worst of my life. In the morning, I paddled my Assateague to the Tollgate Islands and played amongst the gauntlets and rock gardens before paddling home. It’s a big morning and a reasonable distance but I did it all comfortably with an Elver Greenland paddle and no real fatigue. The 2km trip in the NDK Explorer was debilitating and if the sea was any bigger, possibly dangerous.
The reason for this is boat fit. The back band was broken which I didn’t realize until I was well away and I couldn’t get any thrust on the foot posts. I also had no point of contact with my knees on the deck so I had NO boat control. The emphasis on secondary stability with the Explorer was completely lost as I struggled to establish its primary stability. My sole concern was getting back to shore alive. When I did I was physically destroyed. How could the two trips be so totally different?
Rob Mercer has an excellent article on boat fit (Read Rob’s article here) and the truth of it was exemplified in my two trips. The Assateague fits and the Explorer didn’t. Which brings me back to the review of the Assateague. After a year of constant paddling, there are some things that I like and things I don’t like about it. Fortunately, the things I don’t like are easily fixed unlike the Eco Bezhig where the things I don’t like are impossible to fix.
I love the Assateague because for a big bloke it has pretty spot-on balance. Secondary stability is fantastic but so is the primary. I am not all that nimble so getting in the boat and sitting still in it in big water is vital and I can do this with ease. I have paddled the Assateague in a large beam sea with waves breaking over me and I felt little danger. This boat is not intimidated by much. It also has John McClane level toughness a fact amply displayed by Stephan Meyn’s thorough trashing on the rocks at the Tollgates which left his pride bruised more than his Assateague. Fortunately for Stephan, a little duct tape and a good explanation was all he needed. Stephan is also a Volvo driver so he knows the value of toughness.
The negatives of the Assateague are fortunately, bolted on. The seat is a disgrace. The Immersion Research backrest is woeful and the source of constant annoyance. I would like to replace it with a Valley or Cetus seat but the McPherson family time axis is notoriously Entish. The foot posts are also rubbish. They are too small and cause numbness after a while. I will eventually carry out Owen’s mod for comfort but these things take time. Carrying capacity is pretty tiny for such a large boat but I didn’t buy it for an expedition boat. I will shake out these bugs eventually and the boat will be perfect, at least for me and that’s all that counts.
The Assateague could be the boat of choice for the large paddler. I know there’s others. The Rockpool GT gets a big tick from everyone that paddles it and I’m sure the Explorer would be great if I set it up properly. The Cetus too is worth a look but sometimes you just want the Landcruiser. The Assateague is it but for the sea.