Sunday, 2 November 2008

The NDK Explorer

I had my first serious paddle in the famous Nigel Dennis Explorer on Friday morning, accompanying a new paddler, Ben Khan, on a trip from his home on Sydney's Bare Island (yep, you heard it right, Ben is a NPWS ranger & calls the old fort his home), around to Little Bay & back. Ben Khan negotiating the swell in his Valley Aquanaut (obscured.....!)
The boat has a peerless pedigree, having been used on just about every major expedition undertaken around the world for the past decade. Most recently, Justine Curgenven & Barrie Shaw paddled an Explorer around NZ's South Island (you can watch this trip on 'This is the Sea 4'), while Freya Hoffmeister also circumnavigated the South Island in her customary black Explorer, in record time. I've have been eager to get into our demo boat on a decent sea paddle since we landed our stock a few weeks ago, and Friday was my first chance.
My first impression was that this is a boat with such a clean hull design, that it is hard to imagine a circumstance in which it would even need a skeg, to keep on track. It holds a line beautifully, with the same sort of bouncy secondary stability you find in the Impex performance kayaks like the Assateague & Montauk. Doubtless the performance of the Explorer & it's predecessor the Romany have been a strong inspiration for Impex...!
On the reasonably flat water heading out of Botany Bay it was quite quick, definitely a faster upper end speed than my Aquanaut, with an effortless cruising speed.
Rob Mercer & Ben Khan round Cape Bank
Once around the corner & out onto the rebound & confusion of the Cape Banks headland, the real reasons for the success of the Explorer are revealed. It is a fantastic boat in a confused sea. The v-keel constantly shifts the hull from side to side, adjusting to the moving water & giving a remarkably smooth, stable ride. I imagine with a full expedition load this stability would be accentuated, which goes a long way towards explaining why the Explorer is the kayak of choice for rough water, long distance paddles the world over.
Nigel Dennis makes his boats strong, making no apologies for the 'unsexy' layup of the Explorer. They are a kilo or so heavier than the cutting edge, aerospace vacuum-bagged Valley boats, but the comparison is a little unfair, as these Explorer's are absolutely bombproof.
The ride back from Little Bay was great fun, with a quartering nor' easterly 2m swell pushing us along, while once back inside Cape Banks with the swell wrapping dead east, I was really able to catch some long surf rides.
I wasn't expecting to have as much fun in the Explorer as I did - sometimes you can read up on these expedition boats & get the impression that they are just straight line logs. It is a very responsive kayak in the same vein as the Valley designs, sporty enough to use as a day boat, and clearly the best around for expeditioning.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without a doubt a great design but I do question your comments about the construction of these boats. Heavier does not mean stronger. As far as being "absolutely bombproof". Freya Hoffmeister's boat needed repairs while Chris Duff's Explorer vitually snapped in half during his circumnavigation of the South Island.

21 December 2008 20:42  
Blogger Mark Sundin - Expedition Kayaks said...

Jeez Mr Anony Mouse, you're a a hard judge. I'm not sure if you've read Chris Duff's account of the wave & beach that combined to break his boat on the South Island circumnavigation, but I reckon there wouldn't be too many kayaks on the planet that would have survived such an impact, fully loaded. Basically, Chris' boat was hit by a few bombs - it got through the first one but then got blown up by the next couple. The fact is, there isn't a boat on the planet that has been made to withstand the sorts of extremities the sea can throw at us on the wrong day. As for Freya needing some repairs on her way around the South Island, I would say any realistic expeditioner, undertaking a journey of those epic proportions, would expect to have a few repairs after 40 or 50 surf exits & landings with a fully loaded kayak. I think the fact that they CHOSE to paddle Explorers on a loop of the South Island speaks more about the all round qualites of the boat, than a couple of repair incidents, inevitable in my view on such a trip. NDK boats do have a reputation for being a bit dodgy on the build quality, but what a lot of people don't realise is that they have recently had a significant upgrade in their production & QC to address these problems. The 12 boats we have so far taken delivery of from NDK have all been brilliantly made, with just one small glitch with one paddler, which was quickly & easily fixed. We can directly compare them to the peerless Valley construction, which they're not too far behind, while they were miIes ahead of the standard US Impex layup, until we had those boats up-spec'ed for the Aussie market. I can put my hand on my heart & put them in the 'bombproof' category, based on what I've seen, and what many a good swathe of seriously experienced expeditioners have told me.
Thanks for the comment.

22 December 2008 07:01  
Blogger Mark Sundin - Expedition Kayaks said...

This post has been removed by the author.

22 December 2008 07:01  

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