One Persons Boat [16]

The Nimbus Puffin

By David Winkworth

I purchased a shiny blue Puffin from Canoe Specialists in 1990 for $1295. I had a few thoughts as to what I wanted in a Sea Kayak and the Puffin – at that time – fitted the bill.

It’s always important to decide what you want out of a boat before you buy – Sea Kayaks are fairly high up on the canoe price spectrum and a mistake could be costly.

My plans for the boat were mostly day trips with occasional trips up to seven days or so. I also wanted a robust craft for surfing (if you can call what Sea Kayaks do in the surf that). Fishing and manoeuvrability also figured prominently which for me ruled out the longer craft. I positively did not want a pump so the Puffins “Pod” was an attraction as were the larger hatches. I also wanted a rudder fitted (which I’ve since removed).

The Puffin is unquestionably a North American design. Features like a relatively low (in height) but high volume bow and a large cockpit place it fair and square on the north-west coast of the American continent. I suspect it was designed for the inshore channels of that area but to the designers credit, it performs well in a range of sea conditions – more on that later.

Vital statistics for the Puffin are: Length overall 4.9 m, Beam 0.6m. Total volume is just over 400 litres making it a large capacity craft. A Nordkapp, for comparison has a volume of 320 litres.

The hull is fractionally on the Swede-form side of being symmetrical.

Weight, ready to paddle with rudder fitted is around 32 kgs.

Hull material is polyethylene – whether it’s cross linked or linear I’m not sure but I’m told that the Pod which is a separate moulding inserted in the vessel, is a different plastic type. (Editors note: The hull is cross-linked and the Pod is linear polyethylene). Tubular stiffeners run fore and aft of the Pod to prevent ‘oil-canning’.

Both hatches on my boat are neoprene plus rigid cover affairs and have proved reliable and ‘almost’ watertight, letting only a few drips past after numerous rolls. The forward hatch is large enough to put my head in and look around making loading positively easy. The rear hatch is huge and presents no problem with its rigid cover. I’ve heard of Puffin paddlers using the cover to mix dampers on! Earlier Puffins (and I’m told later ones) were fitted with excellent VCP forward hatches.

The rudder is a “Feathercraft” brand model and is very well made. The blade appears to be a tempered alloy. It’s certainly stiffer than locally made versions. The boat came fitted with toggles fore and aft and a plethora of useless bungy cord all over the fore and aft decks. One wave and anything stored under it would be gone!

One problem with plastic boats is that you can’t just glue or glass anything to the hull, so with the exception of bolting saddles and fittings through the plastic you’re stuck with what you’ve got!

A few basic mods were made to the boat which suited my needs. I ripped most of the bungy cord off the aft deck and replaced it with two short decklines. the boat came equipped with paddle float rescue straps which were useless too so they went. I have a section of netting over the aft hatch which unclips at one end for access to the hatch. Bungy cord around the net means I can retrieve or place objects behind me at any time – and I’ve never lost anything from under the net in the surf! A similar piece of net forward of the cockpit is useful for sunglasses, cap etc. I also use a netting bag which clips to the decklines between the cockpit and the forward hatch for fish and extra gear.

Several years ago I was feeling adventurous and managed to remove and replace the Pod after fitting a netting “shelf” to the inside of the Pod between my legs. This is great out-of-the-way storage for lunch, sponge, camera etc. Take care if you plan to do it – it must be done on a HOT day just before the boat melts!

I’ve junked the black edged moulding around the rear hatch and cockpit. I found with the latter that Silastic would stick acceptably well if the surfaces were roughened with sand paper. Silastic was used to improve the Pod to Hull seal.

Contact cement glued a foam sheet onto the seat after sanding and hasn’t moved for ages. Isn’t it nice to prove Selleys wrong!

I found the tracking and turning characteristics of the Puffin to suit my paddling style in all conditions and so after carting the rudder around in the “parked” position for ages I removed all the rudder paraphernalia last year and save 4kgs weight. A big foam pad in the Pod is sheer heaven for my feet after having them perched on small rudder pedals….have you ever had a cramp in your middle toes?

The Puffin is heavy. It is a robust boat for sure which has proved almost bulletproof in the hire fleets around the world but it is still heavy. It would have to be right at the upper limit of acceptable weight for rigid singles. Mine weighs around 28kgs on the bathroom scales WITHOUT the rudder bits. I’ve found carrying it on my shoulder is OK as long as I use the spray skirt as a pad. The thigh brace edges on the Pod will dig a hole in my shoulder if 1 don’t.

The problem with the weight of the Puffin on the water occurs in the surf and in rough seas. Cruising speed is very little affected by weight but acceleration is! When a waves stops the boat, the paddler must crank it up to get going again. This can sap valuable energy reserves when punching a strong wind or on a long haul. The sluggish acceleration is most noticeable when comparing unladen boats.

Handling is a very subjective topic. What may be acceptable for me could be diabolical for another…. but here’s my two bits anyway… this is a subjective assessment after all.

Well, the Puffin has the “Pod”, so says the advertisements. What is a Pod anyway? 1 suppose you could call it a body hugging cockpit. That’s not strictly right really as there is plenty of room in it but the cockpit volume has been significantly reduced over a fibreglass “bulkhead at each end” arrangement. The makers claim a 40% reduction in the amount of water that can slosh around the cockpit and destabilise the boat. Most of the volume reduction occurs behind the seat – there’s plenty of room for legs and feet.

The thigh braces are comfortable and firm for me – they are moulded into the pod and I fit them well. The Puffin does however seem to favour larger and taller paddlers. The cockpit opening is large – standard for USA – and entry and exit is a breeze.

Does the Pod work? Well yes – you can fill the Pod right to the brim and paddle around normally with excellent stability but I think this is more a result of the hull design. In any case it is a stable boat by anyone’s standard. I find the best feature of the Pod is that you can empty every drop of water from the cockpit simply by lifting the bow and turning the boat on its side ! Try that with a glass “bulkhead” boat!

The Puffin is a soft chined boat with a round/flat bottom. If you can compare it with a Nordkapp, or a Pittarak side by side you’ll notice the difference. There is little or no flare at the bow but the high volume in this area compensates for this and makes it a fairly dry craft.

The hull is moderately rockered and I find it a good compromise between turning ability and directional stability. I find it lean-turns well although it is less stable than some other boats I’ve paddled when right on the edge.

Braces, rolls, re-entry and rolls are no problem. One point – when loaded for a trip the stability increases so much that lean-turns become a chore – it simply wants to sit flat! Response time for braces is increased when loaded too.

The Puffin, with a low bow and not too much above the waterline behaves well in wind, with only “moderate” round-up tendencies in beam wind.

Like most boats of similar length, it is at its most directionally unstable with wind and wave from the stern quarter. If you use a rudder this can easily be corrected.

In surf an unladen Puffin is good fun. Like all Sea Kayaks it will broach if you let it and from then on it’s a sideways ride to the beach! With its’ round/flat hull it can be hard to get out of a broach. In rough surf, the Puffins stability is an asset. The paddler can really relax and enjoy the waves.

Heading seawards through the surf is no problem although there is some slapping on the down sides of waves. In rough seas the Puffin is a good, solid performer. It makes no sudden, unexpected moves and its’ stability means the paddler can concentrate on other things.

In downwind situations in big seas, again the Puffin behaves well. This situation is potentially the worst that a kayaker can face and although you may find yourself racing across a wave under a foaming crest, you’ll generally get some warning from the boat. A quick brace will normally stop you failing down the face of the wave. Great fun!

OK – Summary Time!

The Puffin is user friendly with decklines, big hatches and predictable handling at sea. It is heavy but only on your shoulder. it is also a safe boat with the Pod (maybe it’s only as safe as the paddler is sensible!) and being plastic is virtually indestructible.

The Puffin is, I feel, an ideal first boat for newcomers to Sea Kayaking – no wonder they are in use in the hire fleets everywhere!

The Puffin may not lead the way but it will be there at the finish!

In answer to the big question – Yes I would buy another Puffin however my paddling needs have changed and my boat is up for sale ($750 with spray skirt). Can someone give it a good home?