This article is a reflection of my experiences with Arctic Raiders. I have owned three since Feb 1993 in which many ideas, enhancements and opinions have developed.
Mark 1 was a glass, large cockpit, large neoprene rear hatch combination fitted with a then standard rudder and decklines with screw down nylon toggles. It also had a sticker on the rear deck claiming design by Paul Caffyn!
This boat came to grief at the bow of a Mirage hurtling down a wave face. The point of significance was that although the boat was in two pieces, the hull and deck join showed no signs of further fracture along this usual weak spot. Ensure that you have both inside and outside taping of the hull and deck join. Following a quality repair, the boat was sold to a friend and is still in fine condition.
Mark 2 was immediately ordered following the crash. I opted for a small cockpit, three small VCP hatches, all round Kevlar and ugly deck lines through the surface mounted toggles. No rudder was fitted. Small hatches were chosen because I hated the leaky rear neoprene hatch cover and by default this included the small cockpit.
This boat was returned some time later after some hull delamination was spotted – Kevlar tends to float on resin. Canoe Sports built a new replacement.
Mark 3 was identical to Mark 2 but had no deck fittings and is my current boat. My perceptions are as follows:
- handling – the hull is around 18 feet long with a beam of 21 inches. There is much rocker – I don’t know how to measure it relatively. Initial impressions suggest that it would be tippy (quick and easy to lean and roll), hard to keep straight (easy to turn), susceptible to wind (not too bad with a skeg or rudder) and fast (probably not as much as you may think).
- there is definitely low initial stability; some paddlers have dropped the seat as a measure for improving this. Correct and adequate cockpit fitting will substantially improve boat control and offset some feeling of tippiness. I have glued triangular wedges of closed cell foam at the sides of the seat and beneath the deck for bracing and also added a backstrap. The aim here was to get the ‘finger in a glove’ fitting which gives boat control. Instability is now not a problem for my paddling.
- quick turns can be very useful in tight situations and the boat performs this admirably. Yes it may sometimes turn too much, but a little leaning combined with a wider stroke is usually all that is required to compensate. Using this technique, as opposed to relying on a rudder, will improve confidence and boat handling skills.
- side and headwinds can have a noticeable impact on handling. Surprisingly I found the larger cockpit model to be less tolerant to these winds – probably because of the lower foredeck height. Like most kayaks it is not impossible to paddle in wind situations but can be frustrating.
- the small cockpit is really a misnomer as there is actually less room in the larger model. Coaming height is the telling factor; the coaming on the larger model sits lower and forces the paddlers legs wider (and lower) apart to be able to brace properly. A more roomy and comfortable option is with the small cockpit which allows a higher and more natural leg position. Above average sized paddlers would also have difficulty swinging their legs out from a sitting position in the larger cockpit – doesn’t this defeat the purpose ?
- mark 1 was fitted with a rudder and after feeling and seeing the blade bend in a sea I was prompted to look at alternatives. Better quality rudders were expensive and/or complex which was not my ideal solution. After much investigation, discussion and deliberation I attacked my nice clean hull with a jigsaw and fitted a retractable skeg. I copied the basic design from VCP and shaped the blade from polyethylene (the white plastic used for kitchen cutting boards). I believe genuine VCP skegs are now offered as an option.
- in normal light wind paddling, the skeg makes little difference but is handy to help in “point the boat and paddle straight” situations. Stronger winds and more difficult conditions highlight the skegs benefits – it holds its line much better than the rudder, becomes more sensitive to tuning adjustments and I think overall feels more stable than with the rudder. There appears to be much less of a tendency for the boat to wobble about on its tail with the skeg. The rudder is not missed.
- downwind paddling is where the boat excels. I have vivid memories of being fully laden in a following sea and just had to lean forwards to accelerate down the wave face to enjoy 20-30 m rides ! Directional adjustments while on a wave can be easily performed by a little lean or combined with a stern rudder stroke for when a greater turning effect is required. Yes, with practice you can usually stop that broach.
The answer to the obvious question is yes, I would buy another one. The Arctic Raider is the most suitable sea kayak on the market to meet my requirements that is built to a quality standard. More importantly, I enjoy my paddling.