The Dagger Apostle [29]

Another Tupperware Sea Kayak

By Jim Croft

Summary for Executives

It is a boat, it is plastic, it has a sharp end, and a not-so sharp end, and a hole to sit in, and it floats.

After a year of paddling a yellow plastic Puffin, why, you might ask, did I decide to buy another plastic boat?

Well I needed another sea kayak (it is a well documented axiom that sea kayakers can never have too many craft, paddles, spray skirts, cags, PFDs, tents, Trangias, thermarests, in fact, too much of any kind of gear) and had decided on a lighter, sleeker, faster, fibreglass or kevlar ensemble with charisma and that all important quality, ‘cred’ (I was getting an all too clear message from my pre-teen sons that this this last attribute was paramount, surpassing all other trivial aspects such as performance, responsiveness, seaworthiness, etc.). The thing about kayaks is that you need one (preferably more), or at least one cockpit, for each body in your sphere of influence. So, once more the bank balance was under siege, a battle of attrition that it could not possibly survive.

That ultimate cred machine, the Pittarak, was ruled out because I had noticed a tendency, that whenever a kayaker turned up with one of these, all other kayakers on the beach or on the water averted their gaze and moved away to a safe distance – to this day I not sure whether it is the boat or the paddler of the craft that inspires such fear.

The choice had come down to a toss up between the ‘cult boat of the 90’s’ (the Arctic Raider) and a Mirage (probably a 19). The cultists derided my preference for the latter, but the lure of speed and an excuse not to be seen anywhere near the dreaded rock encrusted gauntlet was compelling.

Then, the infamous Mystery Bay weekend, a cusp, a pivotal juncture in the arduous paddle across the ocean of life. Big seas, hard rocks, one fibreglass boat broken into three discrete parts, another with the bow ripped apart, and yet another with several holes punched through the hull. That was it; glad I had survived in a Puffin, I drove straight back to Canberra and bought the shop floor Apostle (hell, why buy a another Puffin when you already have one?) I had tried out the week before. Why? A flash of panic and fear, I guess. I was not the only one shaken to the brink of irrationality that weekend – our noble outgoing president, Herr Stuber, was prompted to courageously aquire the quintessence Teutonic tupperware sea kayakery, the Prijon PET-bottle Seayak – no doubt we will hear of its virtues in a future edition. (The other plastic boat in the club at the moment is the British rotomoulded Valley Canoe Products Skerray, owned by several members – perhaps we will have a review of this one too?)

As I have only paddled two types of sea kayak at all seriously, enough to predict how they will behave in a variety of conditions, this review will probably end up comparative, and definitely from a beginners point of view – roughly a year and a bit in a Puffin and six months in an Apostle.

The hull

Like the Puffin, the Apostle is rotomoulded linear polyethylene which is apparently repairable, after a fashion, but not as strong as the less obliging cross-linked polyethylene. The surface/finish of the mould is excellent and the suture along the gunwhale is barely noticable, unlike the rough as guts knife job on the Puffin. As far as I know, all Apostles are imported from the US (the Puffin was made under licence in New Zealand and seems to have had several evolutionary enhancements to the mould over the years). There wasn’t a yellow one in the country so I settled for the dark red one in the shop. Apostles are unique in this part of the world in being offered in a variety of splash and splodge colour patterns; I have only seen a few – red body with black bow and stern, a serene white/aqua/turquoise pastiche guaranteed to be totally invisible on any body of ocean and a red/yellow/black monstrosity that was probably a failed Jackson Pollack original in a former life (actually the kids thought that this one was like totally cool, radical, awesome and all the right words). From a safety point of view, I question the wisdom of these coulor patterns – as bright and striking as they might be, they break up the outline of the boat in the time-honoured tradition of battle camoflage. Not a good idea at sea when you hope someone is looking for you.

According to the catalogue blurbs, the Apostle is 17′ (5.18 m) long, 23.5″ (0.59 m) wide and weighs in at a substantial 69 lbs (31.3 kg). This compares with the Puffin‘s length of 4.95 m (16’3″), width of 0.61 m (24″) and weight of 29 kg (64 lbs). The length overall is probably not all that important, as I suspect the waterline lengths are almost the same. Times in regular weekend 10 km time trials are virtually the same in both boats, but the Apostle ‘feels’ as though it is moving faster throught he water and more satisfying to paddle in this respect.

The lines of the Apostle are distinctive and pleasing, and most agree it looks a nice boat. The bow rises more than the Puffin‘s and the forefoot is cut away and rises gradually to the stem in a gentle curve from a fair way back along the keel. The midships section has a slight V to the bottom, obvious but rounded chines, and topsides angling out to the gunwhale which is almost at the deckline. Fore and aft of the large cockpit hole (the spray skirts of the Puffin and Apostle can be interchanged, although the shape at the front of the cockpit is slightly different), the section tapers quickly to the bow and stern. While the Puffin appears to have no concave surfaces, the bow of the Apostle is very fine and cut away by comparison, and the keel is drawn and tapered out towards the stern almost to the rudder. The keel-line rocker is only moderate.

Handling and performance

The result of this hull shape is a boat that tracks better than a Puffin which tends to yaw and requires constant although subconcious corrective attention (we are talking without the rudder here). The fuller bow sections of the Puffin pounds through surf and chop; the file entry of the Apostle cuts through it, but the flared bow sections tend to spread the water and stop the bow diving too deeply. It is nice to paddle in waves.

Like the Puffin, the Apostle weathercocks as the wind speed increases on the beam. I don’t think it is worse, but it is certainly no better. In both boats dropping the rudder when things get out of hand solves the problem. According the blurb, the Apostle is available with and optional retractable skeg which I guess would make it comparable to the Skerray in configuration. I will refrain from getting into a skeg vs. rudder vs. nothing at all war here.

Probably because of the midships chine and topsides design, the Apostle has very high secondary stability. You can pop it right on its side and it stays there, quite firmly, without any feeling that it is about to go all the way over. This is especially so when unladen; when unladen, the transition to the strong righting action on its side is more gradual and not as pronounced. The rounded shallow V and relatively wide chines amidships provides excellent initial stability. Carved and telemark turns and braces are easy on this boat, even for beginners.

Rolling? I was surprised how easy it was to bring up. Even easier than the Puffin, which is said to be almost self righting by its detractors, people with real boats designed with stability in the inverted position in mind. The deck is very low on the hull, and the seat design makes it very easy to lean far back, so I guess this helps. However, I found the re-enter and roll more difficult than in a Puffin – this may be due to the low deck and cockpit rim that seems to scoop up the ocean, and the lack of the pod and a much larger cockpit volume – or maybe I just need more practice in this new boat.

Surfing? I have had both the Apostle and Puffin out in small to moderate surf and they are still in one piece and I am still here. Not being a crash hot surfer dude, I can not regale you with tales of cutbacks, reentries, enders, pirourettes and other macho stuff – just a ‘straight ahead Fred’ with no control of the boat once it is on the wave. I prefer the Apostle in the surf – it require less oomph to catch a wave and is more fun on it. The bow does not dig in in spite of its fine lines and the flare throws the water aside nicely. Once on the wave, as the bow slides down the face and the keel-line at the stern lifts clear of the water, the direction can be controlled without too much difficulty with appropriate sweep and stern rudder strokes. Like most long boats, once you turn too far of the direction of the wave and go into a broach, things get out of hand. It handles a high brace into a breaking wave well and it is often possible to pull out of the broach and hop back onto the breaking wave. Coming out of the boat in the surf is another story – there is a lot to be said for the low volume pod of the Puffin when it comes to removing water.

The deck

The deck is very close to the water, and relatively flat. It does not rise towards the paddler over the knees and when loaded, the boat appears very close to the ocean. At sea, it seems to take a bit more water over the deck than the Puffin. Initially the low deck gave an impression of exposure and vulnerability, but this sensation was emotional rather than real. The deck and sprayskirt shed waves and exclude the ocean well.

The fore and aft hatch covers are neoprene with shock cord around th rim with a sealed hard plastic cover that is strapped down with Fastex buckles – they appear waterproof and do not look as though they would be dislodged, even by large waves or a tumble through washing machine surf. The day hatch is a hard plactic cover with a sealed rim and an internal neoprene seal, held in place with shock cord – it appears robust enough, but leaks (or at least I think that is where the water is coming from).

Dagger chose to use surface-mounted deck fittings on the Apostle, like the Puffin. Flush mounted fittings are possible on rotomoulded boats as demonstrated by the Skerray, so one can only imagine that Dagger were trying to save a few pence. There are stout grablines fore and aft of the cockpit extending the the bow and stern, and an excessive amount of bungee cord lacing one side of the boat to the other; these are attached to the deck fittings by an inordinate number of plastic clips.

The rudder mechanism of the Apostle is almost identical to that of the Puffin: blade raised and lowered by lines running along the side of the deck, held firmly in place and out of the way by guides. There is a piece of shock cord to hold the rudder plate in place in its rubber surface-mounted park in the ‘up’ position. This is nice for cartopping and messing about in the surf, but forgetting to unclip it when setting off by youself is a real pain when you need the rudder later. The rudder bracket mechanism of the Apostle is lighter than that on the Puffin, but seems to do the job; it is held on to a small flattened area of the stern by several large pop rivets through the hull plastic – it is not showing any signs of working loose.

The entrails

Internally there are three bulkheads making four compartments: fore hatch, cockpit, day hatch, aft hatch. The bulkheads are c. 5 cm (2″) slabs of dense closed cell foam cemented to the the hull and around the metal strengthening tube that runs along the keel (more recent boats do not have this tube, perhaps to try and remove the small and cryptic leaks that occur near the bulkheads – the importer said that the the hull was strengthened to allow this and that they were using a stronger plastic – if they just decided that the tube was not needed, I was going to rip mine out because it certainly makes the boat cleaner and neater inside).

As mentioned, the rudder mechanism of the Apostle is almost identical to that of the Puffin and that extends to the sliding foot pedals for control. The pedals are much more comfortable than those of the Puffin and the adjusting buckles are futher aft in the cockpit and much easier to get at.

The seat? Fairly basic, wide, unpadded, not particularly sculptured to human rump shape, plastic, not unduly unconforatble, fixed position with a padded, swivelled, adjustable lumbar support. It is quite wide so hip padding will be needed in almost every case. There is about 10-15 cm of space for storing water, food, first-aid kits, etc. behind the seat back rest.

Deficiencies or defects

What have I found wrong, deficient or defective in the Apostle? No boat is perfect and the Apostle is no exception. There are some real deficiencies that are not just a matter or personal preference. These are all fixable be enven the most manually inept, but I would rather we did not have to do it.

Decklines and shockcords. The numerous plastic fittings on the ends of the many pieces of shock cord are weak and prone to breakage. Three have snapped and need to be replaced – I am going to rethread the shock cord into a loop pattern and not use clips at all. The deck layout would have been much nicer and probably safer if they have used recessed deck fittings like the Skerray.

Rudder raising and lowering mechanism. The control lines are quite thin and difficult to handle at sea, especially when your hands are cold and wet, and there are no knots or knobs on the line to tell you which line to pull to move the blade up or down. These lines are going to be relplaced with some thicker cord.

Rudder Blade. Aluminium and much thinner than the Puffin’s. I have bent it slightly in some rough seas, but it was a simple matter to straighten it again. Too much of this behaviour and it may have to be replaced. After a few months of use, the pop rivets that held the rudder bracket to the hull started to work loose as they were anchored only in the plastic; I solved this by replacing the pop rivets with stainless steel bolts and bolting throught to an aluminium plate on the inside and bedding the whole unit in a layer of Sikaflex.

Day Hatch. This is one of the most attractive features of the Apostle but it leaks quite badly and the water then seeps through the bulkhead joins and along the internal stiffening tube into other compartments. I will probably end up cutting in out and installing a rubber VCP hatch (the size is just right); coincidentally, the VCP hatch cover itself fits over the existing rim deck moulding of this hatch but I have no idea how waterproof it is. The Apostle hatch looks as though it should be waterproof and I suspect it may be changes in air pressure with temperature and flexing of the hull that actuall sucks the water in through alost undetectable crevices.

Bulkhead seal. The glue that bods the closed cell foam bulkheads to the hull seems to be very good, and I suspect the strenghening tube as the weak point here. Will try to seal it with some kind of gunk.

Knee/thigh braces. The cockpit is very wide and low and you have to spread your knees to tuck them under the rim where ther are some small neoprene pads. This might be construed as a safety attribute to prevent a paddler being stuck in the boat, but I would prefer to see some form of moulded thigh hook to enable you lock yourself in. When surfing once I was caught by a large wave, broached and held it for a while, braced and came back up using the wave, held it a bit more and went over again, braced and came up again, but on the third time was pulled out ot the cockpit and lost the lost the boat which was washed on the the rocks (praise the lord for Tupperware!). If I had been able to stay in, the situation and pride might have been salvagable. It is possible to install the sort of cockpit rim thigh hooks seen on many white water boats; Dagger make a range of interchangable thigh hooks for their white water boats that fit the Apostle perfectly – I have ordered a set.

Cockpit volume. Compared with the Puffin, the Apostle has a very large cockpit. There is big space behind the seat and in foreward of rudder pedals; At just over 6 feet with a short torso and long legs, I still have 30 cm of dead space beyong my feet. One winter evening I intend to rip out that bulkhead and reclaim the space for the bow compartment. When I put my knees together they rub on the front rim of the cockpit and it would be better for people with long legs if this was a bit higher.

Foot pedals. With their sliding foot pedals both the Puffin and the Apostle lack any firm foot brace. Good foreward paddling technique dictates that you push with leg at the same time as rotating the torso and it is pretty difficult to do this in these boats without altering the angle of the rudder. A fixed brace bar or blocks would be a definite advantage.

The bottom line

All that said, would I recommend the Apostle? Certainly! For a beginner to an advanced paddler interested in short to extended touring, it is a nice boat that is satisfying to paddle and has ample room for storing supplies and equipment. It is even a nice long boat to play with in the surf. It handles unpleasant sea conditions well and the paddler does not feel as though they have to worry about the boat as well as the conditions. The plastic hull allows the paddler to be a little more cavalier when poking around rock gardens, gauntlets, sea caves and the like. The deficiencies listed above are all rectifiable with a little time and a few tools, but it would have been nice if the manufacturers did it to start with. Would I recommend it above a Puffin? Difficult call – I use and like them both, even thought they are heavy. The sleeker lines, responsiveness, fun factor and the day hatch (even though it leaks) would probably swing he balance toward the Apostle. The kids fight over who gets to use it, the loser taking the Puffin – I guess that says something (not sure what)…

Is it value for money? Who knows? Is the present price of c. $1,700 (AUD) better in your bank or on the ocean?

Would I buy another one? What for? I already have one! And I enjoy using it! The next boat? Something light, sleek, fast, kevlar and graphite with charisma and that all important quality ‘cred’…