Posts belonging to Category Reviews



When you’re smiling …

Happy in a Tiderace Xcite SI recently wrote up a little article that’s been published on Kayak Bute‘s blog, all about my experience of buying a new Tiderace Xcite S kayak from them.  You can find it here.

I am definitely one happy customer!

Sticking with tradition

Tuilik testYou can only go so far learning traditional kayak skills before you find yourself staring enviously at photos and videos of Greenland devotees and coveting their tuiliks. The tuilik is an Inuit-designed, all-in-one paddle jacket and spraydeck combined. The original tuiliks were made from sealskin, but modern-day commercial ones are made from neoprene and other manmade fabrics. Reflecting on all the days spent shivering with cold (in the summer!), or impersonating an immobilised Michelin Woman, I somehow found myself on the Brooks Paddle Gear website hitting the “Buy Now” button.  Our tuiliks finally arrived from Canada last week after spending 5 days in Customs. I dare say that HM Customs must have to do research when such esoteric items come their way, and complicated spreadsheets must be consulted in order to calculate which particular level of the stratosphere to target the associated charges.

Balance braceHaving been immersed in matters Greenlandic for some time, it’s easy to forget that such attire might not seem quite so “normal” to other paddlers (let alone non-paddlers, yegads). Greenland kayaking doesn’t have a massive following in Scotland and, as much as I’d like to think that we might be viewed as trendsetters, the reality is that we are probably viewed as just plain odd.  Undeterred, we hit the water for our neoprene baptism and started putting the tuiliks to the test. As our faces recoiled from the icy cold, the rest of us remained toasty and we started on what’s become our usual rolling routine. All layback rolls were present and correct. Indeed, the predictions of Steen in Denmark of “pure neoprene doping” held true – which left me feeling a little like a Tour de France rider on EPO. We stayed warm through a fairly lengthy practice session. The reduction in the number of layers worn underneath, and absence of a torso-hugging spraydeck, allowed for increased freedom of movement. I achieved my first storm roll, while Alan nailed his repeatedly. Being able to get your nose to the deck helps. And finally, I could get the rotation going that Cheri Perry references in the excellent “This Is The Roll” DVD. The most astonishing part was when it came to emptying the kayak at the end of the session – there was scarcely a drop of water! No more rolling in slosh!

Hand rollI should add that I had a bit of a wake-up call the other weekend. I’ve been merrily paddling on trips with my Northern Light Paddlesports Greenland paddle, happy in the knowledge that my Standard Greenland roll had never failed me and could therefore be relied upon in conditions. Which was all fine and dandy … until my Standard Greenland roll failed me (er, in the flat). We’d been on a day trip and decided to do a bit of rolling before coming off the water. In I went quite optimistically, only to get stuck under my kayak. I crunched forward and wiggled and was eventually released from the aquatic forces that had held me in their grip. My resultant roll, however, was all to heck and I was reduced to accepting an “eskimo” rescue from Alan. After more drysuit venting, a couple of further attempts revealed that my roll was still on a little holiday. Finally, I removed my PFD/BA and everything was all right.  In an attempt to salvage my wounded pride confidence, I decided that I couldn’t not try some hand rolling. Mistake! Now I was back to having that “raised water level” experience that I encounter in the pool.  In other words, the water surface is somehow that much higher above me without any buoyancy and I can’t quite make it all the way up. It took several tries before success, when everyone breathed a sigh of relief (because they could finally go home for tea).

So, two things were going on here. First, I’d never actually done Greenland (versus Euro) rolling with a fully loaded BA (including radio, phone, knife, snack bars, lip salve, empty wrappers …), and it’s a bit of a different experience.  Second, if my hand roll fails without the buoyancy assistance of layers or a tuilik, then something needs fixing. And the big lesson from all of this is: more practice is needed, including changing up the variables.

I’m glad it happened, because it keeps things real. Traditional rolling skills should not be confined to flatwater lochs. They should be a living tradition, employed in the seas that they were designed for and in a variety of circumstances. Few illustrate this better than Warren Williamson:

Forward motion

Northern Light 3-piece paddleI now seem to have found myself in possession of 2 Greenland paddles. In my defence, I am sharing these with Alan (or maybe he is sharing them with me?). We acquired an Anglesey Stick in the summer, which sparked our pursuit of all things Greenland (minus the icebergs). More recently, we obtained a Northern Light 3-piece carbon fibre paddle which combines ancient and modern technology in one sleek, black package. The reasons for pursuing this particular option were:

  • Now we have a Greenland stick each
  • The paddle can be dismantled for ease of transportation (which saves the car windscreen from being speared)
  • It can also be shortened into a storm paddle.

I am hard pressed to choose a favourite between the wooden and the carbon fibre versions of the Greenland paddle. I’ve enjoyed working with both of them when rolling, but haven’t yet done an indepth comparison when paddling from A to B. As a matter of fact, I haven’t done a whole lot of journeying with a Greenland paddle full-stop. After reading a blog post by Mel in Australia, where she describes her journey from using a Euro paddle to a Greenland stick (most recently completing a 111 km ultra-marathon), it lodged the idea in my mind that perhaps a Greenland paddle isn’t just for rolling!  I’m also familiar with its reputation for being easier on the wrists. This past weekend, I decided to see how I would fare on a short day trip. My treasured Werner splits were secured to my foredeck, as I ploughed forward armed with nothing more than a skinny stick.

Greenland paddleThe one thing that I notice when forward paddling with a “G-stick” is that it feels like a different set of muscles is being employed, compared with a Euro paddle. These muscles reside more in the torso and shoulders as opposed to the arms and wrists. I found myself being more naturally inclined to rotate, with marked improvement occurring when engaging the feet (of course, this should apply to Euro paddles too). The Northern Light paddle slips through the water smoothly and stealthily and, despite my initially less than perfect technique, I did not experience flutter. It takes a little adjusting, but wasn’t long before I got into the swing of things and I started to feel quite comfortable and made good forward progress.

Something that Alan and I have both experienced is a slight hesitance to trust our Greenland paddles when bracing. Without a big, fat blade to lean against, we feel a little exposed. But this is more of a psychological/perception issue and I think that, with practice, we will be bracing effectively regardless. Counterbalancing this, I did notice a heightened sense of security in relation to the fact that rolling with a Greenland paddle is significantly more reliable than with a Euro paddle. This really does improve one’s confidence. I have read comments suggesting that, for example, a standard Greenland roll isn’t as effective in rough water. Yet I’ve also recently read reports of  Greenland paddlers out in serious surf who had no problem with, and thus every confidence in, repeatedly employing this roll (comments here, for instance).

Greenland rollingPassing my G-stick over to friends to try out gave me the opportunity to make a direct comparison with a (crank shaft carbon fibre) Euro paddle. Suddenly, it felt like I was paddling with a shovel. I could feel every tendon in my arms and wrists and it all seemed a bit like hard work, especially against the wind. My right elbow is a slight weak spot (in wind in particular), which ultimately leads to a wrist problem, and it wasn’t long before it started to tweak. I will confess to being relieved to get my skinny stick back, when the elbow pain disappeared and everything felt more comfortable again.

I’m certainly going to continue taking the Greenland stick out on trips. Alan will probably have a go with the carbon fibre paddle next time while I try out the wooden Anglesey Stick which I already know is a beautiful paddle to hold.

The Greenland adventure continues!

Rolling With Sticks

Rolling With Sticks

Rolling With Sticks book at the ready

As Alan and I go out to practice our Greenland rolling, a scenario unfolds that might resonate with other paddlers of the skinny stick variety. Picture the scene: you have arrived at your favourite rolling spot, you go through the repertoire of rolls that you’ve mastered then you proceed to the ones that you are working on. One of two things happens then – you can’t quite get it right and can’t remember all the tips you tried to memorise from the DVDs and videos you’ve watched previously. Or, you nail it and are ready to try out a new roll, but can’t think which one or where to begin.

Sadly, out on the water, it’s not possible to take along a laptop, or even to readily fire up a mobile device, so it can leave one at a loss as to how to proceed. At worst, one could inadvertently start using bad technique which could lead to injury.

Rolling With Sticks

So that's how it's meant to be done!

Some of you might already be familiar with the Qajaq Rolls Website, which has been carefully put together by rolling aficionado Christopher Crowhurst in the US. It is a terrific free resource, documenting all the Greenland rolls (and others) in video and text, as well as employing useful stick figure diagrams. Branching out from this, Christopher has now created a book containing a first volume of rolls illustrated by said stick figures and accompanied by descriptive text. The book is called “Rolling With Sticks” (what else!) and is published on “Xerox premium NeverTear water resistant polyester paper.” In other words, it’s bombproof (just like your roll will be).

Alan and I received our copy last week and took it out to test in saltwater. Firstly, I can confirm, it really is waterproof. It’s difficult to imagine anything “paper” that wouldn’t become a soggy, mushy mess in saltwater, but it truly doesn’t. It’s hard to tell it’s even wet! And so, we were happily flipping through the contents and rolling with the book under our decklines. I was working on my hand roll and Alan on his storm roll and it was extremely useful (and somehow comforting) to have a handy reference right in front of us. It also acts as inspiration to get started on a new roll that we might not even have considered before. The stick figures work well as a quick visual reference (and I appreciated that they are smiling, reminding us to have fun!).

Rollign With Sticks

Alan looks up something new to try ...

This is quite a pioneering  book, being that the very nature of Greenland rolling is such that the skills have been passed down via elders and mentors, and have not been committed to paper to any large extent. Even although the activity is growing in popularity, it has still been quite niche. Skills sharing in this digital age has occurred via Internet sites and videos (as well as elders and mentors, of course), but I have not come across a lot in the way of guidebooks, and certainly not waterproof ones – a definite first!

I do have a tiny criticism. In the instructions for at least one roll (hand roll, forward to aft), we are guided to look up at the “sunlight”. This did throw me, being that the West of Scotland hasn’t seen sunlight for most of the “summer”. Perhaps “sky” would be a better word for us sun-deprived folks. But now I’m just being bitter picky.

To get your copy of Volume 1, go to the Rolling With Sticks Website. You won’t be disappointed!

Rockpool Isel, how do I love thee?

Rockpool Isel

Rockpool Isel

Let me count the ways!

It’s been almost 2 years since I became the proud owner of a Rockpool Isel kayak. I think it was Fate that brought us together as, quite simply, I don’t believe I could have found a kayak that could be more perfect for me.

I am a 5′ 5″ (1.524m) tall female weighing 8 st 4 lbs (116 lb, 52.6 kg).  The Isel is designed for “the smaller paddler” and features a “snug fitting cockpit”. This sounds highly appealing to smaller paddlers, however, I admit to having a little, er, flirtation, with another brand of kayak “designed for the smaller paddler” that left me less than convinced of the suitability of such models. The Isel, however, is a quite different animal and I knew immediately upon testing it that I could trust it.

First of all, it is an excellent fit. With correct footplate and seat positioning, I can sit relaxed in the kayak and my legs are in constant, comfortable contact with the thigh braces. This affords a feeling of real control and, combined with the stability of the kayak, I simply feel safe and secure. I also added a thin layer of foam into the conveniently located hip pockets.

All this safety and security doesn’t make for a boring kayak. Indeed, the Isel is manoeuvrable and nippy and I am able to turn it in high winds without difficulty. Because of its harder chines, it sticks nicely when edged and I get instant feedback on how far to go. It loves to pick up waves and, although I am not the bravest of surfers, I have had fun scooting along on a following sea.

Two Isels on the water

Two Isels on the water

Other features that have particularly impressed me include, firstly, the adjustable footplate. I am not a fan of foot pegs, although this is a very personal preference. I developed sore feet when paddling kayaks with foot pegs and this simply isn’t an issue any more. I know people comment on not being able to stretch their legs when a footplate is present, but I find that I can do so simply by straightening my legs out. I dare say that I have found the ideal positioning of the plate and seat in order to allow good contact along with a little room for manoeuvre. Secondly, lower back pain used to feature quite regularly when I paddled other kayaks, but no more. This could be because of the adjustable (and removable) glass seat design and the lumbar support provided by the back rest (and/or because I have toughened up a bit since my earlier kayaking days – yoga helps). Thirdly, I love Rockpool’s unkinkable wire skeg design. On those inevitable occasions when the kayak is plopped on the beach and the skeg is down, it is no longer a potentially trip-ruining event.

I have frequently received comments from fellow paddlers as to how much happier I look in rougher water since acquiring the Isel. I went through a bit of a rough water confidence setback a couple of years ago after a good trashing in the aforementioned unsuitable “smaller paddler” kayak. The Isel has helped me overcome this, such that I believe I am now at an appropriate proficiency level for someone of my experience on the water.  For me, it has taken a great deal of the fear out of paddling and I now find myself seeking out and enjoying conditions that used to fill me with trepidation. I have been out in up to F6 (F7 if you count gusts) mostly in the Cowal/Clyde area, and various tidal conditions elsewhere, and have had no issue with control, windage, tracking or speed. I use the skeg minimally, really only in cross-winds and downwind when surfing.

The kayak is excellent for rolling and, importantly, for self-rescuing too. When practising self-rescues with other kayaks, it has often felt like wrestling an alligator. In comparison, the Isel practically lays out a welcome mat and offers you a leg-up to get back in.

Alan balance bracing in Isel

Alan balance bracing in Isel

Just when I thought I’d realised and appreciated all of the Isel’s good qualities, I recently discovered another major bonus – it makes for an excellent Greenland rolling kayak! As I mentioned before, the harder chines, the lower profile and lower rear cockpit rim are perfect for Greenland style (layback in particular) rolling.

It might seem like I have nothing bad to say, which is true. The closest I can come is that, naturally, being a smaller, low volume kayak, there is not a huge amoung of room for gear in the hatches, although it is possible to camp out of it on short trips if you pack as if you were backpacking, say.

As Rockpool point out on their Web page, the Isel doesn’t have to be used by smaller people only, and Alan has proved this by sneaking into mine for Greenland rolling practice. He might not be able to load the kayak, but he can certainly roll it.

I wouldn’t swap my Isel for anything. It is a wonderful kayak that has brought out the best in my abilities and has made my kayaking journey a real joy.

Valley Avocet Review

Reviewer: Alan

The reviewer is a 5′ 11” (1.524m), 165 lb (75 kg) male paddler.

Valley AvocetI have owned and paddled a composite Valley Avocet for a couple of years now. It has been my everyday kayak, ie the one I use for day trips. At only 16’0” long, it is a short, low volume kayak. It is extremely responsive to edging, and very easy to control in all kinds of conditions, with minimal windage.

Valley sea kayaks are extremely well built. They tend to be some of the heaviest kayaks that I have lifted on and off of roof racks, but they do have solid glass lay-ups, for which Valley are renowned. There is no flex on any surface when leaned upon.

Valley boats have a traditional feel with rounded edged hulls in the centre, which allow them to be edged easily, and the Avocet is no exception. This is accompanied, however, with a very good level of primary stability. The rounded chines also allow the kayak to handle larger conditions well, with the kayak riding over waves with great ease and paddler security.

Valley Avocet load stability chart

Valley Avocet load stability chart

Paddled empty, I sit bang in the middle of the stability specification that Valley publishes, so my experience is one of optimal stability for this kayak. This, however, does really make it a day trip kayak only. At 280 litres (of estimated capacity since Valley doesn’t release volume figures) it may well be a bit small for anything but very short camping trips. The extra weight of camping gear also pushes the kayak into the non-optimal range for stability, and makes for a wet paddling experience, with the deck riding so low with someone of my weight and size in it.

Valley AvocetFor me, the standard cushioned Valley seats are very comfortable, and I can easily sit in them for long days out without experiencing pain or numbness (although I do recognise that this will not be the same for everyone). I have added in some extra foam padding for hip connection and a snugger fit, and the sides of the seats have adjustable ties that allow you to easily strap the foam in. I have had no problems with the seat despite frequent use for the last two years, so my experience is that Valley seats are very robust and comfortable.

The paddler’s physical thigh/knee connection with Valley kayaks has often been the subject of debate on paddling forums. I have read some critiques of the lack of thigh braces in Valley kayaks (especially when compared with some other kayak manufacturers), and can confirm that the thigh braces on Valley kayaks are placed where either the knees or, if you are lucky, the thighs actually make contact with the inner hull/deck or where the hull/deck meets the cockpit coaming. Valley provide 5 mm self adhesive foam with each new kayak for the owner to customise the comfort and fit, and the foam is required in my experience. The Avocet, being a smaller kayak, has a lower deck than some other Valley models, and as such offers better thigh connection for someone of my size. Having said that, my connection isn’t as secure as in some other manufacturers kayaks with more aggressive thigh grips, but it is enough to feel secure when rolling.

I have used the Avocet in many kinds of conditions, from dead flat calm to F5/6, following sea, beam seas etc, and can honestly say it is one of the most pleasing, stable, responsive, fun-to-paddle kayaks I have come across. I have been told that I always look happy when out paddling in the Avocet, and there is good reason for that –  I feel in control of the kayak, and not the other way around!

All in all, I really enjoy this kayak and look forward to hopefully many more years of paddling it.

A weekend with a Rockpool GT

Guest Post from Alan

Rockpool GTThere’s not a whole lot of information or reviews on the Internet about the Rockpool GT, so I thought I’d offer my findings based on my short experience of paddling it. I am a 5′ 11” (1.524m), 165 lb (75 kg)  person.

I had been visiting Karitek in Ayrshire to test out a P&H Cetus and a Cetus MV that for various reasons I really didn’t fit (but that’s another story!) and decided to try out the Rockpool GT. In a short 20 minute test, after adjusting the Rockpool seat and footplate a bit, I convinced myself that I could fit into the kayak and was ready to go. A trip around the small loch near Karitek doesn’t afford adequate testing upon which to base a decision to purchase, but initial impressions were that this kayak was quite voluminous, very, very easy to edge and to hold on edge and turn in a really tight circle. I decided that it was worth trying out for longer and in more realistic conditions, so I hired it for the weekend.

On arriving back in Cowal, there was a small F3 WSW wind blowing and creating some wave activity on the Clyde, so I quickly launched and spent 30 minutes trying the GT out in a little chop. Once again I was quite impressed at the kayak’s ease of control. I could edge it with large degrees of comfort, and turn very easily (there is a nice sweet spot on edge that it sticks on and provides maximum manoeuvrability). Again I was quite impressed by the GT.

The GT is marketed as a large boat that has good primary and secondary stability, and handles like a much smaller kayak. This is indeed very true, and certainly as advertised.

On Saturday we went for some rolling practice, and I found the GT to be a very easy kayak to roll (considering the large volume), however, I did find that I had to pull myself around under the kayak sometimes before starting the roll, which I attributed to its volume. The back deck on the GT is low enough to do lean back rolls, but these may be impeded slightly by the freeboard when unloaded with someone of my weight in it.

Rockpool GTI really wanted to take the GT out in more challenging conditions and paddle it for longer, so on Sunday we went on a trip down Loch Fyne from Strachur to Castle Lachlan and back (22 km) expecting the forecast F3/4 SE winds to give us some wave activity. Much to my disappointment, and highly out of character for the weather in this region, it calmed down to F1/2 and even less on the way back . The 5 hour paddle did, however, serve its purpose in terms of finding out that the GT fit was not a comfortable one for me, despite my having played around extensively with the seat and footplate positions. Paddling for short periods of time, I had no discomfort but, after about the 2 hour mark, my feet were aching from their positioning on the footplate (and my inability to stretch them out), I had sore thighs when engaging the thigh braces and, most noticeably, a very achy lower back from the backrest which was much larger than the one on the Alaw Bach/Isel seats that I’ve seen. I decided to make some changes to the seat position at lunch and see how much comfort I could achieve on the return trip. I still didn’t fit the thigh grips without really tensing up, so I moved the seat forward further to make a better connection. (One point of note about moving the seat forward so much is that it creates a lot of space behind the seat, and also makes it that much harder to clamber into to begin with). I certainly felt much better connected when I climbed back in after lunch, but only managed about 1 hour of paddling before my back was starting to spasm once more forcing me to see if anyone else wanted to paddle the kayak for the rest of the day!  It really is true that you have to  paddle a kayak for at least a day (preferably longer) to see whether it is the right one for you.

In terms of size, the GT is a large volume kayak (17′ 10″ (5.44m), 380 litres, 21″ (53 cm) wide), which has a lot of its volume above the waterline. The cockpit is an extremely large one but, with the adjustable footplate and seat, can be made to fit just about anyone. I did, however, feel quite small inside this cockpit. I think perhaps this kayak is geared towards a 6’+ 80kg+ paddler with lots of gear to carry.

Rockpool GTYou certainly notice that, paddled empty, the kayak sits quite high up on the water with quite a few inches of freeboard. At my size, I feel like I sit deeply inside the cockpit (my hips were about 2-3 inches below the cockpit rim, which is really too far). Quite a few fellow paddlers remarked on how high in the water I looked. They mentioned that the bow was often sitting above the waterline. They also remarked at how the kayak looked very ‘big at the front’, which is indeed where much of the volume lies. I tried to block out mental images of the A300-600ST (Super Transporter) ‘Beluga’ plane when they mentioned this!!

My impression is that, if you are a 80+ kg paddler, at least 6 feet tall, and you are looking for a stable, manoeuvrable but voluminous kayak, then the GT is well worth a look. If you are under 6 feet and less than 80 kg, you will struggle to fit the cockpit and the kayak may not make enough contact with the water at the waterline.

What Rockpool have done, however, is produce a kayak that does what the label says ie a large kayak with a small kayak feel and, if they ever produce an ‘LV’ version (I thought that it could do with shedding at least 1” of deck depth), I’d be very interested in trying it out, but perhaps with a different backrest!

Photos courtesy Julia Darby

A Tale of Two Drysuits

Typhoon Ladies Multisport

Typhoon Ladies Multisport

As one or two of you might remember, I previously mentioned that Alan and I were on the cusp of purchasing a couple of Typhoon Multisport drysuits. As some months have now passed since taking the plunge (so to speak), I can report on how we’ve been getting along with them.

The answer is – very well indeed and we have not been disappointed. The suits are well made, they fit well and there has been no leakage so far. For the first time pretty much ever, Alan has managed to experience immersion without a wet bum or arm. Unlike some of the other Typhoon models, the Multisport neck and wrist seals are latex, not neoprene. The Ladies’ Multisport in particular is a nice fit (on me, that is) and really quite a stylish drysuit (you know you’ve been paddling too much when you start placing the words “drysuit” and “stylish” in the same sentence). It’s the little things that finish it off nicely, like the colour and the floral motif. I should add that the suits come in 11 different sizes for men, and 7 for women.

Typhoon Multisport

Typhoon Multisport

Alan has mastered the art of zipping himself in and out of his suit (ie using the back zipper), however, I lack that specific contortionist skill. The exposed brass zip can  stiffen up markedly so it’s a must to obtain some zip wax and keep it handy, or risk driving home in your suit, say. On the subject of the zip, my only preference would be that it was concealed rather than forming an elongated, “hypercurve” fin. I find it acts as a hindrance in getting my BA on and off, but that’s a small point.

You might be wondering if I’ve binned my Palm Aleutian XP drysuit. As recent photos will reveal, the answer is a definite “no”. It is holding out and the small amount of delamination that I noticed last year has not worsened or caused leakage. The neck seal has only just finally ripped and will be sent back to Palm for its second replacement along with the wrist seals (for their first), which would be considered quite normal wear and tear.

Comparing the two suits, the Multisport would appear to be made of harder-wearing, slightly thicker materials. The only downside to this is that it can get a little hot on warmer days, although this may also relate to the darker colouring versus the Aleutian’s reflective hues. And so, I wear my Aleutian on cooler “summer”/spring/autumn rough water or wet practice days, whereas I reserve my Multisport for winter wear and/or extended wet practice.

My only other observation is controversial. I put the question to you, can a drysuit affect your roll? Something feels different when rolling in the Multisport. I’m fairly sure it isn’t “mental” as it took me a while to realise the connection between what I’ve been wearing versus rolling performance at the time. I think it might relate to buoyancy. Or drag. Or the fact that it’s blue and not yellow.  Anyway, as Alan all too readily reminded me, it shouldn’t matter as one should be able to roll well in a Santa Claus suit. But that’s being silly. I doubt I’d ever be able to roll well in a red suit.

In addition to ourselves, a few friends have now gone down the Typhoon Multisport path, no doubt attracted by the 3 year warranty as much as the UK-manufactured quality and impressive pedigree of Typhoon who, in their own words, supply  “… all the major military markets around the world, commercial customers such as the RNLI, British Waterways, Environment Agency and the major Oil Companies as well as the recreational users in the Diving and Leisure Markets.”

Drysuit trials (and some tribulations)

Pam in Palm Aleutian drysuitA couple of years ago, I mentioned on this blog the fact that Alan and I had each taken ownership of a Palm Aleutian drysuit. Being that sufficient time has now passed to form a valid assessment of their performance, it’s perhaps appropriate for me to share our findings. The drysuits have been in regular use over the past 2 years, probably being worn an average of once per week in the past year, although Alan had a bit of a break last winter due to injury. The suits have been subject to regular immersion through rescue (including rolling) practice, but no abuse. They are always rinsed thoroughly after each wearing.

After about six months, Alan noticed that his feet were constantly damp after a paddle.  Whilst on a camping trip last September, my neck seal split and we took this as an opportunity to send both drysuits back to Palm for neck seal replacement, and repair of Alan’s suit’s feet. Palm replaced both the neck seals and the feet on both dry suits in record time, charging only for the seals. The leakage that Alan had experienced was recognised as a design flaw and Palm are now using new, improved materials for the feet which they had duly attached to our suits.

Disturbing scenes

Disturbing scenes

Fast forward a year, and Alan’s drysuit  is experiencing leakage that is manifesting around the backside area, requiring a towel on the car seat on the way home to spare his blushes. A fellow Royal West club member kindly loaned him a sophisticated drysuit inflation device, involving a pump and several plastic bottles to allow testing of where the leak might be emanating from. In scenes reminiscent of a horror flick, anyone stumbling across our bathroom might have been alarmed to see us drowning our chubby (and headless) paddler “hostage”, but it was all in the interests of scientific research*. We then became fairly certain that leakage could be traced to the rear entry zip area.  It was not long after this that we noticed that the suit is, to our despair, delaminating substantially primarily in the middle back area, but also in small areas elsewhere. The delamination is visible as bubbly ripples where the top layer of the fabric is separated from the lower layers.

Being that I have worn my suit a bit more than Alan has worn his, one would expect that it would have been showing greater signs of wear and tear. Aside from the neck seal, however, which needs replacing again, my suit has performed remarkably well with no leaks being detected. It too, however, is starting to show signs of delamination. Interestingly, Alan’s suit is much more faded than mine.

The Aleutian is not a cheap drysuit, so we are a little disappointed that, after 2 years – and well out of the one year warranty – we are now faced with the prospect of replacing ours. The need to replace the latex seals is entirely expected, but delamination seems  premature. Browsing online, we’ve discovered a few other folks with the same issues, eg here.

Rather than incurring continued repair bills, the more prudent thing might be to look for an alternative suit. We have now turned our attention to the Typhoon range and so far we have not heard or read anything bad about them. Their 3 year guarantee is also very attractive.

* No headless, chubby paddlers were harmed in the testing of this drysuit.

Camera Review of Canon Digital Powershot D10 (waterproof 10m)

Review posted by guest blogger:alanf

Canon D10 Powershot Waterproof Camera

The Canon Powershot D10 waterproof digital camera has been around since mid 2009, and is the first Canon aimed at the watersports market. It is a 12 megapixel digital compact camera.

On first inspection, the camera is very stylish, with barely a hard edge anywhere. Most surfaces are smooth and round. The detachable front cover is a snazzy teal colour and, as an optional extra, can be interchanged with extra coloured panels. The teal one is quite nice though. The construction feels good with a lot of impressive looking hex screws clamping the body shut. The lens for this camera is a 6-18.6 mm f2.8-4.9 zoom lens, which actually protrudes out from the front of the camera by about 25 mm (a new first for waterproof compacts?). The zoom lens can actually be seen to move in and out when zooming, inside the waterproof lens housing. In this sense, the camera is a lot more like conventional compact cameras rather than the thin and flatter waterproof ones available to date. This may give better optics, but will also take up extra buoyancy aid pocket room, although it fits with room to spare into a Palm Kaikoura BA pocket. In use out on the water, however, I did find that the lens catches a bit on the pocket zip, although it is tolerable (just not as smooth as my older, thin Pentax Optio W20).

There is no viewfinder on the camera, and the 2.5” large bright LCD screen produces a very clear, crisp and visible display.

There are two waterproof access seals – one on the bottom of the camera for memory card and battery access and one on the side for DC adapter/USB cable access. This is one more access panel than the old Optio W20 which dispenses with DC input and USB access. The optimists would say that it is nice to have a USB access point, but the pessimists would say that there is double the chance of seal failure and water leak into the camera! (I do however need the USB cable since my laptop can’t read High Capacity SD memory cards directly). The seals themselves are a side o-ring for the bottom panel, and a face o-ring for the side panel. Both are secured in place by a grey plastic catch. Only time will tell how robust these are, but I remember having similar reservations with the Optio W20 a couple of years ago, and have had no issues with it.

The rather strange feature on this camera is perhaps the strap attachment and tether mechanism, which gives the user the choice of the 4 corners of the camera to attach the cord to. There are really only two positions that are practical, so it’s a bit gimmicky rather than being an important feature. The cord attaches to a metal bayonet type fixture which can plug into any of the 4 corner fixtures. The corner fixtures themselves are metal, and give a sense of robustness, however they are locked in place only by the actions of a small plastic pincer mechanism which, when squeezed, can cause the whole tether mechanism to be released fairly easily. This makes me feel that it’s not that secure. Do I really want to trust this mechanism out on the water where I’m taking the camera in and out of my BA pocket all day? I feel that Canon should have used a more secure attachment for this purpose. I also feel that once I have settled on the corner that I want to use, I will more than likely try to make it more permanent by squeezing some silicon sealant into the mechanism to solidify it (will my warranty still stand?). I would also have liked Canon to have supplied blanking caps for the other corner tether holes, since they are just left open and serve no purpose other than to collect grit and water. A carabiner fixing cord is available from Canon, but at £35 it’s a bit of a steep price, and I’ll just have to settle for making my own cord and attaching a carabiner!

The turn-on time of the Canon D10 is much faster than the Optio W20. It is really fast! I can turn on and take a single shot in under 2 seconds. The auto focus seems a whole lot quicker than the Optio too, even in lower light conditions. I have been getting fed up using the Optio due to the slow turn-on, slow/poor focusing and shutter lag, and in comparison, this camera is great. These two factors alone make the Canon stand head and shoulders above the Optio.

The 12 megapixel sensor delivers fairly good quality detailed 4000 x 3000 pixel images, although for me, an obvious downside is that Canon seem to have used too much jpeg compression to limit image file size (full size files are in the 2.2 – 3 MB range, compared to the 4+ MB file size range of my 12 megapixel Nikon digital SLR camera). I have never understood manufacturer’s desire to trade off image quality for memory card usage via jpeg compression. I’d prefer less compressed jpegs (or at least the option of setting the camera to use less compression!). Unfortunately there is no ‘super fine’ image quality option in the camera’s shooting menu, only a ‘fine’ and ‘normal’ mode (you don’t select ‘normal’ mode – it’s not normal!). With ISO at 200, aperture at F2.8 I ran a side-by-side comparison of shots between the D10 and a Nikon DSLR, per the 2 images below. The detail from the Canon D10 is good. However, when cropped down and magnified to 500% as shown in the cropped/zoomed images in the comparison chart below, the greater jpeg compression on the Canon D10 image becomes more apparent. On the second image comparison, the nice almost uniform blue sky suffers from jpeg artifacts too, which I’m sure could be eliminated by less jpeg compression. The D10 images also looks a bit more contrasty, probably due to internal auto leveling and sharpening algorithms inside the D10, which the user has no control over.

Image comparison chart Canon D10 v Nikon dslr both (12 Megapixel)

(Click on thumbnails for full image size)

Canon D10 image Nikon DSLR image
Full frame shot – scroll to click outside of large image to return
Cropped shot same image
Cropped shot same image 500x magnification
Full frame image (new scene)

Cropped frame image (new scene)
Cropped shot same scene

As well as control over jpeg compression, it would also have been a big plus to have seen the option to use RAW files. Maybe its a deliberate choice by Canon so this camera doesn’t compete with their more expensive pro-sumer models?

Exposure Control

Click to enlarge

The other slight gripe with the camera in ‘P’ mode (where the user controls the settings) is its propensity to overexpose images on multi matrix ‘evaluative’ mode, with 0 ev compensation (ie the default). In an image that has average brightness in the foreground and bright sky, the sky will have very burned out highlights ( a big no-no in photography). In order to preserve the highlights, it is necessary to knock the exposure level compensation in ‘P’ mode down to -1 ev (others may prefer -0.33 ev or -0.66 ev).

Spot metering seems to deliver better results, but how often do you have time to spot meter on an action shot on a watersports day out? You usually just want to point, click and forget!

The ‘Auto’ mode fares quite well with highlights, but do I trust the auto mode to not blow highlights 100% of the time? I don’t think I’ve used ‘Auto’ mode on any camera before, ever!

Apart from it’s handling of the highlights, Auto mode has a tendency to switch to ISO800 a lot of the time leading to grainier images, even when it doesn’t need to do this, eg when there are ample light conditions.

I normally prefer to knock the ISO level down to 100 from the default ‘Auto’ to prevent high ISO graininess, but unlike some other cameras, in ‘P’ mode the auto iso setting seems to limit at ISO400, so this should prevent the camera from producing excessively grainy shots in low light conditions. However you will notice image graininess at ISO settings of above 200 so manually setting ISO to 100 or 200 may be the best overall option. The Image Stabilisation system will also help out shooting in lower light conditions.

There is no manual exposure or aperture priority mode, ie you can only manually control ISO, exposure compensation, and focus, not shutter speed (apart from long shutter speed in scene mode) or aperture, which is a pity.

Summary

Why am I comparing the D10 to the DSLR? Well doing most photography outside of kayaking with a DSR, I ultimately need a camera to compete with my DSLR when I’m kayaking. Is the comparison fair? No, but it does give you a flavour of what corners are being cut with compact digital cameras. Overall, however, once the settings are optimised, the D10 is a fun to use camera. The controls are smooth, the menu buttons are great, and the image stabilisation seems to work very well, as does the Auto-focus including the facial recognition system. Menu system and functionality options are wide, including the standard scene, movie etc modes. Editing features eg movie editing etc seem to be very handy and powerful, and the images produced are certainly very lively. It also has the option of an intelligent ‘i-contrast’ option which will auto correct dark “contrasty” images, eg bright sky and dark foregrounds. (Note: I am normally adverse to auto corrections, but the D10 does a very good job of brightening up dark foregrounds whilst maintaining overall image contrast).

Other advanced features include facial AF, eye blink recognition, AE lock, AF lock, custom white balance and tone controls, servo focus for moving subjects, and slow sync flash for nigh time photography, which tend to be found on more advanced pro level cameras.

Click to see full, 12 megapixel image. Click outside of large image to return

In conclusion, this camera packs quite a punch for it’s size and price. That coupled with a 12 megapixel sensor, fast turn-on time and minimal shutter lag times make this a big upgrade from the Optio W20, and I am really looking forward to using it out paddling in 2010.

D10 Pros

  • 12 mega pixel sensor
  • smooth edged design
  • robust looking build quality
  • good optics
  • choice of tether mount point
  • fast turn on time
  • responsive autofocus including low light conditions
  • fast responsive shoot time, minimal lags
  • good image quality
  • fast lens F2.8-F4.9
  • image stabilisation
  • auto white balance seems to work well
  • intelligent ‘Auto’ mode, guesses scene type
  • some interesting exposure adjustment tools like i-contrast to help brighten up dark areas
  • intuitive buttons, menus and features
  • programmable ‘print’ function key
  • some advanced features
  • usb/ dc input
  • price (notably reduced from original early release price)

D10 Cons

  • tether mount point locking mechanism robustness/security/ease of unlocking
  • no covers for unused tether points
  • lack of superfine mode for less compressed jpeg image files
  • no raw file support
  • ‘Auto’ mode varies Iso up to 800 which can be grainy
  • 3x optical zoom a bit boring especially given the IS
  • tendency to blow (overexpose) highlights in ‘P mode evaluative metering’ (needs manual compensation down to -1ev)
  • Second waterproof seal panel for USB/dc adaptor means 2x risk of seal failure?
  • full operation manual only available as pdf on supplied CD – I’d have preferred it on paper instead of 5 different language paper versions of the ‘quick start guide’!

D10 Kayaking specific pros

  • waterproof
  • fast lens (quicker shutter speeds, fewer blurred images)
  • image stabilisation (fewer blurred images)
  • fast turn on (no excuses for not photographing that dolphin that just appeared!)
  • fast focus even in low light (faster shots, fewer blurred images)
  • good auto mode (point and click photography)
  • multiple tether points
  • optional tether with carabiner available

D10 Kayak specific cons

  • tether point robustness, ease of release/durability
  • lens protrudes, may not fit some BA pockets
  • lots of crevasses for salt water to stick around in (will need rinsing after every outing)
  • twice as many waterproof seals to worry about!