I am surrounded by kayaking, kayaks and kayakers. I run a kayak store in Melbourne. I store four kayaks in the lounge room. I met my partner kayaking.
I love the sport and wished I had been introduced to the sport as a kid. I envy K1 paddlers that make it look effortless.
Shortly after crossing Bass Straight in a kayak last year the surgeon advised – “No more long distance paddling due to blood clots.” Should I listen? For many of us paddlers, kayaking keeps us sane and life in perspective
I wanted to have a crack at the Murray RPM 200. It is the only one missing from the list- Hawkesbury Classic, Murray Marathon. So planning began, all focussed on Queens birthday weekend, 208 km, three days. It was going to be Very Flat…. NO Flow or Assistance. Trying to heed both the surgeons advice and the well meaning (nagging) advice of caring family members, I needed to make changes to satisfy everyone that this was achievable and safe.
The RPM attracts all types of crafts. K1 is the fastest craft on flat water and would zoom past me. I envy/respect their abilities to keep them up for 70km each day, but when the wind picks up or you need a drink or food the chances of falling in the drink in winter become very real.
I can’t change the hereditary factors that contributed to the blood clots but modern medicine such as blood thinners could reduce the clotting, however they make me feel like crap. After my last long paddle the clots occurred in my lower calves. I choose the Stellar SES for a number of reasons but the minimal ‘hump’ means there is no contact with the boat during leg drive this reducing the likelihood of bruising and compression caused with the centre hump in most skis.
So how does the Stellar SES stack up .After 6 weeks of training in the lead up to the event, followed by the actual RPM, I can say I like it, a lot. The Stellar SES holds it’s speed but it’s a different beast compared to other similar level skis. The Stellar has a slightly flatter hull which gives it a bit more stability and confidence. The nose seems to lift quicker when you start accelerating onto a wave or chasing a runner. In previous long distance races I end up rubbing two holes in my lower back to such an extent that I’m accustomed to taping up the two point on my pelvis which I call bullet holes. The seating position in the Stellar is a lot different and because long distance paddling is about time on your bum – being comfortable is critical. The comfort level of the Stellar made a huge difference during the RPM.
Melbourne can get bloody cold. I splashed out and bought the optional cockpit hatch. At first I was apprehensive. Many Multisport competitors are looking for a boat for a range of different events. Being able to add a cover to an Ocean Racing Ski is brilliant. I’m not saying it hasn’t been done by other manufactures but it really worked on the RPM especially in the mornings. On the first day it was 3 degrees, foggy, still and dark. In the afternoons when I was cold and wet paddling into a headwind I could feel the cold seeping in and I was thankful that the cockpit cover gave me that extra bit of protection. Contrast this to Hawkesbury Classic several years ago when it poured for most of the event and I was sitting in a ski in the dark, feeling the chill set it with no protection. Reducing the exposure from wind and rain by adding the cover was welcome feature of the Stellar .
It doesn’t matter who produces the boat – Kayaks and Skis can fail on the seams. I like the massive seam tape on the Stellar and though it might be a minor point it gives me piece of mind that it’s not going to fail on the join line.
Back to the RPM….it’s a fantastic event and well organised by the Marathon Canoe Club SA.
The Murray River from Berri to Morgan is stunning and different. The first checkpoint each day is at a lock. Entering the locks is a bit freaky for the first time and we wasted time each day on the bank getting cold waiting for all the paddlers to arrive. Waiting for everyone to arrive is a great time to load up on an extra banana before heading off again. The locks themselves are a pretty amazing engineering feet. We all paddled into the locks, heard the big doors swing shut behind us, and felt like we are sitting in a bath tub waiting for someone to pull the plug out. After the water level was reduced by about three metres, the front doors swung open and we paddled out.
I was really impressed with the range of boats that had entered and it was great to see so many people having a go. Long distance paddlers are a mad bunch and I think it attracts someone a little bit crazy. It’s funny I’m always amazed paddling is the easy bit. Finding someone who is prepared to put up with driving to the next check points, put up with the kayakers requests for Lamingtons, Bananas, Vegemite and Nutella wraps and listen to them crap on about what hurts for THREE DAYS on a perfectly good long weekend – These are the champions. Thank you to the Organisers and the Support teams for making it happen.
So if you can organise a support crew from within your work/family/friend network then there are a few more fantastic ultra paddling races coming up. The Murray Marathon and the Hawkesbury Classic in October. The Hawkesbury is a cracker….. 110k in the dark, partly against the tide – It would be great to organise a bunch of Stellar Paddlers to have a go. So do some research and have a look at the New Stellar SR or even the Stellar S18S and come and have a go.
Andrew Melbourne Kayaks
A few weeks ago, I drove six hours round trip in torrential down pours to pick up the SEI along with my other Stellars. Few things excite me more than new surf skis! This one had the potential to fill in the gap in the Stellar line for an all purpose ski that would combine speed, stability, and universal fit for most paddlers. Many months ago I gave my input on what thought the SEI should include so I was very excited to see it in person. It has only been four years since the first Stellar surf ski hit the market. Now the newly designed SEI is here!
Over these four years many new skis have come to the market which can make the choice even more difficult for some paddlers. However, ultimately, with enough information and hopefully a test run or two, paddlers are now rewarded with a choice of skis that meets their needs at their particular point in their paddling career. On the other hand, with so many choices, many paddlers own several skis based on how a particular boat meets their diverse paddling needs. Now we have different categories of boats from novice, intermediate, high performance skis and some that blur the lines between the classes like the SEL, Hawx, V10, Huki S1-XL, and now the SEI. The market demand and competition among manufacturers to design skis for every type of paddlers ultimately gets more paddlers into the market,drives innovation, and rewards paddlers with more stable yet efficient and better fitting skis. Competition never stands still among paddlers or manufacturers. If you are standing still then you are not moving forward as a paddler or manufacturer.
The SEI was designed to fit in between the SR and SEL in terms of speed and stability while adding a different(rounded) shaped cockpit and tapered footwell. So the SEI is 18 inches wide and 20ft long and fills this gap nicely in the Stellar lineup. It is called the intermediate but my experience is that it certainly has intermediate stability but its speed exceeded my expectations. If you categorize the SEI in the intermediate class then it would rank as one of the fastest. If you rank it in the HPS(high performance ski) it would be on the low end of this category. You can see how the lines are blurring between skis.
Like most Stellars, the SEI retains the combination of excellent stability coupled with pleasing speed, and superb build quality. For example the SES is the fastest, slimmest beam of any true ocean ski with exemplary stability for the small to mid size paddler. My SEL Ultra has wonderful top end speed with outstanding stability. I think most paddlers will be surprised at the SEI’s speed. I put four GPS tracks on this review so you can get a sense of the speed. If you have been following my reviews over the years, you have proof of my speeds generated via races with my long time competitors/training partners, along with my GPS training runs for most of the skis I have reviewed. I also have a huge GPS data base of practically every paddle I have ever done in virtually every ski I have owned since 2003.
If you go by the name Intermediate, the SEI should prove to be one of the fastest boats in this class based on my time trials and the Ride The Bull Race. able to generate some excellent speed with the SEI and by comparison with my racing counterparts. So by design the SEI is much faster than the SR but not as fast as the SEL. Be sure when comparing skis to use comparable layups(weights) and rudders. If you have read any car reviews, they don’t review the base model. They review the top of the line model. Likewise I try to review the lightest ski. In the Stellar line the Ultra are 22lbs while the Excel layups are 24lbs.
Years ago I would refer to my abilities as in the mid packer class, but now my rough water skills are very good in just about all skis. So I am reminded of that in what I thought was unstable for me a few years ago is now stable. Having said that the SEI is very stable, no surprise here. Secondary is better than the SEL for those having paddled the SEL’s. Like all the Stellars the stability is very predictable and kicks in early so the learning curve is minimized for most paddlers. My first paddle in the SEI was in six foot swells that we rarely get with the 4 inch rudder. I don’t advocate going out with this small of a rudder in these conditions, however, I was surprised how stable I was. I did put on the 8 inch rudder for the Ride the Bull Race which was more than adequate for that day of mixed conditions of refractory, slop and chop, and some tiny bumps inside Mackerel Cove. Again the stability falls in between the quite stable SR and the most stable high performance ski, the SEL.
The bucket and foot well were designed differently than the other Stellars. The bucket width is approximately the size of the SR for the wide hipped paddler but is tapered nicely for a more ergonomic paddling position with your knees closer together and supported by the sides of the boat. The bucket is also deeper than other Stellars with higher gunwales while your butt is planted in the back of the seat pan affording no sliding. There is less volume in the footwell so practically and visually this is an improvement.
On my second paddle I did take five minutes and taped some pads in the hip area and in the calf area. Remember there are only two skis that I require no padding in: Swordfish and Vintage. My point here that the SEI has a universal seat to fits the wide hipped and heavier paddlers. The track will accommodate a 35 inch inseam. If you need more length, you could move the track forward almost an inch. The track was fine for me at a short 29.5 inches with plenty to spare for the short paddlers. If you are very short, you can move the track toward the bucket by an inch. For the smaller/mid size paddlers, the bucket shape is such that padding the bucket is easy while you still are able to enjoy the overall design of the newer bucket. The bucket to foot well height ratio is about the same as the other Stellars. With padding, I loved the fit. It maybe the best fitting Stellar boat I have. I recently paddled an Evo 2 and V10 both padded out for guys similar to me in size. Having said that, like any ski, you need to try it to make sure it fits you comfortably. The catch is similar to the SEL.
Click on the image to view the wirte up of the S14S in the Spring issue of Adventure Kayak
Please note prices lsited in thsi article are US prices. Australian prices are as follows:
|Ultra (Pre Preg Carbon)||4.36m||11.8kg||$5,195.00|