This is a special multitasking paddle that Captain Larry Jarboe of Wavewalk Adventures Key Largo created following a conversation that we had a few weeks ago. The conversation was about advancing in extremely narrow and low mangrove tunnels. By narrow we mean barely a couple inches wider than the S4, and by low we mean with branches going across the mangrove tunnel at a height that sometimes forces the paddler to lay on their back and push the branch upward in order to allow the kayak to slide forward. This may involve turning around and lifting the branch over the motor too. Paddling is just part of what the paddle has to do, and pushing branches is not less important. In this mode of advancement through a tortuous tunnel of dense vegetation, the ability to grab branches in order to pull the kayak sideways and/or forward is a real necessity. A regular kayak paddle is much too long for this confined space, and a single-blade canoe paddle works only on one side, and since space is so restricted it’s not always easy to switch sides. In fact, sometimes it can be very hard.
Larry’s multitasking paddle is just a little over 4 ft long, and he made it by combining two canoe paddles, and cutting the blades according to these special challenges.
This is Larry’s first prototype, and he’s likely to keep coming up with new versions.
BTW, a trip in the mangrove tunnels is an adventure that’s impossible to forget!
Skiff design, built, main advantages, and noteworthy shortcomings
Skiffs come in different sizes and configurations, and similarly to Jon boats, they are flat bottomed mono-hulls, a feature that reduces draft, which is advantageous for fishing in shallow water. But this design feature also makes skiffs less seaworthy compared to other boats of similar size. This is yet another example of specialization that enhances the product’s performance in one application while diminishing its performance in others. Skiffs’ limited seaworthiness is the reason for their being unpopular as boats for offshore fishing, and opinions about their performance in bays and estuaries are mixed. The skiff design’s limited seaworthiness is one of the reasons why owners of big boats and yachts don’t use small skiffs dubbed microskiff as tenders. Typically, skiffs’ hulls are molded from fiberglass, mainly because this material is more durable in saltwater than aluminum, which is the most common building material in Jon boats. However, fiberglass doesn’t perform well in terms of impact resistance, and it requires maintenance, while other polymer resins (plastics) such as Polyethylene don’t. Fiberglass is also heavier than Polyethylene, too heavy to make a small skiff that’s lightweight enough to be transported on top of a vehicle’s roof, namely a portable skiff. Skiffs are propelled by one or more outboard motors mounted at their stern.
Typical skiff features
Depending on a skiff’s size and level of outfitting, it may feature a center console, a casting platform at its front, and a tall structure at the stern, for a person to use for poling and/or for sighting fish for one or more anglers fishing from the deck. Skiff are sometimes outfitted with an electric trolling motor, typically mounted at their bow. The main advantages of a frontal casting platform are that it offers the angler a broader range of casting, be it with bait, lures, flies, or a fishing net, and it puts a bigger distance between them and other fishers working from the middle of the deck. The main advantage of a center console is that it improves the driver’s comfort and stability, relatively to driving from the stern, and it allows them to drive standing. Poling is both exhausting and rather ineffective as a mode of propulsion, and therefore increasingly unpopular among anglers who fish the flats and other shallow water. This leaves the poling platform to serve mainly as a watchtower, and possibly as an ornament. Electric trolling motors are quiet, and they can be controlled remotely, which is one of the reasons that more skiff owners use them these days.
Microskiff – a class of very small small skiffs
Microskiff is a term that refers to compact skiffs, namely of small size, and typically of reduced features as well. The smaller size saves money on gas and maintenance, but the need to transport microskiffs on a trailer still presents a challenge in terms of launching and beaching, as well as storage. At the lowest end of microskiffs both in terms of size and price, is a group of large size boards, some of which feature backward pointing extensions that provide extra support for the outboard motor’s weight, and some that don’t. These boards usually offer enough stability and load capacity for just one user (I.E. “solo” skiff), and they hardly offer any free board, which pretty much guarantees that this user will get soaked, whether they like it or not. As far as comfort is concerned, these large size boards marketed as microskiffs or “solo” skiffs seem to be designed with no concern for ergonomics whatsoever, to a point where watching a video featuring such a skiff might give the viewer an uneasy feeling. In terms of portability and transportation, their small size allows for an unusually strong person to transport one on a pickup truck bed, but car topping such a vessel is beyond reach for anyone who’s not a professional weight lifter. Most of these board type skiffs are molded from fiberglass or other cold-molded resins, which reduces their impact resistance, durability, and therefore reliability. The board skiff that’s made from Polyethylene weighs 150 lbs without the motor, which is still too heavy to rival the portability of most fishing kayaks and canoes, and let’s not forget that square-stern canoes can be outfitted with small outboard motors… Despite their small size, including a beam (width) that’s narrower than the beam of conventional skiffs, board skiffs do not paddle well, a factor that reduces their appeal to anglers who fish skinny water and water where aquatic vegetation abounds.
The Wavewalk S4 – the smallest and greatest skiff
In physical terms, the Wavewalk S4 is smaller and much lighter than any skiff, microskiff, and board skiff, and it its Polyethylene hull makes it more resistant to impact. It is the only skiff that anyone can car top without help from a second person. The S4 can carry up to three adult fishermen on board, which is comparable to the crew size of good size skiffs, and it enables these anglers to fish at the same time and standing up, which is something that only full fledged medium sized and bigger skiffs may offer. The S4 is a much seaworthy skiff that can be driven through ocean waves and other choppy waters without problems, both in a solo mode and with a second passenger on board. The patented combination of its twin-hull (catamaran) and saddle seat is extremely stable as well as easy for the users to balance, even more than a personal watercraft (PWC). In fact, driving an S4 in the ocean and in choppy water is pure fun. The S4 offers plenty of free board, which is good news for passengers who are looking to stay dry, and it is the only skiff that can serve as a tender for a big boat or a yacht. The S4 offers its passengers to use the entire internal space of its twin hulls for on board storage, and this makes its storage capacity rival with full fledged and good size skiffs. Like a full fledged skiff, the S4 can be easily outfitted with a front mounted electric trolling motor. And unlike any other skiff, including the smallest board-type microskiffs, or kayak skiffs, the S4 works really well as a paddle craft, namely kayak or canoe, to a point that some owners use it as a fishing kayak, without even motorizing it. Typically, the S4 is used with outboard motors in the 3.5 HP to 6 HP range, but it can be powered by bigger motors.
In sum, the S4 is a craft that’s so advanced in performance and versatility that it deserves a class of its own.
Rafael owns a catamaran yacht that he and his wife Heidi designed. For the past six years Rafael and his family have used a Wavewalk 500 as a tender boat for it, as well as a versatile fun boat, which they sailed with a DIY outrigger. Rafael was looking to replace his Wavewalk 500 with a bigger Wavewalk 700, but he decided to order an S4 as soon as he heard that we were planning to offer such a boat. Rafael and his family waited patiently for several months for the S4 project to materialize, and they were among the first to receive their order. This is Rafael’s “first impression” review of his Wavewalk S4-
Outboard motor: I had no problem at all.
Sailing by wind: I tested the W S4 in light wind, and it handles very nice. Sailing without a rudder, and without a dagger board, I can control the direction by moving my location in the W S4 front and aft.
Very easy seating on the saddle.
Paddle: Too bad I didn’t order an extra long paddle, because I found that my common 8 ft kayak paddle was too short.
The W S4 is more stable than I expected. It’s a real pleasure.
One of our friends likes the S4 and he’s thinking of getting one too.
After Rafael repaired his S4, he and his family started using it in various applications –
Says Rafael: – “The S-4 is alive and well, in the picture, last week the S-4 is decorated for a dinghy party. There is a lot of interest in it. In two days the S-4 is going on a camping trip to Oregon to see the Eclipse. We hope to use it on Shasta lake. When on the water the S-4 is a very stable boat, using the 3 hp Yamaha it moves very nice. It is little heavy to lift on to our “big” boat, but it pays back when in use on the water.”
Tracking is the main problem that paddlers need to overcome when paddling in strong wind. Wavewalk paddlers usually report excellent performance of their boats under wind, since catamarans tracks well, generally, and also thanks to the fact that it offers multiple means for power-paddling, as well as for counter-affecting the wind. Since 2004, thousands of people have been paddling Wavewalk kayaks from the 300, 500 and 700 series, and none of these paddlers outfitted their Wavewalk with a rudder – that cumbersome device that has become an integral part of all other types of high-end kayaks used for touring and fishing.
Here are some tips that can improve your Wavewalk kayak’s performance when you’re paddling in strong wind:
1. Paddle only in the Riding Position, which is the optimal posture for power and balancing, and lean a bit forward, with your knees lower than your hips – That would give you extra power.
2. Paddle from the middle of the cockpit, as much as possible –
If you paddle from its rear it would raise your W kayak’s bow and expose it to the wind, and the boat will turn away from the wind.
If you paddle from the front of the cockpit, the stern will go up, and the kayak will turn into the wind.
3. Lean your W kayak into the wind – That would make it harder for it to affect the course of your W kayak.
4. Apply short J strokes on the side from which the wind is blowing, and more powerful strokes on the lee side (the sheltered side) – That would help you track. You may even hold the paddle not from its middle, so that you can apply longer strokes on the lee side.
6. Any object protruding from the deck is exposed to the wind, and therefore generates additional drag – Detach the spray shield if you have one attached, dismount deck mounted rod holders, and store your fishing rods inside the hulls whenever possible. A milk crate would act as a small sail that’s controlled by the wind, so you’d better avoid using one altogether.
7. Keep paddling in a steady pace and a straight course – This is not about one-time corrections, but about minimizing your effort and getting there. Precision and efficiency are as important as power.
8. IMPORTANT – Remember that you can easily move fore and aft along the Wavewalk’s saddle, and by doing so control the angle in which your W kayak will point relatively to the direction from which the wind blows: Paddling from a forward position will tend to point the kayak’s bow into the wind, and paddling from a backward position will tend to point the bow away from the wind. By applying small changes to your own location on the saddle, you can minimize the wind’s unwanted effect on your Wavewalk, and keep it tracking with little effort.
My W700 arrived on last Monday. My son wanted to head out to the nearest pond straight away but the rain put a stop to that. The weather was much improved on Wednesday afternoon so we headed out for our first trip! We carried the boat out of the house (happy wife 🙂 ) and easily loaded it on top of our SUV. I ran nylon tie-down straps through the pad eyes and secured the boat to the rack. We arrived at the pond, removed the straps and had the W700 in the water in 5 minutes. My son and I stepped in and pushed off from the shore. Good call on recommending the 9′ paddle. Paddling was easy. So easy that my 13 year old volunteered to take over. There was a fair amount of wind but it didn’t seem to cause us any problems. We spent a very comfortable (no back ache) hour on the pond, stepped out (dry of course) and loaded the boat back on our SUV in no time. My son decided he was cold so he headed in to the house as soon as we got back home leaving me to remove the boat from the SUV. No problem! It is so easy to handle. I took it down and slid it across my yard to the storage area at the back of my house. We’ve been out three times so far and I already caught my first fish of the season! Looking forward to many more fishing trips in my W!