Geyrfugl – paddling

Geyrfugl was built 5/6th of the original Great Auk design size, to suit a very small paddler, growing to perhaps 40kg as an adult. It was interesting to see how such a small sea kayak handled, both with tiny paddlers and with an adult at that sort of weight.

I first paddled the Geyrfugl (I could hardly send my seven-year-old to sea in an untested boat, could I?) on a blustery day in February 2002, on Derwentwater. As I am about 80 kg (and 1.7m) I am about 40kg too heavy for her, which makes for interesting testing. The day proved to be windy with quite a chop on the lake. After spending a good couple of minutes squeezing myself inside the boat and getting a spraydeck on, it was clear that I really was too big, but I wanted to get a feel for how stable the boat was anyway. For someone my size, the initial impression is that it is frighteningly wobbly in a gusty cross wind, but I managed to keep upright for long enough to get up to four and a half knots without doing much more than alternating forward paddling strokes with panicky braces. I about-turned and returned to the launching spot. It took another two minutes to extract my backside from the cockpit, so I was thankful not to have capsized 🙂

I then paddled my own boat (the North Shore Mistral) 12 km round the lake, finding the conditions on the east side quite difficult all the way. That convinced me that the instability for an overlarge paddler would not really be indicative of the handling for the intended occupant in sheltered conditions.

A longer “maiden” voyage by the builder took place on Windermere on 7th April 2002 and the boat felt quite stable, even with a paddler twice the intended maximum weight. The primary stability feels low, but secondary stability kicks in before a brace is necessary. The main hazard seems to be from having too long a leg length in too shallow a boat to get knees wedged in tight to tilt the hull – not a problem which will apply to Sarah. I paddled Geyrfugl two miles (3.2 km by GPS) around Belle Isle in 26 minutes. The boat runs straight but turns easily for me (using a 2.2m paddle with Lendal Nordkapp blades – probably a bit more leverage than Sarah will have :). The GPS suggests that I paddled this at a mean speed of 7.3 km/h – faster than any timed paddle I’ve done in any other boat, despite feeling wobbly, and with a peak speed of 9.4 km/h, faster than I managed later in the same conditions using my own boat, despite some concerted sprinting trying to get onto waves from powerboats.

…and if the maiden voyage on Windermere wasn’t convincing enough, an hour on the North Sea at Runswick Bay (2002-04-14) certainly worked. The boat handles well and cuts quickly through the water. It is unnervingly tippy in a quartering sea (there was a 1 to 1½ metre swell, but very little wind or chop) but this is because I am twice the design paddler weight and struggling to fit my knees anywhere where they will brace firmly. The hatches remained quite watertight with seas breaking over the deck and I was happy that the boat would suit my daughter well at least until her late teens (well over a decade). I’d run out of excuses to paddle Geyrfugl, and I really had to start to build a boat for myself !!

Sarah got to paddle Geyrfugl on a trip to Tayvallich. We picked the extremely sheltered narrow sea loch of Caol Scotnish, and she paddled a full mile up this. The main problem for a very light paddler with no cargo is that the boat is too high in the water to cope with wind, and is easily turned off course. No doubt things will get better as Sarah actually does long enough trips to carry plenty of kit, gets to be a competent paddler and grows a bit bigger. Michael (even lighter) had a go, hadn’t yet got the coordination, but was quite happy being towed for the mile back down the

Mary (~45 kg, 1.6m) paddling in small Atlantic waves Geyrfugl went with my North Shore Mistral and our McNulty Seaglass Horizon (a rather flat bottomed double) to Ireland, where the children had a great deal of fun with her, and Mary (my wife) paddled her for the first time in a gentle sea and small estuary. As she is 45 Kg, and about the right weight for daytripping in Geyrfugl, it was no surprise that she liked the boat. “It goes like stink” was her reaction after the first paddle out into the waves and back inshore. Mary confirmed my impression that the boat is stable enough when leaned, despite the wobbly feel when upright.

Michael (~15 kg) paddling in a tiny estuarySince then, I have paddled her in the waves off western Ireland and in the Irish sea off Galloway, and found that she cuts through waves well, can be paddled across the surf, provided you brace into each wave, and surfs really easily without broaching easily. On the other hand, in a confused sea which is hard to read, or a short chop, she feels very wobbly still, due to my being too big, no doubt.

The August bank holiday weekend, at Lake Bala in North Wales saw Geyrfugl paddled by numerous children, of various degrees of past kayaking experience, all finding her quite stable. She was also paddled by several adults, all of whom found she tracked very well. I paddled a number of trials to see just how quick through the water she is, and managed five miles inside an hour in the evening after a day’s walking, and a full circumnavigation of the lake, eight miles, in two minutes outside a five mile per hour pace after a full day on the lake in other boats. The best pace I can sustain in my Mistral is barely over four miles an hour over a distance on lake water, so Geyrfugl really is fast !

Mary paddled Geyrfugl on a club sea trip from Scarborough in fairly calm conditions, and coped fine in the low swell, although she felt that the boat might be a bit difficult in anything rougher.

The final 2002 paddle was on Ullswater, in a brisk wind against which I could only maintain 3½ miles an hour. On the return, downwind, and crossing open water, the following waves with only a few metres between peaks started to cause rather more trouble than the much longer wavelengths on the sea. With my heavy weight and a good turn of speed, the bows tend to dive into the next wave ahead (perling) which drops the forward speed and tends to cause the stern to swing round if the direction is anything other than straight downwind. It got a little scary out there in November as a solo paddle, but I’m pretty sure that a lighter paddler would not have this problem, which is really related to the inadequate buoyancy for my weight, coupled with the short wavelength resulting from a strong wind with a relatively short fetch.

One thing that comes over very clearly indeed is that paddling a boat which is very low-volume and very narrow beam does wonders for my technique when it comes to handling my own, adequately sized boat, which now feels really stable, whatever I do with her. It can’t be doing my white water paddling any harm, either 🙂

From 2003, I had my own low-volume boat, a bit bigger than Geyrfugl, but mid-May saw Geyrfugl being paddled by Heather Florence on the Conwy
Heather is a couple of years older than Sarah, and it was three or four years before Sarah was Heather’s (then) size. A lack of knee braces and no room to stretch her feet out seem to be the main comments.

Heather Florence paddling Geyrfugl on the 2003 Conwy Ascent

Also in 2003, my wife, Mary (45 kg) showed the boat could be rolled in the swimming pool, and a lad in the SOC, John Flitcroft, even reentered, rolled up and started helping other people in an “all in” rescue practice. I tried myself after much practice rolling the Mistral and the Cormorant in Ventry Bay on holiday in Ireland, but failed to do it
as my knee wouldn’t grip the inside of the pitched deck – clearly some sort of knee bracing is needed, but we never satisfactorily solved this whilst Sarah was till growing. A couple of ridges of foam duct-taped in place should mean we can finally work out exactly where to put something more permanent now Sarah has grown up.

I took Geyrfugl for a short paddle in Ventry Bay, out to and round Parkbeg Rock, where I had previously paddled both the Mistral and the Cormorant during the preceding week. Geyrfugl is definitely faster than the bigger boats…

Sarah never really got enthused about sea kayaking, but Geyrfugl went out for various day trips paddled either by myself or Mary. In 2006 we went out for a picnic on the island in Derwentwater – Michael paddled Mary’s Romany, so Mary had the fastest boat. The photo shows how much longer Geyrfugl’s waterline is compared with the more Greenland-shaped Romany, which is half a metre longer overall.

Things have moved on, and Sarah is, in fact, bigger than predicted form the child growth charts 16 years ago (as well as an accomplished whitewater paddler). In 2014, there was finally some sign of increasing interest in paddling a sea boat, and we went to some effort to outfit Geyrfugl to something approaching the standard of fit you’d expect in a modern whitewater boat (not entirely successfully, it has to be said, but we now have a feel for where we need to go with that). We had a fun day out on Derwentwater, fortunately, perhaps, not involving a great mileage – none of us seems to be as fit for sustained forward paddling as we’d hope after regular whitewater paddling all season.

Sarah in Geyrfugl on Derwentwater

Sarah in Geyrfugl at Kettlewell carpark