Submitted: 07-07-2006 by eel
This Spring I was in the market for an "expedition" category boat to be used for long, fast day paddles and multi-day tours. I have a 16' day/play boat so I was not looking for an "all-arounder". I am 5' 10" and 180#. I am either a high beginner or a low intermediate paddler. I ended up with a carbon/kevlar Force 4 and I have spend a fair amount of time with it so far on the Maine coast mostly and in varied water so I think I have a decent opinion of what it is and is not.
To be brief, the Force 4 is one very sweet boat and if you are looking to buy a boat in this category you will do yourself a real diservice by not demoing it before making a purchase.
Want details for my opinion? OK.
While the specs show it to be a high volume boat, it does not paddle like one. Its rounded, full hull and deck give it a bulky appearance by itself on land, but when sitting next to many boats it looks quite lean in comparison. On the water it is low, long, and lean so from a pure aesthetic basis it is very appealing.
Impex quality is quite high and one advantage of buying from NA builders like Eddyline or Impex is a principal of the company is only a telephone call or e-mail away and they will be informative and straight. My impression is Impex will go the extra mile to make things right which is nice to know.
The cockpit is sized to be comfortable for long hours of paddling and easy exits when landing, the seat pan just naturally puts and keeps me in an erect position on my sits bones for proper paddling posture. At the end of a long day, that really helps. The thigh braces have a nice curve that allows a very secure grip when needed.
I cannot paddle the boat fast enough to know if it is "fast" boat as I have never felt it was close to hitting a wall even when I give out around 5.5K, but I swear I could paddle it to 3K with a soup spoon. It is very efficient and you can cruise all day long at 3.5-4K with minimal effort.
This category of boats includes many very competent boats which have rather different traits. They range from the Explorer which is often described as a boat that "takes care of you" to the Legend and Byahia which are often described as "demanding". I suspect people who choose a boat as opposed to going with the "in" boat in their area or club, pick a given boat based on how it fits them physically and if its handling traits match what they like. To each his own. The Force 4 to me is a boat that is very responsive and lively and will do what you ask it to do accurately, quickly, and easily, but it does not have a hair trigger feel to it. On the other side, while it will not protect you while you decide what to do or make you look good if you are not, neither will it dump you without adequate provocation and prior feedback. To me it has a wonderful balance of the "protective" and "demanding" boat traits to make it a joy to paddle. It is low and lean on the water resulting in an ability to easily hold a course and maintain good speed even if difficult circumstances.
Primary is fine for taking pictures and is better than its narrow beam would suggest. Secondary is very linear and predictable. Not a big shoulder with the "put it on edge and eat a ham sandwich" seconday some like, but if you want to be able to scull from 0 to 90 and back with ease and just shift your hips lightly to deal with stuff and still have a comfy feeling of where the boat is, then it is just right.
It seems an easy boat to roll despite the fact I do not roll boats easily.
To me the biggest surprise was that for an 18' foot solid tracking boat (I almost never use the skeg), it is quite nimble. Obviously not a Romany or Avocet, but lift a hip and it will turn (so well that corrective strokes are seldom needed) and it responds well to bow rudders, etc. so long as you lean it.
It will pick up and give you good rides on quite small waves and surfs bigger ones well too as it is not hard to control on the wave face and broaches in a slow fashion.
With a typical load for a few days it retains these traits quite well.
As I said, it is a very sweet boat to paddle and definitely belongs in the category of very competent "expedition" boats. Besides its capacity to go touring, I have found it to be a great day boat if you are out to cover ground with some wandering about ledges etc. as opposed to going out to play in rock gardens and surfing.