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Submitted: 05-03-2009 by Chris S
In 2007 I was looking to move on from my Sunny to something a bit longer and self-bailing. The two boats that appealed to me at the time were Aire's Super Lynx and a Feathercraft Java (now there are a couple of new contenders). I decided to treat myself to the more expensive but much lighter Java and picked one up in Durango.
Set up goes on a bit compared to a Sunny: you slot in the keel and skeg pole and then the side poles, velcro it all in place, attached the seat by seemingly too many straps, pump up the four sponsons and off you go. Realistically, 20 minutes is a very good assembly time. It's a sleek looking boat for an IK; nothing else comes close but one of the biggest hassles are the inflation valves: basic screw and lock items seemingly off the end of a cheap Thermarest. The thin plastic hose on the hand pump supplied just pushes on but when it's hot or wet it twists off, or if you pump too hard it blows off and then the air rushes out as there is no one-way valve on the sponsons, you have to screw it shut quick. I thought for a while there was some component missing from the pump but no, this is it. I found holding the hose onto the valve with one hand while pumping the two-way pump with the other was an extremely awkward but more effective way of pumping up. Even if it's bigger, give me a foot pump any day.
At 28 inches (71cm) it's officially 4 inches but actually 2 inches narrower than my Sunny set up but feels more - chiefly because you sit ON it rather than in it. FC are right in describing the Java as an inflatable sit-on-top. With my 90kg+ weight, the poles are more there to aid the hull profile than longitudinal rigidity. It's 15 feet 4 inches (4.65m) long but you can't get much into the last foot and a half at each end; the usual problem with IKs. I took it out for a scoot across the Vallecito reservoir one evening with the two inner sponsons not too firm and was relieved not to find it not too tippy. On the way back I struggled with the pump some more to firm the middle sponsons up and found it less stable but still OK, and probably faster. And before I got caught out, I tried getting in out of the water. As long as I crawled aboard without any sudden movements it could be done - in calm flat water...
The retractable skeg is a great feature but with the middle sponsons firmly pumped up the actuating chord which comes up between them is jammed. It's best to manually make sure it's fully down before setting off but this partly defeats the retractable feature. At least you know that if it snags on a rock it will just pivot back harmlessly. A good fix to help pivot the skeg with the chord would be to have the chord passing through a short section of thick garden hose or rigid plastic tube jammed between the sponsons, so enabling it to slide freely. The slot through which the skeg passes is also the bailing hole, designed we're told, to suck water out of the boat with a venturi effect as it moves over still water (less effective in a current going with the boat). Can't say I noticed water rising as I stopped, but it sounds plausible. Paddling without the skeg was OK on flat water, but of course with it deployed you can power on. The footrests, knee braces and comfy seat (also inflatable) all help here. One problem with the footrests is the angle they rest at forces your knees outwards into the paddle arc (as others have commented). I also wonder how secure they are to push hard on, screwed down against a protruding rivet. A flat rather than pointy end to the securing screw pin sitting against the 2mm height of a rivet might be better and could easily be done. Anyway they never shifted during the easy paddling I did.
The Java has very neat cargo nets: easy to use and secure. I've since bought a pair for my Sunny. Inflation valve design apart, workmanship is what you'd expect for over $2000 with good attention to detail. The 'envelope' or hull does not really need to be sealed in any way as the four sponsons or bladders slot into their respective chambers and, with the poles, make this pile of nylon and rubber into the only IK I know that looks close to a proper sea kayak.
Next day disaster struck. I left the boat on the roof of the car and went out very early to Silverton on the train. It had been a week of storms in the Rockies and camped in the forest I figured it would be OK in the shade and probable afternoon storm. But on the way back, when the bus driver mentioned it was a hot afternoon in Durango I thought "oh dear, I hope it hasn't..."
It had. The thick black hull material had caught the sun as it passed over the clearing and ruptured three of the sponsons. My lovely new boat, not one day out of the bag was a floppy mess. I yanked out a limp sponson (easily done) and found the rather light, flysheet-like ripstop nylon cover material split, and pinprick holes in the airtight urethane that the nylon was bonded to. That was the end of my Java paddling in CO. I ordered a full set of sponsons from FC in Vancouver and when they discovered the boat was nearly new they generously offered to send them free of charge. Good on you FC.
Back home we went to Scotland and I tried out the Java alongside my Sunny. G-friend's first impression was that I was too big for it; probably due to its low SoT stance; and that also it was too fiddly to set-up for my keep-it-simple prefs. She had a point and although it was amazingly light for what it was, it was pretty bulky. In Denver I'd spend hours packing it carefully for the flight back for fear of having the near yard-long tubes damaged in transit. On my bathroom scales in the blue holdall ready to paddle it weighs 17kg (37.5lbs). The boat's envelope alone (no seat or tubes) weighs 9kg (19.8lbs). In other words, about the same as my Sunny but two and a half feet longer.
On the lochs the Java slipped along, 10 kph (6.2 mph) flashing on the GPS for a second though 6 or 7 kph was a more sustainable speed. I experimented with a touring payload using rocks and varying inner sponson and seat pressures; at one point sitting on the rails and in water. The boat didn't really feel right to me: the old problem of too narrow and me sitting too high for my weight making a high CoG. An experienced hardsheller would probably not have a problem. We went on to a freshwater loch, a little windier by now. I tried to visualize myself in a fairly normal one-metre swell out at sea. The rocks hadn't really added an impression of stability and overall I didn't feel confident anticipating less than perfect conditions I wanted to be prepared to face.
Back at the chalet the biggest hassle of all: the Java takes hours to dry - maybe even days. But dry well it surely must, especially rinsed after a sea paddle. Sure, I'd read this in a review but it now dawned on me the problem was common to all sponson/bladder IKs (like all Aires). Water will always get in the bladder chambers and other crannies and will always take a while to evaporate.
A spin in my basic Sunny reminded me what a great boat it was - quick to set up, fast drying and good enough performance. If only it bailed! Lesson: try before you buy and if it's not possible (as it wasn't for me in the UK, short of flying to Vancouver), be prepared to accept the consequences.
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