Submitted: 09-15-2010 by ByronWalter
A few years ago we learned that there are things you know you donít know not to mention things you donít know you donít know. For example, do you know your boatís hull identification number (HIN)? I know mine and it tells a story. Hereís how it works. The HIN consists of a combination of twelve letters and numbers. The first three letters identify the boatís parent. The next five can be any mix of numbers and letters that the parent company chooses. The numbers on my boat indicate that at the time of its birth, it had 65 siblings. The final four are the boatís birth date. Mine was born in July of this year (G010, where the ĎGí is for July).
The reason I know my HIN is that the registration process (required in Ohio) didnít go smoothly. I opted for the alternative license which, for a small additional fee, allows one to put a small decal in the boatís cockpit, which is much nicer aesthetically than the big stickers that would otherwise adorn the boatís exterior.
But this optional registration requires a visit to a Division of Watercraft office and trouble started as soon as the agent did the HIN lookup. She returned to the window to inform me that I had bought a sailboat and not a kayak. And it might even be a trimaran built in California by a company that had gone out of business in 1985. Actually I would have been fine with owning a trimaran but if that was the case I was missing about two-thirds of my boat. There definitely was only a single hull.
The way out of this dilemma was to set up an appointment for inspection byÖ wellÖ an inspector. Luckily an inspector was nearby and all I had to do was return home, load up my trimaran and bring it back to see if he could transform it into a monohull. An hour and a half later I was back and my boat was officially certified as a kayak. Apparently the problem was that the first three letters had been recycled but the Stateís database had not been updated. Now I probably have the only thermoformed Rockpool Alaw Bach TCC in Ohio. Donít you love exclusivity.
It all started the previous day when I loaded up my Eddyline Fathom LV and headed off to Evergreen Outfitters in Ashville, New York to demo the new Rockpool, which also happens to be made by Eddyline. But on the way I started to have second thoughts about even making the trip. Thatís because I really like my Fathom LV. I like its size. I like thermoformed materials and Eddyline quality. But having paddled the Fathom for two and a half years is a little like eating nothing but chocolate ice cream for the same amount of time. I wanted a new flavorÖ maybe strawberry? And this is why I was having doubts. After all, is strawberry actually a better flavor than chocolate? Or is it merely different? I expected the latter to be the case.
But eventually I found myself loading up the Rockpool and setting off for a Lake Chautauqua test drive. The Alaw, as I understand, is an Aled Williams design. Mr Williams, now of Tiderace, is Welsh as am I. The Welsh, as you probably know, are renowned for their fondness of hoofed animals, if you get my drift. But apparently when they are sober and not coddling ungulates they can also design world class sea kayaks.
The Alaw is seventeen feet and one inch long with a twenty-one inch beam. It appears to have moderate rocker and medium chines around the cockpit. There are the usual three hatches. The rear deck is about eight and a half inches high. The seat has fore and aft adjustment and no padding. Thereís a nice low back band. Even a five foot six inch one hundred and forty-five pound shorty like me can get absolutely flat on the back deck. No weight for the boat is given but Iíd guesstimate itís around fifty-five pounds. So much for the thermoformed weight advantage over a composite build.
The cockpit is thirty-one inches long but the thigh braces are positioned closely so one must bring in one leg at a time. Based on my fit I would guess that anyone packing much junk in the trunk is going to find this cockpit too narrow. Likewise there isnít a lot of vertical foot room up front. For me the fit was excellent. I like the aggressively place thigh braces. Twice while rolling the Fathom Iíve fallen out of the widely space thigh braces, which feels really weird when youíre upside down.
Now for the wet work but with some caveats. Iím and intermediate level paddler. As a beginner I paddled a range of boats but was too inexperienced to have much in the way of meaningful impressions. And I still barely know what Iím talking about when it comes to kayaking. During my transition to intermediate level kayaking I have paddled nothing other than my Eddyline. Two and a half years of chocolate ice cream.
On my demo day Lake Chautauqua was perfectly flat (with a nice summer bloom of hepatotoxic blue green algae). Within perhaps sixty seconds of leaving shore I knew that I wanted this boat. This much more than a mere change in flavors. My first observation was that the stability was remarkable. Giving the boat a lean causes it to smoothly firm up as it goes over. Lean a little further and it lets go and comes easily onto edge where you feel the bow and stern come out of the water allowing for very easy turning. Unlike my Fathom, I had no trouble doing one eighties with two sweep strokes. Forward speed seems similar to the Fathom but thatís only a guess. While I do have a GPS, I never bother to measure my speed. After all, these are kayaks, not Wallypower super boats.
I rolled it about every couple of minutes. The low cockpit really helped as I could extend my upper body and get good extension while flipping back up. The Alaw appears to have a rolling auto assist feature. All you have to do is get it about two thirds up and it does the final third for you.
Recently Iíve been out on Lake Erie with twenty knot winds and choppy three footers. This boat seems to like it rougher. It tracks and turns fine in these conditions and I have yet to bother with the skeg. There were occasional breaking waves that were neck high and the Alaw was major fun. I'm finally catching nice rides on waves. Once again rolling seemed virtually effortless. And the stability of the Alaw still amazes me. While I think the Fathom is great, I would have been bracing to keep from flipping (Iíd guess thatís more my fault than the Fathomís). Back on shore I checked the hatches for water. There was probably an ounce or less in the day compartment. The fore and aft compartments were dry.
Now after a few outings I only have two suggestions. First a nice minimalist seat pad would be nice. I just installed one from NRS but have yet to try it. Secondly this boat has a silly name that sounds more like a word jumble or an international musical instrument manufacturerÖ RockPool Alaw Bach TCC. I mean which sounds better to you?... Valley Aquanaut, Tiderace Excite, Eddyline Fathom, or Rockpool Alaw Bach TCC? Just saying it on one breath leaves me winded. But I doubt that Iíll be spending too much time carping about the boatís name when I return to Lake Erie.
In closing this is a beautiful thermoformed Brit style kayak built by an excellent American company. It combines the best of two traditions. It might just be nothing more than switching to strawberry ice cream but in this case the fat content is extra-high and all the dairy ingredients came from free-ranging cows and chickens that were attended to by gentle children with uncalloused hands and pure hearts. Itís a fine piece of work. Thanks Rockpool for taking a chance on thermoformed kayak and for selecting Eddyline to do the build.