Submitted: 03-07-2011 by jeremy
Paddlers, just yesterday (March 3) I took my modified Innova Traveller down Class III whitewater (Lower Doe River TN @ 500cfs). Please read my two previous reviews to understand my recommendations for outfitting. The plastic foot braces transformed the boat into a fantastic whitewater river runner. The braces can be adjusted without popping your spray skirt and really make the boat a delight to paddle, offering the firm foot bracing required for j-leaning and hipsnap. The braces also allow you to stretch your legs out in the boat when navigating more placid sections of whitewater streams, so I did not have to get out of the boat at all for numb legs like I did earlier with the inflatable "footbrace" provided by Innova.
The Traveller has a very shallow draft and I was able to navigate shallow rocky water that my friend in his Aire Force XL was hanging up on. The Traveller is quite stable, fast, and maneuverable. It punches through rapids like no open inflatable can, and keeps the paddler warm in frigid water. I found myself pushing the envelope very quickly, taking the most aggressive lines at each rapid, and having a blast. My friend in his open Aire kayak complained of a cold lower section even though he was wearing a full length wetsuit. I was only wearing a farmer john type with exposed legs and arms and was still warm. I am now thrilled with the Traveller.
The only problem that I had in Class III was in surfing the boat sideways. I did not have thigh straps (they are not suited well to the design), and the deck material surrounding my knees around the cockpit rim was too floppy to hip snap with sufficient force to keep the bow from submerging in a surf. The boat was also twisting in response to the force of the water. In short, the boat is now a fantastic whitewater river running boat, but as a playboat it needs to be stiffer. I really don't think that adding the thigh straps back is the answer because they just don't provide any significant improvement to the hip snap force. I am instead going to proceed with stiffening the area around the cockpit rim. I intend to cut a piece of plastic tuffak to fit around the front of the cockpit rim where my knees contact the deck. I will fit the plastic brace, then use contact cement to attach it to the bottom of the deck surrounding the cockpit rim. This will provide a brace where it is most needed to improve the rigidity of the boat. I will then attach 1" ethafoam to the bottom of the brace for comfort against my thigh/knees. If the brace works well, I will attach it permanently with screws through the cockpit rim (uninflated area of unreinforced fabric around the front of the cockpit area where the skirt seal is).
Although I didn't have any problem with the skirt coming loose in rapids, the rear part of the deck has no rigidity at all, being only a floppy piece of fabric. I found years ago that the rigidity of the Innova Junior could be increased dramatically just by pasting 1" ethafoam to the floor and deck material and I intend to look into a similar option for the Traveller. My goal here is to make modifications which will increase lateral rigidity without compromising the ability to pack the boat into its backpack when uninflated. An inflatable kayak can never be as rigid as a hardshell, but paddlers can certainly make improvements to the boats that make them come closer. A more rigid Traveller is also a much safer Traveller, adding paddler control and reducing possibility of hull collapse in a wrap, so keep that in mind.
I now equally enjoy my Traveller as much as I enjoy my Safari, but the rating on this boat will remain the same, because boats should not have to be modified by the owner to meet the requirements specification advertised by the vendor. In the case of the Traveller, use in Class III,IV or V whitewater requires significant modification by the owner, with more modifications and additional skill required for more intense whitewater. Although I would rate my modified Traveller as a 9.5 now, the boat as outfitted by the manufacturer generously keeps an 8 with a warning that it really should not be used in strong whitewater without modification.
My personal whitewater recommendations for the Traveller are as follows:
Class I/II - No modifications required, but Class III modifications HIGHLY recommended as the modifications add to the value of the boat in areas of comfort, safety, and enjoyment.
Class III River Running- Modifications required include Neoprene Sprayskirt and Plastic Rail Type Footbrace kit. Jettison the manufacturer supplied footbrace, thighstraps, and skirt.
Class III River Playing (surfing) and Class IV River Running - All Class III modifications listed above plus cockpit rim stiffening measures.
Class IV Playing / Class V River Running - All modifications listed plus additional stiffening measures including ethafoam and use of float bags in the rear compartment/deck. Sufficient whitewater experience and ability to perform eskimo roll with this boat a prerequisite. Acceptance of the fact that a wrap around a rock or encounter with undercut/strainer could lead to entrapment and death.
I have not personally paddled my Traveller on Class IV yet, but I intend to after stiffening measures are taken and I verify that Class III surfs are easier. The river of choice will be the Nolichucky Gorge (NC/TN) or the Doe River Gorge (TN). All boats either hardshell or inflatable are at risk for entrapment, but the risk is higher with a decked inflatable, so take all possible precautions in hazard avoidance and stiffen up the equipment.
I will return with another Traveller review after stiffening the cockpit rim, mastering Class III, and trying Class IV, so keep an eye out for the next review.