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Submitted: 06-23-2011 by kayakgonzo

Date: June 2011, 4:30 pm
Location: NY Kayak Company - Pier 40 Manhattan, NY - near Hudson River Entrance
Weather: Partial Cloudy; 71 degrees F; water temp 65 degrees F; winds from the North @ 15 knots, gusting to 19 knots.
Tide: at flood, approximately 2 knot tidal current. Note: we had wind against the incoming tide.
Sea State: clapotis in area of pier 40; on open water there was strong chop averaging around 2' with some higher waves due to boat wakes. It was not a 'flat-water' day.

Personal data: 5' 9", 150 pounds, 33" waist, 32" inseam; age - mid 50s.
Skill level: Intermediate, I have paddled with many folks that have far better skills than I ever hope to possess.
Personal Kit: I went light - paddle, PFD, spraydeck, hydration bladder, tow belt.
Demo length: approximately 2.5 hours

I recently had the opportunity to test paddle three TideRace kayaks with Randy Henriksen, owner of NY Kayak Company: the Xcite S, Xcite and Xplore S. Due to my tight schedule, Randy was kind enough to come in on his day-off to make this happen. Even though these were demo models (used), all three TideRace kayaks had: flawless gelcoat; supportive seat and backband; comfortable Smart Track footbraces that can be easily adjusted whilst on the water; watertight Kajaksport hatches; well thought out deck rigging, including a foredeck spare paddle holder; effective and easy to deploy skeg system; and the cleanest layups I have personally seen in all the kayaks I have ever owned or paddled. Many paddlers of British-style sea kayaks will consider P&H or Valley layups to be the standard from a quality standpoint. Both do great work, but simply put the TideRace kayaks are a notch above all others, and this is reflected in the pricing of their Xcite, Xplore and Xtreme series. When you push on the deck of a TideRace kayak there simply is no give!

I should note that TideRace recently released a new 'intro' line of composite sea kayaks called the Xcape series. The Xcape boats are offered at a very attractive price point and come in three sizes. However, I was not able to demo one at this time. I sat in the mid-sized Xcape, but the cockpit was to voluminous for me and NY Kayak did not have an Xcape S available for me to try. From what I could see the Xcape series offers the same quality of construction and attention to details found in TideRace's other models.

Review of the TideRace Xplore S:
At 17' 6" long, 20" beam, and a volume of 87.5 gallons (11.7 cu. ft) the Xplore S bears similarities to a kayak I have paddled numerous times, the P&H Cetus LV. I couldn't help but make some direct comparisons whilst on the water, so I will incorporate those here in my comments. Like P&H's Cetus line the Xplore series was primarily designed for expedition use, although some may choose to use it as a day boat. The Xplore S could fit either duty nicely. I rated the Xplore S forward speed/efficiency as right in-line with the Cetus LV. The Xplore S turns very well for a 17.5' kayak. Again similar to my experiences in the Cetus LV, but it was not as playful as the Xcite S or Xcite, but then it wasn't designed to be.

The Xplore S has more carrying capacity than the Cetus LV (87 vs. 77 gallons), so it might be better compared to the Cetus MV, which has the identical capacity of 87 gallons. The Xplore S has more of a fish form hull and its 20" beam is right at your hips in the cockpit. The Cetus LV's 21.25" beam is just behind the cockpit (Swede form). Due to the respective differences in hull shape and beam I felt that the Cetus LV had both greater initial and secondary stability than the Xplore S, but that is a relative thing. The Xplore S has greater initial and secondary stability when compared to let's say that of the NF Silhouette, which I have also paddled. I have found it very easy to do a cowboy reentry into the Cetus LV, but due to its hull profile and narrower beam I suspect it would be a little more difficult in the Xplore S, but I didn't test that premise. I was not wearing my dry suit for the demo and I didn't want to deal with any prolonged immersion. On the other hand the TideRace Xplore S is a very easy boat to roll. Randy had indicated that it would pop-up all by itself and it did, if with my rusty skills! The only boat I have ever found easier to roll was the Xcite (see my 3rd review in this series).

I paddled the Xplore S in the clapotis of the large 'pool like' area bounded by a concrete sea wall to the East, Pier 40 to the North, the pier supporting the air duct for the Holland Tunnel to the South, and the Hudson River to the West. It was a fun ride. I almost 'caught an edge' once, but recovered. Overall it handled the mixed waves very well. In fairness I probably would have been just a bit more confident in the ride of the Cetus LV, but then I have spent and far more time in it.

After I was done playing around with the handling of the Xplore S and testing its roll Randy looked at across the Hudson River to New Jersey and said, "How about we go over there?" This would be a good evaluation of the Xplore's open water capabilities. Just to make things interesting we had to dodge two large cruise liners, a couple tugs and a many water taxis/ferries. We kept our distance from the cruise ships, not wanting to be run down or mistaken for Somali pirates. Thankfully Randy had left his eye patch back on the pier. The tremendous number of boat wakes when combined with the wind and tidal flow just added to the lively ride. When paddling around the environs of Manhattan you really need to have your head on a swivel. Just call it intensive 'defensive driving' or paddling as is the case. Obviously Randy is very familiar with his local waters, but in the Xplore_S I was able to comfortably keep pace with his Xcite.

On our way over to New Jersey we were against the wind and somewhat aided by the tide. We were running sort of perpendicular to the tidal flood. Once we reached the NJ shore we took a short on-water break to admire the Manhattan skyline and then we headed back. The return journey was a little different and challenging in its own way. Our outbound headwind had now turned into aft quartering wind from the port side. Initially I really had to use a bit of body-english (hip drop) and aggressive, corrective sweep strokes to keep the Xplore S pointed where I wanted it to go. It was not surprising that the 15-19 knot aft quartering winds were causing both boats to weathercock. That would prompt us to use our respective skegs. I had just come to that conclusion when Randy verbalized, "We should drop our skegs". Great minds think alike. The skegs were deployed and trimmed without any effort. Both kayaks immediately stopped trying to turn into the wind and now tracked our intended course back to Pier 40. The rest of the return trip was fairly uneventful.

Overall the paddle over-and-back to NJ was a nice mini-test of using the Xplore S in an open water crossing with wind and a textured sea surface. The Xplore S handled it all very competently.

For me the cockpit of the Xplore S was the best fitting of the three TideRace kayaks that I tried. The Xplore S was not quite as much 'fun' to paddle as either the standard Xcite or the Xcite S, but it certainly meets TideRace's design criteria of a smaller sized expedition kayak. The Xplore S would make a good all-round sea kayak if you could only have one boat.

Summary: Nice job TideRace. I will rate the Xplore_S 9 out of 10.
Standard disclaimer: I have no interests in either NY Kayak Co. or TideRace kayaks.

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