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First a bit of background on the boat and its set up:
The boat is a customized version of the high deck strip built night heron. The hull is per the designers lines. The deck, however, was modified to preserve the knee height as designed in the high deck version, however, I adjusted the deck lines to round off what, otherwise would be a peaked deck center-line on both the rear and front decks. What this effectively looked like was the regular deck version of the night heron with the knee room of the high deck version. The coaming was also modified slightly and stretched about an inch and a half. The objective here was to allow me to sit in the boat and then be able to get my legs in or out while seated.
Fore and aft hatches were installed with hatch sizes per the designers
lines. The hatches are flush with three straps per hatch to hold them
Waterproof bulkheads were installed -- 3 inch minicell foam fore and aft.
In addition, the boat was fitted with a retractable skeg from superior kayaks. A mini-cell seat from Redfish kayaks was installed.
Rigging included full perimeter deck lines and 4 bungee areas immediately fore and aft of the cockpit as well as additional bungee area fore and aft of the hatches. These outermost bungee areas are to accommodate extra paddles and other long items. Simple toggles tied through the bow and stern complete the external rigging. Internally, there are internal tie-downs/bungees under the deck to hold drinks but allowing the fore-deck to be kept clear. Inside the rear hatch area there is bungee on the floor to give an option to secure items there and prevent them from moving around. The boat was also fitted with a custom through hull aft of the coaming to accommodate a hydration pack under the rear deck but allow the tube to come up through the deck without allowing water into the hull. All pad-eye and strapping was executed using the soft padeye approach compliments to Redfish kayak. This is a very clean rigging approach with no bolts, washers, or nut usually associated with rigging.
I paid close attention to my construction detail and the completed boat complete with everything mentioned above and the weight came in at 41 lbs. I am an experienced builder and the boat was built true to the design within a millimeter of the designers specifications.
A little bit about the paddler:
I am an experienced sea kayaker, 190lbs and 5'10". I paddle about once a week through-out the year. I have won a couple amateur races for touring class kayaks. I probably do between 500 and 700 miles of paddling a year….mostly in protected waters in and around the Chesapeake basin. My usual boat prior to completing the Night Heron is a West River 180.
Boat review and impressions:
This boat is exactly what I was looking to acquire and accomplish. A light, fast maneuverable touring kayak that could accommodate my body and the knee bend I need to be comfortable…..but without a lot of excess volume to drag around.
I was very impressed with the maneuverability of the boat given its length. The hull is very easily driven and it accelerates easily and maintains her speed. It also was very maneuverable. That said, with a little bit of skeg dropped, she tracked like she was on rails. I was surprised also at the very good stability. The boat is only 20 inches wide….and the natural assumption is that this would make her tippy. Not the case at all. A very stable and comfortable platform. The Night Heron has a very rounded hull shape fore and relatively hard chines aft. It is a complex and sophisticated hull and blends a number of properties in a balanced manner.
I was pleasantly surprised how roomy the boat felt given how small the boat appears to be. I had spent a lot of time understanding where the size matters and where it was simply excess volume. And I was very focused on this concept when I started this project. There were times, however, during the build that I had my doubts….so having it all work was a pleasant relief.
My first paddle was a 10 mile trip with a slight headwind and negative current. We averaged 4 mph for the 10 miles. When we explored the top end, we were able to bring her up to slight over 6 mph…..at a click below an all-out sprint. I was pleasantly surprised how easily I kept up with my colleagues and how light and lively the boat felt.
My second paddle was a 12 mile trip...flat water up river 6 miles and then turned around. Again the average speeds were between 4 and 5 mph maintained easily. The second paddle confirmed the general handling conclusions described above.
As for the lines and the looks, this boat is a head-turner and a beautifully executed traditional looking kayak with a very modern and sophisticated hull design. So I got a lot of comments on just what a beautiful boat it was.
Storage and cargo were not a significant consideration for me in picking this boat. That said, the boat will definitely accommodate day trips and if you are Spartan in your approach, perhaps some very light weekend camping. I built the boat with fore and aft hatches per the designers lines. But cargo for the aft section needs to be able to fit under the deck which is relatively low. If putting cargo up front, you will find the forward hatch relatively small compared to most commercial kayaks of comparable size. I had no trouble accommodating what I would normally carry on a day trip….but I did notice it was substantially tighter than my west river 180. If I was doing it again, I would modify the hatches to make them larger.
Definitely a boat to consider if you are a larger paddler who likes a performance touring kayak but wants a classic look. Easy to make 20 to 30 mile days day after day. Not a freight hauler or heavy duty camping machine. Definitely important to do a test ride to check fit. While roomy, it's roomy if it fits. But I know people with body types that would simply not work in this boat. As a owner-built boat, easily customizable to make it have the rigging and other details done to your liking.
If I put it on edge it turns beautifully. I found that it handles beautifully in 2' waves and confused water. However, I don't like to get out in anything rougher then that. On rolling waves its easy to get on top and ride them. I enjoy the Night Heron's handling as much as my Tahe Greenland T.
I paddle with a friend who has a Tide Race Extreme. I think we both feel the NH handles the rough water a little better and surfs a bit better, and turns on edge a bit nicer. However the Tide Race with its deployable skeg tracks better then my NH in really rough water - more then 2' waves.
The NH rolls fairly easy, but I have to do it right, unlike my Tahe in comparison which rolls even when I really screw up the roll.
In my opinion if you are 165 lbs or more the NH is a super boat even if you are a new paddler.
At 18 feet long and only 20 inches wide, it is oriented to the more experienced paddler but feels very stable due to the relatively flat bottomed hull design.
The flatness of the hull bottom is brought farther towards the bow and stern than in most kayaks. This hull shape probably contributes to higher efficiency at higher paddling speeds. The flatness of the bottom also means the boat has a very shallow draft and I find it a little more prone than most kayaks to side slippage in cross wind. I encountered no significant weathercocking, even in winds greater than 20 miles per hour.
The Night Heron is very maneuverable for an 18' kayak and a 'fun' kayak to paddle. It is responsive to paddle strokes and leans on the hard chines. The maneuverability allows the paddler greater control, but paddlers who prefer strong tracking kayaks may not find the Night Heron's performance appealing. To improve its course-keeping, I enlarged the stern stem of my Night Heron to form a very small keel and am pleased with the performance.
The Night Heron seems to be a well designed boat, but my preference is for a slightly more rounded and finer bow entry. This should produce a smaller bow wave and a less hard 'slap' coming down when heading into waves.
The strip plans include both 'high deck' and 'low deck' design options. The low deck being closer to a Greenland styled deck, and the high deck option having more storage capacity.
As far as strip-built kayaks go, this boat was relatively easy to build. The plans are very complete and easy to follow, and includes full-size cut-out mold station templates. I receive many compliments on this kayak design.
When I was ready to build the Heron my Okoume supplier was out of 4mm and informed me that it would go up to over $70 per sheet (4 required) when it came in. No way. I searched around and found 4 good shets of Luan and decided to use this. Not my favorite medium, but this is kayak 3 that I have used it on. The construction is straight forward, Nick uses a true reference surface, cradles and forms. This yields a much better kayak than the common "Oragami" method of stitching the panels, prop them open with a stick and hope you can eyeball good enough for a true hull. Seldom works. Good design feature, Nick. The rear hatch cover is a neat project and looks good. The kayak came out just as designed, 19 7/8 inches wide, just under 18 feet long (I trimmed the points front and rear, Lee).Weighed 38# ready to paddle.
The kayak paddles easily, maintains good speed with minimal effort, less than most other kayaks. It tracks nicely, extremely minimal weathercocking and easy to correct. It responds so well to leaned turns that I jokingly say that you could run into docks if you don't pay attention. The low rear deck sacrafices cargo area but this is not an expedition kayak. Maybe weekends. The bow bouancy is excellent, the kayak just bounces over the waves and shows no tendency to bury in heavy conditions. Good dry (in a kayak?)ride. The stability, both initial and secondary is superior, better than most wider kayaks. The hull speed seems to be in the 5-6 mph range which is normal for kayaks this size. I ran a series of speed tests with my Speedmate, speeds through the water. Easy cruise for extended periods is just under 6 mph for me and I can sprint it up to 7mph plus , but there better be a finish line near!. v My conclusions are that this is a great day and fun kayak. It is a good build and a great paddle. I understand that it is also available in kit form from Newfound kayaks.
Only 20" wide, it asks that the paddler have sufficient skills in steeper waters, however on the 6" chop I paddled, it behaved unusually well. A few mild boat wakes were no problem either. I found its initial stablility a little better than my West River 180, tho my own construction methods with that particular kayak could have caused more initial instability than the designer intended. Speed was all that, and tho I cant tell if it was any faster than my WR180, there was no doubt this hull likes to move quick and effortlessly. Turning was easy for a hull that tracked so well. Storage space is ample, especially the roomy bow where I'd have to imagine all feet would fit with room to spare.
What didnt I like? Not much. I prefer a cambered deck as opposed to the handsome panels Shade offers but thats just me. And frankly, if camber is your cup of joe too, then adding one to a kayak you are building anyway is hardly a tall order.
I would recommend this fast mover for anyone wanting to rack up miles while enjoying a hull that enjoys a paddler interested in applying skills in the more challenging waters.
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