A short follow-up—the Xplore is still excellent!
I'm still several weeks away from a couple of multiday trips, and as such, I haven't had the chance (or made the chance!) to paddle this boat fully loaded. And I've paddled it only Lake Champlain — not in the ocean yet.
Per my earlier review, I'm 6'5", 210 lbs. My height puts me outside the range of the recommended paddler for this boat by Tiderace (I'd fit in the Xplore X parameters). There were a couple of tweaks I made to accommodate this — and it means I fit well in a boat with lower volume than many of the Big Guy boats -- one of my goals.
I did move the seat back one inch; made for a good fit. With my torso height, I felt I didn't have the primary stability in the boat unloaded — hey it's an expedition boat for a smaller paddler, I can't fault the boat for that! Since I've been paddling in the lake, often with wind waves, motor boat wakes from multiple directions at once and some funny rebounds of breakwaters and such, I felt high and bouncy, and wanted more stability. I've now pulled the seat out, and sit directly on the padded deck. I think if you're 6'2" or under you wouldn’t think about this, but its made a noticeable difference for me. I was out in 25 knot winds yesterday in some very confused water, waves only 3' high but a very short wavelength, sometimes 10-12', and I was glad to have the extra primary. The boat's secondary really shines on the few larger (on the lake, I have to call 4' large) I've been on—looking forward to the ocean soon.
I continue to be impressed by the fit and finish. I haven't found a flaw in construction, and this boat feels solid. I sat on the back deck on dry land while playing with the seat, something I wouldn't try on my other boats, and fit now flexing at all (and remember, I'm not a petite guy).
The gelcoat seems particularly strong, too. I thought gelcoat was gelcoat, but Tiderace seems to do something better. The bulkhead stay bonedry, even with water frequently splashing across the deck. In fact, I feel I need to counter one complaint in the Xplore S reviews. The review stated the hatch covers were loose and leaky and the coaming not able to keep a spray skirt on. That's odd since all other mention of the hatch covers in the reviews I saw had them as working quite well — as was my experience. As others have, I actually drilled a 1/32" hole in each bulkhead to allow for pressure equalization—something that wouldn't be necessary without tight hatch covers! The coaming seems no different there others boats I have—I use the recommended Seals sprayskirt sizes, it's a 1.3 in neoprene. It fits great, stays on, and requires a solid tug to remove it. I used a 1.4 when test paddling and it wasn't as tight—but it then it wasn't the right size, was it! That solitary Xplore S review does not match at all my experience.
I still like the front/center micro day hatch just fore of the cockpit. No interference inside. It does move the bungees further forward, and that might be annoying for some.
Any kayak is a mix of tradeoffs. But I like the tradeoffs here, and I'm sticking with a 10. We'll see what I say after finally making it out on some bigger water and with a couple of trips, not just fitness/play paddling on the lake. And it's worth a look by bigger guys. I bet a 6'2" person at 230+lbs would be thrilled with the fit right off.The following is based on the impressions of a "Tall Guy", a subset of the "Big Guy".
The most helpful reviews for me included an introduction to the reviewer, from dimensions to type of paddling. That's how I'll start here.
I'm 6'5", 210 lbs, fairly athletic build (and intent on dropping 10-15 pounds), 35.5" inseam, with smaller 11.5-12 shoe size (stubby toes!). While I think I've progressed well beyond the casual rec paddler, with respect to where I want to be I place myself solidly in the beginner camp. I was (and am!) looking for big water boats that I can paddle off the coast of Maine, and boats that I can use for fun and fitness on bigger lakes from Champaign to Superior. From quick fitness paddles, to day trips, to multi-day trips. I don't necessarily expect one boat to do everything. But any boat, one more tailored to purpose, has to fit, to be sufficiently comfortable, and be something I can use as I improve my skills.
One problem that I frequently encounter — assuming I could even fit in the boat — is that "Big Guy" boats tend to increase in volume as they increase size in ways that accommodate my overall leg length, femur length, and feet. What this means is that many of the boats billed as great for me would indeed be great if I were on a month-long expedition. But unloaded, I don't pull the boat down into the water enough, changing the waterline, affecting stability, tracking, and wind impact. It hasn't necessarily been easy. In the past two years, I've sat in probably 50 boats, and paddled about 20. The Xplore is a keeper. (If you search the discussion board, I'll comment on other boats for tall guys.)
Tiderace seems to take a different deck approach than most Brit-style boats—much higher. What this means for us longer-legged creatures, is we can get more of a knee-bend, and knees-up position, than a splayed out yoga position. The deck height/cockpit opening mean I can do a seat first entry, one-leg at a time, and get a bit a knee - bend relief while on the water. And all of this was in the regular Xplore, not the Xplore X, which I mention but which I did not get to paddle. Because the legs fit in the Xplore, and didn't have to go the HV route. And this means I didn't get the extra volume — something I don't needed, didn't want, and worked against me in several boats.
I found the boat a remarkable combination of speed, maneuverability, and both primary and secondary stability. Beginner that I am, I had no problem keeping up with anything or anyone else on the water. And yet with the right lean and paddle stroke, I could swing it around quickly. A skilled paddler should be able to spin this on a dime.
The Xplore has excellent primary stability. Let me illustrate with an example. On a long test-paddle on a river, we stopped for lunch at a river-side restaurant. The exit point in this urban environment was a dock three feet above the water. *Standing* in the cockpit was remarkably stable — albeit with a strong hand on the dock. I was able to reenter by dropping a foot to the hull and then sitting on the back deck, at which point it was purely the boat's stability that let me enter. Secondary stability is excellent with the hard chine giving it a solid lock point, beyond which I didn't push it.
On the Xplore model, I will move the seat back as much as an inch, something that Tiderace says shouldn't affect the trim of the boat much, especially with more longer than normal legs counterbalancing the backwards shift in weight.
As one might expect in an expedition worthy boat, they've emphasized durability over light weight — and I'm great with that. The construction seemed rock solid with no visible defects. The glassed in bulkheads appear strong. The bow and stern are filled solid. I want a boat that can stand up to the hard use I'd like to heap on it as I develop skills. One thing I'll note here where that Tiderace does not angle the bulk head right behind the seat to facilitate emptying water before reentry. The NDK boats and the Assateague do. It seems this should be a more common technique — but I'm not a boat engineer.
I'll comment that, like the P&H Cetus for example, the Tiderace has the front/center micro day hatch just fore of the cockpit. I immediately found this welcome and useful and not interfering with leg position or comfort. I'm a hard guy to fit well, but I'm looking forward to really seeing whether this might be THE boat for most of my needs when I take possession in a month!
Note that the Xplore comes in Xplore S and Xplore X variations for smaller and larger paddlers, with the boat scaled accordingly, not just squashing or expanding the deck height. Could be something for everyone here.