Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 / Another Toy

Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 / Another Toy

My daughters Perception Impulse got me hooked on marsh exploration and paddling, but I discovered
2 problems:
  • It's tough to go with her when we have only 1 kayak.
  • My back and bum wanted a more adjustible seat. The Impluse is very good--better than some chairs in my house--but I'm very old and stiff.
  • I wanted to explore the Potomac River near my home, but it features whitewater, and though I'm not interested in serious whitewater, like a good breeze to a sailor, a few waves look like fun. Unfortunately, the Impulse stinks in white water.
I've hunted high and low (a Practical Sailor article on kayaks for the sailor is probably in the works), rented or borrowed many kayaks, and picked up a Wilderness Systems Aspire 105 yesterday. A hibred kayak, it features some of the shape of a whitewater boat (increased fore/aft rocker and limited keel) to allow quicker turns and to reduce the tendency of the current to grab the ends and spin you around. The thigh braces are better, and the seat has more adjustments to help hold the paddler in place; still, the seat is too wide and the boat too stable for effective edging, and there area pair of groves in the bottom that tend to grab water when side-slipping.  On the rec side it has a larger cockpit and storage more typical of sea kayaks. To provide straight tracking on flat water, it has a retractable skeg near the transom, yet angled and far enough in to prevent damage. Though it cannot be Eskimo rolled, the increase volume forward makes it easy to reboard after capsize. I tested that theory after neglecting to edge correctly pealing out of an eddy; it seemed so stable, but that big chine can sure catch water. It was a simple matter to flip it back over quickly, scooping only a little water, flop up on the bow, and slide myself back, all the while in fast moving but relatively flat water. The big cockpit opening makes reentry easy.

Basically, an upgraded recreational kayak with a few features to make it more at home in moving water.

Just north of Widewater on the C & O Canal. I had to special order a different color; I just couldn't see bight orange in a wilderness setting.

How do I like her? My first forays into whitewater assured me that she is more capable than I am at this point. On flat water, it seemed faster and the seat is a big improvement. If I were buying a boat strictly for sailing, I still like the Impulse; it's simpler and lighter. But for longer days, further afield, and more variety, the Aspire seems a good choice. It may prove the optimum choice for running long stretches of flat and moving river and for the occasional rough day on the Chesapeake.

Update 5-5-2013. Jessica and I took the Aspire and Impulse out on the open Chesapeake just as a small craft advisory had lifted; still a bit bumpy, and the water is still only 13C. Lots of laughs and relaxing too. The lessons:
  • The spray skirt, which is required for whitewater, would have been nice in the rough water. We took enough waves to require bailing about every 20 minutes (1/2 gallon). a little safer and warmer too.
  • Entering a kayak from the transom when the waves are rolling 2-3 feet is daunting. Possible, but non-paddlers will hate it.
  • Speed. Identical.
  • Stability. About the same; the Aspire has greater initial stability, but the impulse has a very good feel for secondary stability.
  • Comfort. The Aspire has a nicer seat and thigh padding.
  • Maneuvering. The Aspire is very nice in the waves and wind with the skeg up, but the bow blows off with the skeg down. Once back on track, the skeg is nice and we like it on flat water. The Impulse, not surprisingly, is somewhere in between. No question, the Aspire is more maneuverable, but for general use both are fine.
  • Weight. I need to weigh them. The Aspire is only reported to be 4 pounds heavier (44 vs 48), but it seems like more to us when pulling it on deck. On this factor alone, we give the Impulse top marks for good paddling and light weight; simplicity pays.

On the Potomac above Old Anglers Inn. I was surprised to be able to catch this while on moving water. Credit to image stabilization and a stable kayak. He was several hundred yards away.

Update: June 2016 I noticed that the water tight bulkhead separating the stern compartment had started to leak, either the result of rough treatment in white water, or perhaps the result of dropping dropping down onto the seat. It was easily repaired with polyurethane caulk--Locktite PL S30(NOT silicone).

The skeg has also developed some severe cracks, though it still works.

I made a cockpit cover from some scraps of Sunbrella. Helps keep it dry and keeps the UV off the seat, the most vulnerable part (I keep it on the boat, on its side, all year).

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