|By Matt Bowler
Long live the Explorer:
Well I have been paddling an Explorer for a few months now and it really has made an impression on me in many ways so I wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences.
Despite my initial and somewhat continual bias against the boat (I keep thinking I need something more lively and playful) I keep coming back to the Explorer.
It is not the most playful boat, and it is not the fastest, but it is super-capable, adequately fast, and very versatile. Its rough water performance is outstanding. I truly feel unlimited in terms of what conditions I can tackle in this boat. It surfs well, rolls easily, is maneuverable, stable, and very predictable. Its construction is bombproof. Very neutral in strong winds, and has a bow that just will not bury in big water. It’s a hard boat to beat.
I feel this is a fairly objective review because the boat has made a favorable impression on me despite the fact that I got the boat when I had somewhat of a bias against it believe it or not. I have owned several other boats to include the Aquanaut, the Greenlander Pro, the Avocet and the Romany, and recently picked up a Nordkapp LV that I am still messing around with.
I bought a used Explorer this summer somewhat out of necessity. I sold my Avocet (my surf / play boat which I really liked) because I was going to buy a friends Romany which I liked a little better. Unfortunately he changed his mind about selling the boat right after I sold the Avocet! I was not happy. I could not find another used Romany anywhere and did not want to spend the money for a new one. It was prime kayaking season and I needed a boat to play in the surf zone.
A friend had an Explorer for sale. I paddled it and thought it was okay…not great, but okay and it is supposed to be a good rough water boat, and supposed to surf well. Also thought it might be good for my weight (195) as I felt I was a bit heavy for my Avocet.
So I got the Explorer with the intent to keep it for the meantime until I could find a used Romany and then sell it.
I have paddled this boat in various conditions over the last few months. I have done a lot of surf zone play in up to about 8 foot breakers. I’ve paddled it several times in 25-30 knot winds. I’ve paddled it a few times in tidal races….in Fishers Race during the Rhode Island Rough Water Symposium, and at Indian River Inlet (another pretty good tide race). And of course I have paddled it quite a bit in flat water on the Chesapeake Bay. I’ve paddled it about 3 days a week since I got it this summer so I have logged a descent number of hours in the boat—enough to give it a pretty good evaluation.
Comfort and Fit:
At 5’8 and 195 pounds, I find this about the best fitting and most comfortable boat I have paddled. This may have a large impact upon its performance for me. It fits me perfectly. I really like the cockpit, placement of the thigh braces, etc. Unlike many, I find the seat to be comfortable as well. There is lots of foot room as well…much more than I need for my size 10 feet. I have paddled this boat all day long without getting out and have never felt uncomfortable in it.
NDK gets knocked here a lot. I have had two Explorers this summer (long story not worth explaining). I found that they both fit a little different and the cockpit coamings where not set quite the same height. Variation is an indicator of poor quality control. Furthermore the bottom of one of the boats was actually oil-canned a bit….???? Never seen that in a glass boat before. Both had their seats start to develop cracks. The seats in the NDK boats suck. They are not adequately glassed in, the joint fails, and they tend to crack on the sides as well.
However, these problems can be prevented by adding some layers of glass to the sides. You also can spray a bit of foam insulation under the seat for additional support. These remedies seem to fix the seat problems. Both Explorers had very solid gel coat, and bone dry hatches though.
The Explorer I have now has no shortcomings other than the seat starting to crack (which I fixed) and the fact that it is HEAVY at 65 pounds (advertised weight is 55 pounds).
Not the fastest boat, but is adequately fast. Acceleration is descent and cruising speed for me is about 4 – 4.5 knots measured on my GPS at a sustainable effort. My Greenlander Pro can do about 4.5 – 5 knots so not significantly faster and it is a very fast boat. Your results may vary, but this is what I have found.
One thing for me that is interesting about this boat is that despite not being super fast, I am efficient in it because the good fit encourages proper form for me and my forward stroke has actually improved.
The Explorer does quite well for a long boat. I find it easy to turn in any conditions. It responds quite well to a bow rudder and quite well to the hanging draw. The one thing I really like about this boat is that it is very predictable and responds exactly as it should in all conditions. Apply a bow rudder and the boat turns up into the wind. Sweep stroke and stern rudder and it will turn across the wind. Maintain your stern rudder and then turn it over into a low brace turn and it will turn down wind. It is very predictable and easy to handle in any conditions. I find that despite its length it has a bit of rocker at the bow which helps make it quite maneuverable for its length. Not as maneuverable as a Romany or Avocet, but very adequate maneuverability if you apply the proper strokes effectively.
For me I am not a big fan of the boat’s stability profile. To me, its primary stability is higher than I would prefer. The secondary is good but is not as well defined as a harder-chined boat like the Greenlander Pro, or even the Aquanaut. I also find that the secondary stability kicks in sooner than I would prefer. As a result, the boat does not edge as deeply as other boats I have paddled. I find the balance point occurs with a very small amount of edging. It hits it secondary stability prior to the deck lines going in the water…a little sooner than with the Avocet or Greenlander Pro.
The stability profile is one thing I just don’t like about this boat. Makes the boat feel a bit dull, but ultimately does not hinder the boat’s performance. The extra primary stability is nice for doing things like putting on a paddling jacket while on the water, accessing your day hatch, answering the call of nature when wearing a dry suit, etc. The secondary stability makes the boat very secure when side surfing or backsurfing in the surf zone. It also makes it very easy to do a Greenland style side-scull. The stability profile of this boat is probably what makes it good for beginners as well, as it is confidence inspiring and does not require a lot of edging to turn.
One of the easiest boats to roll that I have paddled. I have rolled it in rough conditions in the surf zone and in tidal races and it comes up easily and effortlessly every time.
Rough Water Handling:
Well this is where this boat excels. I find it to be a surprisingly good surfing boat. One of the best I have paddled in the surf zone. Likes to surf. Easy to catch waves, and has a remarkable ability to track when on a wave and not broach like other boats. Very controllable. Furthermore, if it does broach it is not hard to bring it out of the broach and get back on the wave. Back surfs very easily. I have had this boat in some pretty big and trashy waves and always felt very confident and capable.
The boat also excels in high winds. It is very neutral and will track easily in any direction with minimal edging and without using the skeg. The skeg works perfectly as well and will allow you to track without having to edge in high winds.
The boat is also very easy to turn in the wind. Paddling in up to 30 knot winds I can easily turn the boat in any direction. It is easy to turn into the wind in these conditions with the application of a bow rudder or cross-bow rudder.
Well I have not yet taken this boat on a trip, but I can see why it is a popular choice for expeditions. On an open water expedition I think it is good to have a boat with such stability and ability to handle any conditions you may encounter. The boat’s hatches have lots of volume and unlike the Valley boats I have owned, they are bone dry.
NDK sometimes gets knocked for their small diameter round hatches, but I actually like them. They may not be as big as the larger oval hatches that Valley uses, but I really like how easily the hatch covers go on and come off, especially when you have cold and numb fingers.
This is a very popular boat. While I have only now been to two symposiums, at both of them it seemed this was the most popular boat, particularly with the coaches. Almost every coach paddled an Explorer. I think that does say something about the boat when so many top paddlers and coaches choose it as their only boat.
On the other hand I realize there are other factors. As a coach it is probably a pretty ideal boat because it gives a very stable platform from which to instruct and to do rescues, etc. Also, I think the boat does have a bit of a “cult” following among those who attend the BCU symposiums. Some may say that it’s just because it’s British….perhaps, but I don’t see nearly as many Valleys or P&H boats at these symposiums it seems. I’m sure that the "This is the Sea" series has helped boost popularity of this boat as well.
The Explorer is a darn solid boat. I wish it were a bit livelier, and I would prefer a different stability profile, but the boat is incredibly well-rounded and super capable. Given that I like to paddle in rough water and mostly do so by myself I really like the rough water capabilities of this boat. I feel truly unlimited in what conditions I can tackle in the Explorer. It’s a hard boat to beat.
I’m going to keep it…..at least for now. I think I may look for a used one in the Elite layup. Mine is just so heavy at 65 pounds and has lots of strength to spare. A lighter weight Elite layup would make the boat a lot easier to carry. Maybe a little more lively on the water…??? Certainly would think it would still have enough strength.