Woodmill Sea Symposium 6-7th July, 2013.
Test report: P&H Hammer.
I’ve been going to the Woodmill Sea Symposium ever since the first one three years ago. Being fortunate enough to work there as a volunteer coach also means I get to try out the centre’s demo fleet.
However, it’s always nice to see P & H come to visit us so you can see what their latest offerings are. Even better when you can have a paddle of it and put a boat through it’s paces.
Despite arriving early for trip leader & back up coach briefing I managed to find myself looking short changed on the boat front. Our trip leader Pete Brown had jokingly replied that I could always paddle around Hayling Island (our particular trip ) in a Burn!? Many a true word spoken in jest it seemed. I went over to the P & H rep Jim Pearce who kindly stepped in & pointed to a new “ Hammer”. I looked over to a yellow/ mustard coloured boat that looked like someone had taken a Burn stretched it, added hatches, deck lines & a skeg & then put a Connect system in for good measure.
So what’s it like? Well actually very comfortable, stable & tracks quite well without using the skeg. The kayak itself has a fairly pronounced rocker at the front; not unlike a river runner. The bow is softly rounded & you could be forgiven for thinking you were looking at a white water kayak. Following back towards the cockpit the manufacturers have thoughtfully put two recesses for resting the ends of your split paddles into. A little further on is a forward hatch with more than enough space to store a fair amount of kit. The deck elastics continue on before you arrive at the cockpit. I found that the deck elastics were ample enough to keep a tight grip on my splits & still hold my pump & water bottle. The cockpit is a keyhole shape & I found that my keyhole size spray deck fitted on comfortably without the usual dramas you sometimes get with stretching your deck over. The seat is a standard Pyranha type with the connect system for ratcheting up the tension on the back rest & ensuring a snug fit into the thigh braces. A white water type footplate with the alloy runners & plastic nuts for adjustment is there for giving your feet something to brace against.
Behind you is a day hatch; with loads of space more deck elastics & then another hatch for gear stowage. Interestingly the fore & aft have been fitted with river boat type grab handles as well as the toggle grip on the ends that you would expect to find on sea kayaks. Top marks to P & H on this one as it certainly made portages up & down the beach easier. The hull is a planning type with a skeg recess towards the rear. Again the end of the hull here has been given rocker but in a more subtle way.
I have to be honest & say that initially I was privately having a few misgivings as seeing that everyone else was in a traditional style sea boat I realised that I was probably going to have my work cut out keeping up. I also got a few little off the cuff remarks about my new sea kayak playboat!
Well I’m always up for a challenge to try something new & the old adage about not judging a book by it’s cover is ever true. The Hammer did not disappoint. I was told by Jim the P & H rep that what the Hammer had been designed for was rock hopping, playing in the surf & for being able to get in & out of caves without the usual reverse in or trying to swing the boat around in a confined space with water that may be falling & rising with the swell.
First impressions? This is a comfortable boat that you could put a reasonable amount of distance in without the usual little niggles or cramps that I’ve had with other manufacturer’s boats. You could do a day trip in this boat with long periods before you had to get out & stretch your legs. On launching through a gentle swell I found the Hammer to be very stable with none of the slight twitchiness that some sea kayaks have. This includes following along the coast with a beam on sea; a situation that for some novices is not always comfortable to be in.
The weather for the trip could not have been better. There was a gentle swell off the coast where we launched & virtually no breeze. Interestingly I noticed that my cadence rate for paddling was no greater than that of my fellow paddlers. I’ve usually found that experience has shown me that if I’m not comfortable in a boat I usually know within the first thirty minutes or so. At this point I was still comfortable & enjoying the Hammer. On entering the harbour mouth to Langstone the usual squadron of jet skiers & holiday boaters were there to meet us with varying degrees of wash to play on. I was now starting to see what the Hammer was all about as I gleefully bounced over the first wave to execute a low brace turn with a surprising turn of speed for a longer boat. Images of surfing larger waves & pulling off surfing type tricks were starting to form in my mind. No such luck in Langstone harbour! But you can’t have everything. The kayak edges & turns easily & would give confidence & comfort to the beginner.
Another hour or so of paddling placid water, albeit with a slight tidal flow working against us didn’t seem to be causing me to work harder than anyone else. In fact the ability to turn quickly in this kayak is an advantage when you have novice paddlers with you & may have to effect a prompt rescue. This didn’t get put to the test on the day, but I got the impression that the Hammers stability would make it ideal for this task.
I swapped with Jim after the lunch break as he hadn’t paddled it before & he wanted to test the Hammer for himself. Somewhat regretfully I found myself paddling Jim’s Cetus MV; a boat which I do like. I’d paddled the Hammer for half of the trips 22km & was pleasantly surprised with it’s abilities & comfort.
Making our way through Chichester harbour back towards the open sea I noticed that Jim was having no trouble keeping up with the group. When we found a nice big sandbar with breaking waves to play on & I watched Jim surf on the wave & then pull off turns on the downward face with such ease, I was envious. Don’t get me wrong I was also having a great time in the Cetus, but you need greater input to achieve the same effects on the wave.
This is the sort of situation where the Hammer comes into it’s own. For me this would make a great day trip boat with the ability to keep up with the pack for the shorter distances. I wouldn’t see myself doing long open water crossings or week long expeditions maybe; but a couple of days wouldn’t be a problem with the roominess of the hatches fore & aft makes short trips a possibility. This would also make a good boat to put a novice sea kayaker in to build confidence & ability. Another thought was as a coaching boat when out with absolute beginners because of it’s swift turning abilities. Unfortunately I have had nothing else to compare the Hammer against as a bench mark for comparison purposes. Possibly because it’s quite unique within the sea kayak world; the nearest comparison I could come up with would be the Rockhopper made by RTM.
Like all things in life it’s horses for courses. If you can afford a traditional sea kayak as well as the Hammer for playing in then you’ve got the best of both worlds. However, if you don’t want to do multi day expeditions, but do a couple of days away, still keep up with your mates, but have the advantage of quick manoverabilty when it’s playtime out on the sea, then the Hammer may just be what you’re looking for. I was certainly impressed & if funds allowed I would buy one.
Pete Sarginson – Volunteer Coach at Woodmill Outdoor Activity centre.