Thursday, December 28, 2006

Battle of the Boats

I've been batting around a comparison of the trusty Endeavor and the quirky Q-Boat for a few weeks. While the Q was in the garage being fitted with a keel strip, I had the opportunity to take the Endeavor for a ride and compare how it handled with the Q. I figured that there would be subtle differences in how the two kayaks felt, but I discovered that the differences were marked.
Given the dramatic differences in hull shape, I should not have been surprised. The Endeavor is a West Coast take on British kayak design. When it was built it was the only skeg kayak in Seaward's line-up of West Coast rudder kayaks. I'm not one who is religious about the skeg/rudder debate or the West Coast/British design debate, so I'm not saying that the design of the kayak is inferior. In fact, I think the Endeavor has a great hull design. It is a soft chined shallow v shaped hull that is 23" at its widest. It has a moderate fish form and the oddly small cockpit is placed close to the center of the kayaks 17.5' length. Like most modern sea kayaks, the Endeavor has three hatches. The fore and aft hatches are covered by neoprene that is supplemented by solid fiberglass covers. The day hatch is covered by a standard round rubber hatch. The deck is pretty high and, despite the tiny cockpit, the kayak has a ton of volume. You can easily pack enough gear for for an extended trip.
The Q-Boat is a modern take on the traditional kayaks. It is hard chined with an extremely low back deck. The front deck is of average height for a modern sea kayak. It has a pronounced fish form and most of its 18' length is behind the cockpit. Despite having most of the length in the rear of the kayak, the Q-Boat carries most of its volume in the front. The back of the hull tappers quickly and the the back deck is very low. In contrast, the front of the kayak looks gigantic. The hull is marked by a very square bow (Valley calls it a clipper bow) that has no rocker until just aft of the cockpit. Aft of the cockpit, the rocker becomes very pronounced.
When I got in the Endeavor after having paddled the Q-Boat for a few months the first thing I noticed was the volume. I felt like a cork bobbing around. In the Q-Boat you are very close to the water. The extra volume also makes it more difficult to edge the kayak. The added volume resists tipping which is reassuring in rough water. It also makes it harder to roll the kayak, but more on that later.
The Endeavor, despite being 6" shorter, tracks better than the Q-Boat. However, the Endeavor is also more difficult to correct, without using the skeg, when it does start to weather cock. The Endeavor also feels slightly faster than the Q-Boat. This could be due to the increased rocker in the Q-Boat.
The increased rocker of the Q-Boat pays off in its incredible maneuverability. The Q-Boat handles more like a 16" kayak than an 18" one. She responds to leans and subtle corrections easily and predictably. The Endeavor, while not being too stiff, takes more work to maneuver. She is nimble for a midsized kayak, but is not ideal when you want to dance around in the rocks.
The volume of the Endeavor makes it a rock solid performer in rough water. The volume provides enough resistance to tipping to provide a nice buffer. the soft chines also provide plenty of feedback when the kayak starts to list. A little corrective leaning goes along way. The straight ahead performance of the Endeavor is also reassuring in rough water. The hull slices through big waves easily.
The Q-Boat is also a great rough water boat, but for entirely different reasons. Because it is so nimble, the Q-Boat is easy to keep upright. The trick is that you have to keep it upright. The hull does not help much. The hard chines provide almost no feedback on the listing of the kayak. The limited volume offers little resistance to being knocked over. However, once you learn the feel of the hull and how the chines work in the water, it is easy to keep the kayak sitting upright in big water. The clipper bow slices big waves easily when moving forward.
The other factor that makes the Q-Boat a good rough water kayak is its ability to be braced and roll. The Q-Boat, because of the hard chines, is easy to brace. The hard chines act like little kayak bottoms when they are in the water and provide a ton of stability. The low volume and low back deck make rolling easy also.
The Endeavor has a lot of secondary stability, so it does not require you to brace as much as the Q-Boat. However, that added stability makes it harder to lean the kayak for turns. The volume and high rear deck of the Endeavor make it harder to roll than that Q-Boat, but that does not mean it is hard to roll.
The Endeavor can carry a lot more gear than the Q-Boat. The Endeavor's bulkheads swallow gear and keep their contents very dry. The Q-Boat's front bulk head is good sized and can carry a decent load. The Q-Boat's rear bulkhead is about as useful as the trunk in a Spitfire. It is narrow and shallow. The skeg housing takes up 50% of the space. I don't mind the lack of space because the back hatch is not a very dry place.
Ultimately, both the Endeavor and Q-Boat are very good kayaks. They are both built like tanks and are obviously well-designed. However, they are geared for different types of kayakers.
While it can be playful, the Endeavor is a long-haul kayak. It is geared for going out and eating up miles in whatever conditions the sea can throw at you. It also make a great platform for kayak camping.
The Q-Boat is a play boat. It is geared for playing in rocks, practicing Greenland kayaking skills, dancing around in races, and that sort of thing. At 18", it can keep up and go long distances with ease. It can also be used for short camping trips. But that is not where it shines.

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