A Steady kayak, not just Stable in the usual sense that it won’t overturn or even tilt by much, but steady as a dock, that is a kayak that allows a person to perform something difficult with the same confidence, ease and precision as if they did it from a dock, and achieve the same results. Wavewalk kayaks sometime serve as work boats, typically for engineering companies that specialize in the maintenance of bridges, docks, and waterways, but now these extremely stable small boats have a new usage, in sports –
The organizers of the 2019 US Masters National Rowing Regatta in Grand Rapids, MI, the largest race regatta this year, used half a dozen Wavewalk 500 twin-hull (catamaran) kayaks to serve as starting line boats for aligning the competing rowing shells at the start of the race.
What does a starting line boat do in a rowing competition? – A rowing shell can reach the incredible speed of 14 mph, which makes this type of boat the world’s fastest human-powered vessel, but these narrow, elongated boats are hard to maneuver and maintain exactly at the same spot. Therefore, before the race starts, someone has to help positioning the competing rowing boats in the exact spots where they are required to be, and keep them there before they bolt forward.
In the video below, it’s possible to see how this is done – A person lies down on their belly on the deck of a Wavewalk 500, with their feet resting on top of it and their arms stretched forward. They hold the rear tip of a rowing shell with one hand, and release it as soon as they hear the sign to start going forward. Once their job is done, the starting line boat operator simply let their feet drop down into the kayak’s twin-hulls, raise their upper body, and sit on the saddle-seat in the riding posture.
KAYAKS DESIGNED TO PERFORM BETTER IN A BROADER RANGE OF CONDITIONS AND APPLICATIONS
21 miles in a kayak is a long distance, especially on lake Tahoe, which is often windy due to its 6,000 ft elevation. Anyone who wants to try paddling such a distance on that lake should choose their kayak carefully. Most paddlers capable of such a feat would opt for an extra-long and extra-narrow sit-in touring kayak, a.k.a. sea-kayak, outfitted with a rudder system, without which tracking would be hard, and maybe even impossible.
But Edwin Warner simply took his Wavewalk 700 twin-hull kayak to lake Tahoe, and crossed it from its west shore to its east shore and back in 5.5 hours. Edwin weighs about 250 lbs, and he’s not a racing kayaker. In fact, he is a kayak fisherman, whose preferred activity is crabbing in the San Francisco bay. Edwin didn’t even consider outfitting his W700 with a rudder, and no Wavewalk paddler ever did such a thing, since it’s totally unnecessary, because Wavewalk kayaks track well naturally, due to the fact that they are catamarans, and their users can relocate their center of gravity (CG) fore and aft, and thus effectively control the way the kayak reacts to wind coming from any direction, and neutralize this unwanted factor.
It didn’t occur to Edwin that fishing kayaks are not meant to go over such distances, since typically, they are sluggish and hard to paddle, and he didn’t stop to think that maybe tandem kayak with a load capacity of over 500 lbs is not exactly the optimal vessel for crossing such distances in windy conditions.
Edwin simply trusted his W700, because he’s been fishing with it in the Pacific ocean for years. He didn’t bother to get an extra-lightweight carbon-fiber paddle for this trip, because he knew that his sturdy Wavewalk paddle fits his W700, and he trusted it.
Edwin paddled this 21 mile distance in 5.5 hours, that is close to 3.82 mph in average – Not a bad time for a heavy, middle aged guy in a fishing kayak that’s less than 13 ft long. If Edwin had paddled this distance in a traditional 20 ft extra-long racing or touring kayak, his bad back would have forced him to turn around and cut his trip short.
So how is this story relevant to kayak design? It’s about the envelope of performance of the patented twin-hull kayaks made by Wavewalk – A single Wavewalk kayak can serve two large-size anglers or hunters in a long trip, where both will be seated or standing at will. They’d be able to carry on board all the gear they would need for such a trip, and progress at a good pace. And if needed, they could easily outfit their W700 with an outboard motor, and drive anywhere they want, regardless of winds and currents.
How do common mono-hull sit-in and sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks compare to this? Well, they don’t, really, since they under-perform the W700 in almost everything.
I sum, not all kayaks are equal, and Wavewalk’s patented kayaks outperform traditional, common sit-in and SOT kayaks.
Common kayaks, namely SOT and sit-in, feature two pointy ends, in the front (bow) and at the rear (stern), and a seat that’s pretty much locked in one place, at the middle of the deck, due to balance and hydrodynamic issues.
Outboard gas motors work best when mounted at the stern, and mounting such a motor on a common kayak inevitably means that the distance between the driver and the motor will be too big to allow for easy access to the motor’s controls, and it would make steering either impossible or extremely awkward and practically unsafe.
The Wright brothers did got get their patent on an airplane invention, but on a system for controlling an airplane. Indeed, when driving an any vehicle, be it an airplane, a land vehicle, or a vessel, maintaining good control is key for the driver and passengers’ safety and well being, and this is why all SOT and sit-in kayaks propelled by outboard motors look so bad on videos. Such videos may be fun to watch, but overall, they fail to convince a reasonable person that a common kayak powered by an outboard motor is a a feasible idea, let alone a good one that has merit.
This said, the proliferation of such videos, and the concept of a microskiff board becoming mainstream, point to a paradigm shift in the kayak fishing market, as neither paddling, pedaling or even electric trolling motors can satisfy anglers’ basic need to go on longer trips, in water and weather conditions that are more challenging than perfectly flat water, and simply enjoy driving a small and seaworthy motorized kayak, because fun matters.
So far, the only kayaks that work for real with outboard motors, and provide the safety, control, and fun that sensible users deserve and expect are the Wavewalk 500, Wavewalk 700, and the king of motor kayak skiffs – the Wavewalk S4, which is in fact more seaworthy than many boats are, and is fun to drive even in rough seas.
For over a decade, this website has been following and documenting developments in the design and usage of small and lightweight watercraft, from kayaks and canoes to micro skiffs and Jon boats.
In recent years, the emphasis has been increasingly on motorized boats, mainly thanks to the introduction of Wavewalk’s 700 series, and shortly after, its Series 4, nicknamed the S4. Despite their impressive performance under power, these two motorboats are still designated as kayaks, and indeed both paddle well. In fact, the W700 is still used mostly for solo and tandem kayaking and kayak fishing.
Seaworthy small boats
When small craft are concerned, the adjective “seaworthy” evokes either inflatable dinghies or personal watercraft (PWC). Neither kayaks nor micro skiffs come to mind, simply because for different reasons, these small craft are typically not meant to travel in the ocean, especially in the chop, and offshore. When people go in the ocean with a kayak or a microskiff, it is typically in good weather, close to shore, and in areas that are free from fast motorboats’ wakes, which can destabilize the passengers and even the boat itself. As soon as the wind starts blowing, the users of these small craft seek shelter in more protected waters.
Since it was launched in 2017, the Wavewalk’s S4 has proven itself to be a seaworthy and dependable micro skiff, despite the fact that it is smaller and lighter than all other boats and motorized boards in this group of small craft. This accomplishment is due to the fact that the S4 combines a catamaran’s super stable twin-null with the saddle seat of high personal watercraft (PWC) which are small, high performance, and seaworthy as well.
The S4 is seaworthy in the full sense of the word, at least when small craft are concerned. Running a 10 HP motor, it can be driven in the chop at full throttle, even if the driver is standing up –
But the S4 also delivers unrivaled maneuverability in mangrove creeks and tunnels –
Time and again, technology and design have shown that smaller can be better, and the S4 is yet another proof that thinking outside the box can work in the design of small boats, and lead to improved performance in multiple applications and environments.
The link between stability and speed in boats is very strong, and nowadays most people are aware of the fact that thanks to their improved stability, multi-hulls are faster than comparable mono-hulls under sail as well as motorized.
Simply, boats differ by the volume of their hulls, and there are two ways to design a boat –
In the mono-hull form, most of the hull’s volume is concentrated along its center line, where it contributes nothing to lateral stability.
In the twin-hull (a.k.a. catamaran) form, the boat’s volume is split in two, and each half is distributed along the boat’s sides, where it works effectively to increase the sides’ buoyancy and thus the boat’s overall lateral stability.
In other words, when stability is concerned, the mono-hull form is wasteful, and the twin-hull form is efficient.
Balancing capability – the ergonomic factor that enhances stability
When it comes to micronautics, namely the science and art of designing very small and lightweight watercraft, the boat’s physical stability is not the only thing that matters, and ergonomics play an important role as well –
In order to better understand this principle, consider small fast vehicles that have no stability of their own, such as bicycles and motorcycles – Without a biker to balance them while in motion or standing in place, these vehicles would fall on their side. This said, such vehicles offer excellent means for their operator to balance them, and this balancing capability is enough to allow these vehicles to move at high speeds and over rugged terrain.
A similar, although reduced effect can be observed in other small, high-performance vehicles such as ATVs and snowmobiles, which offer their operator and passengers excellent means to balance themselves, and by doing so enhance the stability of their vehicle as well. Personal watercraft (PWC) are the aquatic version of these powerful and fast land vehicles.
So what do all the above mentioned small vehicles have in common in design and ergonomic terms? -They all feature a saddle type of seat. Typically, bikes and motorbikes feature higher saddles than ATVs, snowmobiles and PWC, but this is not always the case, since some bikes and motorbikes feature lower saddles.
In any case, saddle seats differ from other seats by the fact that their user rides them with a leg on each side, and does not sit on them with their legs in front of them. Ergonomically speaking, this allows the user to react to lateral changes intuitively, more quickly, and more effectively, and thus balance themselves and their small vehicle more efficiently.
The successful combination of the twin-hull (catamaran) and the saddle seat
The patented Wavewalk small watercraft (kayak, canoe, skiff, etc.) is unique in the sense that it combines a twin-hull (catamaran form) with a saddle seat that’s similar to the ones featuring in large-size PWC. Thus, Wavewalk kayaks are more stable, and they an be better balanced than any other kayak, canoe, or other small vessel of comparable size. This overall stability, namely the combined static stability of the boat and dynamic stability of its users, allows for unrivaled performance in speed terms, as well as in seaworthiness.
In order to get a better feeling for what this stability advantage translates to in speed terms, watch the following movies –
1. High speed motor kayak driven at high speed in the ocean chop
2. Speed comparison of S4 powered by a 5 HP vs 9.8 HP – flat water
This video offers a good opportunity to observe the S4 going at high speed on flat water, from the standpoint of another S4 driver going at a pretty good speed as well
3. The world speed record for vessels designated as kayaks
This video shows Captain Larry Jarboe, the current holder of the world speed record for motorized kayaks, driving his Wavewalk S4 at 17 mph (27 kmh) on flat water. Note that Captain Jarboe drives his motor kayak seated in the side-saddle position, and not in the more stable riding position. This is to say that from an ergonomic standpoint, he does not feel a need to take full advantage of the S4 design.
Stability, Speed, and Seaworthiness
A vessel designated as a kayak does not necessarily have to be a lame, unstable, uncomfortable, and slow one. It can be a fast, comfortable, and most seaworthy one, as demonstrated here. This performance level opens new possibilities for using these “kayaks” for offshore fishing, rescue and engineering, as well as boat tenders and fun boats.
Such a braod performance envelope is unique to the Wavewalk S4, which on top of these motorized applications, can serve as a wonderful paddle craft, both in a kayaking and canoeing mode, for one, two, or three passengers, seated and/or standing.
Car top transportation
And last but not least, unlike other fast and stable motorboats, the Wavewalk S4 does not require transportation by trailer. At 98 lbs (45 kg) without the motor, it can be car-topped by one person on the roof rack of any vehicle, carried to the beach, and launched practically anywhere.