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Submitted: 01-03-2003 by Tim Mattson

There are no bad boats; only boats poorly suited to how they are used.

People loose sight of this fact and ask the impossible of their kayaks. A single kayak canít turn on a dime, track flawlessly, win races, and satisfy an apprehensive novice. Every boat is a compromise. The challenge is to understand what you want and pick a kayak that hits the right compromise.

With this in mind, Iíve been on a quest for the perfect, rough water, expedition sea kayak. I want a kayak that (1) cruises well for long distance paddling, (2) turns tightly with a heavy lean, (3) tracks well in high cross winds, (4) has enough primary stability so I can relax a bit during a long day on rough water, (5) can accelerate and track well when paddling backwards, and (6) can handle rough surf landings.

My search for this mythical boat has stretched-out over the last few years. Iíve tried the British boats. They come close, but they sacrifice too much primary stability in their quest for macho, secondary stability. Iíve tried heavy-duty touring kayaks from North American designers, but they arenít playful enough in the surf. Iíve enjoyed some of the more radical designs for coastal paddling, but they donít cruise well for distance paddling.

I had despaired of ever satisfying my quest. Then I paddled the Tempest 170 from Wilderness Systems. This kayak is awesome. It hits the right compromises for rough water, expedition paddling. Of course, this is exactly what it was designed for, so I shouldnít be surprised.

Here are the basic numbers. The boat is 17 feet long, 22 inches wide and 14 inches deep. The widest point is just in front of the cockpit. While I was using if for day paddling in the surf, I checked out the storage and figure it would be straightforward to pack a weekís worth of gear in the boat.

The seat was comfortable. It might be a bit high for some paddlers, but I found it to be no problem (and I like the leverage from a higher seat). The thigh braces fit well and had enough adjustment options to fit most any paddler. The seat included integrated hip pads which given my generously apportioned tush, I needed to remove to fit in the boat. The backband provided plenty of support but didnít get in the way. I was very pleased that I could layback on the rear deck in this kayak.

This is an expedition kayak built with heavy surf landings in mind Ė and it has the weight to show for it (58 pounds with the fiberglass construction). This was a loaner boat so I didnít test it by smashing it into rocks, but everything about this boat felt strong and solid. The deck rigging was complete Ė enough to make the staunchest BCU snob happy. The bow and stern handles were well designed for an easy carry (at least, easy given the heavy weight).

The boat accelerated up to speed nicely. I didnít have a knot meter, but it seemed fast enough and easily kept up with everyone in the group. The tracking was good. It did weathercock slightly in a cross wind, but a drop of the skeg fixed that right away.

I tried to bury the bow and pearl the boat while surfing. I picked a moderately steep wave and shot straight down the face. For a moment, I thought Iíd go tumbling end over end, but then the bow floated up to the surface and I had a wonderful long ride. This is a boat that likes to surf.

My biggest complaint about the boat is its hatches. They use bungie cords around the rims to provide additional pressure for rough conditions. This trick works well as the storage compartments were bone dry after a full day of surfing. Getting these bungies back on, however, was tough; especially on the larger stern hatch.

As I played with the boat further, I did find some limitations in the handling. My Necky Looksha Sport with its sharper chines turns more sharply on a strongly leaned turn. The secondary stability on the Tempest is well behind that of the British boats Iíve paddled.

But this brings me back to my earlier point; no boat can do everything. This boat is second to none for expedition paddling in the roughest of conditions. A serious expedition boat needs to carry gear, surf well, have good maneuverability, yet provide sufficient primary stability so you can paddle all day in rough seas without becoming overly exhausted -- Or stop bracing long enough to take a picture or assist my paddling-partners on the water. The Tempest 170 does all of these and more. No other boat that Iíve found even comes close to the Tempest 170 as a well rounded, rough water, expedition kayak. As far as Iím concerned my quest is over.

Note: the reviewer is a 5í8Ē, 230 pound male. Testing was done during a single day of paddling in the waters around Fort Canby State Park in Washington. Conditions were breezy with well spaced modest surf. Out around the south jetty, we did encounter some very large, steep swells and high winds. We finished the day with a surf landing on Waikaiki beach. All in all, it was a good day for testing a coastal expedition paddling kayak.

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