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First, the complete TideRace line has as good or better fit and finish of any sea kayaks I have seen. The layups are flawless and gelcoat smooth. The hulls and decks are built for hard use so the weight reflects the difficult conditions the boats are built for. There is no deck flex when I enter or exit the boat and a very solid platform for recoveries. A heavy duty Kevlar seam is on the inside with a thinner Kevlar seam on the outside. At first glance I had some concerns with the stiff plastic Kayak Sport hatch covers but these proved unfounded. After much rough water practice they have proven completely water proof and very pleasant opening and closing. Some of the earlier models did not have the hatch covers tethered but they now are attached to glassed in eyelets. The day hatch is now offset to the right as is standard in other boats and I wonder how I ever got by without the small fore deck hatch. Easily adjustable foot pegs, comfortable seat, and supportive back band rounds out the outfitting of this fine built boat.
As with other Aled Williams designed kayaks the bulkheads are airtight and the hatch covers require burping like a Tupperware lid during temperature changes. The cockpit volume is much more reasonable than many other HV boats, the front bulkhead is only a short distance ahead of the foot pegs. The fore deck allows a more aggressive whitewater like knee position. Due to the fore deck design the cockpit mostly empties out during a recovery. My only concern is the placement of the rear bulkhead a few inches behind the cockpit rim. Although it allows some behind seat storage it does not allow the cockpit to be completely emptied of water during rescues as my NDK or P&H boats do. It is a minor amount but I have been spoiled by my other boats.
The Xplore-x is a stable enough platform to allow me to take photos yet still is quick edge to edge. It has exceptional secondary stability and really comes alive in "conditions". I love to paddle in waves and what tide rips I can find. In following seas it surfs easily and seems as reluctant to broach as my NDK was. On flat water it seems to weather cock a bit but in rough water I have been surprised by its almost neutral response to wind. I almost never use the skeg, just the slightest amount on flat water in light winds. As the winds build it seems to be much more neutral tracking.
Ample rocker makes the Xplore-x have excellent maneuverability for an eighteen foot long kayak. Good tracking but put it on edge and she will come around. A shear line similar to other kayaks from Wales along with excellent thigh braces makes for an easy roller that almost wants to come upright.
In summary, the TideRace Xplore-x is an excellent and maybe the only British style high performance big guy boat. When playing in rough water it allows me to forget about the boat and just think about what I am trying to do. It is a boat that can make a good big guy kayaker a better kayaker.
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