Amazing boat; it’s inflatable but the 17.5ft long Holiday 3 is stiffer and more easy paddling than a similar plastic boat, maybe not as good as a composite, and costs only a little more than a plastic double of equivalent size. It’s also only 43lbs, slightly lighter than say a carbon fiber boat of the same size. I know its niche is easy portability but I think if people knew how delightful these boats are to handle and paddle they would sell more as they undercut the composites by a lot and are lighter to boot.
I loved paddling one, anyone tried it or owns one?
Interesting to hear your observations, I had just ordered some vinyl glue and a catalog of marine grade fabrics and fittings from a supplier and they included a Grabner catalog. Quite a range of models and I wondered what the boats were like. Where did you get to try one?
I tried one last year in Europe and thought it spectacular so then this year I picked up a 2nd hand one. At 43 lbs for a 17 1/2 foot boat it’s lighter than an equivalent carbon boat. I think it saves weight because it mostly is missing a deck except in the stern and bow parts, otherwise it looks and feels more like an open topped canoe so more water can get in which limits your abilities in rougher seas. You still can because it’s so stable, but a bail helps. A spray skirt is available with cockpit openings
but that adds 12lbs. That said the stability profile is very different from normal kayaks. It’s like you have infinite primary stability without the drawbacks of the barge like sit on tops because the air in the hull wants to stay righted and not sink or change position while in the water. So you have an added “tertiary” stability and you don’t draw much water. It feels like you’re flying rather than floating over the water like a hovercraft which improves the feel of efficiency and responsiveness. This thing is VERY well engineered.
The stiffness is also above average, better than plastic but not as good as composite. It flexes in some situations, not being paddled. Despite being 17+ feet long it doesn’t sag in the middle when two people carry it from the handles on its ends. Still I think a lot of people gripe more about transporting a heavy plastic boat than its handling qualities. The Grabner boats are very good in both. I think if more people knew how stiff they were and were looking for a lighter alternative to plastic but maybe didn’t want to spring and pay for a composite something like Grabner could certainly fit the bill as a boat that is both lighter and stiffer than plastic and doesn’t cost that much over plastic. It’s not as durable but not as fragile as you’d think either if you just treat it like a composite. And it’s easy to be careful because it’s very light!
The price does seem really high for an inflatable but like I said the rubber is very special so it’s more durable and takes higher pressure than most other inflatables so you get way more efficiency like you do out of a rigid boat. And you’re paying for something well engineered with performance and handling to spare somewhere between plastic and composite, not some cheap chintzy, glorified beach bed.
Some observations from a portable boat junkie:
Per the specs now that I’ve looked more closely at them, the Grabners do seem rather heavy and wide to me. For instance, the Escape 1 solo is 13’ 9" by 30" and weights 49 pounds. That’s not only 3 pounds heavier than my 15’ hard shell plastic sea kayak but 12 pounds heavier than my 15’ 9" Feathercraft Wisper folding sea kayak and a whopping 22 pounds heavier than my 13’ 6" Pakboat Quest folder. Both of those skin on frame boats set up to be quite stiff and paddle comparably to a rigid boat of similar dimensions.
In terms of portability, the Escape would trigger excess baggage charges for airline travel as it would be over 50 pounds. That’s an important feature for me and one of the reasons I’ve always had folders. I can pack any of my folders below the weight cut off.
The kayak design reminds me a little bit of Feathercraft’s short-lived Aironaut. But that boat was considerably lighter.
I can see that Grabners whitewater boats and powered dinghies would probably be excellent, but I question the overall utility of the kayak design. Very little cargo space due to the large inflatable sponsons and probably some significant wind and water drag effects on the large area of the bulbous hull.
I was discussing the Holiday series, specifically the Holiday 3 which weighs at 43lbs and is 17’6" long. For me the heavier weight (for an inflatable) makes it really shine in the stiffness department because the rubber is super tough can be inflated to over 0.3 bar or ~4.4psi above atmospheric.
I don’t mind the cargo space as I don’t do overnights. At most I would bring a compass, some water, snacks and things but despite being able to paddle 12+ miles in one day I almost never use the storage compartments. In the Grabner Holiday you do have space to store stuff in the bow and stern which are covered but you have to use dry bags or it will get wet as it’s open.
My wife hates wind and waves so anything but flatwater conditions is unlikely to draw her out unless I want to hear how unhappy she is all the way, and she is usually a calm, peaceful non PITA kind of person which is why I married her. Something about the roughness she doesn’t like.
That said the boat has an exhilarating “airy” feel to it almost like you’re flying above the water, not floating. I don’t know if it’s a combination of the stiffness, the light weight, and the fact that the air inside makes it want to float more than an equivalent hard shell boat so all else being equal you feel like you’re drawing less water. Water drag for sure feels like it’s almost non existent, but it is more susceptible to being tossed around a little in the wind. They do sell rudder kits but it’s as bad as you think. I found the composite, high performance Stellar ST17 to be more vulnerable to the effects of wind than the Grabner. It’s almost like the “Drag” effect was built on purpose to prevent the boat from getting pushed sideways or yawing. It paddles like it’s well engineered from this point of view, and very differently from what you would expect or hypothesize.
The width is nice too. Since you don’t displace as much water you don’t feel it but that and the “air” combined seems to give it like a “tertiary” stability. Nothing this stable should be that fast, but it is. It’s not as fast as our Stellar ST17, but it’s faster than our Wilderness Northstar, all boats about the same length give or take a few inches. Like I said, the airiness makes you feel like flying, I highly encourage anyone to try one!