Help with my new to me Thunderbolt

Trying to get into kayak racing and decided to keep my eye open for a good deal on a fast boat. Figured it would be months if I ever found anything cheap enough and close enough for me. On my 2nd day of looking I found a used West Side Boat Shop Thunderbolt for what I thought was a great price and pretty close to me. Picked it up today and by the time I got home I had about 45 minutes to try it out on the lake.

1st impressions…it’s a fast boat and a lot tippier than my QCC. Managed to stay upright though and I think after I spend more time in it I’ll feel pretty stable.

I did have a bit of a problem getting a comfortable fit though. I’m not used to such a large cockpit opening with nothing to brace my knees under. I messed with them a little bit but didn’t have much luck figuring out how the thigh straps are supposed to work. Can anyone else help me out there? I realize that for form and speed most seem to prefer knees together but while I’m getting used to the boat I think it would be nice to have something to brace my knees/thighs against.

Do you eventually get used to the foot brace/rudder system? For those unfamiliar it’s a bar rather than pegs and above the bar is a wooden rod that you push back and forth with your toes to adjust the under stern rudder. Maybe it’s the size of my feet (11-11 1/2) but I find it tough to use. The bar doesn’t feel very comfortable and I have difficulty controlling the rudder. Maybe it’s just my inexperience with rudders in general but with my shoes on it’s hard to feel where the rudder control is. The Onno setup looks much nicer all around and I wonder if I shouldn’t just get it and be done with it rather than trying to get used to this one.

Any reason to consider an overstern runnder if I’m not planning on surfing or having the boat in deep/very shallow water? So far the understern seems to be giving me plenty of control.

I’d appreciate any input from other owners on any outfitting you’ve done to your boat or advice on paddling it. Looking forward to getting out and spending more time in it tomorrow.


A couple of years…
…ago purchased a fast boat as well. I did not have much experience in a narrower boat other than doing a few demo’s.

I was pretty intimidated by the lack of primary, and had other ideas with regards to the tiller rudder system. I kept looking at p-net postings to learn as much as I could to hasten my learning curve.

One of the things that was a pretty common comment was that one needs “seat time”. Little by little my confidence increased, and I kept trying to handle more challenging conditions. I was lucky in that I live on a small lake and there was not much chance of anything serious happening with regards to conditons before I could get back to home port.

I started in the springtime, and by the end of summer there wasn’t anything on the small 80 acre lake I couldn’t handle. Even got to where it seemed boring unless there was a high wind or boat making waves to challenge me.

I also got used to the tiller steering. I had considered other types of steering, but just got used to the tiller. Now it part of my body english in handling the whole boat. The one advantage of a tiller is that you can hold it in place while still pumping the balls of your feet against the footboard. I don’t know how easily that might be accomplished with other steering systems as I have only used a tiller. I’d always thought the pedals might be a little more responsive for when you pick up speed on waves and might need to maintain quicker, more accurate directional control.

Have fun; be patient! Fast boats are a hoot!

I had a West Side “Bullitt” and
never even installed the thigh straps.

I figured they would be a killer if we tipped, (entrapment)

I also hated the tiller bar steering, and could never get used to it. I would end up having to twist my lower body when I wanted to make a tight turn

If you have the bucks, you could look into converting it to the “gas pedal” type from ONNO

Good luck, I hope it works out for you.



I went from QCC 700 to T-bolt X too
I pretty much had no experince but wanted to go faster. I got it but it was some work. I put in a foot plate and pull bar and it made a huge difference in stablity to me. Check the Fit2paddle site. He has tons of pictures of his T-bolt X set up. That’s were I got my foot board and pull bar idea. I also didn’t use the straps. I think Dougs the only one that likes them. I also made a foam rear bulk head so when I did dump it it was a quick fix. We had a guy in a Marudur last weekend tip getting into his boat at the start of the race and by the time he got it all empty we were all started. Bummer for him. The Maruduar guy has the onno peddals and says they are amazing. And if your thinking overstern talk to onno about his P41. It’s a work of art. ( I have it on my V10). Now for leg numbness. I had a terrible time with the seat and seems like no matter what I did I couldn’t get comfortable. Now I have a V10 sport and a V12 on the way. I needed some support on the back of my legs that the skis give me and the T-bolts didn’t. I loved the boat but it just didn’t fit right. And the filling with water thing in the middle of the lake also never made me comfortable. As Doug Bushnell says though “just don’t dump it”. Good luck and enjoy the speed. Chaz

Thanks for the information so far. Glad to hear I’m not the only one who struggled a bit initially. Don’t want it to sound like I’m complaining about the boat, I think it will be great once I get used to it. Just trying to speed up the process.

Thanks for the link on to the fit2paddle site. The foot board looks like an effective (and cheap and easy) thing to try before dropping the bucks on an Onno. I suppose if I get my butt off this seat I could get one made before I was going to take the boat out paddling this afternoon.

So are the thigh braces supposed to lay flat over your legs (connect left side to right) or are they supposed to wrap around somehow? I couldn’t figure out a good way. Mine are installed so that the hooked velcro part of both straps is on the right side and the fuzzy on the left. Seems like there must be a way to do it without actually strapping yourself in. When I first saw it I assumed both right straps would hold your right leg and the opposite for the left; but that’s impossible due to how these are installed.

Any tips or tricks on rolling the boat? This afternoon I plan on taking it out to a local pond where I can find a calm (and hopefully warm) spot to start really playing with the boat to try and figure out just how tippy it really is and how far I can push it before going over. Hopefully at that point I can find enough to brace my legs on so I can roll up.

I like the bulkhead idea, I was thinking I’d need to look into that. A 21’ boat is a lot of water to pump out in the middle of a lake. Did you have any issues with the install or was it pretty straight forward?

Hopefully I’ll have good things to report back later today.


leg straps
Most people I know just leave them under your legs and forget about them. If you plan on wearing a spray skirt and rolling then you just put them straight across the top of your legs as tight as you can get them. For the bulkhead I used 2" ridgid foam and left it about 1/8" loose adn used sylicone to seal it up. That gave it some flex. I also left a small gap at the cables to let it breath. Yes it leaked some in there but no usually very much so I could get going again fast. Then I’d just tip it up on it’s side to get that little bit out after. Enjoy. I really never paddle now to just paddle, it’s always to see how fast I can go. That’s really addictive. Race boats are alot of fun. Chaz

Looking up
Only took about 45 minutes to build the little foot board thingy this morning. Felt pretty good except that the bolts on the u-bolts stuck out and my shoes tended to catch on them. It was fine until I needed to move my feet to bump the rudder. I took it out after a while and just used the bar.

Once I put the skirt on and started playing around I found the boat much more stable than I thought. Primary stability is next to nothing but I thought secondary was pretty good. Edging felt pretty stable as long as I was sweeping for a brace. I rolled it a few times and found it ridiculously easy to roll back up. I tried a wet exit and while the thigh straps held me up a little I had no real problems slipping out of the boat. After that I could relax a little bit more and was much more comfortable in the boat.

Feels better today but still can’t find a comfortable spot for my legs/feet. Feet are big enough I can’t have them vertical. The most comfortable position for my legs/feet doesn’t give me access to the rudder control. Thinking I’ll probably just get the ONNO setup. I got the boat for a lot less that I thought I’d be able to pick one up for so I figure I’ll still be money ahead.

There’s a lap on a local lake that I started using for testing speed. The other day with my QCC 600 I did the 1.85 miles in 19.5 minutes (5.7mph). Tried it tonight with the Thunderbolt and did it in 18.5 minutes (6mph). An improvement but not exactly blazing. I guess that would be proof that you can’t just buy yourself speed, gotta work on the motor some more. Forward stroke fell apart for most of it though, felt like I was just flailing around and the boat was rocking like crazy as I tipped back and forth.

When things felt good earlier in the day 6mph felt pretty easy and a sprint got close to 7.5mph. Will be interesting to see what the next few weeks bring.


I prefer the tiller bar rudder, nice flat surface to push off with.

The understern rudder will always have less drag, look at the surf skis, none have an overstern rudder.

The downside is the understern rudder is easily damaged in shallow water.

It takes quite awile to get used to the lack of stability, just give it some time and work up to doing waves, start with flat water.

Bill H.

I thought I’d be flying the day I got my boat too. Not so. I was around 6.5-6.7 almost right off the bat on flat water but it took me along time to ave. over 7 for 5 miles. My Time trial course is 6 180 turns in a lake. People think when someone has a race boat and goes by that it’s unfair and if they had that boat they’d be flying too. Well as your finding out it takes alot of time to get comfortable and with that time comes more stroke work and fitness. So yes race boats are “unfair” but only if you can use them. I do triathlons with kayaks and people say it all the time that it’s unfair. I always say take my boat for a spin, just swim it back to shore when your done it’s not as easy as it looks. Chaz

Out with the boat again last night. Doing my laps and it felt pretty good. Was pretty sure I was going to improve my time and I was sprinting to the finish when, whoops, over I went.

No skirt on but tried to roll anyway (pretty easy in the QCC), not even close. Was so out of breath from paddling hard I didn’t have time to try again. Tried to reenter and roll a couple a couple times but couldn’t even get close. Even trying to upright the boat by hand was very difficult. Finally figured out it’s because the previous owner had a single split air bag installed in the rear so that when trying to right the boat no water could flow over to that side.


1: A 21’ boat with no bulkheads holds a LOT of water.

2: It’s a lot harder to roll when you’re already

gasping for breath.

3: Swimming with a boat full of water sucks!

Bulkheads will be a good winter project.

Hopefully tonight will be a bit more uneventful.


Swimming with your boat
People ask if I do swim tri’s also and before the ski I used to say the only swimming I do is trying to push a 21’ boat full of water to shore. Takes alot out of you. Main reason I got the ski. Jump back in and go. It takes time but I’m sure you’ll get it. No matter how fast the boat hull is when your swimming next to it it’s not that fast. ha ha. Chaz

added thigh braces
small out of way braces from junk boat were bolted in. I hurt my back trying to empty water out so I added bulkhead. First I added 4 bolts on rear deck to carry pfd under bungee. Great boat. Tiller steering is great. Even my glider has tiller

Was looking at putting thigh braces in it too, seems like it would be pretty easy to fashion something. Don’t quite see how I could get my thighs under the braces and still keep my toes controlling the tiller though. Maybe it will just take more practice. I’ve actually been getting along pretty good with the supplied straps. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say I like them, but I like paddling the boat with them more than without.

Those of you that get along with the tiller steering, what size are your feet? Mine are 11 or 11 1/2 + shoes and I simply can’t find a position where I can manipulate the tiller and still be comfortable. My feet are vertical right next to each other and feel like they’re at about a 30 degree angle (toes forward) in order to get clearance. Knees sticking up a little over the combing, and again, right next to each other. If it wasn’t for reaching the tiller I’d move the foot brace ahead a little more, let my heals touch on the floor in center of the boat, and have my toes pointing to the outside of the boat. I should take my shoes off and give it a try. Maybe I need a pair of water socks or something to give me some more clearance.


No kidding! I was cussing that heavy bath tub the whole way to shore. I’ll be making a point to wear the skirt from here on out, at least until I quit doing unplanned inversions. Hopefully that will be the one and only.


I have size 11.5-12 shoe
and I fit with water shoes on. I didn’t mind the tiller but like the gas pedals alot more. I like paddling with knees together and both toes up against the tiller bar all the time. I can’t paddle with my legs apart and def. not with my toes pointing out. I guess that’s the difference with someone who only had a very little experince kayaking before I got in a race boat. I had NO boat skills. I think half the fun is outfitting it to make it yours. Chaz

Onno gas pedal
I recently put an Onno gas pedal in my Epic 18. I wear NRS rodeo socks on my big feet, that’s about all I can get in any kayak. With the thin-sole rodeo socks I can operate the rudder controls with my toes, and use the balls of my feet for a solid push on the footboard. Wish I had done it years ago. Thanks Pat!

Size 12s and the Tiller
were not a match for me in my EFT. Not much of an issue if you’re doing straight paddles, but anything with turns, or especially, surfing a swell, my big pontoons would get hung up inside as I attempted a fast ‘Aztec Two Step.’ Changed over to Pat’s gas pedal system also and was so very glad I did. I changed over to a smaller diameter rudder wheel also to increase responsiveness and affixed a bungee to tension the pedals a la my surf skis and prevent pedal flop. Night and day. Thank you Pat.

Just an aside, my EFT is faster with the overstern-Doug himself will tell you that. The benefit of the understern comes in a following sea, and is why surf skis incorporate them. With an overstern, the stern will lift clear of the water and the boat will broach; the understern keeps it in the water all the time, save severe wave action. For river races I use the overstern-out in open water the understern is a saving grace. Have mine hooked up with brummel hooks so I can change over in about three minutes-not Huki 30 second fast, but it’s acceptable over running the cables each time.

Onno Pedal
Ordered the Onno setup today, will hopefully be here next week.


over vs. understern rudder
Take a look at the olympic sprint boats that are never in waves, they all have under stern rudders, ie: lowest drag.

Bill H.

Pats Stuff is the bomb!!!
Alan you will really like Pats setup

Get your self some 2" velcro and fashion a toe strap.

It will amaze you how much more your stabilty will improve as well as the ablity to use your lower body in your stroke!!!

if your feet hit pedals during push place a thin 1/4" strip on foot brace then you will not touch pedal until needed.

yes we all know what sacriledge your expounding on the “king of Minimizing”

With that all said his boats and designs are amazing.

Had 11 of them much to the the"kings’ displeasure LOL


Dan Murn BB