Well I have been paddling an Explorer for a few months now and it really has made an impression on me in many ways so I wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences.
Despite my initial and somewhat continual bias against the boat (I keep thinking I need something more lively and playful) I keep coming back to the Explorer.
It is not the most playful boat, and it is not the fastest, but it is super-capable, adequately fast, and very versatile.
Its rough water performance is outstanding. I truly feel unlimited in terms of what conditions I can tackle in this boat. It surfs well, rolls easily, is maneuverable, stable, and very predictable. Its construction is bombproof. Very neutral in strong winds, and has a bow that just will not bury in big water.
It’s a hard boat to beat.
I feel this is a fairly objective review because the boat has made a favorable impression on me despite the fact that I got the boat when I had somewhat of a bias against it believe it or not.
I have owned several other boats to include the Aquanaut, the Greenlander Pro, the Avocet and the Romany, and recently picked up a Nordkapp LV that I am still messing around with.
I bought a used Explorer this summer somewhat out of necessity. I sold my Avocet (my surf / play boat which I really liked) because I was going to buy a friends Romany which I liked a little better. Unfortunately he changed his mind about selling the boat right after I sold the Avocet! I was not happy. I could not find another used Romany anywhere and did not want to spend the money for a new one. It was prime kayaking season and I needed a boat to play in the surf zone.
A friend had an Explorer for sale. I paddled it and thought it was okay…not great, but okay and it is supposed to be a good rough water boat, and supposed to surf well. Also thought it might be good for my weight (195) as I felt I was a bit heavy for my Avocet.
So I got the Explorer with the intent to keep it for the meantime until I could find a used Romany and then sell it.
I have paddled this boat in various conditions over the last few months. I have done a lot of surf zone play in up to about 8 foot breakers.
I’ve paddled it several times in 25-30 knot winds.
I’ve paddled it a few times in tidal races….in Fishers Race during the Rhode Island Rough Water Symposium, and at Indian River Inlet (another pretty good tide race).
And of course I have paddled it quite a bit in flat water on the Chesapeake Bay.
I’ve paddled it about 3 days a week since I got it this summer so I have logged a descent number of hours in the boat—enough to give it a pretty good evaluation.
Comfort and Fit:
At 5’8 and 195 pounds, I find this about the best fitting and most comfortable boat I have paddled. This may have a large impact upon its performance for me. It fits me perfectly. I really like the cockpit, placement of the thigh braces, etc. Unlike many, I find the seat to be comfortable as well. There is lots of foot room as well…much more than I need for my size 10 feet.
I have paddled this boat all day long without getting out and have never felt uncomfortable in it.
NDK gets knocked here a lot. I have had two Explorers this summer (long story not worth explaining). I found that they both fit a little different and the cockpit coamings where not set quite the same height. Variation is an indicator of poor quality control. Furthermore the bottom of one of the boats was actually oil-canned a bit….??? Never seen that in a glass boat before.
Both had their seats start to develop cracks. The seats in the NDK boats suck. They are not adequately glassed in, the joint fails, and they tend to crack on the sides as well.
However, these problems can be prevented by adding some layers of glass to the sides. You also can spray a bit of foam insulation under the seat for additional support. These remedies seem to fix the seat problems.
Both Explorers had very solid gel coat, and bone dry hatches though.
The Explorer I have now has no shortcomings other than the seat starting to crack (which I fixed) and the fact that it is HEAVY at 65 pounds (advertised weight is 55 pounds).
Not the fastest boat, but is adequately fast. Acceleration is descent and cruising speed for me is about 4 – 4.5 knots measured on my GPS at a sustainable effort. My Greenlander Pro can do about 4.5 – 5 knots so not significantly faster and it is a very fast boat. Your results may vary, but this is what I have found.
One thing for me that is interesting about this boat is that despite not being super fast, I am efficient in it because the good fit encourages proper form for me and my forward stroke has actually improved.
The Explorer does quite well for a long boat. I find it easy to turn in any conditions. It responds quite well to a bow rudder and quite well to the hanging draw.
The one thing I really like about this boat is that it is very predictable and responds exactly as it should in all conditions. Apply a bow rudder and the boat turns up into the wind. Sweep stroke and stern rudder and it will turn across the wind. Maintain your stern rudder and then turn it over into a low brace turn and it will turn down wind. It is very predictable and easy to handle in any conditions.
I find that despite its length it has a bit of rocker at the bow which helps make it quite maneuverable for its length.
Not as maneuverable as a Romany or Avocet, but very adequate maneuverability if you apply the proper strokes effectively.
For me I am not a big fan of the boat’s stability profile. To me, its primary stability is higher than I would prefer. The secondary is good but is not as well defined as a harder-chined boat like the Greenlander Pro, or even the Aquanaut. I also find that the secondary stability kicks in sooner than I would prefer.
As a result, the boat does not edge as deeply as other boats I have paddled. I find the balance point occurs with a very small amount of edging. It hits it secondary stability prior to the deck lines going in the water…a little sooner than with the Avocet or Greenlander Pro.
The stability profile is one thing I just don’t like about this boat. Makes the boat feel a bit dull, but ultimately does not hinder the boat’s performance.
The extra primary stability is nice for doing things like putting on a paddling jacket while on the water, accessing your day hatch, answering the call of nature when wearing a dry suit, etc.
The secondary stability makes the boat very secure when side surfing or backsurfing in the surf zone. It also makes it very easy to do a Greenland style side-scull.
The stability profile of this boat is probably what makes it good for beginners as well, as it is confidence inspiring and does not require a lot of edging to turn.
One of the easiest boats to roll that I have paddled. I have rolled it in rough conditions in the surf zone and in tidal races and it comes up easily and effortlessly every time.
Rough Water Handling:
Well this is where this boat excels. I find it to be a surprisingly good surfing boat. One of the best I have paddled in the surf zone. Likes to surf. Easy to catch waves, and has a remarkable ability to track when on a wave and not broach like other boats. Very controllable. Furthermore, if it does broach it is not hard to bring it out of the broach and get back on the wave. Back surfs very easily.
I have had this boat in some pretty big and trashy waves and always felt very confident and capable.
The boat also excels in high winds. It is very neutral and will track easily in any direction with minimal edging and without using the skeg. The skeg works perfectly as well and will allow you to track without having to edge in high winds.
The boat is also very easy to turn in the wind. Paddling in up to 30 knot winds I can easily turn the boat in any direction. It is easy to turn into the wind in these conditions with the application of a bow rudder or cross-bow rudder.
Well I have not yet taken this boat on a trip, but I can see why it is a popular choice for expeditions. On an open water expedition I think it is good to have a boat with such stability and ability to handle any conditions you may encounter.
The boat’s hatches have lots of volume and unlike the Valley boats I have owned, they are bone dry.
NDK sometimes gets knocked for their small diameter round hatches, but I actually like them. They may not be as big as the larger oval hatches that Valley uses, but I really like how easily the hatch covers go on and come off, especially when you have cold and numb fingers.
This is a very popular boat. While I have only now been to two symposiums, at both of them it seemed this was the most popular boat, particularly with the coaches. Almost every coach paddled an Explorer.
I think that does say something about the boat when so many top paddlers and coaches choose it as their only boat.
On the other hand I realize there are other factors.
As a coach it is probably a pretty ideal boat because it gives a very stable platform from which to instruct and to do rescues, etc.
Also, I think the boat does have a bit of a “cult” following among those who attend the BCU symposiums.
Some may say that it’s just because it’s British….perhaps, but I don’t see nearly as many Valleys or P&H boats at these symposiums it seems.
I’m sure that the “This is the Sea” series has helped boost popularity of this boat as well.
The Explorer is a darn solid boat. I wish it were a bit livelier, and I would prefer a different stability profile, but the boat is incredibly well-rounded and super capable. Given that I like to paddle in rough water and mostly do so by myself I really like the rough water capabilities of this boat. I feel truly unlimited in what conditions I can tackle in the Explorer.
It’s a hard boat to beat.
I’m going to keep it……at least for now. I think I may look for a used one in the Elite layup. Mine is just so heavy at 65 pounds and has lots of strength to spare. A lighter weight Elite layup would make the boat a lot easier to carry. Maybe a little more lively on the water…??? Certainly would think it would still have enough strength.
Well I have been paddling an Explorer for a few months now and it really has made an impression on me in many ways so I wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences.
A hard boat to beat
Thanks Matt, quite a write up. Should have been in the review column. I own 2 of the same boats you have. Romany and the Greenlander Pro both great boat for what they do. Now I think I want a Explorer.
Copy and paste it to Reviews submission
That NDK Quality never ceases to amaze me on how lousy it actually is. Thanks for a nice review, bowler1.
If I am successful in selling my OI, it is probably the boat I will replace it with. I realize it will not be as fast as my OI, but will be more manageable in tougher conditions for me and offer more storage for my camping trips.
I am not fond of it weighing up to 15 pounds more though!
I love mine.
As far as the QC issue. it’s undeniable. But to me, it’s almost a moot point, as I would never buy a kayak sight unseen.
Newer ones lighter
They are being less generous with the gelcoat on most of the newer ones I've seen.
For the most part the QC rating on the newer Explorers is coming in OK. For those who want the quality of Seaward - P&H might be there by the time they catch up to their back orders in early 2009. In the meantime, the Explorer isn't the only boat out there where the caliber of the boat in getting you home safe exceeds the dryness of hatches or finesse around the cockpit coaming.
One thing that Matt mentions which seems to be well managed in the majority of NDK boats is a bone-dry bulkhead. Especially once any small misses around the skeg box are fixed up ;-)
In environments like camping in foggy old Maine, it's darned nice to know that at least you don't have to worry about your spare dry clothing being wet from a failing drybag.
The non-niche boat
If you can have only one sea kayak and want to do a lot of different things with it, the Explorer is hard to beat.
Other boats do certain things better, few do as many things so well.
Nice review. Please, post a review of the N LV when you get a chance to use it. I’m liking the Romany that I bought this summer, but haven’t been able to get it out in anything rougher than 4 or so feet and 25 to 30 knot winds. I’m tempted today with 8 to 12, but it’s kindof cold out.
I'm hoping the Tiderace Xcite and Xplore will be contenders. A little narrower at 21". Comfortable layback on the rear deck, I think (haven't tried it yet.) Innovative foot plate. Innovative moving seat for easy adjustment of trim. Seat time in conditions will tell on the hull.
Not to take anything away from the Explorer. For boats currently available, and for 200 lb paddler, it certainly reigns as a favorite. It will probably be my next boat if I don't like an Xplore better.
As an ex NDK hater, I saw the light, too, when I plunked my bum in an ExplorerLV followed by the RomanyLV.
What struck me almost immediately was how “secure” the boat made me feel. This security – and I’d already passed my 3* in a Vela – equated with a rise in my skills and boat handling.
As for the Romany in bigger conditions: I was recently out in 6-8’ with Force 6 winds. The Romanys in our group, mine included, performed like pros. While not the fastest boats in the line-up (my Vela is a faster boat), they motored right along, just the way they are supposed to. Rolling up in big wave was easy also, as a few of us found out.
Are there better made, more playful boats out there. Yes and I’d never tell anyone buying a boat that NDK is the one and only way to go. But as far as meeting expectations and keeping one upright in rough seas, the boats are right there working with you all the time.
Also Vela and Expl LV
Love both of these boats for what they do well - the spriteliness of the Vela on a day paddle is a joy.
But when we go to Maine and I have to pick one boat that'll handle whatever conditions we may encounter in a three week vacation - it's the no muss, no fuss Expl LV. Yeah the hull is officially too large a volume for me and all of that. But it is so pleasantly uncomplaining. Also rolls more forgivingly than the Vela... if that's possible.
Nice post Matt!
I, along with others here have followed your journey to find the best boat for you, and it seems you have done so and learned a lot along the way.
I appreciated the off line messages as well. For all of us it’s about finding the boat that hits on most of the variables we desire. They are all compromises as you have learned. The Explorer is a work horse of a boat that is outstanding all round. There’s a reason why it’s so popular.
As your paddling preferences change over time you may gravitate to another kayak, or choose different boats for different applications. But, as you point out, you have a terrific boat.
I’ll also say that I’ve been very impressed with the recent NDK boats I’ve seen. The quality looks great.
Some time back I listened to an interview with Nigel Foster and I really really liked his thinking. When asked about boat design his reaction was there’s never a perfect kayak. It may be perfect for a given day / application, but you could almost design a boat for a specific wave, sea state! So the objective is to find a boat that suits your body, style, and conditions. Not exact quote, but close enough.
I dislike absolute statements like “best” etc., because there’s no such thing.
Now, my question to you is - What big fun journey are you planning?
Nothing New to See Here, Move Along NM
Unless you need to be told that those who like the boat they have, really like the boat they have and/or those who like to like the boat that others like, like the boat that others like. Or something like that.
As Salty says, all boats are a compromise and we all have our reasons for the compromises we make which in turn means we all like the boats we like for very individual reasons that may not apply to others. Which makes discussions/comparisons amongst a collection of quality boats rather pointless even if entertaining from time to time when you cannot be out and paddling.
But you said *NM…
sigh…true…the devil made me do it
Which goes to show even those with the best of intentions get sucked into these things.
by Alex Matthews in the current edition of Wavelength Magazine, which can be downloaded at http://www.wavelengthmagazine.com/current.php
RE - Tiderace
Last Spring, I got a chance to paddle the Rockpool ALAW Bach, which was designed by Aled Williams, who founded Tiderace. I think that it’s pretty similar to the Tiderace model Xcite.
I really liked the boat. I paddled it for two days in the Wales tidal races, so it was a pretty good test. The boat was very stable, edged well, and it really fit me like a glove. It also is very easy to roll. I don’t have the best hand roll, but I did a hand roll the first time I tried it, wearing a drysuit and a PFD. The thing that probably struck me most was the well thought out construction, and the foot plate. I wish other kayak companies would start puting the same kind of foot brace into their boats. It’s so much more comfortable than the the standard ones currently available. I also paddle an Explorer, which I’m very happy with, but if someone wanted to trade me for the ALAW Bach, I would do it in an instance.
I imagine the Tiderace boats will be at least as good as the Rockpool (but I do like the Rockpool graphics). Too bad the Rockpools are not available in the states, and the Tiderace are starting to be. It’s kind of funny though, what Aled named one of his Tiderace models - Xplore. The name sounds awefully close the another British boat. I’m surprised Nigel doesn’t have a problem with that.
Any comments on the CSM Matt?
That’s one point of contention for me. Why do they still expect top dollar when they’re still using chopped strand? I think I could live with 9.5" round hatches if I had to, but all other things equal (condition, outfitting, etc…)between…say an Explorer, an Aquanaut, and a Force4, I don’t think I’d be getting the NDK boat based solely on the contruction method. Not trying to be a troll here. I genuinely want to hear how much this factors into others’ opinions.
The reviewer got it partly right:
From Sea Kayaking UK:“Yes, our Gel coat is thick along the keel line. The keel line is designed to be run up rocky / stony beaches. We do not recommend keel strips on new kayaks unless they are to be abused on longer expeditions or dragged over ice. It is better to use the kayaks and once the Gelcoat starts to wear showing the glass strands, apply a new keel strip. You need to be able to land on rock (carefully) but still in anger in a reasonable sea without scratching through to the glass and have a good chance of not holing your kayak. If you expose glass fibres the kayak will start to take on water and the weight of the kayak will increase.
We use woven mats and chop strand mat in the hull. A length of Diolen tape is also run along the keel line of the kayak. This reinforces the keel and adds to stiffness in the cockpit area.
When laying a hull, the skeg box plug is bolted into the hull of the kayak. The glass cloth is pulled out over the total length of the hull. The glass is split along the length of the skeg box to allow the plug to come through the cloth. As the hull is wetted out and the resin worked into the glass matt, additional cloth is laid over the skegbox plug making a strong joint to the hull. All kayaks since the end of 2001 have had a flow coat of resin painted over and around the skeg box, with skegs and boxes modified to improve efficiency. The flow coat seals any small voids that may have formed. (IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BUILD A KAYAK WITHOUT GLASS CLOTH IN THE KEEL BEHIND THE SKEG BOX.) If you did, the gelcoat would fracture when taking the kayak out of the mould. Some people are under the misconception that keel lines can be checked by shinning a strong flashlight through the keel in order to inspect for glass. Unfortunately the better the laminates, (well wetted cloth) the less you will see the glass. It is for this reason that from December 2002 the reinforcing Diolen tape that we build into the keel line will have died strands in the weave allowing the glass to be seen when inspecting with a flash light.
All seams are glassed using two layers of tape on the inside and one on the outside. No “H” channels are used as once these leak it is impossible to detect exactly were the water is penetrating the kayak. The water will track along the “H” section. Star cracks usually only appear when the kayak has received a blow, impact or been stressed.
I have chosen to use the larger round hatches as these tend to be more waterproof than oval hatch covers.
If you want a lighter kayak with thinner Gelcoat then you can purchase any of our kayaks in an Elite lay-up. The only model that cannot be supplied in the Elite lay-up is the Triton. The Elite kayak is at least 8lbs lighter than the standard specification. All Elite kayaks leave the factory with the weight of the kayak clearly marked. Elite kayaks have short bow and stern keel strips.
THE STANDARD SPECIFICATION IS THE ONLY LAY-UP I WOULD RECOMMEND FOR HEAVY EXPEDITION USE.
Our kayaks are designed for easy maintenance and repair. Although we supply both rope and wire skegs, rope skegs are recommended as they can be repaired in the field at any time. If you were to smash our hulls with a hammer you would probably form a hole. This could easily be repaired as all the damage would be localised to the hole, and a simple repair could be carried out without the problem of delamination.
WE MIGHT NOT USE THE SEXIEST LAY-UP IN OUR STANDARD KAYAKS BUT IT IS BOMBPROOF!!”
In Wavelength they keep referring to the Explorer’s width, considering it rather narrow. At 21.5" it is about the same as most Brit and Brit style boats - thoug it does have much higher primary than most. They also accept NDK’s recent revised assertion of LOA as 17’8". Sea Kayaker measured the Explorer they tested and found it 17’6" as NDK then claimed. As there has been no change to the boat’s design since the Sea Kayaker test, I’ve wondered about NDK’s revised measure…
I find Matt’s review valuable because he has been through a slew of boats and tested each one in flat to severe conditions. He is thorough and reflective in his comments regarding his experience of a boat.