by Sarah Hartman
During two recent expeditions I had the opportunity to paddle a standard SKUK Explorer in fiber glass lay up (Open Coast of Alaska with Geneva Kayak Center - 8 days consistent 2' waves) and a Prijon Kodiak in plastic lay up (Great Slave Lake - 14 days with 0-2' waves). As I usually paddle an Impex Force 4 in Kevlar lay up, I had adequate time to explore the handling differences between the three boats in the conditions I'm accustomed to.
Boat SKUK Explorer Impex Force 4 Prijon Kodiak
Length 17' 5" 18' 17'
Width 21.26" 20.75" 23.5"
Weight 57 lb. 44 lb. 62 lb
Volume 82.8 gal 90 gal 103 gal
Material Fiberglass Kevlar Plastic
I couldn't tell a difference in the overall speed between the Explorer and Force 4. I've paddled both boats loaded and empty. I'm a slow paddler (4 mph average is an awesome day for me) but I seemed to be only slightly farther behind the group in the Explorer than I ever am with the Force 4. The Explorer seemed to take a bit more effort to paddle but that may be because it's been a year since I've paddled the Force fully loaded and have forgotten what effort she requires. The Kodiak seemed to top out at 3.5 mph.
Loaded or empty, the 13 lb. difference between the glass and Kevlar was significant on the carries (more than one person was carrying the boats either loaded or unloaded). I was only able to sled the Prijon as it was beyond my carry weight when empty. I can comfortably solo carry the Impex when empty. I've not tried to carry an Explorer by myself.
The Explorer was easy to pack. I use a combination of 5 and 10 liter dry bags and was able to often fit two bags, standing on end, side by side – making for tight packing while still being somewhat organized. With the Impex, I need to be more creative in packing by stuffing loose items around the dry bags. Apparently the 1.5 inches in width is the difference. The Prijon had the largest capacity of all the boats but I was carrying the most gear and food of any trip to date. So, with all the boats, I ended up utilizing cockpit space for storage.
The straighter ends of the Impex seem to stuff easier for items like tents, tent poles, etc. But the Explorer held just as many items. The Prijon wins hands down in ability to stuff the stern as it had a rudder so there was no skeg box to pack around.
The Prijon also wins in the hatch access category. With its large, access hatches, I could easily reach large areas of the cockpit. I still prefer the Tupperware style hatches of the Force and Explorer as the Kodiak hatches leaked (neoprene inner liner covered by a latched on plastic lid).
The Force is intentionally designed with relatively little rocker. This feature is what gives her speed. The Explorer has slightly more rocker. This difference was most noticeable in rock gardens where draws and turns were needed. Less edge was required with the Explorer than with the Impex to accomplish similar maneuvers. While not as nimble as the Romany Surf I test-paddled earlier in the summer, the Explorer is a sweet boat if you need to compromise between playfulness and speed. The Prijon was wide and stable and handled accordingly. It felt sluggish overall.
The Explorer seems to roll easier than the Force 4. I've rolled an Explorer loaded and unloaded and success rate was good. I've not rolled the Force or Kodiak loaded so cannot make a true comparison between the three but do prefer the Explorer over the Force for rolling.
The Force fits me like a glove and I find it quite comfy even on long days. It will give me rashes over the course of several days at the top of the back band and at the hips but I've learned to manage those.
The Explorer fits a little loose in the seat and the seat is totally incompatible with my body shape. On the AK expedition, I ended up with bad bruises in the sit bone area after the first day. A combination of ¼" foam padding and a slightly inflated paddle float solved the problem for the remainder of the trip.
The Kodiak is as comfy as a favorite armchair and just as roomy.
All three weathercock very nicely when given the opportunity (skeg unable to deploy due to a jam or in the case of the Kodiak – an intentional decision to not use the rudder). All three can be managed by weight shift and paddle strokes. In order of ease of control without rudder or skeg: Kodiak, Explorer, Impex. I attribute this to the amount of room I have in the seat in which to physically move my body vs. only being able to weight shift via an edge. Larger folks would have a different experience than I.
All have plenty of storage room in the front of the foot pegs. (Probably a benefit of my leg length vs. the large size of the boats.) The Force and Explorer are about the same for foot space and overall cockpit space. (Again, the Kodiak is so large it's really not in the same category of boat as the other two.) I use a Seals 1.7 skirt on expeditions and find it fits easily on the Force, is a snug fit on the Explorer, and was difficult to fit onto the Prijon.
All three boats have differences in cockpit height and foredeck room but not enough to warrant discussion. I'm accustomed to paddling wide and narrow boats so was able to avoid any potential knuckle scraping while paddling. The significant gripe about the Kodiak was lack of a day hatch. I also found the netting on the fore decks of the Kodiak annoying as 'stuff' got caught in it. However, with the oversized foam paddle float I was carrying in Canada, the netting on the aft deck worked much better than typical bungee style deck webbing.
The Impex is still my favorite boat because she's paid for. Someday when she wears out, the Explorer will be in my consideration set. The Kodiak is much too big for me but served the purpose well.