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Name: ByronWalter

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A few years ago we learned that there are things you know you don’t know not to mention things you don’t know you don’t know. For example, do you know your boat’s hull identification number (HIN)? I know mine and it tells a story. Here’s how it works. The HIN consists of a combination of twelve letters and numbers. The first three letters identify the boat’s parent. The next five can be any mix of numbers and letters that the parent company chooses. The numbers on my boat indicate that at the time of its birth, it had 65 siblings. The final four are the boat’s birth date. Mine was born in July of this year (G010, where the ‘G’ is for July).

The reason I know my HIN is that the registration process (required in Ohio) didn’t go smoothly. I opted for the alternative license which, for a small additional fee, allows one to put a small decal in the boat’s cockpit, which is much nicer aesthetically than the big stickers that would otherwise adorn the boat’s exterior.

But this optional registration requires a visit to a Division of Watercraft office and trouble started as soon as the agent did the HIN lookup. She returned to the window to inform me that I had bought a sailboat and not a kayak. And it might even be a trimaran built in California by a company that had gone out of business in 1985. Actually I would have been fine with owning a trimaran but if that was the case I was missing about two-thirds of my boat. There definitely was only a single hull.

The way out of this dilemma was to set up an appointment for inspection by… well… an inspector. Luckily an inspector was nearby and all I had to do was return home, load up my trimaran and bring it back to see if he could transform it into a monohull. An hour and a half later I was back and my boat was officially certified as a kayak. Apparently the problem was that the first three letters had been recycled but the State’s database had not been updated. Now I probably have the only thermoformed Rockpool Alaw Bach TCC in Ohio. Don’t you love exclusivity.

It all started the previous day when I loaded up my Eddyline Fathom LV and headed off to Evergreen Outfitters in Ashville, New York to demo the new Rockpool, which also happens to be made by Eddyline. But on the way I started to have second thoughts about even making the trip. That’s because I really like my Fathom LV. I like its size. I like thermoformed materials and Eddyline quality. But having paddled the Fathom for two and a half years is a little like eating nothing but chocolate ice cream for the same amount of time. I wanted a new flavor… maybe strawberry? And this is why I was having doubts. After all, is strawberry actually a better flavor than chocolate? Or is it merely different? I expected the latter to be the case.

But eventually I found myself loading up the Rockpool and setting off for a Lake Chautauqua test drive. The Alaw, as I understand, is an Aled Williams design. Mr Williams, now of Tiderace, is Welsh as am I. The Welsh, as you probably know, are renowned for their fondness of hoofed animals, if you get my drift. But apparently when they are sober and not coddling ungulates they can also design world class sea kayaks.

Review:
The Alaw is seventeen feet and one inch long with a twenty-one inch beam. It appears to have moderate rocker and medium chines around the cockpit. There are the usual three hatches. The rear deck is about eight and a half inches high. The seat has fore and aft adjustment and no padding. There’s a nice low back band. Even a five foot six inch one hundred and forty-five pound shorty like me can get absolutely flat on the back deck. No weight for the boat is given but I’d guesstimate it’s around fifty-five pounds. So much for the thermoformed weight advantage over a composite build.

The cockpit is thirty-one inches long but the thigh braces are positioned closely so one must bring in one leg at a time. Based on my fit I would guess that anyone packing much junk in the trunk is going to find this cockpit too narrow. Likewise there isn’t a lot of vertical foot room up front. For me the fit was excellent. I like the aggressively place thigh braces. Twice while rolling the Fathom I’ve fallen out of the widely space thigh braces, which feels really weird when you’re upside down.

Now for the wet work but with some caveats. I’m and intermediate level paddler. As a beginner I paddled a range of boats but was too inexperienced to have much in the way of meaningful impressions. And I still barely know what I’m talking about when it comes to kayaking. During my transition to intermediate level kayaking I have paddled nothing other than my Eddyline. Two and a half years of chocolate ice cream.

On my demo day Lake Chautauqua was perfectly flat (with a nice summer bloom of hepatotoxic blue green algae). Within perhaps sixty seconds of leaving shore I knew that I wanted this boat. This much more than a mere change in flavors. My first observation was that the stability was remarkable. Giving the boat a lean causes it to smoothly firm up as it goes over. Lean a little further and it lets go and comes easily onto edge where you feel the bow and stern come out of the water allowing for very easy turning. Unlike my Fathom, I had no trouble doing one eighties with two sweep strokes. Forward speed seems similar to the Fathom but that’s only a guess. While I do have a GPS, I never bother to measure my speed. After all, these are kayaks, not Wallypower super boats.

I rolled it about every couple of minutes. The low cockpit really helped as I could extend my upper body and get good extension while flipping back up. The Alaw appears to have a rolling auto assist feature. All you have to do is get it about two thirds up and it does the final third for you.

Recently I’ve been out on Lake Erie with twenty knot winds and choppy three footers. This boat seems to like it rougher. It tracks and turns fine in these conditions and I have yet to bother with the skeg. There were occasional breaking waves that were neck high and the Alaw was major fun. I'm finally catching nice rides on waves. Once again rolling seemed virtually effortless. And the stability of the Alaw still amazes me. While I think the Fathom is great, I would have been bracing to keep from flipping (I’d guess that’s more my fault than the Fathom’s). Back on shore I checked the hatches for water. There was probably an ounce or less in the day compartment. The fore and aft compartments were dry.

Now after a few outings I only have two suggestions. First a nice minimalist seat pad would be nice. I just installed one from NRS but have yet to try it. Secondly this boat has a silly name that sounds more like a word jumble or an international musical instrument manufacturer… RockPool Alaw Bach TCC. I mean which sounds better to you?... Valley Aquanaut, Tiderace Excite, Eddyline Fathom, or Rockpool Alaw Bach TCC? Just saying it on one breath leaves me winded. But I doubt that I’ll be spending too much time carping about the boat’s name when I return to Lake Erie.

In closing this is a beautiful thermoformed Brit style kayak built by an excellent American company. It combines the best of two traditions. It might just be nothing more than switching to strawberry ice cream but in this case the fat content is extra-high and all the dairy ingredients came from free-ranging cows and chickens that were attended to by gentle children with uncalloused hands and pure hearts. It’s a fine piece of work. Thanks Rockpool for taking a chance on thermoformed kayak and for selecting Eddyline to do the build.

This was my second outing in my new Fathom LV. The wind was ripping the tops off the white caps and shoving them into my face. The sky was gray, the temp in the mid sixties, and there was the occasional smattering of horizontal rain. This was the strongest wind that I had ever attempted to paddle in. Hunched forward over the Fathom’s red front deck, I felt like I was trying to dig two parallel ditches through the water. Fortunately for me I was on a seven mile long inland reservoir where there was little chance of becoming one with the fish. What a nice day for a paddle in a new boat.

As for the Fathom, it didn’t seem to care which way the wind was blowing. During my five mile dig into the headwind and back to the boat ramp the Fathom seemed to be gliding on an invisible rail. After getting the boat on the right heading, it tracked like a train. I never bothered to drop the smooth working skeg. After the paddle my GPS informed me that my ten mile average speed was 3.3 knots which, considering the weather, seemed reasonable. On this day the deck got a heavy sloshing of H2O but there was nary a drop inside the Fathom.

By the way, in case you didn’t know, the Fathom LV is Eddyline’s compact Carbonlite variant of the full-sized Fathom. I’m five feet and six inches and weigh about one hundred and fifty pounds. The Fathom LV seemed to have been costumed designed to fit me. With its thirty one inch cockpit length, a butt first entry is easy. Once in the boat it seems to meld with me. The rear deck is low and I can lay back nicely. Internal volume seems good enough for some camping as long as I cram my dry bagged sleeping bag up in front of the foot pegs. My compact two person tent easily fits inside the rear compartment (using a tapered dry bag). That leaves a bunch of room for other stuff, like rum soaked freeze dried fruit cake, which makes a great trekking food as it can last for a century or more.

But going back to the Fathom, I had a list of boats with the usual suspects such as the Impex Force line and a couple of the Valley models. It just happened that the Eddyline dealer was the closest and it didn’t hurt that the Fathom was less costly to boot. I picked it up at Evergreen Outfitters in Ashville, New York. It was like buying a boat from your sister or brother. I felt so at home I felt like doing my laundry.

As for the Fathom, the boat is a looker and appears to be meticulously built. Once the local waters warm up I intend to work on my mediocre rolling and head out to Lake Erie. Maybe by then I will have found some issues but until that time I’d rate the Fathom a nine or better.