Most Recent Reviews
The kayak is stable and did great both in chop and in some steep swells against the wind. The rudder works well. The hatches are very simple...just plastic covers with a rubber edging around the rim which fit not very tightly over the hatches and have deck rigging bungees holding them in place. They do not make a Tupperware-like seal as for Valley hatches and I wondered if water would find its way around the edges. However they seemed to work fine and kept the hatches dry despite waves coming over the kayak occasionally. The hatches are big and you can fit large size dry bags through them. The cockpits are far enough apart that you can paddle out of synch without clashing paddles.
The thermoformed plastic seems plenty tough..the kayak had obviously been used a lot in the rental fleet but had only minor scratches. The seats are comfortable, easily adjustable, and the cockpits have good thigh braces.
Update June 2014 I reviewed this in 2011 [2011-08-30] after first using it…
I reviewed this in 2011 [2011-08-30] after first using it a couple of times. As noted then and by others, the paddle isn't perfect. The joints do not line up perfectly, and for me at least the blade is too flat and results in a bit of flutter when pulling hard. It also leaks a little at the joints.
I almost sold the paddle a few years ago but decided not to and I am glad I kept it. Since then, I have taken it on several plane trips when going places on vacation and renting a kayak for a day trip. It is really fantastic for that. I take a along some duct tape to seal the joints so the leaking is not a problem.(Not a big problem anyway, but a little annoying).
I have paddled for about 5 years using Greenland paddles, first with a red cedar paddle made by Don Beale and then with Superior Kayak carbon fiber paddles, both a one-piece and a two-piece. The wood Beale and the Superior carbon fiber paddles have almost identical shapes. The shape of the Northern Light is different in two ways that don't work as well for me. One is that the loom is a bit more oval and the shoulder is harder. My first long day paddling with it, it felt OK at first, but I later developed soreness in my thumb that I have never experienced with my other paddles. The same happened after a second day paddling. After experimenting trading off paddles, I finally figured out that on the Northern Light I was hooking my thumb around the loom enough to pull a bit with my thumb rather than just my other fingers. It happens because the combination of the shape of the loom and the shape of the hard shoulder more or less forces my hand to fall in a particular angle that isn't optimal for my hand. I have bigger-than-normal hands and long thumbs, so this may be a problem only for my particular hands.
The second difference in the shape of the Northern Light compared to a Superior carbon fiber or Beale wooden paddle is that the Northern Light blade is flatter, less convex. I found that this induced a propensity to flutter a bit with my normal stroke. Again, this may be specific to my particular stroke and not happen for other people, but it is certainly a difference from my other paddles, which I cannot make flutter even if I try.
Compared to other carbon fiber Greenland paddles, the Northern Light is an incredible bargain - the three-piece is cheaper than other one-piece paddles. And the break-down into three short pieces is really great for traveling. So if it fits your hand shape and your stroke, it is a really great deal, and the paddle seems very well made and likely to last well. However, if at all possible, I would recommend trying it before purchasing. I bought it by mail-order and was not able to return it even with a discount when I found it didn't work for me. No blame to the seller, since there were no defects in the paddle, but it doesn't work well enough for me that I will use it in place of other paddles, even when traveling.
I can summarize my feeling about the kayak (and kayaking) by saying that every time I get settled in the foot pegs and back-band and take the first stroke forward into the ocean, I think, "I love my kayak". The quality and workmanship on my boat are excellent. When shopping for boats, I did see a kevlar Force 4 with a small area on the hull where the gel coat failed to cover the cloth - it was not being sold as a second, and the dealer appeared surprised by the problem (genuinely, I think). I was bothered enough by this lapse in quality control by Impex and/or the dealer that I made a point of buying my boat from another dealer, and checked it out especially carefully.
Overall, I like the seat and backband in the boat and feel very comfortable even when in the seat continuously for 7 hours. On my first couple of trips, it seemed to me that the seat had too much of a backward tilt. So I took the seat out, removed the two-three inch thick foam that was under the front edge of the seat and replaced it with a thin piece of minicell so that the seat is angled more forward. With this simple fix, I find the seat and backband very comfortable. The backband is an Immersion Research (Reggie model, I think). A weakness is that the ratchet mechanism is easily unlocked when reaching behind the backband to grab something stowed behind the seat. Also, after a year of salt water exposure, there was some corrosion of the ratchets and they started slipping occasionally. I ended up putting small bolts through the adjustable straps to hold the band at a fixed length.
The boat has molded-in thigh brace areas, not enough by themselves to get a good purchase for a hip snap but perfect for glueing additional minicell thigh braces. I did this and feel perfectly locked in for bracing and rolling, with plenty of room in the hips for good torso rotation. I could be bigger and still fit well in boat. Cockpit is big enough that at 5'11" I can re-enter butt first easily.
I don't have enough experience with other boats to evaluate the handling of this boat in comparison. But I can say that I love the handling of the boat. When aggressively edged (very natural with a Greenland paddle), the boat turns very nicely, especially with an extended paddle sweep. I often paddle with a friend who uses a Nordkapp LV or an Anas Acuta using a Euro paddle. Of the three boats, the Anas Acuta clearly turns more easily, but even in tight quarters in rocks, I've never felt at a real disadvantage - just need to edge a little more and use extended paddle strokes when there's room. I used the boat for a class in Woods Hole, practicing bow rudder eddy turns, and it worked fine. I've used it for many sessions practicing in surf where I need to get swiveled around pointing into the waves in a hurry. I'm sure that boats with more rocker would do this more easily, but I've never found myself thinking "I wish this boat would turn more easily."
I find the boat very stable. When stopping to eat or pee at sea, I feel very comfortable pulling the spray skirt and attending to business with the paddle stowed, in pretty much any size swell. By comparison, my friend's Norkapp LV and Anas Acuta sit lower in the water around the cockpit, and in the same conditions, he will often ship water into the cockpit with his spraydeck off. When we practice rescues in rough water, the Force 4 has a clear advantage in shipping less water while pumping than either the Nordkapp LV or Anas Acuta, for which this is a significant problem, especially for a self-rescue.
Overall, I find the Force 4 a perfect boat for the ocean paddling I've done with it, including trips with winds up to 20 knots and fairly big seas. If I could try an experiment with altering the hull of the boat, I would like to see the effect on handling of adding volume to the bow. Even when unloaded, when paddling into sizeable swell, the bow tends to drive into oncoming swell, while my friend's Nordkapp LV rides up more, which seems to be a little more efficient.
A change I would definitely suggest to Impex is to add bungies or perimeter lines immediately behind the cockpit (the back perimeter lines start fairly far back) to hold the paddle during a paddle-float self-rescue or to hold the paddle out-rigger style for additional stability when stopping to eat. There is a groove for the paddle shaft just behind the seat, which works great for self-rescues while just holding the paddle, but bungies would give more flexibility.
The skeg works fine. I don't use it much, only to reduce broaching with big following or quartering swells. A couple of times I have forgotten it was down when doing a beach landing: never any problem, the skeg just pushed back up on its own. It has never gotten stuck. My friend's Valley boats have gotten stuck skegs from pebbles from landings in the same conditions several times, so there seems to be some difference.
I suspect some leak into the cockpit, because after 3-4 hours in swell there is routinely 2-3 inches of water in the cockpit and it doesn't seem to depend on the newness of the sprayskirt or how carefully the skirt is mated to my drytop or drysuit (and happens even if I never rolled). It isn't enough to be annoying, so I've never tried to diagnose it. I suspect leakage through the skeg cable mechanism or around the bolts for the seat and/or foot peg tracks, but can't really rule out leakage through the spray skirt. Both main hatches and the dayhatch stay totally dry.
I read a lot on paddling.com about people who have had many different boats and who are still thinking about trading or buying another one. Probably it's partly my lack of experience with other boats, but there hasn't yet been a day on the water when I wished I had a different boat than the Force 4. At least for me, the Force 4 has a perfect combination of speed, stability in big seas, and maneuverability. The maneuverability is undoubtedly less than shorter or more rockered boats, but I've never felt limited by it even when following my friend in his Anas Acuta between rocks.
I love the boat for messing around with long-boat surfing or playing around in tidal races just as much for as for point to point paddling. I would recommend the Force 4 highly and it were ever stolen or smashed beyond repair, I would buy another one in a second.
I find the loom and blades just right for my hands (5' 11', large glove size). Unlike some others, I do not find the unmodified surface too slippery, but just right to allow normal paddling as well as easy sliding for extended paddle strokes. I do not wear gloves and have not had problems with blisters, including with many 20+ mile days and surfing, where I'm probably gripping it more tightly than usual. For me, the paddle design the Inuits came up with is the perfect tool for the kind of paddling I like (long open ocean trips), and the implementation in modern materials makes it even more perfect. The only disadvantage over a wood paddle is the cost of replacing it if you lose it. I've come close a couple of times while messing around in surf. It can be hard to see in the water if you lose it.