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Tuesday
Aug162011

Tango Z-Pro 200 review, Sevylor Tahiti and inflatable canoes in general

Inflatables are more fun than other boats. For some reason I can’t quite work out the inflatable seems to capture the imagination quicker and deeper than more conventional craft. Maybe it’s the fact that like some secret agent you can unroll and blow up your boat and then penetrate far up into enemy territory- who knows what subconcious urges the old inflatable services- but it’s there alright. Look at the phenomenal interest shown in Rigid Inflatable Boats. They seem to epitomise excitement far more than the sleek powerboat moored next door- RIBs may not even go as fast, it just seems as if they do.

And so to inflatable canoes. I was much taken and excited by the idea of getting an inflatable canoe to use on the sea and up south coast rivers as well taking it further afield. Which is the unique and singularly brilliant aspect of an inflatable- you can roll it up and stick it in the boot or on a plane. And it’s simple- not like a klepper folding canoe with all its meccano bits- an inflatable is pump and go. And cheaper too.

Be warned though- all inflatables bear a stronger relationship to a rubber raft than they do to the inspirational craft on which they are modelled. They can never be expected to slice through the water. They float, they flubber, they bob- they do not slice.

Kayakers who lampoon the rubber duck are right in this respect- if slicing through water is your thing then the inflatable will disappoint. Which doesn’t mean it won’t be a great craft, it just won’t be a Greenland canoe.

I bought a Z-Pro 200 Tango. Good enough and a little tougher than most with its fabric outer shell and inner bladders. The Z-Pro is imported, costs 350+ quid and is strongly made though finished less well than a Sevylor. There was a nick (very small) in the outer skin when it came. Enough to make me think about returning it. I didn’t and haven’t noticed it since (it didn’t affect the inner bladder so had no effect on the pneumatics). In terms of not leaking and doing what it says on the box the Z-Pro is fine. It has a floor which bulges up into the boat making the experience kind of like a cross between a sit-on –top and a Canadian canoe- but it's still a dry ride and there is plenty enough sidewall to protect you and the gear. I’ve had three people in it- just, and, best of all, taken it in and out of some pretty huge surf. This is where inflatables win hands down. You have few kids and you want to muck around in the surf. Of course you’re going to broach, capsize and bottom out. Get hit by a sea kayak doing all that and you’ll know about it. Get hit by a heavy-ish inflatable and you ‘re still laughing.  Inflatables are more fun. You can also hit rocks. The bumper car aspect of inflatables adds to their down stream appeal, making a whitewater tyro out of even the most meek.

But paddling it feels kind of like paddling a small rubber raft, and it’s about as wide as a small raft too. Most inflatables, including the z-pro 200 and Sevylor Hudson are wider than they need to be. Get the narrowest you can find, other things being equal is my advice (though the width can be put to other uses such as sailing and rowing).The z-pro is nice and long though. Unless you have two kids and want to do a lot with both it’s probably not worth getting the even longer z-pro 300.

I also have a sevylor Tahiti k79- way cheaper at under a 100 quid, lighter, also great fun, a bit narrower and easier for a single child to paddle. A great deal all round- you may be able to get some old style ones which are stronger than the new version if you shop around. Again the Tahiti is a bit raft like- but it isn’t as wide as the z-pro and seems to track better. The fact that it has a single skin doesn’t really matter- though when we started exploring a narrow stream with brambles I saw the advantage of a double skin. Though, having paddled a birchbark canoe 2000 miles through wild terrain keeping the canoe skin intact is more about the awareness of the paddler than the strength of the skin. For most things bar the posing the Tahiti is grand.

You can pile up stuff in both, you can get in from a capsize and the bailing hole empties it out really fast= nothing like the palava of emptying a solid canoe or kayak. More fun.

For even more fun and a better use of the fat shape I am thinking of adding a rowing frame (very basic plywood bar with rowlocks) to the Z-pro. It has enough d-rings and with oars would shoot along. I may also add a sail and a couple of outriggers made of plastic pipes filled with foam.

The final thought on inflatables is why the RIC- rigid inflatable canoe hasn’t appeared. With a v-shaped plywood or plastic bottom and an inflatable side wall you’d have the best of both worlds.

Oh, and a last word on Audrey Sutherland who used an inflatable k-79 Tahiti to explore the Hawaiian and Alaskan coastline. You can see why. No native Inuit or Eskimo ever paddled alone. When explorer Gino Watkins tried it he died when an ice floe tipped his boat up. And if you have a lot of gear rolling may not work as planned. Audrey chose an inflatable because she found she could capsize it full of gear and get back into it and carry on- she did this as a test ten times- in surf- before her first solo trip. And you can get a lot more gear into an inflatable than a sea kayak. So for solo expeditioning where it doesn’t matter that you plod instead of rocket (you can still do 30/40km a day though) then the inflatable canoe wins again.