Hold my Whisky, It’s Play Time!

(Part 1)

If you’ve followed my Instagram posts, you’ll know there have been two constants in my images and videos – my red Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero and my blue, Nigel Foster designed Whisky 16.

Going forward, the hat will still be ever-present, but the kayak will be my all-white Petrel Play, affectionately known as Ghost.

But I loved my Whisky 16

I still do. It’s a great design. It’s the kayak I used to build my skills. The design challenged me as a new paddler. It’s what I passed all of my certifications in up to this point. I don’t think my skills would be where they are today if I was paddling something else. But, I found myself at a crossroads. 

As well as the Whisky fits me and as my skills grew to take advantage of what it has to offer the paddler, I found it starting to hinder additional progress. I was having a tough time pushing past limits, especially in the surf and with more advanced strokes. I was fighting it – focused on controlling it rather than on the skills I was trying to learn. 

The eye-opener for me was a day in Deception Pass. For the first time paddling it, I realized I had to always be ‘on’. I needed to continuously react to its movement in dynamic water. That day was both exhausting and frustrating— tired physically from being vigilant and mentally from not being able to do things I know I could – or should – be able to do.

And the skills/maneuvers I managed to pull off? I never felt as confident in doing them as I should have.

That was a wake-up call. I started looking for another kayak.

The search

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to paddle a range of boats – more than two dozen models from a host of manufacturers. I knew what I liked and didn’t. I knew what I wanted. The challenge would be finding it.

  • It had to be hard-chined. That was the big must-have. There is something about that defined edge and the ‘positive’ feel it gives when you get the kayak over on it.
  • It had to be 15’ – 16’. Longer would be too unyielding for a play boat. I love heading out on overnight trips, but I am not an expedition paddler and don’t intend to be one (and I’d get a purpose-built kayak for trips if I was). I want a sea kayak for how I use it – something to handle everything from day trips on calm water to playing in the surf, rock-gardens, and tidal currents, yet could venture out for a night or two.

    I felt shorter would limit me too much for longer trips, both in capacity for those few overnight ventures and in terms of speed.

    At 14’ you hit the minimum limit clubs allow on the water (it’s not a real sea kayak until you reach that length, and even then, they’re still generally considered a recreational kayak). Shorter also means slower. Our 21 nm paddle from Anacortes, WA to Friday Harbor….everyone is generally in something 17’ or longer. I’d never keep up!

  • I wanted something lighter. I am more than capable (at least for now) of carrying and loading a 55 lb kayak on my rig. The issue for me was how many times a week I do it. Coaching means I am out multiple days each week. Add in personal trips and some weeks I could be loading and unloading five of the seven days. That was starting to wear on me.
  • I didn’t want something having a beam much wider than 22”. Mentally I was coming from a 22” beam. Even though one of my mentors and best friends paddles a 23” beamed Dagger Stratos 14.5s, I was having a hard time being OK with a wider kayak. Wider is generally more stable (and slower). It almost felt like I would be cheating – that the beam could, WOULD, compensate for a lack of skills in bigger conditions.
  • I wanted a composite kayak. At first, there was a bit of a stigma. You start in plastic boats. They are forgiving as you are learning. Then, after getting some skills, you get a composite one. Plastic boats get relegated to playing in the rocks. It didn’t take long for me to not care. Less maintenance and I could paddle and not care (I’d go play along the rocks having fun when others wouldn’t out of fear of cracking gel coat). But still, I wanted a composite hull.

All of this led me to the Current Designs Sisu

On paper, it fit everything I wanted….except the weight. On the water, it was every bit as responsive as my Whisky while the Swede formed hull provided more control. Every review I read pegged it as exactly what I was after….and yet, I wasn’t sold. I couldn’t justify it. There wasn’t enough benefit over my Whisky to justify committing to it.

Finding the Petrel Play

I can’t remember what led me to it. I think it was a Google search that landed me at Turning Point Boatworks, but I cannot remember what I entered for the search parameters. I do know that the minute I saw it, I was hooked. The more I read on the site, the more impressed I was. The only glaring concern was its length – that 14’ concern over speed. I convinced myself to stop staring at it.

Yeah….that didn’t happen. I spent weeks pulling up everything I could about the design. I found videos from the first wood ones…and likely every video on the Petrel Play ever published including all of Joey Schott’s chronicling the building of the prototype to paddling it. I found articles from Nick Shade on its design and the reasoning behind why he designed it that way. I research the specs. (Joey has remarked that I may be better able to articulate the design and characteristics of the Play better than he can!)

Beyond its design…

I was hooked on the way it was being built. Joey is, without question, a master boat builder. From his resin infusion process to the new Element Extreme coating he was starting to use in place of the traditional gel-coat – the Petrel Play is light, strong, and durable. The quality of the build was stellar. He cared about the final product. There is refreshing attention to detail and a passion he has in his craft and kayaks. 

This was the perfect sea kayak – except for the length and 23” beam.

I was really concerned about the length in keeping up with others.

Length vs speed

There is this belief that longer equates to faster, but there is more to it. Even if we only look at length, the number the manufacturer provides doesn’t tell us much. We’re only getting the overall length. What we need to know is the waterline length. There are enough articles of theoretical hull speed of a kayak (I linked to a some good reading material), so I’ll leave it here – the longer the waterline, the faster (generally) the theoretical hull speed (let’s leave the beam out of the equation for now).

In practical terms, you could have a 16’ kayak with a 13’ waterline (thanks to rocker). That means a 14’ kayak with a 13.5’ waterline would actually have a higher theoretical speed. 

Of course, we’re only talking theoretical hull speed. Most sea kayakers will never reach that threshold or be able to maintain it. But, a paddler with a more efficient stroke will be faster in a given kayak. Good technique in a kayak with a shorter waterline can compensate for some loss of speed when compared with a less efficient paddler paddling something longer.

Lighter kayaks will generally accelerate faster, requiring less power/fewer strokes to maintain speed. Less weight means less work to compensate for factors like weathercocking.   

I have an efficient forward stroke. Even with other good paddlers, that stroke means I work a bit less and can maintain speed longer. The Petrel Play, even as its heaviest, would be 15-20 lbs lighter than the other kayaks on the water with me.

The short of it….between my skill and a lighter kayak, I felt I could compensate enough to make up for any loss in speed due to the shorter waterline.

I reached out to Joey

I was all but sold on the Petrel Pay at this point. The last real sticking point – it was a lot of money to spend on a kayak I have never paddled (even though I had an idea of what to expect).

I happened to catch a post by Joey mentioning his ambassadors and I saw an opportunity – at least a long-shot of one.

I definitely didn’t fit the model of the typical ambassador or team paddler – I couldn’t showcase what the Petrel Play could do in a way other accomplished paddlers could – but what the heck. I knew the Petrel Play would excel in Puget Sound and on the Pacific Coast. There was a market here. I was tapped into the local community. I could get the kayak in front of a large audience. (A solid following across multiple social media platforms and some skills didn’t hurt either!)

It turns out that my connections and visibility was exactly what Joey was after – and being on the opposite coast was a great opportunity. With similar approaches to coaching and passion for the industry, we hit it off immediately. The next step was getting me into one to test paddle. 

In August of 2021, Joey headed west and we held the first Demo Day in the Pacific Northwest.

The test paddle

Responsive is an understatement. 

The transitional hull is brilliant. Even with no hull speed, the Petrel Play will edge and spin at your hips with complete confidence, even for a less experienced paddler. At speed, it will spin 180° with a bow/cross bow rudder or low (high) brace turn.Click To Tweet

The Petrel Play is so precise a tool that in the hands of a skilled sea kayaker, it can be spun around a piling or weaved through a maze of them with a handful of blended strokes.   

The Petrel Play tracks well for its design. The skeg is smooth to operate and locks the stern when the wind picks up. Even without it, there was never any real effort needed to course correct.

Speed – I couldn’t compare speed relative to longer hulls on the test paddle, but it moved across the water with ease. On flat water, it glided so effortlessly that you could skip a stroke (or two) and not lose speed.  

The low rear and front decks make scramble recoveries easy. The front deck height means no interference on strokes and room for a chart that’s easy to see and read.

Top – Joey’s carbon fiber/basalt experimental layup
Middle – ‘Ghost’ with its basalt/innegra layup and Element Extreme coating
Botton – Hull #1 – the protoype

Nick Schade’s design and Joey’s execution of it created something of pure beauty and a dream to paddle. 

Before Joey headed back east, I was brought on as an ambassador and ‘Ghost’ was ordered.

If you want to schedule a demo of the Petrel Play or discuss more about the features, design, or build, reach out to me.

2 replies
  1. Graton Gathright
    Graton Gathright says:

    Uh, this was a great read…and that’s from someone who already knew the whole story 🙂 I’m super excited for you, for Joey, and everyone involved. Thanks for letting me paddle Darth Petrel on Sunday–it really was a blast to paddle! I want to paddle it again but Val says she gets to try it next 🙂


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