I had been paddling an ‘02 Nigel Foster Shadow (which underwent some repairs back in April of 2018, then later to add fixes for more self inflicted damage, the addition of a deck-mounted compass, and red deck lines), but after a class with Nigel in the fall of 2018, I decided to find myself one of his Whisky 16s.

I came across one through the Washington Kayak Club that December. She wasn’t perfect – some scratches on the hull, a broken seat, and the symmetry skeg non-functional – but it was the kayak I wanted, not red or orange, and a great deal. 

Her first real trip out was the initial leg of the H2O Project. By the 4th leg, she’d be my kayak of choice having proven herself to be a solid touring boat, capable of handling rough water and surf landings while loaded with gear, maneuverable and overall, a fun play boat.

Repairs and updates

With much of my time in the cockpit spent learning, I’ve been rough on the Whisky 16. She’s been landed hard on beaches, scraped over rocks in areas a bit too shallow and misjudged (or when trying to squeeze in somewhere I thought I’d fit), and banged against more than a few barnacle-covered pilings. She’s endured plenty of abuse.

Add in the cracked seat, a non-functional skeg, fading deck lines – and I decided to clean her up a bit and make some upgrades for safety and personal preferences.

The hull

Unlike composite boats, repairs are not as simple, nor can you easily clean up the hull. There are a couple of deeper gouges I’ll (may) eventually ‘weld’ in some new plastic to fill. For now, I used 1000 grit sandpaper to light smooth out the roughest areas.

The bulkheads

A big difference between composite and rotomolded kayaks – the bulkhead design. In the case of ‘plastic’ boats, they are closed-cell foam. They’re glued in place, not molded. That’s great for moving locations but over time, as the hull flexes or expands/contracts with temperatures, the seal between the bulkheads and the hull or deck fails. 

The front hatch has never had water intrusion. The rear hatch does, though minimal. The day hatch has been a different story. It collects plenty of water during rescues, mostly when the kayak is upside down for any length of time beyond a roll. My gut was it getting in through the seal around the bulkhead between the hatch and the cockpit.

Lexel was used to seal both sides of rear and cockpit bulkheads. The front bulkhead was sealed on the hatch side. I so no value in contorting myself to reach the other side, forward of the foot braces.

The seat

I planned to add a Redfish seat, but decided that would wait until I could drop the kayak off and have the fit truly customized to me, knowing my measurements would be less accurate. For now, the seat pan was dealt with by using a waterproof adhesive backed velcro to form my Skoosh cushion to the pan and keep it in place. 

The stock air-inflated backband worked great, until the hardware connecting the pump rusted and broke. I have no idea what Point 65n was thinking using non marine-grade stainless. The solution – manually inflate the back band, pinch it off close to the point the tube enters the band from below, zip tie it, cut off the excess, then push it up into the band itself. 

To keep the band centered and at the height I wanted, 4mm black shock cord was used.

Deck lines

I was never a fan of the Whisky 16’s stock orange lines. I opted for red, ordering the replacement 5mm reflective static lines directly from Point 65n. Clear silicone tubing was added on either side of the whisky hatch for better grip when performing rescues (helpful the weekend after they were done).

The other safety upgrade was to opt for single lines for the toggles rather than the stock ‘loop’. It’s definitely easier to carry the boat with the traditional setup, but the loop is a potential point of entrapment for a finger during rescues in conditions.

I retained the short piece of shock cord to help with carrying the boat.

Shock cord

I went with marine grade 4mm red shock cord for the bungee lines purchased from a 3rd party supplier

I keep very little on the decks. A spare paddle, contact towline, and charts being the exception. It looks cleaner and there is less to get in the way of a rescue. The thinner cord is functional for my needs and I prefer the look.

I had previously added additional shock cord across the foredeck behind the front hatch (black lines in the first picture) to secure my spare paddle. When replacing the lines, I made changes based on what worked for me, rather than following the stock pattern.

To assist with sliding the paddles under the shock cord while on the water, I added 3 thick rubber grommets (my preference over black beads or the white plastic golf balls many use). They were easily sourced at my local hardware store.

The skeg

Let’s just say that the Symmetry Skeg™ system used on the Whisky 16 – not so much a fan. I get it’s design, but it’s functionally worthless. And plenty have complained about the design. Mine never functioned properly.

The system uses a control knob instead of a slider. Rather than pulling the cord or wire to retract the skeg, the knob rotates to ‘wind or un-wind’ the line. As with other rope systems, a spring is used at the skeg to deploy it. The line keeps tension on the spring when it’s retracted. Loosen the line and the tension is released dropping the skeg. Adjusting the length of line let out allow you to ‘trim’ the skeg for crosswinds.

Based on some research, the culprit for most failures is a damaged spring in the skeg assembly. It’s contained inside a housing that isn’t well sealed. Sand and salt getting in damage the spring. Turns out mine was compressed and stuck in the housing, unable to drop the skeg when the line was loosened.

I ordered and replaced the spring. The problem remains.

The tubing for the line is fine. No kinks. It’s possible the rope was binding in the control knob. I disassembled it. The skeg worked BUT not smoothly, requiring pulling to retract it. The control unit should be replaced, but I think the line is the issue. It behaves as wire would – binding within the tube – usually from kinks created when the skeg is pushed into the box while deployed. (A spring loaded design with a rope skeg eliminates this.

A quick look at the repair parts on the Point 65n website left me confused. 

The ”Symmetry Skeg system™ on the Whisky 16 uses a spring as the force to drop the skeg and a wire to retract it.

I contacted them, yet never received a response. 

I am left thinking the line is a fine wire – flexible but not immune to kinking. The damaged spring in the skeg and too many attempts to force it up or down was enough to affect the wire preventing operation.

For now, the skeg stays non-operational. My plan is to replace the wire/rope with low friction line and see how it behaves. If it’s still an issue, I’ll look to modify the system completely – I have 2 ideas in mind.

Additional upgrades and modifications

Foot braces

These were replaced shortly after purchasing the kayak as I snapped one of the plastic braces, but worth mentioning here as an upgrade. While harder to adjust on the water, I went old school. It helped that I found a pair at Kayakers Go Coastal which fit without modification – which were donated.

Deck compass

This one is mostly aesthetic. It’s an invaluable piece of safety equipment, but in all honesty, not one I will need all that often. I can rationalize its value all I want, but in the end it just looks good.

Still to do

I will tackle the skeg repair/upgrade at some point and a more permanent seat, but the one item I didn’t get time to complete, and more pressing, is a mounting location for my pump. For now it remains behind my seat. It’s not ideal – harder to remove with the added shock cord, but beats it on the deck. 

The last item is to add a couple of GoPro mounts. I’m still deciding where to have a series of vantage points for the camera while not having the mounts standout too much.

But for now, I am happy and looking forward to her getting back on the water.

As for the Shadow…

The Shadow still gets to see some playtime and will be the boat for long expeditions once outfitted with a better seat. 

Now to find the right composite version of the Whisky 16 (especially an 18). Any leads are appreciated.

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