The Gear Shed - Creek Boats
After having spent my summer running as many different rivers as possible in a short 3 months, I found myself reflecting on my river log now that the season has slowed down a bit. One thing that stuck out in my mind was the broad array of craft that I have been in not only this year, but in years past. In 2017 alone I have driven an IK, Hyside rafts from 10-15 feet, a NRS, a couple of Aire boats, A vanguard, an Ark Inflatables, Several Sotars from 10-15 feet, an Avanti, a Rocky Mountain Raft, A bullet boat, and even some crappy Czech boat from the 1990s. So, after spending the last couple of weeks working on a boat design project I felt compelled to discuss some of the options out there. In this article I want to take on the issue of creek boats and share with you some thoughts about some of the options on the market that I have paddled this year.
So to form a good baseline from which we can proceed I have come up with several criteria that I wanted to rate these boats on and I have included their definitions below. Some of the ratings were affected by the raft’s material. If you have questions about raft material options check out this helpful article.
Lateral Stability - This rating is based on a variety of factors including how likely the boat is to flip, if paddlers can flip the boat by shifting weight, how easy will the boat flip off of a rock, how likely the boat will tube suck, how likely the boat will flip off a lateral wave, and how stable the boat is in a surf.
Down River Speed – This rating is based on factors relating to a boat’s forward or backward movement. This includes general acceleration, overall speed in the water, efficiency at trimming across currents, and ability to cross eddy fences.
Tracking – This is a measure of the boat’s ability to continue in a direction of travel according to the first law of motion. This also includes issues such as laminar flow under the boat, overall drag, and ability to maintain a course (direction of travel) irrespective of the raft’s heading (orientation of the bow in relation to the direction of river flow).
Rocker – The amount of rise in the bow and stern has a direct impact on the boat’s ability to run drops. If the angle is too low or high in relation to the shape of the floor the raft will come to a dead stop at the bottom of a drop.
Traction – This measure is the raft’s ability to hold a current and to slip over rocks. Unlike many adventure sports applications having high traction in a raft in generally negative to a boat’s performance in the water. High traction can force a boat to grab a rock, pin, stop dead on slides, and wrap easily. This is a distinct and separate dimension from tracking.
Rotational Agility – This is a raft’s ability to spin on its vertical axis, pivot, and move in circular patterns. This dimension measure’s the raft’s suitability for tight technical features and long boulder rapids.
Passenger Stability – This measure is can be more subjective in nature; however this dimension looks at how well a paddler fits in a raft, the stickiness of the seat, attachment of the thwarts, and extra room in the boat to move.
Cuthbert - Sotar Daniel Jenkins Custom
This boat was custom designed by team paddler Daniel Jenkins to be a light weight stable creek boat. A lot of thought and planning went into this and it came out with a solid mix of good benefits and this boat tends to be good in most conditions. From creeks to river to big water this boat performs well, but not exemplary in every condition.
Material Type: Urethane
Seat Material: Lexatron
Seam Type: Welded
Floor Type: I-beam
Overall Length: 10 Feet 6 Inches
Tube Diameter: 20 Inch Uniform Tubes
Chambers: 4 Hull, 1 floor, 2 Thwarts
Weight: 84 lbs
Overall Rating: 25 out of 35
Lateral Stability: 4/5 – This boat was designed with big tubes and an eye for stability. It tends to resist flipping in holes and is a lot of fun to paddle.
Down River Speed: 2/5 – The design of this boat makes it a bit slow in terms of top speed. The light weight helps with acceleration. The high rocker and wide bow and stern do limit the ease of laminar flow over the bottom of the tubes.
Traction: 5/5 – You really can’t get much better than a SOTAR for slipping over rocks. Even with the wider floor, smaller i-beams prevent the boat from catching on rocks.
Rocker: 4/5 – This boat’s rocker is pretty much Ideal for most drops up to 8’. Larger drops seem to make the raft stop in the bottom of features, though that is more a function of the shape of the tubes rather than the rocker itself.
Tracking: 3/5 – The boat tracks decently, however this raft was modified to create a more blocky bow and stern. The larger surface area of the floor creates more drag and generally decreases the boat’s ability to track well. This also may have to do with SOTAR’s floor placement and attachment system providing more drag as well.
Rotational Agility: 4/5 – One thing you can always count on a SOTAR for is the high level of overall agility that the boat has. The materials tend to make their boats easy to turn and fun to drive. The modifications to this raft though to help it feel more like a cataraft in the water and it spins surprisingly well. Again it is a bit sluggish due to the wider overall floor footprint.
Passenger Stability: 3/5 – The biggest drawback is that SOTAR material is so slippery. Even with the gritty liquid lexatron seat coating your but will still slide off the seat. With that in mind this boat features larger than standard tubes and if this customization was integrated into their standard line it would make this boat great fun. One other positive custom modification is the d-ring thwart system that SOTAR seems to love to use was removed. Every other SOTAR I have paddled features d-rings in the perfect place to drive metal into your shin.
I did a review on the Hyside Mini-Max previously and I have had a lot of good fun in this boat. This product set a standard to fill a niche for boaters looking for a fun sporty r2 boat. While I really enjoy this product, the other raft manufacturers have finally been catching up and they have some pretty great designs out there too. A couple of things that I really dislike: First, the 2 chamber hull is a terrible design and if you rip one chamber half your boat is gone and you are really screwed. Second, I’m not a fan of diminishing tubes, but if that is your boating preference you will be at home in this little boat.
Material Type: Hypalon
Seat Material: Hypalon
Seam Type: Glued
Floor Type: I beam
Overall Length: 10 Feet 6 inches
Tube Diameter: 19 inch diminishing tubes
Chambers: 2 Hull, 1 Floor, 2 Thwarts
Weight: 67 lbs
Overall Rating: 22 out of 35
Lateral Stability: 1/5 – This boat flips like a dream. If you enjoy flipping just because your r2 partner low sides then this is the raft for you. Seriously this raft flips really easily and I have rarely wrapped this boat. It is more prone to flip off of a rock or a large lateral. Once you get the hang of how this thing handles it can be fun, but you should at all times be picking your swim while you are boating.
Down River Speed: 4/5 – This raft is pretty speedy, with its main advantage being acceleration over top speed. It is still great when you need to make emergency moves or sprint quickly across a current. This makes the boat pretty forgiving since you can get out of a sticky situation quickly
Traction: 3/5 – Decent traction for a boat of its class. Hyside did well with the urethane chafer strips on the bottom of the boat. At the end of the day though it is still rubber so it sticks to everything. The smaller tubes and narrower overall width of the boat really help this run tight creeky stuff well.
Rocker: 4/5 – This boat is basically shaped like an upside down helmet. The diminishing tubes and cigar shaped profile make the rocker start at the middle of the boat. It almost creates too much rocker and makes the boat prone to end over end flips. This boat really does excel in steep short drops of 3-6 feet and it works well on slides since the bottom shape minimizes the floor to water friction.
Tracking: 3/5 – This boat is not the best at tracking and is prone to being a leaf on the wind. The lack of friction on the water is a double edged sword making it turn on a dime and accelerate quickly, yet I find it lacking in terms of its ability to maintain its course.
Rotational Agility: 5/5 – As I previously mentioned, this boat turns like a dream. It is probably only rivaled by the paddle cat/shredder design in terms of turning and agility. Compared to driving a 14’ commercial raft the relationship would best be likened as bus to a Ferrari. This characteristic of the raft makes it very forgiving in tight creeky moves.
Passenger Stability: 2/5 – Again if you like flipping this is the raft for you. Seriously if you R2 and move too quickly you will flip. Also the tubes are tiny and if you are a big guy you will not be super comfortable in this boat. The thwart placement is pretty small as well. Taller folks tend to get cramped in this boat.
Ark Inflatables 10’
ARK’s rep let me know that there would be some significant changes to this raft for the 2018 model. The drop stitch floor would be changed in favor of a 7 inch I-beam floor. Additionally the number of d-rings would be significantly reduced. The new model will have half the number of external d-rings and no handles. Due to a lot of negative feedback on the 4 d-ring thwart attachment system ARK will be changing this out to another system. That would remove 16 steel d-rings from the interior of the boat, and 4-6 on the exterior of the boat including dropping the 4 perimeter handles. Ark will also be looking at increasing the rocker on the boat as well to handle larger more vertical drops.
Material Type: Valmex PVC
Chafer: Valmex PVC
Seat Material: Valmex PVC
Seam Type: Welded
Floor Type: Drop Stitch
Overall Length: 10 Feet
Tube Diameter: 20 Inch Uniform Tubes
Chambers: 4 Offset Baffle Hull, 1 Floor, 2 Thwarts
Weight: 70 LBS
Overall Rating: 23 out of 35
Lateral Stability: 3/5 – The tube diameter helped to make a very stable platform for a raft of this class. The difficulty I experienced with it came from a floor that was a bit wider than other rafts of its class creating a larger overall width. Although the boat excelled at not flipping and it did surf well, the boat did not run tighter slots as well as some of the competition due to the width. Where this primarily caused problems was in larger low volume multi-move technical rapids. The raft would often violently sideswipe a feature that a slightly narrower raft would have excelled in. That being said, this raft would perform better in an average river setting than a raft of its class.
Down River Speed: 5/5 – This raft moved quickly. The boat is an absolute monster in moving forward or backwards quickly. Crossing eddy fences were simple for such a small raft. Both top speed and acceleration were on point. And this would probably make a great racing boat for sprint and down river events.
Traction: 3/5 – Although this raft is PVC it is still fairly sticky. Having been in several models of different boats, I would rate this somewhere between Hyside’s late model rafts and an Aire raft. The drop stitch floor also negatively affected the traction rating which should be corrected in next year’s boats and ultimately improve this rating.
Rocker: 1/5 – This boat have very little rocker to speak of and is generally described as being scoopy. Largely this created a plowing effect over larger drops and it proved detrimental when dropping into steep ledge drop holes. The boat would stop dead when it entered a hole formed by a ledge. The boat also slowed significantly when it would hit the bottom of a drop and did not boof smoothly. It did however surf pressure waves very well and seemed to be well suited to river running.
Tracking: 4/5 – This boat tracked well with my only complaint being the amount of friction on the bottom of the boat from the drop stitch floor. The floor caused the raft to feel sluggish when changing direction, but not so significantly as to cause problems on the water.
Rotational Agility: 3/5 – This boat was pretty sluggish on the turn, again on account of the drop stitch floor. ARK did make a good improvement in this specific raft by raising the floor higher up off the water which helped to offset some of the issues.
Passenger Stability: 4/5 – The boat was pretty sticky so that did help to keep you butt on the seat. Also as a 6 foot 2 inch male paddler it did help that there was a lot of extra room in the boat with some wide thwart placement. The large tubes also helped to keep me where I wanted to be. My only complaint was the d-ring thwart system. I am not a fan of these systems in general mostly because I have 2 d-rings digging into my shin and because I have big feet a third d ring tends to crush my little toe.
As soon as I can get behind the stick of some other manufacturer’s rafts I will update this article. Alternatively if you have paddled a creek boat under 12 feet and you would like to offer up a review please feel free to contact us with your experience so that we can share it with the boating community.