For the last couple of months I’ve been paddling without a working skeg. However, today I picked up the P&H Cetus with it’s newly retro-fitted Hydro Skeg by Kari-Tek courtesy of Craig Pinder from Sea Kayak Services. Craig has had the boat for a week and kindly took a set of pictures of the various stages of installation. Huge credit is due to Craig for his personable and professional attitude, the quick turnaround and excellent glass work. The retrofit is never going to look as neat as a system installed at the time of the kayaks manufacture but he has done a truly superb job
Seeing the skeg fitted for the first time is certainly an eye opener. Two thin tubes and various small stainless steel connectors now adorne the inside of the Cetus. It looks a complicated system but, and it’s a big but, all the research I have done indicates this to be a remarkably low maintenance system which lacks some of the issues found with traditional rope/wire skegs (kinks jamming the wire, ropes sticking due to friction and sliders sticking).
Rope skegs tend to have a slider that runs along a bar pulling the rope up or allowing it to run back down as it raises or lowers the skeg. Wire skegs have a slider clamped to the wire which is pulled up or pushed down as it raises/lowers the skeg.
The Hyrdo Skeg is very different. It uses hydraulics. Pushing the control up or down forces the hydraulic fluid in either direction pulling the skeg up or pushing it down. Let go of the control knob and the skeg stays set at that position meaning you have very fine control/adjustment. The system is also designed so that the control cannot be ‘locked’ into a set postion meaning that if the skeg is down and hits shallows it is simply pushed up into the skeg box.
Trying the system on dry land for the first time, I was instantly impression by the super smooth operation of the skeg. Pushing the control knob forward to lower the skeg, I could feel the resistance of the fluid, but found I had full control using just one finger – no jarring or any sticky points, just a constant smooth movement. Retracting the skeg by sliding the knob back was identical with no change in pressure or force required.
This evening, desperate to try the skeg in earnest, I opted for a night paddle from Calshot. Conditions couldn’t have been more perfect for a trial run with a steady wind blowing. The route I took involves a dogs leg so I was able to try the skeg with a side and following wind.
On the water, the Hydro Skeg was just as simple and smooth to use. All adjustments were made with one finger. I found myself using my thumb to push the knob forward (lowering the skeg) and forefinger to pull it back (raise the skeg).
The actual skeg is a dagger blade style and at first sight, seems quite small. In use it proved itself very capable indeed keeping the Cetus running true regardless of wind direction. On the return journey I decided to purposefully leave the skeg down as paddled over the shallows that extend out a few hundred metres from Calshot Spit. In the dark, I could here the sound of the swell from the IOW Fast Jet Ferry crashing on the shingle. My paddle began to catch the bottom and I held my breath hoping the skeg would push back up without damage as advertised. I shouldn’t have worried. As the blade hit the shallows it simply pushed back up without incident.
The big concern with such as mechanical system is the risk or ‘breakdown’ as it were. Kari-Tek state that the components are corrosion free. There are no parts that actually need lubrication – the steel work is in the form of nuts and connectors at the end of the tube. The system comes with a ‘bleed’ kit to allow you to drain and replace the fluid if required.
Only time will tell if the system lives up to the claims of virtually no maintenance and robustness. I am aware that Douglas Wilcox has used a Hydro Skeg for a number of years without incident and the demo systems fitted to boats at Kari-Tek are purposefully not serviced to demonstrate how well they work.
So, to summarise my initial impressions – unbelievably smooth and easy operation, a genuine joy to use. The Hydro Skeg performed flawlessly and I am sure that I will be reporting back the same findings after winter seasons use.
The Hydro Skeg retro-fit kit can be bought directly from Kari-Tek. They also offer a fitting service from their home in Ayrshire. Alternatively, full instructions are available for those paddler with fibreglassing experience to fit the system themselves. If you want further advice or information, I recommend contacting Karit-Tek directly. I spoke in detail on the phone and via emails with a couple of the folks at Kari-Tek when I was researching the Hydro Skeg. They are fantastically helpful, interested and put up with all my questions and queries, a real first class service.