Yesterday marked the start of “paddling season” for me, with the execution of my first “local” paddle of the season (I say local because I did get in some OC-1 paddling in FL and NC in January). Temps were in the low 40’s and all the ice had departed, save for the icebergs populating the passage from the access point to the river. Not good if your boat is named “Titanic”. But mine wasn’t, and I had no problem getting through the ice field to open waters and onto the high seas…or at least, free-flowing river. The first paddle always has a way of reminding me I’m not in the paddling shape I was at the end of last season... With the early paddle and icy waters, it seemed like a really good day for a stable boat, so I opted to take the new S18S demo boat on its maiden voyage (as well as trying out a new Stellar small-wing paddle). All went well, and I made back in plenty of time to vacuum. The only annoyance was the sun delaying its appearance until I was home and unloaded (the day was predicted to be sunny and warmer than the prior days; it turned out to be true – just later than I had hoped!)
It took a few miles to get back in the flow of things, but it was an enjoyable outing. And the S18S was the perfect boat for me on this adventure: very reassuring stability, but still efficient enough to be quite enjoyable. The (new this year) side handles really helped make getting the boat to the water more convenient, and the roomy cockpit and footwell easily accommodated my dry suit and neoprene river boots. I normally paddle with a medium-wing paddle, so taking the small-wing paddle gave me the opportunity to see how much difference there really is. It’s not huge, and my speed seemed to be pretty much where I would expect it to be, but I think I still prefer the bigger “bite” of the medium wing, particularly with my lower cadence at the moment. I did notice, however, that the small-wing was a bit more forgiving of technique errors.
As the temps continue to warm I’m looking forward to getting some seat time in the SEI; I’ve owned and/or paddled all the other Stellar performance surf ski line (S18S, SR, SES, SE, and SEL) with the exception of the relative new SEI. This boat has a lot of promise as perhaps the ideal speed/stability setup for me more “engaging” water conditions. I’ll let you know!