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Topic: Learning the XT, did I lose my mind?< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
Capn Jimbo Offline
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Posted: Sep. 12 2005,19:07

Hi all.

This series will document my experiences with the Fenn Mako XT Surfski.  Altho this ski is not fishable (at least not now) it is certainly a very high performance craft.

A little background:  Surfskis seem to have been originally developed in Australia for lifesaving purposes.  The skis designed for this purpose were typically about 19 ft x 19 inches (more or less), and with a bow deflector to prevent perling and end-over-ends.  They could punch out through the most wild surf imaginable to reach swimmers in trouble, then bring em back in through the soup.

As a result surfskis are amoung the most agile and capable special purpose offshore and surf machines.  The famous Oscar Chalupsky recently won a 30 mile offshore race in...

3 hours!  That's an average of 10 mph.  This was accomplished by catching and using the "bumps".  He often attained downhill speeds of 15 to 20 mph.  Amazing stuff.  Talk about playing like the dolphins.

Now a true racing surfski is close to 21 ft x 15-17 inches.  Rounded hull with almost no primary stability and darn little secondary.  If you aren't moving, or have a paddle in the water you dump.  Catch a paddle, you dump.  Make any mistake, you dump.  Their purpose:  to start a race, go very - very fast - and finish the race.  Most are carbon, come in at not more than 25 lbs.  

The Fenn Mako XT is not one of those.  It was designed by the famous Keith Fenn of SA and is modeled after his Mako Millenium (a true winning racing ski, see dimensions above).  The XT is considered a good trainer and is used by intermediate racers.

Unlike all out racers the XT is as wide as possible and still considered a ski.  Unlike a racer it does have a bit of primary and a (relatively) reasonable secondary.  Like all skis the faster you go (and you can go very fast) the more stable it becomes.  But you can also go for a leisurely paddle as well.

Thus the XT is considered a good all around ski - trainer, racer, very fast tourer.  Built to go offshore and surf, but equally at home in the ICW where you can catch and ride even the tiniest waves and wakes with ease.

:capn:

Next: my first (and nearly my last) experience in the XT...


Edited by Capn Jimbo on Sep. 12 2005,19:30

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CrackerBoy Offline
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Posted: Sep. 12 2005,21:06

Hey all - My first post on this killer site. Cap'n, I've been watching your posts on the new XT with great interest. I really want to get one of these boats myself. I emailed Bruce and he says that he still has two glass XTs to sell. Have you tried a deep water reentry yet? I paddle off Pompano Beach alot in my T120, if I take the plunge and get my very own XT, we should get together and head offshore. Keep the XT updates coming.
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Capn Jimbo Offline
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Posted: Sep. 14 2005,18:20

First Ride

The first thing I must mention is the weight of my glass XT.  Despite it's 19 ft length it's just 37 lb.!   And believe it or not this is considered heavy.  It is a well constructed craft.  Compare to carbon racing skis that are 21 ft. long and weigh 25 lb.  Or to single layer glass skis that are so thin they depend on being inflated a bit (through a mouth tube) to gain rigidity for offshore racing.

But 37 lb. is just fine with me.  So easy to lift with one hand and throw up on you shoulder.  An absolute pleasure to load and transport even considerable distances with the boat on one shoulder and your paddle in your other hand.  

But I digress.

I'd had a brief ride on Bruce's XT and he seemed surprised that things went well.  That was over four agonizing months ago while I await delivery from South Africa.  To say that I was psyched to receive it and get it wet for the first time would be an understatement.  So I took the XT down to my usual launch in Pompano for my very first ride, put on my vest and leashed my SET 210 wing - a perfect match for what has been described as a great all around design (flat water, offshore, trainer/racer) with enough stability for the novice.

Me.

So there I was and there it was - bobbing gently and ready for the Capn.  I straddled it, popped my butt in the designated location, supported myself with my paddle while I slipped my feet under the footstraps, pushed off, and - freaked out.  The XT was ripping from side to side on invisible ripples from a light wind. I was overcorrecting like mad from side to side, amplifying the motion as my mind screamed -

Migod what have I done?  

Mr. Performance has met his match.  Reminded my of Frank and his hi-seated Isthmus rocket ship, er, submarine.  Worse yet - I wasn't even sure - in fact I was quite sure - that if I dumped, there was no way I could reenter this rolling spindle of a yak.  No handles to tow it with, at the mercy of the wind and current.  So
I stiffened up, couldn't achieve the relaxed state of mind and body required.  The truth is - the XT is considered very stable.

For a surf ski.

But way beyond twitchy compared to almost any kayak.  And I was still in the canal looking out into the ICW knowing full well what awaited me there.  Not calm canal waters, but actual ripples, wavelets, waves, wind, cross chop and swirling currents and floating debris.

No way I thought.  What HAVE I done?  

So I bobbed and weaved, tried to ignore the growing lump in my throat, overcorrected and braced and weaved my way down the canal, waited for the passing boats to pass and for the waters to calm, peeked out with fear and horror, and - inched out.  The frisky craft, oh so responsive, seemed to shoot out into the dreaded ICW.  And I realized I was committed - why - cause to my horror I realized that I hadn't really practiced turning, except once to aim it down the canal.

I looked the complete spaz, flaying and rocking, praying to the heavens and Neptune that I not dump.  Not be able to reenter.  Not chase my cherished new ride into the pilings and rocks and that line the ICW.  Not completely blow it.  So I managed to shake and carve, if that's the word, the largest possible circle to somehow return to the relative safety of the dead calm canal.

I made it.  And carried my easy-to-carry ski back to the car. Thinking the whole time...  what have I done, what HAVE I done?

:capn:

Next: Not a quitter, I WILL subdue the beast...


Edited by Capn Jimbo on Sep. 15 2005,12:54

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Capn Jimbo Offline
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Posted: Sep. 15 2005,10:42

Ride Two and Beyond

Well the dreaded first ride was over.  The XT seemed like it had a life of it's own, despite it's reputation for "stability".  Which it does have when compared to an all-out racing ski.  But really lacks  in comparison to a narrow sea kayak like the Skua.

Why?  The design features that make it fast - long length, sharp entry and rounded hull - also mask the secondary stability it does have.  Most sea kayak hulls display a nice vee-bottom and either soft or hard chines.  There is a definite if minimal primary, and a clear transition to secondary as a sea kayak hardens up nicely and predictably.

Not so the XT.  It does indeed have secondary.  But the rounded hull means it transitions very, very fast.  And it takes time to discover the edge which initially feels absent.

So on to Ride Two.  

My goal:  to push farther, cross under the nearby bridge and return without dumping (as I had yet to practice reentry).  I knew it was important to learn to relax, focus on staying vertical and allowing my hips to stay loose.  This is easier said that done as the basic beginner error is to tighten up (and go over).

I felt a bit more stable in the dead smooth water, and once again tentatively entered the ICW.  Before I could change my mind the current carried me under the bridge across what seemed like monstrous standing waves (but were actually minor ripples).

Made it and immediate turned into the next canal to regain my composure and work on getting comfortable in smooth water.  All my expert advisors (Bruce and the Yahoo Surfski Group) said start in smooth water and build confidence, then on to progressively rougher water - and above all, relax.

So I did, stayed in the canal for a good way, then returned.  Passed through the jaws of the Bridge of #### and escaped, undumped, into my launch canal.  Until I knew I could reenter it would remain difficult to relax.

Ride Three

This was a big one.  My objective was to learn to dump and reenter.  But to do so I'd have to go through the Bridge from ####, and perhaps another 3/4 mile to my practice beach.  I'd have to pray I wouldn't encounter boat traffic or cross chop.  I'd have to hope I actually could reenter such a narrow craft, and return intact.

All happened.

Made it there and practiced until I had at least 5 or 6 reentries, enough to feel competent.  Turns out the XT, with it's nice low cockpit gunwales, is easier to reenter than my Skua. On the ICW it was still dicey as I overreacted to every little twitch of this light and responsive hull.  But I was learning to relax and knowing I could reenter was a major step in that direction.

:capn:

Next:  The dreaded Lighthouse inlet and holding basin..


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stallion09 Offline
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Posted: Sep. 18 2005,10:24

Sounds great. Keep the post coming..........
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Capn Jimbo Offline
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Posted: Sep. 18 2005,17:52

Day Four:

My first trip across Hillsboro Inlet.  Anyone who's used this inlet knows that it can be washing machine nasty at times, particularly during full moon tides, as huge amounts of water come rushing directly off the ocean and crash against the western seawall.  Depending on the conditions you can have standing waves, huge and powerful eddies, 4 knot currents and cross chop and wakes from heavy boat traffic.

Fortunately I picked a weekday and found a period of relative calm.  Few wakes and some current but really pretty calm.  Took a couple turns around the Lighthouse Marina.

On this venture I learned to keep some pressure on the footrests, forcing your butt into the backrest.  At the same time focusing on relaxing, relaxing.  Keeping my heels in contact with the footrests, but yet relaxed.  Then using smooth, powerful strokes with good foot pressure and rotation.  I found that having a paddle in the water is like a moving brace - the ski and the paddle actually form a stable and predictable triangle support.  

Know too that I still took a conservative low knee position with the toe controls in line with the full foot heel rests, as I felt a higher knee position would simply raised my center of gravity (COG).  But the real key here was to focus, focus on relaxing, relax, relax.  

Believe me this more difficult than you imagine, as every little twitch, overcorrection, threatening boat wakes, etc. - all those things that have caused you much pause - your heart rises, you tense and stiffen up, and your fears are realized.  But I kept reminding myself and focusing on my legs - relax, relax.  

And somehow the XT exhibited the stability for which it is known.

All the experts agree that relaxation is key to success, and recommend building confidence every way you can.  Learning to dump and reenter.  Learning to fall gracefully.  To start in flat water and only gradually move into textured waters.

Starting in the ICW was probably not my best choice, but it sure accelerated the learning curve.  This outing was my best so far and I felt great - for the first time I began to believe the XT was doable.

Day Five

My confidence was not to last.  I traversed the Bridge from ####, boat traffic, cross chop, a somewhat messy inlet and returned without incident, but it just felt like a lot of work, overcorrection, quick braces, tension and not much fun at all.

I survived, but thought "Is this the way it's gonna be?"

Day Six

But I don't give up easily, and kept on heading out, almost everyday now.  Spoke with Bruce who advised that I raise my knees to get more purchase, better pumping and power, and more control.  Raised my knees to about a fist-and-a-half clearance and adjusted the toe controls to angle forward maybe 10 degrees to prevent any accidental ruddering.

At entry I felt ill at ease.  It was a new position, new feeling.   Although my COG had not changed much at all, it certainly did in my mind.  This ski venture is all about attitude, calm and mindset  and changing something - anything - was counterproductive.

But I perservered and carefully went out, determined to take it slow and easy, get used to the new knee position and rebuild confidence.  Headed down a side channel or three until things started feeling more comfortable.   Experimented, did some J-leans, looking for the edge and seeing what the higher knee position could do.

I immediately noted better contact between the heel rests and my seatback, could apply more force and felt more connected to the ski.  I could move my knees right and left for better edge control and J-leans (altho these are not really used with skis). And I could apply more power.

I decided to temporarily exaggerate my side-to-side lean when paddling (leaning to the side you are paddling on).  Of course this is incorrect, but it helped me to begin to find the edge knowing that the paddle would prevent a dump.  Coming vertical at the end of each stroke.

This was good.  I could apply lots of power, the ski took off and I felt in control.  At one point hit probably 8 mph. Had a great day, crossed the inlet under rough conditions.  Experimented with holding a lean, lean turning (both to the outside and inside of the turn), practiced bracing.  Even chased some wakes, did some minor surfing.  Learned to use the toe controls judiciously (a ski rudder is very effective, particularly at speed).

Again key:  relaxation, keep moving, keep your cadence up, be prepared to brace.  A great day!

:capn:

Next:  Was this a lucky day - will I ever truly feel at home in the XT?   Some conclusions and advice from the internet and especially Brent Reitz regarding what was for me the real key to relaxation and stability.


Edited by Capn Jimbo on Sep. 18 2005,17:56

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stallion09 Offline
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Posted: Sep. 18 2005,18:34

Great post. Keep at it.................... :D
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Capn Jimbo Offline
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Posted: Sep. 19 2005,05:35

This will not be the last post in this series, but I'd like to summarize what it's like to convert to the Mako XT surfski.  Keep in mind this ski is like a number of others that are considered good entry level training skis, like the Futura, etc.

These are shorter and a bit wider, 19 x 19 in the case of the XT.  Unlike some of the others, the XT can the potential to be raced as an intermediate racer.

All the experts say it's simply water time and miles.  All suggest you start in calm waters, gain confidence and work yourway into more textured conditions.  Here's a short list of learning advisories that I found helpful:

Quote
1. Use 1/16 bungie tether
2. Issue of reaction/response - tense, overcorrecting - leads to fatigue, which exascerbates problem.  Better to end session.
3. Relax, trust the ski
4. Relax, let hips ride independently with the ski
5. Intentionally rock hips, find the edge
6. Do some leans
7. Don't try to keep it perpendicular, let it go.  Worst - light to med chop
8. Speed helps
9. Fall gracefully
10. Sight ahead, keeping vision stable keeps body stable
11. Drive blade deeper
12. A paddle in the water keeps you stable and safe
13. Let it glide - brace at the ready - as long as possible
14. Full stop - balance with paddle like a high wire act
15. Paddle with hands
16. Feet in water adds much stability
17. Practice tight turns close to shore
18. Practice graceful falls and reentry in shallow water, then deep for confidence.  Find the edge, try to recover
19. Consider hip pads, seat belt


My discoveries:  It's all about relaxation, but especially the lower back.  It's not that your hips are completely loose, but more a factor of just "sinking in" to the ski, finding a low center in your lower abdomen.  Focus ahead (not on the ski), and on keeping relaxed.  Relax, relax.

I practiced an intentional lean with each strong stroke (like the old days with the Skua); this helped find the edge (but this is a bad habit, not too much as you'll have to break it).  Then slower, even cadence, relaxing into the ski, driving smoothly through the chop, not being too loose, but more just relaxed, going with the flow.  The yak wants to be stable.  After awhile you start being able to add more power, but with a smooth powerful drive through the water.  

The ski does in fact have a center - you simply have to "relax" or "sink" into it.  Think of the XT as big banana, the bow and especially the stern stabilize as the ski leans - a bit like downhill skiing.  I find it useful to focus ahead but not too far ahead, not on the horizon.  

Ultimately it's all about relaxation, and the Key Advise I'd like to pass along is from Brent Reitz, well known and published instructor:


Quote
My guess would be that the Initial Stability is the culprit causing you grief. This is something that you can get used to by "lowering your alarm level". By this I mean that you need to RELAX and let the boat "wobble" a tad and get confident enough to know that the Secondary Stability is there to "catch" you. When we paddle boats with low Initial Stability we get "Up-Tight". This in turn forces our center of gravity up higher in our bodies and locks every little movement to the boat hull. NOT GOOD! The result is a ride that is way too much work and can end up being fairly WET as well!

Be sure you are as relaxed as possible in order to "absorb" the little wobbles. The learned relaxation will allow you to apply power to the stroke. Concentrate on your breathing and lowering your "center". Be sure you are focusing your power from a point "down low, below the spray skirt" on every stroke you take.

When we are up tight or nervous, and sometimes that can be imperceptible to us, we are unable to apply good forward power with our stroke. This is because we need to be comfortable to have balance, and balance is necessary for power in order to get the most out of each stroke we take. That's why getting comfortable in your boat will not only make the overall ride more enjoyable, but will also greatly improve your power, speed and endurance.


On my last paddle I had one of those Zen breakthroughs.  I had launched on Sunrise near the bookstore to encounter some ski boats and lots of chop and was starting to tense up, so headed north into calm waters.

It was here I decided to stay in calm waters, slow down, relax my lower back, and let myself sink down into the ski.  To trust the ski.  As Reitz puts it, to "lower your center" and allow yourself to simply "absorb" the little wobbles.  Not uncontrollably loose, but simply relaxed and trusting the ski.

It is amazing!  

I found the XT staying level, sliding smoothly through the ripples, then wakes, then chop.  I moved into rougher waters and maintained my focus.  I trusted in the XT and it came through.  Even chop and wakes from the side, as I allowed the XT to simply ride with them.  Kept my focus not on the ski, not on the horizon, but somewhat ahead.  Again, not floppy loose, but solidly relaxed into the ski.

The difference was palpable.  Without tense interference from me the XT became a different creature - powerful, stable, slicing through and over the surface.  Reliable and relatively stable.  I actually found myself beginning to enjoy the ride and appreciating the smooth responsiveness that the XT offers.

This of course is just the beginning of a grand experience, but it does represent a breakthrough.  More later....

:capn:


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PALADIN Offline
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Posted: Sep. 19 2005,11:39

your a better man than me as far a patience

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               Mike
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stallion09 Offline
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Posted: Sep. 21 2005,17:33

Thanks for the update
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