FSK (Fast Sea Kayak)
‘To FSK Or Not To FSK’
This is the original article which was edited and featured in the Ocean Paddler Magazine.
Boat of choice: SKUK Quantum
Paddles of choice: Vertical Element Wing Small
Favourite areas: South West Offshore!
The Eddystone; One of my Regular Training paddles
Buoy and Cardinal Marker Circuits
Fast Sea Kayaks and Fast Sea Kayaking isn’t new. Our fresh water friends have been paddling K1’s and racing since 1869. Kayak racing first appeared at the Olympics in Berlin 1936. Ocean skis have been around since the 1970’s and countries like South Africa and Australia have huge Ocean ski following. I am in no doubt that the Inuit developed fast kayaks for covering big distances and even racing to catch animals and game, hundreds of years ago.
Fast composite sea kayaks, were developed by companies like Kirton and Valley. Many brands have developed their own variations over the years and they are often the first kayaks to be dropped from a range, due to the small market and the specific design. A couple of kayaks you may not have heard of are the P+H Spitzbergen and the Point 65 XP18, both discontinued.
An FSK is a boat that has a high cruising speed. A lot of traditional/ expedition sea kayaks cruise at four knots, an FSK may cruise at around four and a half knots or faster. Often an FSK is not the only kayak which we will have in our quiver, and although most paddlers will have one general purpose or ‘do it all’ boat, we are moving into a time where folk will have two or three kayaks which have a more specific purpose. The scene is growing and folk are planning trips that are best suited to a particular type of craft.
This is where we need to talk about categories and paddling styles. Some folk in the paddling community wont appreciate the idea that sea kayaking could be categorised or split into sub-categories. Categorisation is a standard thing in any sport; think about it, a car isn’t just a car, a bike isn’t just a bike, a set of skis isn’t just a set of skis, and a surfboard isn’t just a surfboard.
What do you want it for, where do you want to go, what experience do you have, who are you going with?
Boats available on the market can fit into these categories/sub-categories pretty well:
Romany, Aries, Gemini SP, Xtra
Explorer, Nordkapp, NF legend, Cetus, C-trek
Fast/ Race (FSK)
Quantum, Rapier, Taran, Inuk, 18X
Of course there is cross over and there are models which are shorter, wider, higher volume, with or without rudders; a size and shape for every paddler and their gear.
I am really keen on a purist way of paddling; in my ideal world I would go back to the way I used to paddle. I had a skegless Explorer and if my boat had a skeg, I would disconnect it or remove it. That classic style of boat and paddling gave me so much pleasure, the challenge was increased and the fun levels were high. Being able to surf a longer, classic style sea kayak is very satisfying and the skill levels needed are much higher for those crafts.
One morning I crossed to Lundy Island, I got there pretty quick, I sat on the beach in the sun, chilled and ate some brunch. I didn’t know what to do with myself so I decided to paddle back. The way back was very different, the tide was stronger and there was an opposing wind. It was quite lumpy and I spent a lot of time edging, offsetting my strokes to keep on my bearing. My skegless NDK Explorer was at home there. When I got back to Hartland Quay in time for lunch, I reflected on the crossing. It was hard and challenging and that’s what I live for. If we make things too easy, they are at risk of being boring. Now though, things have moved on slightly. My goals have increased. I paddle further, I take the long road and I look for bigger water.
The challenges I set myself need specialist equipment. I can feel when something is holding me back and I can see and feel when something isn’t capable. Luckily I have a high sense of self-awareness so when that thing which isn’t capable is my body or my mental state, I train to change it. When that thing which is holding me back is my equipment, I change that equipment. I’m lucky to be sponsored by the best brands in the world and these companies provide me with the gear I need to make amazing things happen.
My boats of choice are the SKUK Quantum and the SKUK Romany. The Quantum is a mile muncher, super capable in rough water and is at home in the open ocean. The Quantum has a high cruise speed and can carry a lot of gear. The Quantum is one of the newest FSK’s on the market and Nigel Dennis and Petr Major have worked hard on every detail to make this boat a future market leader. Paddling a long boat like the Quantum allows me to do crossings and expeditions in really fast times and I can factor in downwind legs which speeds things up significantly. FSK’s love downwind! The Quantum has a great foot and leg position and the rudder is fantastic.
My other boat of choice is my SKUK Romany. The Romany is the best play boat and short distance boat around. It surfs amazingly well and has the acceleration to chute some pretty chunky rock gaps. The thing I like the most about the Romany is that there isn’t anything too extreme about the design. The Romany has simple, sleek lines and with a sensible rocker, it still glides and carves. Some shorter sea kayaks have crazy rockers and features which mean they paddle more like a white water boat and actually there is no point in them being so long, they may as well be fifteen feet or shorter.
I used to paddle a Tiderace Xtreme, which is a great example of a kayak that would be way better if it was fifteen feet. The rocker means the bow and stern ride high and the bow wave is more of a cushion wave creating resistance.
What is an FSK and what Defines one
An FSK is a Fast Sea Kayak; it’s a category (sub category) of sea kayak. An FSK is fast because it has a long waterline and a hull shape designed to cause minimum drag, being as hydrodynamic as possible. This type of boat will have a very specific design and purpose but most of the time its all about speed and carrying gear.
The following kayaks are FSK’s:
Some of these boats are quicker than others and some are better suited to expeditions than others. A boat will have an optimum carry capacity to utilise the hull and displacement; freebord affects the paddle stroke and draft affects the efficiency of the hull and increases/decreases the glide phase. This means that an FSK is subjective to different sizes of paddler and the equipment the paddler wishes to carry.
All of these boats will have a cruise speed of 4.5 to 5.3 knots, loaded without tidal and wind assistance. Even 0.1 of a knot is a significant speed increase/decrease in a kayak. This speed is an efficient speed, a speed that can be maintained over a distance. Of course throughout all of the categories (arguably sub-categories) of sea kayak, there is cross over of concepts and shapes which causes some confusion.
How do you get the most speed out of a kayak?
There needs to be a rudder or a skeg (the skeg can be built-in and integrated into the keel line) which causes as little drag as possible. This allows the kayak to track as straight as possible, even in bumpy stuff. Directional stability helps the paddler to put all their energy into propelling the boat forwards and this will add rhythm and power to each stroke and increase the glide phase. Having a rudder will put some of the control into the feet, again allowing the paddle strokes to be consistent and that will also allow the paddler to stay focused and engaged through the lower body. If a kayak is eighteen feet long, as much of that length as possible needs to translate into water/keel line. This is why you’ll see the stubby bow and sterns.
An FSK should be as narrow as possible but the purpose and load capacity will dictate this a bit.
Often, a kayaks width does not always mean more drag and a larger footprint; it all depends on hull shape and volume. The SKUK Quantum is 55cm wide and the Rockpool Taran is 52cm wide, but both of these kayaks have the same footprint.
Unlike a K1 and some Skis, an FSK can be built for expeditions and extended time on the ocean, this usually means that an FSK will need to be capable of traveling all directions, across all sea states.
A five-foot, eight stone paddler will paddle a different boat to a six-foot, thirteen stone paddler, both boats will be FSKs but they will be designed for purpose and capacity in mind. Also a smaller paddler may be able to control a smaller craft more effectively, adding efficiency and speed.
The whole ethos behind FSK is slightly different to standard sea kayaking, its about speed and efficiency, its about being fast and light and suiting your kit to the boat and your goals. On a recent trip around the top of Scotland I realised that some of my gear was not light enough and even small items add too much weight. I have spent weeks doing long distance trials in Scotland, fast hikes over Dartmoor and carrying climbing equipment. I eliminated as much weight as I could and I would usually carry no more than a fifty litre rucksack, even for multi day trips. Now my focus is on reducing my paddling gear in the same way, making my future goals even more achievable and faster.
Kayak and Hull shapes
V-Shaped, Chined, U-shape, Flat/box, Concaved
Swede Form – This is when the widest part of the kayak is behind the paddler
Fish Form – This is when the wide part is in front of the paddler
This is when the cockpit is the widest part
Manufacturers will pick the concepts and designs that are best suited to their desired outcome, which in this case is obviously speed. Getting the kayaks to plane is important and this will dictate things like rocker and boat length. Planing hulls have a flatter bottom and the sides come up from the bottom at a defined angle, this means that FSK’s usually have a U-Shaped hull. When the boat is given some speed, the flatter surface skims to the water’s surface, and allows the boat to travel faster with less effort as long as stroke rate/cadence is maintained.
Having a flatter bottom makes the boat responsive and allows the kayak to spin, which can make it difficult for a paddler to maintain directional stability, hence a rudder and/or skeg. Some FSKs have tried to be very modern with their designs and integrate both displacement and planing concepts, and some of these designs work very well.
Why don’t people that paddle FSK’s just buy a ski?
Ski’s are amazing, they are fast and its true, there is a younger, more hipster scene surrounding skis. If we buy an FSK for small training trips, paddling in the warmer months then a Ski could be a good option for sure. But we buy an FSK because it’s a kayak, it has a closed cockpit which means we can roll it and its warm inside.
Kayaks were developed by the Inuit for travel and hunting in colder climes and there is a reason why they are good for that. There are major arteries and blood vessels in your legs and we lose a lot of heat by exposing them; keep them out of the wind and in a warm bubble of air. In the summer we get sun protection and things stay cooler inside the boat.
I have spent hours on rough seas and big crossings, in an FSK we are self-sufficient, we don’t need support boats. We can be dynamic with our plan and pitch up on a beach if we want to. Some skis are like bikes, in which they need to be moving for stability. In an FSK it’s possible to have a snooze and eat your lunch at sea. Skis do have a higher seating position, allowing better power transfer, but modern FSK’s are adapting concepts and things have improved. There are pros and cons for both, but you get the idea.
Paddles!! Those of you that know me know that I often say that paddles are under rated and the right paddle is as important as the right kayak. Wing paddles are the go to paddle if you’re paddling an FSK, it’ll allow you to gain a lot more from your stroke. An FSK is usually a smaller size than those used by K1 and Ski because we paddle for longer periods with heavier boats.
Wing paddles can be ineffective though so get some coaching.
This is an in depth thing and keep your eye on future articles and photos. Or alternatively come paddling with me