V6 hot tamale!
Updated: Feb 28
A very versatile design: wave riding the V6 in Northern California
To research this review of the Epic V6, I put some miles on the boat in a wide range of conditions, including a calm protected bay, a tide rip on San Francisco Bay, a downwind run in a gale, and a surf session at a point break in Half Moon Bay, California. Here are some impressions of this innovative design…
Give someone a V6, and whether novice or expert sea kayaker, you will witness a euphoric glow envelop the paddler as he or she glides away into kayak nirvana. I have observed this phenomenon several times and must attribute it to the boat design rather than any supernatural influence. Once, on a warm midsummer afternoon on a sylvan mountain lake, I insisted that a friend who claims NOT to like kayaking (he prefers to SUP) try the V6. He paddled away and was gone so long I thought he was lost. He lost himself in V6 bliss.
V6 cruising on Silver Lake, Sierra Nevada mountains, CA
Wherever I went with the V6, curious paddlers noticed the sleek lines and outfitting. They wanted to know, “What is that?” Stated simply, the V6 is a hybrid design: a fast-touring kayak with a surfski cockpit. It combines the advantages of a sea kayak with the benefits of the modern, ergonomic open cockpit. Fiberglass sit-on-top kayaks have been around in various forms for decades, but the concept failed to capture the imagination of the closed-deck inclined sea kayaking diaspora. This may be because most sit-on-tops on the market today are heavy plastic beasts-of-burden, often with strangely misshapen and warped hulls; sluggish and cumbersome, plastic sit-on-tops might good enough for the daily abuse of a typical kayak rental operation, but the paddling experience is not very inspirational.
I believe one should feel inspired to get out there by their kayak. I want a light, responsive boat that is a joy to paddle, and I want to enjoy every moment of my time on the water. I’ve seen many new paddlers struggle and become frustrated with a boat that is too heavy and too hard to maneuver. Some paddlers just don’t realize they are working too hard with their “traditional” sea kayak when they could be enjoying the benefits of a modern design like the V6.
When creating the V6, Epic took a good idea and made it better. In their own words, “Epic kayak hull designs are based on data from naval tow tank tests, complex drag calculations, video analysis and years of experience. We use high tech lightweight materials. All our kayaks are CAD designed (Computer-aided design)”. The key hull shape concepts are full waterline, minimal rocker, plumb bow, soft chines. The result is an extremely efficient touring machine that gives an exciting, pleasurable ride. As a bonus, for overnight trips, the boat converts to a luxury yacht, complete with a wine cellar! (Read on, wine connoisseurs!)
Cruising on San Francisco Bay
During a November trip in the middle of a northern California “Indian Summer” heat wave, I packed the V6 with enough gear for 3 days to explore the bucolic Tomales Bay in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Tomales Bay is a popular destination for sea kayak camping and day tripping 25 miles north of San Francisco. Surrounded by rural landscapes, contented dairy cows, and a bit of wilderness within the boundaries of the National Seashore, the bay is 9 miles long and about two miles across at its widest. Sheltered from the full force of the ocean swells and breezes, and rich with marine life, it is the perfect calm-water kayak camping locale. I chose the V6 as my “expedition” kayak to see how it handled the demands of a short expedition. For previous camping trips, I used the Epic 18XS, but now I wanted to experience the freedom of the V6 open cockpit. I don’t travel lightly, so it would be interesting to see how all the essential gear fit in a boat 2’ shorter than the 18XS.
Packing turned out to be easier than expected, although it required some clever stowage techniques. A quick survey of equipment includes a 3-man tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, fresh food and water for 3 days, camp stove and fuel, pots and pans (including a cast iron skillet, essential for frying eggs), camp clothes, hiking boots, toiletries, books, magazines, binoculars, and 1 liter of red wine. The menu included fresh vegetables, smoked salmon, cheeses, stuffed croissants, and other decadent delights - no freeze-dried backpacker food would touch our lips!
Fully load on Tomales Bay
Because no wood collecting for campfires is allowed in the National Seashore, I hauled a 15 lb. bag of store-bought kindling on the rear deck, lashed so it formed a perfect headrest while laying back in the seat. Perimeter deck lines are a requisite safety feature on expedition sea kayaks, and the V6 deck lines provide convenient lashing points for a spare paddle and dry bags. The hatches seal by turning four simple yet elegant latches that lock securely in place. I had been skeptical about the reliability of these hatches until finding they survived a good thrashing in the surf, keeping the cargo hold bone dry. Stout handles recessed into each side of the seat allow for easy solo carrying – at least when the boat isn’t loaded like mine with the loot of King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
When carrying the fully loaded V6 to the water, it took two strong backs lifting from the sturdy bow and stern handles. The combined weight of cargo and paddler were close to Epic’s stated capacity of 335 lbs. (152 kgs); however, the trim of the boat stayed well above the gunwales, despite my attempts to sink it by overloading with gourmet rations. I could have easily carried several more of wine and remained afloat.
I am used to packing a kayak with food and water for 10 days during numerous expeditions to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. A loaded boat feels very different from an empty one. Nevertheless, once you get a freighter moving, she will glide! It wasn’t difficult to maintain 4-5 mph with the V6 in a 10-15 knot headwind. Choppy water made the boat bounce around like a rocking horse with stiff springs, but the “ballast” of cargo made it feel extremely stable. The group of novice paddlers I was leading on Tomales Bay managed to cover the 4 miles to our campsite in 90 minutes, including a leisurely rest stop on shore.
For the breezy conditions on Tomales Bay, I had the luxury of a Goretex drysuit. Northern California‘s coast is not as balmy as the beaches of southern California, and every NorCal kayaker must dress for the possibility of hypothermia regardless of cockpit style. Incredibly, during that spectacular autumn weekend on Tomales Bay, the weather remained warm and calm enough that I paddled the V6 without the drysuit most of the time, wearing only board shorts, a rash top, and neoprene booties to keep the toes warm. How perfect the V6 would have been for those many journeys on the Sea of Cortez, where a spray skirt is about as welcome as a goose down parka in Acapulco!
Water occasionally sloshed into the footwell and seat, typical for an open cockpit in choppy conditions. The V6 includes the same innovative bailer mechanism as all the Epic surfski models, which maintains a dry footwell in calm seas; you can open and close the drain in small increments as needed with a little push or pull the heel. This is a wonderful feature for cold water regions, but the retractable mechanism also gives the hull a more efficient glide when flush against the hull; however, the efficiency factor was undetectable in the loaded boat. I kept the bailer partly open 90% of the time to drain the “bilge water” and closed it once the footwell drained as we paddled in and out of small chop throughout the journey.
The freedom of the open cockpit
On the second day of the trip, we left base camp and paddled light kayaks to explore the far corners of the Bay. It was child’s play to load day gear in the two big hatches, fore aft. I packed lunch, plus several liters of water and extra clothing and emergency supplies This cargo weighed roughly 30 lbs, but the V6 felt like a different animal with the lighter load. It transformed itself from a luxury liner into a nimble and quick craft that one expects of a or fast touring kayak. It takes only a short while to get used to the “lively” feel of the V6, as the 23” beam is about the same as a typical sea kayak. The secondary stability is excellent, and you can edge the boat for sweep turns if desired.
The rudder is a spring loaded SmartTrack model: paddle over a rock or shallow area and it kicks up, then springs down as you pass into deeper water. You can also haul up the rudder part way, or fully retract it and cleat it easily with the haul line. I experimented briefly with paddling while the rudder was retracted; the boat has a minimal keel line to reduced drag, but it tracked reasonably well with the rudder uphauled.
So, why use a rudder at all? I asked Epic founder Greg Barton this burning question, and he explained with the precision of a mechanical engineer who happened to win two Olympic gold medals in kayaking one morning in 1988:
“A rudder adds roughly 2% drag to a boat. With a corrective stroke (such as a sweep stroke) you lose more than 50% of your forward power. Even a minor corrective stroke loses 20% of the forward power. It's more efficient to accept the 2% rudder drag and then be able to apply 100% of your stroke power in an efficient forward direction. Even Olympic sprint racers use rudders. These events are in a straight line on calm water - so you wouldn't think a rudder would be necessary. But over the past 50 years, 100% of Olympic sprint kayak medals have been won with boats utilizing rudders. Where races are often won or lost by 1/100's of a second, they have figured out the most efficient way to paddle (with a rudder).”
When you paddle the V6, the benefits of the cockpit become instantly obvious; the ergonomic configuration aids the paddler in generating a more comfortable, efficient, enjoyable forward stroke. I made a list of the things that I love about the V6:
- You can generate tremendous power from “leg drive” with the Epic footboard.
- Posture is better when the legs and knees are together, rather than splayed outward as in a closed cockpit.
- Core strength is enhanced in this seating position (knees and legs together).
- The cut-away shape of the front deck allows a very close catch for the forward stroke, critical to technique.
- No cockpit to flood with water, reducing a major safety hazard in the event of capsize and wet-exit in a decked boat.
- No sprayskirt, no bilge pump and no paddle-float self-rescue devices needed; less equipment to purchase and worry about!
- Launching and landing is easier and faster with a sit-on-top than a decked boat.
- The self-bailing open boat is inherently a very safe design – assuming the paddler can remount his craft.
Remounting the V6:
A stable sit-on-top model like the V6 is easy to remount side-saddle style. Like any remount or rescue technique, it must be practiced in the conditions one is likely to encounter. I would rather have an open boat for launching through surf, allowing a quick and easy “water start”, avoiding the potential awkwardness of a beach launch. When rafted with other kayaks, or assisting another boater, you can easily put one or both legs over the side of the boat for added stability, turn around in the seat, and even hop off the boat and hop back in if needed in a jiffy.
There will always be a time and place for a closed-deck boat. I grew up paddling decked kayaks and learned the Eskimo roll (with or without a paddle when necessary!). If you paddle in an environment where rolling is essential - such as whitewater, or ocean rock gardens - then you can make a strong case for decked boats. If you don’t have a reliable Eskimo roll, then an open boat like the V6 should strongly be considered for use in open water; it will also save you hours of laborious rescue practice, since re-entering a swamped sea kayak in rough water can be a tricky business. And yet, if you care about performance and hull speed, options for quality sit-on-top kayaks remain limited. A setup like the V6 offers a very appealing solution to the safety problem inherent in a decked kayak.
All things considered, after years of paddling traditional kayaks on the ocean, the verdict is in: I am a reformed decked boater, and love the freedom of the open cockpit! After the invigorating nature hike, a sea breeze greeted us back on the water. Our group enjoyed a thrilling downwind ride for several miles to camp, staying close to shore for a margin of safety and protection. While paddling slowly, the V6 occasionally broached in the wind waves as the rudder disengaged from the water. I realized this was due to the fact that I was moving too slowly, and that the bow turned slightly into the wind like any kayak; however, this was easily corrected by paddling forward at a slightly faster pace, and letting the rudder do its job. “Weathercocking”, the bane of many kayaks, is not an issue for the V6 if the rudder is deployed.
As we approached our campsite, 3’ high wind waves rolled along in perfect lines of corduroy. I waited until the last paddler had rounded the point and turned into the shelter of our little cove, then I paddled back upwind for a few minutes to get one more downwind rush in the V6. I turned the boat around and with a couple good strokes, she bolted like a rental horse back to the barn. Suddenly, it felt like I was on a elite surfski, linking waves, surfing a glassy roller for a hundred meters without taking a stroke, and working the rudder gently to keep the boat in the sweet spot. It was shocking to discover the V6 surfed so well. I knew it was fast for a 16’ kayak, but it turned out to be one hot tamale! Whooping and hollering, I waved to the campers on shore to show off. I headed to the beach for another fine night of seaside camping. We had fresh oysters to eat around the campfire, and red wine to sip. Tomorrow, the V6 would transform itself back into a touring machine and take me safely home with style and grace.
V6 surfing action:
EPIC V6 SPECIFICATIONS Length: 16' 00" (4.88 m)
Width: 23" (58.4 cm)
Depth: 11.5" (29.2 cm)
Capacity: 335 lbs (152 kg)
Bow - 18.9 Gals. (71.5 liters)
Stern - 27.2 Gals. (103 liters)
35.3 lbs (16kg)
· Infusion grade foam core
· A composite hybrid of fiberglass, carbon fiber, and Kevlar
· Vacuum infused, heat-cured epoxy
· Black bow & stern
33.1 lbs (15 kg)
· Nomex honeycomb core
· A Composite hybrid of Kevlar fabric, carbon fiber and fiberglass
· Vacuum bagged, heat-cured epoxy
· Red bow & stern