Gear Review: The Smart Track Rudder System
To rudder, or not to rudder? That was the burning question for many years. When I built my Pygmy Boats Coho in my living room (I was not married then) it was quickly apparent that the lines of the kayak were such that even in a partly finished state it would float in an un-aided straight line. Once finished and in the water that assumption was proved to be true. The Coho glides like a razor in melted butter. Turns with only minor body movements and paddle skills. For nearly ten years I have paddled without a rudder. I am a believer that in many ways the use of a kayak rudder is a handicap to paddling, not an assistance. It causes lazy paddling skill sets, or in many cases the complete lack there of. A rudder should only be an extra aid for when those certain situations occur that an aid to navigation is needed. They are not a substitute for gaining good paddle skills but should be partnered with them.
An example of this situation was when I spent months restoring a wooden kayak to new glory and attempted to sell it. The boat was rudderless and did not need one as it handled easily for anyone who could use a paddle. On more than one occasion I had to talk someone through how to turn the kayak around as they had only used ruddered kayaks and had no clue what to do without one. Selling the kayak proved to be a difficult task and re-enforced my opinion of a rudder.
I installed a rudder last week to my kayak. A decision based on many needs and factors. I am not as young as I once was, the sad fact of tendonitis have arisen, and looking towards the next stages in my paddling career it seemed a good idea. Most of the time the rudder will be up but I see those days when the winds gather against me, or crossing open stretches of current with the voice in my head repeating with every one-sided paddle stroke “do I want to work that hard?” No! Been there, done that and if I can take some strain off my arms all the better. As a photographer I have had to lose great shots due to the awkward nature of navigating a kayak while focusing a shot. The paddle under the armpit method getting rather old. Then there is the underlying subconscious idea of entering the Yukon River Quest in 2015 and to navigate the river without a rudder would be exhausting if impossible. So there you have it, after some research and sampling of different systems I buy a rudder and last weekend I took her out for a couple of afternoon trips to get accustomed to the new addition. I have to say it is tough to turn off the brain and switching off the need to steer the kayak via the paddle. The first half hour was a struggle to stop myself from this, and just let my feet do the thinking while I concentrate on forward strokes. It will take a while to flip that switch on and off without thinking, but I will get the hang of it eventually.
The Smart Track Rudder works! In a word, it is the most polished rudder system as compared to the more basic pulley controlled rudders with sliding rail foot controls. The foil rudder mimics the design of world cup boats to achieve as little resistance and drag as possible. An adjustment knob allows the user to make easy changes for better performance depending on conditions. The two features of the rudder set up that made my day on the water were the foot controls and the single cord to raise and lower the blade. The foot controls are unlike anything I have used before. My argument with sliding foot peg rudder controls, the standard is that you lose optimum paddler positioning with your feet moving back and forth. Losing that fixed, locked in feeling that gives the paddler the most efficient strokes. The Smart Track foot controls put an end to that loss of stability and give the paddler what they want the most. The foot pegs are perminently in two modes. A set mount for your foot with a separate lever toe control for the rudder’s direction. This keeps you locked in place, braced well while the slightest touch to the toe pedal moves the blade.
Installation of the system was fairly simple and retrofitting it to my wooden kayak was easy with the addition of a mounting bracket from Chesapeake Light Craft (I purchased the rudder system from them as well) that allowed me to avoid drilling a pivot hole in the stern of the kayak. Using a long-pin version of the Smart Track rudder housing with that bracket offered only minor adjustments to the boat itself was done in an afternoon. To anyone considering the addition of an after-market rudder system the Smart Track is the way to go. Priced competitively to the old standard systems makes the decision even easier and the set up gives a paddler what they desire. Ease of use, and zero compromise to efficient paddling and comfort.