29 January 2013

GEAR: a rudder like no other

I found myself constantly sweeping on my right hand side with my Greenland paddle to keep away from the crushing waves against the tall cliffs.
The mild swell of 1.5 mt and the stern wind of 15 knots were affecting my British kayak like I have not experienced before.

Beecroft Pen_cliffs_JAN13
in a bay away from the heavy seas
I often paddle in environments where wind is the only reason for a bumpy sea.
Even on my extended trips I have dealt with following seas and breezes with ease where a bit of skeg control would balance the weather cocking of my rudderless kayaks.
I used to paddle kayaks with over-stern rudders and while I found the cruising much easier than in a skegged boat I eventually abandoned the pesky blade sticking from the end of my boat.

The deciding point of getting rid of those kayaks with “crutches” came when for the 3rd time my rudder was damaged when paddling in waves.
I was not happy with the unreliability of rudders.
As I transitioned to skegged kayaks I learned how to maneuver a boat with my body (by edging) and sweeping paddle strokes while directional stability was taken care by the adjustable skeg.
I now have 6 sea kayaks, all without rudders.
There is no denying that a skegged kayak is slower for me and that I don’t keep a perfectly true course in following seas. That does not bother me: I am in no rush and I usually don’t like to paddle too close to my buddies to be then bumping into them if my kayak sways a bit.

But all that I wanted right now was keeping myself off the big spraying smashing waves against the rocky coast. I looked over to my paddling buddy and I noticed that he was paddling with greater ease and I didn’t see any corrective strokes.
He was paddling a Hybrid550.


The Hybrid550, designed by Andre Janecki, is a kayak like no other. It has features that I have not seen on any other boat. The thought process that went into designing and redefining that kayak is astonishing.
Unlike so many kayaks that capture my attention and look so similar to each other, the Hybrid550 is unique. Its cockpit concept is inspired by white water boats with outstanding ergonomics for this chunky body of mine while still perfectly accommodating a more nimble paddler. One thing that concerns me is the width of the cockpit rim since my, how can I put it, “love handles” might rub after a while.  I hope one day Andre will produce the Hybrid 550 L (larger cockpit) but I understand his priorities are with the “UNLIMITED”  www.hybridfoundation.org.au
What intrigues me however is the unique design of the rudder.

Hybrid rudder_1

As I was dissatisfied with my own rudder boats many years ago I looked at the alternative integrated rudder of Mirage kayaks. I liked the look and I like the idea of not having anything above deck, nothing to swing and insert in to the water with so many less parts moving resulting in a simpler design. What concerned me though is the fact that the Mirage rudder is always there, even when I want to seal launch or beach land and drag the kayak.
After repairing a few split rudder blades from friends' Mirages I decided that if I wanted a rudder boat it had to be stronger than that.

I did the initial mistake of confusing the rudder design of the Hybrid550 as a copy of the Mirage but I never had a real close look at the details.
I now know that the pivot points are totally different, the action of the swinging blade is different and the construction is nothing like the Mirage...
Hybrid rudder_2

I had a GOOD look at the rudder on the Hybrid550 and I have one thing to say: brilliant.
It can take a reverse surf landing, right on the blade. What other ruddered kayak can do that?
None that I have seen so far.

Hybrid rudder_3
rudder folding away and bending when being hit
I am a skeg man, I don’t paddle with ruddered kayaks. I came to the realization that rudders are not suitable for my style of paddling.
With the Hybrid550 however I now have to rethink my philosophy. 

Psychologists have found that familiarity breeds fondness: Repeated exposure to a new idea leads to progressively lower fear and avoidance and even, eventually, sometimes, to acceptance. (Megan Kimble)



  1. Nice! After braking the rudder on my Cobra Expedition a few times I made only from a thick black cutting board that does not kick up. It does not turn the boat as fast but it holds up well in the surf and keeps the boat straight in most any conditions except for surf.

    I'm glad that others are making better rudders, the ones for racing boats sure don't hold up.

    1. The rudder of the Hybrid550 is unique in many ways and I can't see how an over stern rudder could even come close to the design of the Hybrid. While the material of the rudders that I broke was weak (probably intentional) the pivot point is the weakest spot on an over stern rudder.
      I made some replacement blades in carbon/Kevlar but then the risk of breaking the anchor/pivot became too great for kayaking in developed seas.
      I have not tested the Hybrid rudder in really rough conditions but after seeing how it works I am confident that it would hold up to my use (abuse).

  2. “I had a GOOD look at the rudder on the Hybrid550 and I have one thing to say: brilliant.”
    Wow, the Hybrid R&D team should be celebrating right now! But I heard they are postponing until the Hybrid550 is included in your “Outstanding Gear” section. LOL

  3. (Tongue in cheek tease) Your buddy is also using a proper paddle.

  4. It looks like he is the same guy who offers "free" $500 paddle http://www.seakayakforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=72&sid=cc4a1ccb9dece48fd82d6c149c7fe891

    1. With the aid of some photos and/or diagrams can you explain what makes the Hybrid rudder so superior to the Mirage ? Just looking at photos of the 2 kayaks in question it seems that the rudder systems are very similar.

    2. I also thought that the Hybrid rudder was similar to the Mirage. As mentioned in the article above the pivot points are in a different location making the rudder swing on a more slanted angle allowing it to be also less prone to damage. The material of the blade is unique and the manufacturer offers lifetime warranty on the blade. In the very unlikely event that one could somehow damage the pivot points/rudder, they are easily replaced in the field with just a screwdriver. Unfortunately I don't own a Hybrid550 and I don't have any more detailed images that I could show you. I am sure that the manufacturer will be able to answer any of your specific technical questions. His details are on his website.

  5. Are these boats for sale in the US?

    1. unfortunately not at this time; Australia only

  6. I am considering buying a Hybrid 550 as a long rang expedition boat. My main reasons are
    1). I want an Australian made boat
    2). From what i can tell (online research) the construction is excellent
    3). From what i can tell it is quite fast yet able to carry a descent load
    4). I love new designs and people who chase there dreams.

    you did most of ur article on the rudder. Can you add some thoughts on what it was like to paddle please.

    1. Scott, to clarify, the Hybrid 550 is designed in Australia and manufactured in China. The construction is indeed excellent and there were absolutely no flaws in the samples I have seen. The construction is a honeycomb core that makes it very stiff but at the same time still light. It is in my opinion a superb kayak.
      Unfortunately I am a little bit too big (arse) and I don't fit the Hybrid 550 comfortably to have test paddled it extensively. There is a video that you might want to check out: http://youtu.be/uHdnAudWBeE

  7. Cheers for the feedback mate and the great web site. love your stuff keep it coming.


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