by Allen Shah
Recently I and Tom Humphries, had the opportunity to test a boat that is being newly marketed as an ocean rock garden competitor. The Stinger, already established as a river whitewater boat is now entering a new niche, and we are told that we are the first to take this boat into our playground, the great pacific of northern California.
The conditions for this test were mild, with swells averaging 2-3ft, in a rock garden environment including pour overs, slots and caves. There was no significant surf to speak of, so considering the limited conditions in which we tested the boat, here are some of our impressions.
We have paddled a number of boats through rock gardens, including Delphins, Alchemies, Fusions, Hammers, and assorted other whitewater boats, but we both found that the Stinger is closest in characteristics to the Green Boat, which we are impressed with overall, and for that reason I will be doing some comparisons to that boat in this review.
Please refer to a previous review on this blog for an extensive evaluation of the Green Boat, along with some others.
The boat we demoed was not the XP version outfitted with the skeg or hatch, which will be on the boat for purchase. However I do not tend to deploy a skeg while rock gardening, and the boat with a hatch will not have a bulkhead, so weight will likely not be affected.
The boat is 12.5 ft, with a 24.25 width, and is listed as being 55lbs.
The stinger has a comparable bow in size and shape to the Green Boat, but the stern is elongated and more tapered, with more rocker. The chines on the Stinger are softer than those of the Green Boat, but extend much further, to the bow in front, and aft, where it melds into the seam, which is flush along most of the boat, but becomes sharp and pronounced as it extends to the tip of the narrow stern.
The Stinger has a relatively elevated foredeck, and is lower behind the cockpit, and the keel is flattened into a planing hull, compared to the Green Boat. With the lower aft deck I found this boat easy to roll.
The outfitting is good, considering there was not the stock foam in this demo available, and both I (5’11” and 165lb) and Tom (5’10” and 150) were able to find a good fit.
The seat can be moved front to back, and elevation can be changed, as well, depending on the confidence of the paddler with stability vs aggressiveness. For our demonstration the seat was in it’s lowest position, and moved forward to the maximum.
Without speed I found the Stinger reasonably stable, but not quite as stable as the Green Boat, possibly owing to harder chines extending to the stern, which tends to ride low in the water, while Tom felt no adverse instability, stating, “there is no sharp edge or carving rail to the outside of the flat section to be overly grabby when (in) chaotic waters.”
At slow speed, I found the Stinger to track fair, and in my opinion will greatly benefit from having the skeg deployed. Both myself and Tom felt it did not respond quite as well to paddle strokes as the Green Boat did at slow speed.
Tom points out that the Stinger performed flat spins quicker, which I also agree with, due to the planing hull, which also allows this boat to bounce over incoming waves it is facing with ease.
Where the the Stinger separates itself is in acceleration after catching a wave, and as Tom comments, “ I think everyone that test paddled this boat had a surprise moment, getting caught off guard with the speed. Shooting through features requires anticipation, almost pre-emptive timing.”
After my initial surprise with this unexpected acceleration I was able to try it again, employing an early and aggressive edge, and the elongated stern with the seam/hard chine seemed to lock in with remarkable stability. With the speed, momentum and higher volume in the bow, it pretty much carved through everything in front of me, and in this test, on occasion, to nearly 180 degrees without using a paddle stroke.
Tom comments, “with speed it holds a line and carves like it’s on a rail.” and I found that with the sharp and controlled arc of its carve, it can fit through tighter spaces than significantly shorter boats.
We both concluded that the Stinger really shines at speed, in a dynamic environment, and richly rewards aggressive edging and body english, and the speed can either surprise the paddler, or be harnessed to great advantage with proper skill and execution.
Tom concludes, “I would place the Stinger between the Green Boat and the P & H Hammer, though more toward the Green Boat. That the Stinger is most easily compared to two of the best current playboats says a lot in a positive way IMHO.”
I conclude that I would not recommend this boat as an entry level rock garden boat, as I think there are more stable platforms with which to develop basic skills, but for those with the desire to raise their game in dynamic rock garden environments, as well as the skills they employ there, I think this would be an excellent choice.
A little extra by Bill Vonnegut
As Allen was finishing this spot on review, Gregg Berman and myself were able to take my Hammer and the Stinger out for a little comparison. We were able to get the boats into some larger conditions and found the biggest thing we liked about the Stinger was exactly what Allen and Tom described about the boat accelerating out of pour overs. Whereas the Hammer would seem to power through them. The dynamic stability running features seemed about the same. Though the primary stability of the Hammer was more solid, however that same stability seemed to make the Hammer get pushed around more in swirling water.
When getting hit by a wave from different directions the Hammer seemed to hold its own, where the Stinger got pushed around more. I do prefer the lower cockpit of the Stinger over the Hammer, but all in all there are no WOW! differences between these boats and a decision should be made by paddling them both and deciding what you like in a boat.