Tuesday, May 15, 2012

First Impressions - Bliss-Stick Tuna

Before getting into my review of Bliss-Stick’s newest creekboat, the Tuna, let me first give you a little background about myself. Standing 6’1” and weighing in at ~180lbs, I’ve been boating for about eight years and have pretty much focused my energy on steep creeking, my true passion. My first creekboat (of sorts) was a Pyranha H3, and for the most part I've stayed with planing hull creekers ever since. Once the Burn came out I switched to that for a couple of years, which I thought was a great boat. Eventually I sold it, wanting to try something new -- the boat I ended up choosing was the Bliss-Stick Mystic. I’ve always cherished the Mystic but didn’t realize how much until I started trying other boats again, partially due to a dwindling supply of Bliss-Stick boats in the Pacific Northwest. First the Magnum, then the Nomad, and eventually back to the Burn. Although I loved the maneuverability, eddy catching, and boofing prowess of the Burn, it always gave me troubles in boily/swirly water, one downside to those razor sharp edges. Since I still had my Mystic, all was not lost.

So why not just continue to paddle the Mystic? That’s a good question, and I’ll probably always have one in my quiver for runs that are steep and tight. That said, for bigger water and/or multi-day self-support runs, I wanted something with more volume as well as speed. This is actually why I had tried a Nomad (8.5), but with its displacement hull, I had a hard time getting used to it – it just felt way too mushy and hard to maneuver, like a Cadillac as opposed to a sports car. Then I heard about the development of the Tuna, and I immediately started salivating. Rumors told of a longer, higher volume, faster version of the Mystic -- I eagerly awaited its arrival.

Fast-forward to mid-April and the time had finally come. The Tuna had reached US shores, all the way from New Zealand! I impatiently emailed Bliss-Stick USA to find out how to get my hands on one. A week after I decided to pull the trigger, my new boat was delivered to Portland, where I drove to pick it up – the very first Tuna in the PNW!

Loaded up and ready to head to her new home!

After getting the boat home, I peeled back the packaging and gave it the once over. First off, I love the outfitting in the Mystic, and the Tuna seemed to have kept everything intact, including the adjustable thigh-cups and compartment in front of the seat for a Pelican drybox -- good news so far. Next, I flipped the boat over and noticed that the hull was flatter and the edges sharper than that of the Mystic. The bow rocker seemed to be about the same, but with a little less in the stern. The additional 6" to the length was also evident, and it looked a little less bulbous overall. Finally, the sidewalls at the hip location were brought down fairly low, so I assumed it would roll like a champ.

It's like Christmas time!

 Same great outfitting as the Mystic!

With my Pelican case that fits perfetly

The adjustable thigh grips, which really allow you to dial in the fit

The extra length even allows me to store my 2-piece breakdown. To see a tutoral on how to make this breakdown, see my instructions, found here.

A little fatter hull and sharper edges than the Mystic

A height comparision of the Mystic (8') to the Tuna (8'-6")

Comparing the Mystic's higher sidewalls (top), to the Tuna's much lower ones (bottom). This really helps out when rolling the boat.

Comparing bow & stern rocker between the two boats. As you can see they have about the same bow rocker, but the Mystic has slightly more in the rear.

 Another view of the bow (top) and stern (bottom) rocker comparison

 A couple of things I didn't like as much about the boat was the newly styled grab loops (in front and back) and the elimination of the side security points located just behind the seat on the Mystic. The grab loops are made of webbing wrapped over a flat/rigid strap, with minimal clearance between it and the boat to get your hand through -- this makes it kind of difficult/uncomfortable to pick up the boat from. The lack of the two security points eliminates a convenient place to hook into a pinned boat or use for setting up a backpack system (for self-support hike-ins). These are both minor gripes, and I'm assuming Bliss-Stick had their reasons for making these changes, at least for the latter. Now that I had spent plenty of time drooling over and critiquing the inert piece of plastic known as the Tuna, I couldn't wait to get it out on the water to see how it came to life!

The grab loops. Although it may look like it, it's not the most comfortable place to grab the boat from...

Note the security points behind the seat on the Mystic (top). They are M.I.A. on the Tuna (bottom).

 The following Saturday it was time to get my new toy out on the water. The test would be on the “Miracle Mile”, a mile long and congested boulder garden that drops 250fpm, our staple run during spring runoff. I hadn’t really planned to use the Tuna as my go-to boat for the typical steep/tight runs in the area, but figured what the hell, let’s see what this puppy is capable of.

Based on the internet gauge, it looked like The Mile would be sitting just over a foot on the bridge gauge, which is a great medium flow. To boot, the forecast called for bright sunny skies and 80 degree temps, the first day for wearing shorts of the season! Since the run is only a mile long, we (Roman, Matt, and I) decided to jog the shuttle between laps instead of taking two cars. After changing into our boating gear, I dragged my new boat to the side of the river, popped my sprayskirt on, and slid into the water.

Pulling away from the bank, the first thing I noticed was that I felt higher in the water than the Mystic, which was to be expected due to the additional volume. I usually like to sit a little further down in the water, which makes me feel a bit more stable, but after rocking my hips back and forth and paddling around a bit, it appeared that the Tuna had great initial stability. During the ~1/4 mile II/III warm-up stretch, I played around, catching eddies and ferrying across jets of water from one side of the river to the other – I wanted to get a feel for the boat before dropping into the meat of the run. I had assumed it would ferry well, which it did, but I was a bit surprised with how well it caught tight eddies. Okay, it seemed to perform well in the mild stuff, but let’s see how she does when things get a little more hectic!

As I dropped under a pair of overhead logs and into “Initiation”, the boat rocketed along, and seemed to glide over or through everything with little effort. The boat was also turning well, but I would need to get used to the increased speed. Since Initiation is probably the most opened up stretch of the run, it would be interesting to see how it handled the tight moves and reactionary boating that the rest of the run is known for. For reference, although the run has individually named drops, it’s basically one continuous boulder garden. That said, there are plenty of eddies to catch your breath on the way down.

Speaking to the Tuna’s performance over the remaining stretch, I would have to say that I was extremely pleased with how well it maneuvered between and around boulders, even with the extra speed. It peeled into eddies with ease, and I never felt like I was going to get blown out the downstream side of the eddy, like I had in the Nomad. Now, I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it gives you whiplash while eddying out (like the Burn), but it also didn’t seem to catch its edges in squirrelly water, which is a fair tradeoff in my opinion. The speed of the hull also allowed me to make ferries with less effort than they had in the past.

The Tuna was right at home on the steep and technical (photo by Roman Androsov)

As well as blasting through holes (photo by Roman Androsov)

Eddying out to take a breather (photo by Roman Androsov)

Back at it on the second half of the run (photo by Roman Androsov)

A great day for the new boat... (photo by Roman Androsov)
...and one happy customer! (photo by Matt Cline)

Unfortunately The Mile doesn’t have a lot of great opportunities to test the Tuna’s boofing ability, or big water features to test its performance in juicy hydraulics, so currently I can only give you my impressions of how well it did on steep and technical. In the future I’ll be posting follow-up reviews, testing under different conditions, including self-support multi-day runs.

So, to summarize my first impressions of the Tuna:
This boat impressed me so much it might just become the weapon of choice for all my creeking needs. I know that there are a lot of great boats out there to choose from, including the ones I mentioned above; however, if you're looking for a planing hull creeker in the 80 gallon range, with tons of speed and remarkable maneuverability, the Tuna should be at the top of your list. Head over and check out the Tuna at the Bliss-Stick US website, here. If you any questions you can also contact them directly by email at Kayaks@bliss-stick.us, or by calling (423)619-4680. Feel free to ask me any questions as well; if I can't answer them, I'll send you to someone who can.

Here's a quick look at the stats:
Length: 8’6”
Width: 26.5”
Volume: 78 gal
Weight: 46lbs
Paddler Weight Range: 120lbs-250lbs

And, a short list of my pros & cons to date:
  • Overall performance!
  • Fast hull speed
  • Sharp edges (but not too sharp)
  • Lots of bow rocker
  • Low sidewalls for easy rolling
  • Plenty of volume to stay on top of things and load it up with gear
  • Same top-notch outfitting as the Mystic
  • No side security points behind the seat
  • Slightly dysfunctional grab loops
  • Takes a little time to get the boat if you live outside of the Southeast

And finally, here is some POV footage of my the maiden voyage with the Tuna. What a great day on the water! 

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