Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Follow-Up Review - Bliss-Stick Tuna (multi-day self-support)

As a follow-up to my first impressions (here) of Bliss-Stick’s newest creeker, the Tuna, I'll give a quick synopsis of how I felt it performed during our recent multi-day self-support trip down the MF Feather (CA). Keep in mind that this was only one trip, and like any other new boat, it takes some time to get used to its performance, especially when loaded down. That said, let’s get into it!

Prior to the trip I wanted to load up the boat with all the gear I was planning to bring. From experience, I know that trying to determine your packing arrangement at the put-in can be quite frustrating, especially if you're the one holding things up. Before loading up the boat, I always slide the seat/bulkhead all the way forward to offset the weight in the rear – knowing of course that final adjustments may be required in the field. Next, I started cutting away parts of the mini-cell bulkhead, in the stern, to make more room for gear; this included the two little wings running widthwise (new in the Tuna), as well as a large portion just behind the seat, so that I could fit my Ocoee Watershed drybag, for day use items. For reference, here is a list of the gear I was planning to bring:

Hmmm, I hope it all fits...

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Tarp
  • Bivy
  • Stove
  • Head-lamp
  • Water purifier
  • Cookset/utensils
  • Food (4 days/3 nights)
  • Beer (as many cans as I could fit)
  • GPS/Spot Locator
  • Maps
  • Boat repair kit
  • First-aid kit
  • Pin kit
  • Throw rope
  • Breakdown paddle (see how I made my own, here)
  • Toiletries
  • Camp clothes (cottons + rain gear)
  • Crocs
  • Camera gear
  • Misc items (e.g. batteries, sunscreen, screwdriver, etc.)

First off, I fit the breakdown into the stern. Conveniently, the slot between the seat and the side of the boat allowed me to slide the blades between them, saving some highly valued space.

A nice spot for the breakdown

Next, I went to loading up my Watershed Futa stern floats with anything I wasn’t planning to access while on the water. Making sure to load the stern bags evenly, I also did my best to load the heaviest gear toward the top, which would end up being the stuff closest to the seat. Another recommendation is to ensure that any fragile items, like a sleeping pad, are not loaded next to anything sharp, for obvious reasons. After packing the bags full, I shoved them into the stern of the boat, with a little persuasion from my foot.

Drybags packed and ready to be put in the boat

The stow floats shoved all the way to the back of the boat. As you can tell, I still had room for the rest of my gear, especially after cutting a small portion of the rear bulkhead.

Next I loaded the Ocoee drybag up with day gear essentials (e.g. maps, GPS, sunscreen, snacks, etc.) and fit it right behind the back-band, where I had cut away the foam. Finally, I positioned my Pelican case (with camera gear), just in front of the seat in the pre-formed holder – as trip photographer, this is one of my favorite features of Bliss-Sticks outfitting!

Locked and fully loaded!

Now that everything was loaded, I decided to weigh the boat, which I was a little nervous about. After standing the boat on end, I looked down to see the scale reading a tad over 80lbs, I was actually a little surprised I was able to keep things so light. As anyone who knows me can tell you, packing light is just not my thing – hey, I can’t help it if the kitchen sink is so damn heavy…

A smidge over 80lbs

Okay, enough about loading up the boat, let’s talk about how the Tuna performed on the river! The first thing I did after sliding into the water was paddle around the slow moving pool to get a very basic feel for how the boat differed with all that junk in the trunk. I still felt like I sat high in the water and that the trim seamed about right – a good first sign. Next, I threw in some power strokes to see how she got up to speed, and then drove into a couple of eddies to see how the edges engaged – so far so good. The last pre-test was to fire off a couple quick rolls, which it flipped right over with hardly any effort.

After everyone had launched, we headed downstream through a couple miles of class II/III water. Once again, I went to testing and getting used to all the basics with the boat. Some things that stuck out in this section were how fast the boat was and how well it stayed on the surface. That said, I did need to make moves sooner than I would have if it had not been loaded, and I blew a couple tight moves here and there.

We soon moved into some pushier water and larger ledge drops. Again, the boat attacked with speed and stayed very stable, although I did catch an edge slightly once or twice, which was somewhat expected, since I was used to the Mystic's less aggressive ones. The Tuna exploded through holes better than almost any other boat I had paddled in the past -- probably equal to the Prijon Hercules, but I could actually lift the bow as needed with the Tuna. It also seemed to boof pretty darn well, even with the additional length.

Seein' how she boofs! (photo by Jason Naranjo)

After getting used to the boat for a couple days on the water and running some much bigger drops, I started to really fall in love with this boat. Its speed and hole punching abilities were quite impressive, as well as how well it maneuvered (ferried, caught eddies, spun around, etc). The only thing I seemed to struggle with from time to time, was changing direction once it got up to speed; although, I've had this problem with every loaded boat on multi-day trips.

Testing the Tuna out in bigger water (photo by Roman Androsov)

My only other gripe, and honestly the most annoying to me, were those damn grab loops. Portaging with such a heavy boat was agony if I was dragging my boat with the loops – basically the flat metal strap is not comfortable to grab. However, I’m guessing the reason was that they wanted to create a low-profile design so things wouldn't get hung up on them, like your paddle. Believe it or not, this actually happened to me in the middle of a rapid last year while paddling Fordyce Creek (CA). If you don't believe me, see the following footage, around the 4:45 mark:

POV - Fordyce Creek, CA from Nate Pfeifer on Vimeo.

I’d never had this happen before or since, so I decided to take my chances and modify the grab loops myself, making them similar to that of the Mystic’s. Please note that this mod will reduce the holding power of the loops (metal plate vs. webbing only), and by modifying the grab loops, you'll be taking on the liability for any negative performance issues with doing so. My personal feelings are that unless you plan to use it as a point for Z-dragging the boat out of a pin, they'll be plenty strong enough. Okay, with that out of the way, here are a couple pictures of the new grab loops:

The old bow loop

The new bow loop

The old stern loop

The new stern loop

In conclusion, the Tuna is a solid multi-day boat, which is one of the main reasons I wanted one. I’m really excited to have a boat that performs so well both loaded and unloaded, essentially giving me a one-boat solution for all my creeking needs, which I didn’t feel I had before ( I would use one for standard runs and a different one for multi-days). This will certainly help with adjusting back and forth, as well as be a little easier on the pocketbook!

Once again, 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, 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.

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