Into the Vortex – a first hand review of the Unlimited OC6

The Backstory

We are a group of avid paddlers from Florida. We started our club, Kai Aniani, about 7 years ago.  Our first canoe was a light weight carbon Mirage built in Hawaii by Outrigger Connection.

Kai Aniani Canoe Club - Florida

Kai Aniani Canoe Club – Florida

Our second canoe was Spec Mirage and the third was a Bradley Lightning.  We also own a Fai V3 from Tahiti, that we love.  It does not surf that well but is very similar in speed to our OC6’s in flat conditions.  Our carbon Mirage has always been the favored canoe because it’s easy to handle in and out of the water and it surfs so much better than the spec canoes (yes we did place weights in her when we raced to bring her to 400lbs). However, we’ve always wondered, “why 400lbs?”…….. well, luckily the whole world is starting to question the need for ONLY 400lb spec canoes. Clearly there is a place for both lightweight unlimited canoes and spec canoes.

The Unlimited Class

I have known Mike Giblin for many years and have owned various models of his OC1 canoes as well as competitors’ canoes.  There is one thing that has always been different about Mike and Outrigger Zone – their advanced build technology.  It fascinates me!

When Mike stated he was interested in building an Unlimited OC6 I said, “sign me up!”  I was even  more pleased to hear that Mike was building a prototype on Maui first.  Prototypes quickly place one on the correct track and for sure Mike learned a lot from that canoe.  (We raced his prototype in the Pailolo Challenge this year.)

Back to the Vortex……

The design for the Vortex was completed, molds were built, and the equipment – including a huge autoclave oven – was constructed.  Mike stayed in touch with us throughout this process. True to form for such a new venture, some delays were encountered but we were patient as we knew that any delays would only mean a better product in the end.

On our return from Pailolo Challenge our new Vortex Unlimited OC6 was waiting for us!

vortex 4Having struggled a bit with the prototype the prior week in Hawaii we were of course chomping at the bit to get the Vortex out and see if the changes that Mike had made panned out. We pulled off all the packing and revealed a beautiful canoe, significantly different from the prototype…. shorter, more rocker, sharper entry, foot braces…. Yeah! The Vortex rigged so easily, everything slipped together like a glove, no mean feat considering every part is carbon fiber. The spray skirts were beautifully made and easy to get on and off. Each paddler has his own spray skirt. Excellent foot braces for everyone. The seats are a form of art on their own, nicely rounded fore and aft making carrying her a breeze. Under the seats are bungees for drink storage, go pro tube aft of steersman, self bailer under seat 4 ( I rigged up some bungee and line with a cleat to make it very easy to use). The Vortex is simply a work of art!  Many details were thought out that are most often overlooked.

Our club gathered and we blessed her, she was named Hi’iaka. With only the crew, we carried her out easily into the water….. No trolley, no army to carry her.  Her estimated all up weight is in the region of 155lbs. What a pleasure! However, what is impressive is the strength and rigidity of the Vortex more so than anything I have experienced or seen. She is solid and light!

We were one weekend away from a race and we needed to get her out. Well, we were ecstatic.  The canoe slips along so easily, tracks excellently and is really well balanced.  We had a small amount of motor boat traffic that day and she would take off on the bumps – no lag, no wondering if she would release, she was just better than we had expected.

So how did the Vortex Unlimited OC6 perform?

Roll on to race day the following weekend.  We paddled a mixed team and blew away the strongest men’s teams.  First home – this canoe works !!

lex-raas-2So…… the big question remained……. How would she go in some bump?  The following week we were lucky to have a nice sea breeze kick in with an outgoing tide setting up some great bumps – not that large, but fairly short and steep. Just the perfect test to see how easily a canoe releases. Now bear in mind we know our Bradley Lightning and our light weight carbon Mirage, both great surfing canoes.  We paddled our way out and the first huge difference was how smoothly the Vortex went through the nasty headwind chop.  We could keep her going and she would simply cut through the waves, her fine entry working beautifully!

What was very obvious was the fact that the Vortex did not hobby horse like our other canoes do.  This all makes for a very fast canoe upwind into chop.  We start to turn around and, OK first lesson, just like our V3 you have to muscle the Vortex around. (We have that mastered now.  Just a good sprint turn with drawing 1 and 2 with 5 drawing opposite.)

We pointed down swell and wow – this canoe accelerates!  The first bump we called for a push……. well, this was a whole new world for us.  Remember, we are not new to light weight and unlimited canoes, but the Vortex is a whole new ball game.  We not only stayed on long slides but we regularly pushed her over and down the next wave. What a blast!

We all came off the Vortex that evening saying this had been the best ride we had experienced, ever. The team was all smiles.

So, what have we learned in the past few weeks of our Vortex? Quite simply, this is one fun canoe and everyone in the club wants to get out on her. Our carbon Mirage ( just over 200lbs) is now relegated to the number two position in our little fleet.

It seems that the Vortex will be very well adapted to lighter teams as well, she gets her 1531657_806686262681313_1016540171_nhull speed up quickly and effortlessly. The “release” of the Vortex is something to be experienced. We did struggle with the prototype, but this is a different world.  All the changes Mike made are superb.

I have played with 3 settings on the front of the ama.  She enjoys the front up a bit.

We cannot be more pleased with our purchase.  In fact, we plan to order another Vortex and sell one of our other canoes. We plan to do The Liberty Challenge 2014 in the Vortex. The organizers have kindly agreed to accept Unlimited canoes as a demonstration event.  We also plan to do the Blackburn Challenge plus all the local Florida races in the canoe. Trailering a light canoe is also superb. Heck, two folks can load and unload!

Congrats to Mike and his team, what a wonderful result!  Well done!

lex-raasAs a closing note, my professional life is developing sail and power boats and I am very familiar with build techniques, high quality materials, and most importantly, high quality processes. I can unequivocally state that the Vortex is leading edge technology not matched by many in the world – it is closer to aero engineering than marine engineering.

by Lex Raas