The Trifly kayak is a new innovation in paddling made by a small start-up kayak design company called 5th Axis based in Connecticut, USA. Articulated hull sections that deploy into outrigger floats is the primary concept; its sleek composite design is what has everyone who loves sit-on-tops excited.
I have not found it at all surprising that 21st century kayaks can or will be able to change shape and configuration on the fly; but must admit that at first the idea of deployable pontoons seemed a little outlandish. After our field test, however, we came to respect the engineering and the see the potentials of the TriFly.
First I would like to make it clear that the Trifly is meant to be paddled with the wings folded against the hull, like a regular kayak. The outriggers are to be used when the paddler is at rest and requiring extra stability. While some people have used the outriggers while moving, partly or fully extended, to act as sort of training wheels, they are not hydrodynamic and create a good amount of drag. Kayak fishers, bird watchers, photographers and divers are the folks who will benefit from the support of the deployed outriggers, as well as anyone who wants the extra stability, for resting and re-boarding. The Trifly is maneuverable with the outriggers deployed, just not as efficient with them pulled in for distance travel.
Glide & Speed
In our test paddling of the Trifly both of us were rather surprised by the glide and the speed (floats closed). I quite expected the hull to have drag at the join lines where the hull segments come together. While I am sure that there is indeed extra drag from these joints, it can't be much more than a wide multi scupper hole sit-on-top.
There is a bit of noise as the segments shift and bump with the leans, chop and course corrections normal in paddling, but not so loud as to be a real problem. Over all I would say that the Trifly glides quite similarly to other SOT kayaks of a similar hull shape and length. Not fast like a surf ski, but certainly not slow like a short recreational kayak.
A single scupper drains the cockpit, near the feet. It does a good job of draining the cockpit, but a depression in the seat area still holds a bit of water, common for many SOT kayaks. Your butt will displace most of that water, and those dressed for immersion will be quite comfortable, while warm weather will never be a problem of course. The forward cargo well, or tank well, drains with a spillway into the cockpit and almost directly into the scupper. While the scupper does have a small diameter it did drain quick enough for me during my tip-over drills. I would have to say that the Trifyly is probably not meant for the surf zone, white water, or very rough seas; so draining should not be a problem. I did not test in these types conditions.
The stability, outriggers retracted, is much like other similar SOT kayaks. I personally found the secondary stability was very good, while primary stability was adequate. Once the outriggers, or wings, are deployed the overall stability is incredible, allowing the paddler to stand, indeed several paddlers I am told. Standing in the flat-floored cockpit was comfortable and would lend itself to casting a fishing pole, better observations for photography and wildlife watching and possibly scouting the waters. (Flat water of course.)
How it works
The control mechanisms that deploy the outrigger wings are fairly simple and easy to use. There are two levers in the cockpit that deploy or retract the wings. They are made of delrin plastic. A locking knob on each lever is un-screwed to release the lever. Push the levers, one or both, to unfold the wing(s). Tighten the locking knobs. And now you will have remarkable stability. To retract the wings loosen the knobs, pull the levers back, and be ready for "normal kayak stability" once the wings are folded. Tighten the knobs again. Neither of us found the levers to be in our way during re-boarding or paddling.
Each wing is actuated with a stainless steel rod that connects to the lever, passes though the hull and connects to the arm, called a iako. The iako(s) are mounded to the deck with delrin fittings and the float, called an ama, is mounted to the iako with the same type delrin fitting.
We should have a short Hawaiian vocabulary lesson here, as applies to outrigger canoes and the Trifly kayak. The iako, pronounced "ya-ku", is the arm or boom that makes a bridge from the deck to the float. The ama, pronounced "ah-ma", is the float or pontoon. A Hawaiian outrigger canoe has one permanently fixed outrigger, on only one side, with two iakos supporting the single ama. The Trifly has two outriggers with one iako, on each side, supporting each of the two amas.
Personally I am a bit leery of moving parts on any kayak and metal hardware in a marine environment. It took me quite some time to overcome my resistance to a rudder, and even a deployable skeg, but now I am happy to have them on my kayaks. While it is true that the more parts the greater the chance of breakdown it does seem that the Trifly's components are sturdy and up to some continued use. Only time will tell for sure.
Re-boarding the Tryfly kayak after a swim is much like any other sit-on-top when the wings are folded. I did not find it any harder or easier to perform a deep-water re-entry using the standard "belly-butt-&-feet" method than with most SOT kayaks.
The wings can be deployed easily by a swimmer in the water along side the kayak. After a capsize or swim one or both of the outriggers can be extended to add stability to the kayak. In fact the swimmer can re-board the kayak much like a sit-in-side kayaker would do using a paddle float self rescue. Simply hook an ankle onto the iako. Pull yourself up onto the rear deck. Get your legs into the cockpit and slide in from the back deck. Roll over into a seated position, and if both wings are out it does not matter witch way you roll. The use of a stirrup could also be handy allowing for a paddler to re-board using their more powerful leg muscles.
A dock launch, or landing, could be easier when using one (or both if possible) amas deployed. I did not have a chance to try this out.
Portage, Car-Top & Weight
The kayak is heavier in the back than it is in the front, naturally due the extra weight of deployable wings. This did not pose a problem for me in wind or currents. (I did not however have it out in challenging conditions.) The bow cargo well, when loaded, will certainly trim the kayak very well. There is little if any storage aft of the cockpit.
One person can carry the kayak, overhead, and load it onto a vehicle once they get the hang of where the balance point is. Gunwale handles on the sides would help in lifting. It does require a bit of strength so I would recommend a center mounting boat cart for portage and a roof rack system with rear rollers, side extension bar or other lifting type device. I do not recommend dragging this kayak on any type of surface for more than a few feet, nor would I suggest a stern or bow mount kayak cart. Tandem carry and car top loading is good, but bear in mind that the bow person will have an easier job, while the stern person will have more weight and the stern handle is a bit far forward making walking slightly difficult. A three-person carry over a great distance would be perfect, just add an extra handle to the stern.
Construction & Design
The construction of the Tryfly is fiberglass, and the hull is foam filled. The current production weight is 62 pounds, but the folks at 5th Axis predict the weight will drop to the high 50s as they implement a new foam process. Delrin, the plastic in the components used for the moving parts hardware, is a high tensile strength plastic that holds up to U.V. light and is used in other marine applications.
I believe that the foam filling adds great strength to the fiberglass, allowing for standing in the cockpit, loading heavy scuba gear and longer lasting "moving parts".
The Trifly kayak was designed using Solid Works 3-D modeling software. The plug (prototype) was made using a 5th axis Computer Numeric Controller to shape the prototype boat from urethane foam blocks that were then fiberglassed for test paddling. This hi-tech software and hardware allow 5th Axis to bring a kayak from concept to working model quite quickly. So we can expect to see new boats and improvements of the original Tryfly soon. Indeed, some new features have already come to pass.
Those improvements that are immanent on the current design (Oct. '06) are; Recessed levers into the gunwales to control the outriggers. Better cockpit draining. Scupper(s) in the cargo well(s). And, hydrodynamic amas, probably in the next generation or new version(s) of the Tryfly kayak. A hydrodynamic outrigger system could lead to a very good sailing kayak.
Tryfly kayaks can now be ordered direct from 5th Axis, so you can specify color and outfitting options. If you desire knee straps, a SOT style kayak seat, side handles, rod holders, deck rigging or other customizations you should ask for these while placing your order and provide information on how and where you would like them installed.
I recommend this kayak for paddlers who are looking for a touring type kayak, and who require some extra stability when they have arrived at their on-water destination. For a few recreational paddlers the deployment of the wings will allow them to rest and relax, increasing confidence and enjoyment. Getting out on the water and stopping to enjoy it is a large part of "paddling" for many. The added stability while using a re-entry method like the paddle float self rescue can make a big difference for those who have trouble with a standard SOT re-entry.
There is a possibility for use of the Tryfly kayak concept to serve the needs of the disabled. Hydrodynamic amas coupled with appropriate seating and paddle assist devices such as designed by Mark Theobald of Disabled Adventurers could be of great benefit and we believe 5th Axis is thinking along these lines as well.
I can see a great advantage for kayak fishing people who want a "sleek paddle out" and then loads of stability when they reach the fishing grounds. The same can be said for kayak photographers and those who are into wildlife viewing. Looking through a viewfinder or binoculars can be a bit disorienting and reduce your ability to recover from a near tip, particularly if you do not have paddle in hand.
No doubt this kayak will attract the interest of kayak divers. While I personally have always donned my SCUBA unit while in the water (and still feel that as a preference), there are those divers who would like to don their tank and BC while aboard. The Tryfly kayak allows for this. I did not try any kayak diving during this field test, but I can see a seated rigging of the SCUBA unit with a roll over the side to dive. I can also see a re-boarding, maybe with a stirrup, while wearing the unit. Some divers have used a stern re-entry between the amas.
As I mentioned, it is no surprise that 21st century kayaks can change shape and configuration to suit the paddler's whims "on the fly" or while afloat. Indeed my buddies and I dreamed of similar such "morphing kayaks" a long time ago. While I very much appreciate the gear of yesteryear, like a wood and canvass canoe, or a classic poly kayak, I also like to see the new and innovated come into it's own.
5th Axis for more information or a test paddle:
300 Taugwonk Rd., Stonington, CT 06378
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