Review: Fenn Mako 6
Wednesday, 12 April 2006
Early in 2005 an outspoken manufacturer told me, “90% of paddlers can’t cope with top-end skis and shouldn’t be on them.” He was referring to the then current crop of tippy high-end surf skis.
Then the Epic V10 burst onto the scene – and here was a fast, fun, top-end ski that could be handled by paddlers with less than perfect balance. (Click here for our review.)
And last week a demo Fenn Mako 6 arrived in Cape Town. Reports from Durban and East London spoke of its speed and stability.
How would it compare with the other new skis? Would it be as stable; as fast; as comfortable? Could it be even better?
To my delight, I got hold of it last Saturday, and this review is the result…
The Mako 6 has an elegant, clean shape and the finish is excellent. The simple, rounded foredeck is reminiscent of the old Fenn Mako, and Keith Fenn said that he reverted to it because it makes the vacuum bagging process - a nightmare with the Millennium’s complex deck shape - easier.
The seat is based on the Millennium’s, widened slightly at the front of the bucket and was first used on the front of the Fenn XT Double ski. The hump between bucket and single footwell was lowered by some 40mm after some shorter paddlers found themselves unable to reach the rudder pedals on the double ski.
The footwell (which measures the same as the V10’s) has fully adjustable rudder pedals. The pedals come equipped with the holes necessary to take auto-adjusting rudder lines. (The concept was, I’m told, originally developed by Hubby Sandberg in Knysna). The Mako 6 however comes with steel cable installed. A small Allan Key is required to adjust the locks on the cables.
In contrast to the V10’s highly effective single drain hole, the Mako 6 has twin drains set at the front of the footwell – too far forward in my view as you can’t just shove in a block of foam in front of the rudder pedals to reduce the volume that can fill with water – because the drain holes would be blocked.
The hull itself narrows sharply in front of the seat – a feature enabled by the narrowness of the single footwell. When compared to the Fenn Mako, the width of the hull behind the seat has been extended further aft before it tapers down to what appears to be a very similar tail to the Millennium – except that there’s about 30mm more rocker. The hull has been flattened slightly under the seat.
Click here for a larger version of this photo.
What better way to test a new ski than to take it on a Millers run? This exhilarating, well-loved Cape Town route takes you out to sea from the launching ramp at an angle to the swell and the wind for just under a kilometre to Bakoven Rock where you turn downwind and paddle for about 12 kilometres across False Bay past the Roman Rock lighthouse to Fish Hoek. The ski’s performance would be tested in both cross-swell and downwind conditions.
Click here to see the GPS trace on MotionBased.
Firstly, the ski is incredibly comfortable. Everyone I’ve spoken to raves about the V10 cockpit – but while I do find it comfortable, I had to install a bum pad to prevent it from rubbing my coccyx raw. The Mako 6 bucket suits my apparently abnormal backside perfectly and I found it snug without being too tight. It’s narrow enough to stop me from sliding about, but doesn’t interfere with my rotation. An hour’s hard paddle resulted in no sign of chafing whatsoever.
However, the foot strap is designed in such a way that there is very little room for your feet, which are forced tightly together. After a few minutes I got used to it and forgot about it; but my paddling buddy Dale Lippstreu, who is equipped with broad spade-like appendages, found it painful – to the extent that his feet cramped and he was still in pain the day after he paddled the ski.
The ski is extremely stable – I shot out to the rock without bracing once on the way. I then paddled as hard as I could in a circle, in order to experience the waves and wind at all angles. On my old ski, I would simply be unable to do this – even if I didn’t actually brace, my rhythm would have been upset by the ski tipping over at some point. Not on this ski. The Mako 6 is as stable as the V10 – if not more so.
And how did it go downwind? The run from Bakoven Rock to Fish Hoek took me 51:15, beating my previous personal best by two or three minutes. The stability of the ski has not translated into sluggishness – it feels fast and responsive. When it broaches – which it did a couple of times due no doubt to my own incompetence - it doesn’t do so viciously. When it happened, I found that the ski would turn firmly but uncontrollably until it was parallel to the waves whereupon the rudder would bite and it would turn easily back on course.
The cutaway at the back of the seat makes it easy and comfortable to lean back – I’ve noticed at least three new skis with this feature and it makes a lot of sense.
On other skis I’ve found the power of my stroke compromised by my feeling of instability – especially at the critical point where you should be applying all your strength to accelerating onto the wave. On the Mako 6 (as on the V10), the stability of the ski allowed me to catch waves that I would normally have fallen off.
Someone commented that they thought the footplate below the pedals flimsy. I found that I was pushing against the bar to which the pedals are attached – the force was directed under the arches of my feet so the “flimsy” footplate doesn’t worry me – but it might worry some users.
A ski that I’ve paddled recently (another two Millers runs in the last week) is the old Fenn Mako – the model before the Millennium. How does it compare with the Mako 6? Before I paddled the ‘6 I found the old Mako great fun – also responsive and lively in the waves. But on trying it again minutes after I reached Fish Hoek on the ‘6 I found it both unstable and uncomfortable by comparison. I felt as if my feet were above my head and that I was paddling uphill.
Several eager paddlers tried the ‘6 when we got to Fish Hoek, going in and out through the surf. It was immediately apparent that a) the cockpit holds an enormous volume of water and b) the drainage is inadequate.
But they all commented on the stability and the comfort of the ski.
In my opinion, Fenn Kayaks have hit the sweet spot between stability and responsiveness with this ski. I enjoyed yesterday’s ride enormously; it’s a fun ski to paddle and I would be confident to take it out in almost any conditions.
It’s an aesthetically pleasing, extremely well built boat.
While it should be relatively easy to modify the rudder pedal layout to allow for more room, the problem of the inadequate cockpit drainage may be difficult to solve.
And time will tell if it’s as fast as it appears to be.
What I like about the ski
- The aesthetics - it’s a beautiful boat.
- The build quality.
- The stability. Although I’m happy on a Fenn Mako, the stability of the Mako 6 increases my confidence.
- The feel of the ski on the waves. It’s responsive, lively and fun to paddle
- The comfort of the seat.
What I don’t like
- The volume of the single footwell
- The inadequate balers
- The position of the single foot strap which makes it awkward to carry the ski on your shoulder – especially in a strong wind.
- The “Fenn Kayaks” sticker – it’s long overdue for an upgrade and really doesn’t do justice to the elegance of the ski!
Pete Cole (elite Cape paddler, came 3rd in the Cape Point Challenge, paddles the older Fenn Mako) took the boat out in the surf at Fish Hoek. He commented that while the ski “seems like a really good downwind boat”, he doesn’t like the single footwell. “The volume of water (10kg perhaps),” he said, “might make the difference between getting out and being nailed by a big shore break”.
Wayne Borchardt, who paddles a Custom Kayaks Mark 1 socially in Cape Town, shared Pete Cole’s concerns about the single footwell. But he found the ski “as stable as the Mark 1”. “If it weren’t for the single footwell,” he said, “I’d buy one like a shot.”
Darryl Bartho (elite Durban paddler, currently paddles the old Fenn Mako) was more enthusiastic. In his view, “the Mako 6 has the speed of the Millennium combined with the comfort and manoeuvrability of the old Mako.” He’s placed his order for a Mako 6.