Swordfish S Review - "A new level of consciousness"

6 months 2 days ago #33835 by MCImes
I got the SF-S. I bought it without paddling but immediately took it out and immediately I said something that blew my mind – something that opened up a new consciousness in me what was impossible for me to comprehend previously. 

That was “Man, this thing is STABLE!”. I never thought I would find a sub-elite boat stable. I would roll my eyes when people would describe boats like the Elite S, V12, Vega, SEA, etc as ‘stable’. I spent a few months falling out of an elite boat thinking “who the *^&% can handle these!?!?”. I know there is still a large step down in stability when you go from a 45cm to a 43cm elite boat, but I now understand how its possible to call them ‘stable’. After paddling enough, you don’t even think about it. It is something that just happenes. I mean, I intentionally pushed myself into sloppy water and seek out the roughest water I could handle, so my improvement was quite volitional, but the change in perception is so small each paddle that I never had a “Eureka” moment where I was like, “I’ve mastered this boat”. I just knew it was time for the next step and my perception of the SF-S confirms that. 

Ok, so its one thing to think the SF is stable on flat water. I think the SF is 90% as stable on the flats as the XT. It feels nicely planted but has linear, deep, predictable secondary stability. I started paddling on the flat water deep in Newport Beach harbor heading towards the ocean mouth 5km away. After a short stint on flat water I got to the busy area of the harbor with hundreds of small and medium size boats going every which way. In the small but messy chop I still found it quite manageable for a first paddle. I drafted boats out to the ocean and went out 2km before turning around. The ocean was small, less than 50cm swell and light wind, but all the boat traffic plus the break walls meant there were up to 1m waves going in every direction including a couple waves from large island ferries throwing a nasty, steep 1m wave. I had no problems even in the 1m ferry wake. I actually thought the rounder hull of the SF was more predictable than the more V hull of the XT. The transition from primary to secondary is so smooth, and the boat wants to roll less. Also, I think the tight fitting and deeper bucket of the SF-S helps significantly. On the shallow/wide bucket of the XT, I noticed I could slip in the bucket to the low side which would result in an epic brace to save me. None of that in the SF.

It picks up a wave SO nice. The XT would struggle to catch some waves. I could get on faster waves, but would need to max effort sprint to catch it, which left less energy for staying on it, and I would commonly lose the set by missing a hole in front of me or just not having enough power/speed to stay on the set. In the SF-S, it picks up a wave even nicer than the XT. Once on the set, I could actually slingshot to the front of the set. On the XT, I would consistently run into the wave in front of me, stall, swamp the bucket, miss the next wave, repeat. The SF allows me to jump waves in the set until it runs out with pretty good consistency. I stall probably 80% less and the higher sides of the bucket means not much water makes it in when i do stall. After jumping all the waves of a set for the first time, a random sound popped into my mind from many years ago 

This boat is a Level Up. (not quite power up, but in my mind it felt the same :) )

Another big upgrade of the SF is the maneuverability. Its good with the large elliptical stock rudder. I could actually see a hole developing in front of me and quickly change direction to fall into it. On the XT, I’d move towards it but usually by the time I made it to the hole it was no longer a hole, so - stall, swamp, curse, repeat. I only broached a couple times with the stock rudder on the very steep ferry waves, which is pretty darn good considering how steep they were. I will probably pick up a DK 9” high chord rudder to hold me on my desired line, but the stock rudder did ok as-is.

I went out again in my home waters last night in small but clean ocean conditions with a 10kt wind and 1m swell. Again… Stable stable stable. Maneuverable. Surfs an entire set back to front. I love this boat. In my heavy XT, I would sprint for a set and often just barely miss it as it went under me. The acceleration of the (still ‘heavy’) 14kg SF-S is so much better than now I can get to full speed in 3-5 strokes and get on the wave much earlier and easier. For once I actually heard a voice say “stay high on the wave” – I didn’t have to hammer to stay on it. When the lead wave of the set picked me up, on multiple occasions I was able to find holes, link waves, and skip ahead 3-6 waves at a time until the set ran out. This was rarely possible in the XT. 

I almost fell out once when I was turning around, had low speed and was broadside to the waves near a sea wall, but a good brace saved me. Overall I wasn't bracing very much. I had a lot of "Stroke Braces" (using the stroke to stabilize yourself), but I don't really count those as bad because I still get 90% of the power down vs a "Slap Brace" which almost stops you. Another 50-100 hrs of bucket time and I'm sure I'll feel comfortable in the SF-S in some pretty gnarly conditions. 

So those are all the great things I have to say about the boat. The things I'm not crazy about…
1. Im 84kg, 185cm (6’1” 185lb with 34/32 pants). Apparently I have a very bony hip bone, because I am squeezed pretty well by the seat at the outside bottom of my hips. Its not uncomfortable, but its very close. Luckily after 2.5hrs and 15km in the boat, my butt still felt ok, so its not a deal breaker. I still felt good with 1 day rest and another 2hr paddle too, so im not worried about chaffing I guess. Its just not the most comfortable for my butt. no dead leg or cramping either. Nice. 
2. The foot well is very narrow. This is good in that it reduces the volume of water you can take on (the bathtub sized bucket on most Stellar’s was one of my most hated design features of the SRg1) but my feet overlap in the middle with 3mm neoprene shoes on. I have wide feet (I order EEE width US size 12 shoes) but my feet do not fit side by side on the foot plate with thin, flexible, 3mm neoprene shoes. During the warmer months I wont need shoes and it will be fine, but 50% of the year will be shoe-temperature so I’d love 1cm more footplate width. It makes turning quickly a little more difficult as I have to re-arrange which foot is on top. This is kinda annoying, but not a deal breaker.
3. The bow does not shed water very well and when the nose buries itself, a sheet of water comes right to your face. I will certainly be adding a wave deflector. I think this will solve 95% of the issue. Overall not a big deal, but the wave deflector is 100% necessary for steeper conditions IMO. 
4. I miss behind-the-seat bungees. The ones in front do not carry very much stuff effectively and I often carry a small dry bag behind me. Ill order some eyelets and glue them on. A minor annoyance, but easily fixed. 
5. I need a rear attachment point like a handle or eyelet for an emergency rudder bungee. Again, easy fix. 
6. I hate the hex key adjustment of the rudder lines. Anything that requires a tool on the water to fix is not great. A guy gave me a great idea to screw very small cleats into the back of the pedals, then you can just figure 8 tie-off the lines. (though I like stainless steel rudder line much more than spectra/rope. The steel stretches less and has a more responsive feel to me)
7. Wish list -  A molded handle in the bucket would be great. (But NOT the screw-on handles – those are awful IMO. Recessed/molded handles only!). Already going from 18kg to 14kg, the boat is soooo much more manageable off the water, a handle would just be nice for 1 handed maneuvering. I wanted to get the Carbon Vac version, but the guy wouldn't go low enough for me to afford. I guess that will be the next upgrade - same boat, just lighter.

Anyways, I was all smiles ear to ear with the first couple paddles on the SF-S. Even in the small but messy conditions I’ve had so far, I feel the boat is extremely manageable. I was apprehensive about mastering the boat before the Gorge downwind champs in July, but now have no worries at all. If its this easy on my 2nd paddle, number 100 will be epic. Especially with the nice linear, clean wave sets people report at the Gorge. 

So that’s my initial thoughts on the SF. I'm looking forward to taking her out later this week when some 2m swell and 20kt wind kick up.  Ill update in a couple weeks when I have several more paddles under my belt and some big conditions to test my true perception of “stable” 

Summary - I see why a lot of people love the SF-S. It has a lot of really good features and very few issues. 

Currently - Swordfish S in Southern California's ocean waters
Past Boats: Epic V10 g0, Stellar SR g1, Fenn XT g1
"When you've done something right, they wont know you've done anything at all"
The following user(s) said Thank You: Rod Thomas

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6 months 2 days ago #33844 by PSwitzer
Nice!
It's great when you get that mind/body/equipment fusion thing going on.  You will be making big gains in technique and downwind prowess etc. when the boat just sort of disappears and it's you and the water...

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5 months 2 weeks ago #33944 by MCImes
Well 3 weeks on I must say I'm loving the SF more and more every paddle. I've been out in some really messy crap and it handles it like a champ. 

The short version of my observations are -
1. If you're paddling on the ocean, downwind, surfing, or in short, steep chop, a large DK rudder is mandatory. I got a DK 9" High chord rudder and it completely changed the boat for the better. If I did it again I'd get the 10" High chord. More rudder just helps this boat in every way. Its amazingly responsive with a big rudder. 9" is nearly broach proof. I just want the 10" for extreme control on steep waves and lightning fast response to chase holes downwind. 

2. A wave deflector is highly recommended. The Nelo wave deflector fits the bow profile pretty darn well. The bow of the SF is fairly round and does not shed water very quickly. With the wave deflector about 18" in front of the cockpit the bucket remains much much drier in steep waves and is money well spent

3. The stability profile of the SF-S is the main thing ive fallen in love with. Its so predictable. In the past I would throw a preemptive brace while going over a wave crest or when I leaned the XT too far because occasionally it would just drop out from under me. The SF never does this and the secondary just builds until capsize. Very reassuring. 

4. I've smashed all my previous speed records by a lot. The SF picks up a wave and rides it much better than all my previous boats. I know its not Elite fast, but the speed to stabity ratio is top notch

5. Remount's are not bad at all. I've unintentionally swam at least once every paddle and only failed one remount out of a dozen or so (plus many more intentional swims and remounts for practice)

6. The bucket is not the most comfortable for my butt, but also does not chafe, so I cant complain in the grand scheme. 

7. This boat will surf a ripple from a bird poop hitting the water. I can easily feel small reflected swell say to me "time to go!" when im paddling into the wind. This boat is a surfing monster!

8. The speed to stability ratio is truly awesome. I notice very little difference between the XT and SF stability wise, and actually i like the stability profile of the SF more. 

Currently - Swordfish S in Southern California's ocean waters
Past Boats: Epic V10 g0, Stellar SR g1, Fenn XT g1
"When you've done something right, they wont know you've done anything at all"

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5 months 1 week ago #33953 by DMax
I have to agree with all your comments on the Swordfish S!  I got mine back in Sep 2018 and had been paddling a Stella SR prior to that (also a good boat) and an Epic V8 before that.  It did take me a while to find my balance on the SF S, but that was all about me developing as a paddler in the ocean and definitely not the boat!  In hindsight, I think the balance transition would have been faster and easier if I'd gone for the Glass Vacuum at 14.5kg as opposed to the Hybrid at 12.5kg.  I have no doubt that a heavier boat is more stable than a lighter boat of the same design.  Having said that, I feel pretty bulletproof balance wise in most conditions now on the Hybrid, so I'm glad I went for it (and it's easier to lift up onto the roof racks)!

I love my Swordy and at the moment, can't see myself really wanting to paddle anything else.  I've also been thinking about a wave deflector, so your comments on the Nelo are timely.  Most of the wave deflectors I've seen on skis are attached using adhesive tape.  Is that how you've done yours or have you come up with something more permanent?  Is there any reason why one would want to take a wave deflector off, once it's applied (apart from selling the ski and wanting to keep the deflector perhaps)?

Cheers, Dave

Current boat: Fenn Swordfish S (Hybrid layup).
Previous boats: Epic V8 (Performance layup), Stella SR (Excel layup).

Location: Sydney, Australia.

"The sea lives in every one of us" - Robert Wyland.

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5 months 1 week ago #33958 by manta
I would like to add my recent experience to this thread.

I currently paddle a Bluefin but have been looking at getting something a little faster. My initial intention was to go for a step down boat like an XTS or Epic V10S. Something around 48cm with decent stability. I went into the local Fenn shop and discussed this with the owner and he told me to try the Swordy. He gave me a carbon hybrid Swordfish S and told me to go have some fun. 

When they were setting the boat up for me, sitting in the bucket I was amazed how skinny the thing was and thought there is no way I will even be able to sit on this boat in the water. I decided to go ahead, took it to a protected bay\harbour where I often paddle. There is flat water, chop and confused chop in different areas so a good place to test. As I was nearing the bay the wind started picking up and I could see chop forming. I was not looking forward to this anymore.

Getting the boat off the roof was such a pleasure with the lighter construction. My Bluefin is polyvac and comes in around 18kg so a beast to get on and off. Anyway, put the Swordy in the water and climbed in side saddle like I always do. Did not fall in to my amazement. Started to paddle and realised that although I could feel I was not perfectly stable, this was doable! I paddled close to shore which meant paddling with the wind and chop coming from the sides. Not ideal for a first paddle but safety first and the wind was blowing offshore. I did not want to go into deep water having not yet practiced my remount. 

After about 5 minutes I settled down and started to put down more power. I would say I was able to get up to around 75% of full power. I had to brace every now and again but for the most part was able to paddle without too many issues. I was completely shocked. How can a 45cm intermediate boat be this stable? Confounds the brain. What I worked out for me is that the cockpit is a lot snugger than the Bluefin, so when the boat starts to lean over my hips are able to instantly adjust to the lean and make a correction. The Bluefin seat is quite wide and large and so the connection to the boat just does not feel as, well connected. That connected feeling made it possible for my hips to adjust and save me from rolling too far. 

I did not fall out once in the 30 minute paddle and the wind and chop increased quite a bit. I also did a deeper water remount and was able to get it on the 2nd try. The deeper bucket will take some getting used to but practice will solve that issue. 

All in all I must say that I was very surprised at how stable the boat felt. It felt about the same as the first time I paddled my Bluefin in the ocean. That day I fell out twice but being a beginner my technique then was horrible. 

Long story short I think I will be buying a SwordfishS. It is an amazing design and most likely I will never need to upgrade again. I will keep the Bluefin to DW as it will take a few months before I will be confident enough to DW the Swordy. 

So to anyone looking for their next boat, give the Swordy a try I think you will be as shocked as I was.

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1 month 3 weeks ago #34803 by s513649
Agree with much of this, thanks. How do you find remounts. I’m struggling a bit with side-saddle in the Swordfish S, and as I always paddle alone in the North Dea ( (little option) it’s important

Paddling a Swordfish S Hybrid, always paddle solo in the Noth Sea, all year long. Experienced, PE2EL, Scottburgh to Brighton, Pirates to Salt Rock, ‘Dusi, 50 miler etc, but still slow and tippy!

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1 month 2 weeks ago #34821 by MCImes
I think you'll get it with practice. Rob and Henning DK provided a better answer on technique that I can in the other thread on Remounts. 
Its not a bad boat to remount, so I think its just a matter of perfecting your sequence of motions. I think you referenced having your paddle on the near side of the boat? seems to me that would inhibit getting the paddle in the water quickly once upright and increase the chance of 2nd capsize. Most people have the paddle on the far side of the boat as rob and DK suggest. My other suggestion is, once your butt is in the bucket, immediately keep both feet in the water until your paddle is situated and you actually begin to paddle away. Take a couple strokes with your feet in the water then bring one in at a time while building speed. Keep at it, you'll get it. 

Separately, after paddling the SF for 4 months and racing it at the Gorge I am still loving it. I paddled a couple 43cm boats at the gorge and decided if I was inland at all I'd upgrade to a Vega or Elite S full time, but in exposed ocean conditions I need the extra 2cm of the SF to have fun on a medium size day (up to 2m clean swell) on the ocean. Overall though, for an ocean boat, I think it would be quite hard to beat the SF-S speed to stability profile. 

The 43cm boats were noticeably faster as you'd expect. I paddled half the gorge Viento run on my SF then swapped with a guy on a Huki S1-X. We both outran each other on the S1X so definitely noticed the faster beam and was much easier to overtake/power through the next set. This reinforces my desire for 2 boats - an elite 43cm for small/medium days on the pacific and non-ocean padding and a wider one, though Im not sure exactly which. I think something in the 48cm range because I want something with loads of stability for winter days when with 2m+ swell and 20kt+ winds and sloppy swell from 3-5 directions, but have not found a 48cm boat im in love with. I'd like to try the Carbonology Zest still. XT, SR, and V10S are all out of the running. 

I found it interesting as its not discussed as much as I think it should be - stability of a boat is all relative to the water its on. A friend paddles a V12 on flat water but was borderline struggling in a V8pro at the gorge. I am competent but not elite on a SF in the ocean on pretty rough sloppy days but felt great on the S1X at the gorge. Just saying, if you're used to flat water you should probably go 1 to 2 steps wider if going to rough water and you arent used to it. Vice versa too. I felt fine on a skinnier boat, but the water of the Columbia river was significantly more predictable than the ocean when waves are the same size (single swell direction, no reflected swell, wind is in line with swell, you're traveling parallel to the swell direction all the time) which all combine to make the feel of the boat much more stable. 

Currently - Swordfish S in Southern California's ocean waters
Past Boats: Epic V10 g0, Stellar SR g1, Fenn XT g1
"When you've done something right, they wont know you've done anything at all"

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1 month 2 weeks ago #34831 by Fath2o
Marcus, don't forget the difference between the density/bouancy of salt vs fresh water and its' effect on stability. 

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1 month 2 weeks ago #34837 by MCImes
Arg. I didnt even think about the density difference of salt vs fresh water making the 43cm seem more stable. THat probably helped a little.

Looking at water density, I see salt water (on average) is only about 2.5% more dense (1.0g/ml for fresh vs ~1.025g/ml for salt). I would guess that this means the boat displaces 2.5% less water and thus rides on a marginally skinnier waterline? I know people have mentioned a perceptible difference, but how much is it really? I feel like I had well more than 2.5% stability 'in reserve' if that makes any sense. Either way I'll try to find someone with an 43cm boat on the ocean and give it a quick whirl.

Currently - Swordfish S in Southern California's ocean waters
Past Boats: Epic V10 g0, Stellar SR g1, Fenn XT g1
"When you've done something right, they wont know you've done anything at all"

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1 month 2 weeks ago - 1 month 2 weeks ago #34840 by zachhandler
Marcus i have thought a bit about the freshwater stability issue. I don’t think it is a huge factor. Basically a boat on fresh water will displace a 2.5% greater volume of water than a boat on salt water.  2.5% of the weight of boat and paddler is about 5 pounds, so moving from salt to fresh water is the same change in displacement as adding 5 pounds to a boat. Does adding 5 pounds to a boat’s weight increase stability? Not much in my experience, and the change is trivial compared to the stability increase associated with dropping to the next more stable ski. 5 pounds also makes much less difference than adding or removing a thin seat pad to put it in perspective. 

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1 month 2 weeks ago #34853 by Fath2o
So, my experience is with a 43cm Fenn "Elite". After diong a considerable amount of ocean paddling in a variety of conditions, I finally decided that I just did not enjoy the boat in the ocean.
I took it to a lake a couple times and it was about equivalent to paddling my Think "Evo" in the ocean. No stability issues what so ever with 20 knts wind on small lake.

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