First, if you’ve followed Native Watercraft through the years you may recall there once were Ultimate 12 and 14.5 Propels’ in their lineup. Ah, you do remember? Well, those who favored an open-hybrid (read lighter) version of a pedal kayak, over a heavier SOT, model once again have the option… albeit it in a heavily revised model.
As you turn to face the changes, casting your eyes over the Ultimate FX Propel 13, you’ll notice very little similarity to its discontinued cousins. The bow entry profile and hull rocker are similar, and of course there is a Propel drive (updated as well), and then the changes being.
Hull: For greater performance, the once deeper tunnel-hull is drawn shallower in keeping with the Ultimate FX 12 and 15 models. This allows greater ease of speed and less resistance in cross currents, inspiring greater confidence ferrying currents.
Rudder: Dropped, as in a drop-down rudder, is gone, in favor of the more durable factory molded rudder. The control cabling is run off the control disc perpendicular to the gunnel, allowing greater rudder angle positioning, translating to a tighter turn radius. Though the rudder is removable and attaches rather solidly, in my opinion it’s not ideal to constantly remove it. The bolt self locks into a plastic stem and over time could compromise the threads, requiring a replacement. Some users and non-users have cast judgement, saying “it’s not durable”, you can’t drag the kayak”, or “it gets in the way when loading”. Well, the molded rudder has been proven to be much more durable than a typical aluminum rudder in factory torture tests. From dropping a rigged hull from shoulder height, rudder striking first onto the concrete, to throwing a cinderblock at it from multiple angles, the rudder didn’t break, deform or become unusable. Ideally, you shouldn’t drag any hull on the ground but when you just gotta get your drag on, it’s best do do it with a rope or leash attached to the bow handle. This way the hull remains flatter to the ground and doesn’t plow the rudder into the ground. Lifting and loading is simply a matter of raising/loading the stern first.
Seat: The seat frame and material is the same as in the Slayer Propels, Ultimate FXs’ and Slayers. It sits on an aluminum framed support, in a higher fixed height position, adjusting fore and aft, for the perfect leg/foot reach to the pedals.
No Adapt-a-Track, No Skirts: In favor of keeping weight down the previous fabric skirts and joining track material have been jettisoned for the more durable, lighter-weight (INCLUDED) molded hard cover. (available for bow only)
The following thoughts are based on a brief amount of time testing a prototype.
At first glance I initially thought the seat height may be too high as you sit just below the gunnel. While opinions will vary due to each users perception of stability, their size and weight, at 6? and 188.2 lbs (casually dressed) I felt completely comfortable after giving it a wiggle and feeling the hulls response. The elevated seat position, more so than a Slayer Propel, in relation to the drive does give the user a more downward pedal stroke than any previous models, which I think most will welcome, as it’s a more natural upright seated position.
Stability was very good for me, again, alleviating any concerns about the seat height. Users will quickly notice the added ease of standing from a seated position, the easiest I’ve ever experienced.
Turning radius, though not measured, felt really good. I’d definitely say better than a SP 13 and about the same or maybe a little better than a SP 10, likely negating the need or even desire for an aftermarket modification as some have installed on SP 10’s and 13’s.
The benefit of a hull with nice, sharp entry lines typically results in appreciated tracking performance, as well as efficient speed, both of which have been bestowed upon the Ultimate FX 13 Propel. Within in a few pedal revolutions your moving quickly and quite effortlessly. Speed freaks will appreciate being able to maintain higher speeds longer, resulting in less consumption of energy drinks, or beans.
Paddling the FX Propel is quite doable, albeit it from a higher seat position, which is very similar to the high seat position of a Slayer 12 or 14.5. Since the FX Propel lacks solid foot rests it isn’t quite ideal for lengthy paddles or in high winds or current since you can’t brace and leverage power from being able to brace with your feet.
Other than a few boats wakes no real rough water was experienced, yet it did handle the wakes very similar to that experienced in an Ultimate FX 15. Obviously being an open boat any water you take on, or fluids you excrete; and I know some you guys use your scuppers as an emergency port-a-potty, you have to remove… unless you con or pay the neighborhood kids into doing it for you, so you have to be a little more cautious as to where or how far out you venture into open water. The bow deck cover does help in deflecting some bow spray and in really gnarly junk can roll waves off as you dip the nose into the rabbit hole.
Sans adjustable rod holders, and of course rods and tackle, the Ultimate FX 13 comes ready to fish. The included, position adjustable, stern track mounted, tackle and rod tube holder is really a nice convenient bit of kit. I’m all about making getting on and off the water as well as gear storage easier and more efficient, and with this handy gizmo it doesn’t get much better.
Groove tracks line the gunnels as well as fore and aft decks for mounting the usual suspects, such as rod holders, display units, POV cameras, stern lights, stake-out0-poles, anchor cleats, whirly gigs and whatever else gear hounds might want to embellish upon their relatively tiny craft.
Native developed a practical method of mounting higher definition, more featured transducers to the hull, negating the need to drop one off the side, or loose image quality by shooting the signal thru the hull. On the underside, in front of the Propel drive mount, is a recess with molded-in nuts, allowing you to attach the transducer mount at this point. Cabling is neatly held in place within a recessed groove and secured with tabs. The recess is wide and deep enough to accept most transducers commonly used on kayaks.
Being that the seat is the highest its ever been, there is a plethora of under-seat storage space, able and willing to party with Natives’ seat storage accessories or soft cooler bags.
Not-shown but can be seen when delivered are cleverly placed under-gunnel bungees for stowing a two-piece paddle out of the way, one section of paddle per side.
In some ways kayaks can be like shoes, not all fit just right or should be worn for all occasions. That’s why it’s important, and extremely helpful, to try a kayak on for size and on the water. My local paddlesports outfitter, Get:Outdoors, of Greensboro, NC provides on-water demos throughout the season, with its Annual Paddlefest scheduled April 8th-10th. On-water demo happens April 9th, Lake Brandt, Greensboro, NC. Hopefully they’ll have their demo Ultimate FX Propel ready to go.
As of 3/15/2016, production has just begun with shipments arriving at dealers asap and in the order they were received.