Over and over I find myself saying to customers “If I could only own one boat, just one boat, it’d be the Explorer.” Out of all the boats I’ve owned and all the boats I’ve paddled, why the Explorer?
I knew there was an Explorer in my future, after I climbed in Dale Williams’s carbon/Kevlar Explorer High Volume (HV) on Tybee Island in 2014. I found it surprisingly agile, shockingly light, and playful. I was hooked and I bought my first Explorer in 2016.
The Explorer’s design is iconic. It is not a stretched out Romany. It has less rocker than the Classic and a longer water line. It has a roomy cockpit, and with three sizes on offer (Low Volume, standard, and High Volume) many people will find it is a boat that fits them comfortably. So iconic is the design, in fact, that “word is” the WS Tempest was modeled after the Explorer. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?
Stock photo credit SKUK
The Explorer is the choice of expedition paddlers world wide for a reason. It is built to travel, to chew through the miles. Whether on club paddles, or camping trips and expeditions, this boat shines. It can easily swallow 150 pounds of gear, or more, and still perform politely. A sixty pound load (say a two night, unsupported trip) isn’t even noticeable.
Given the choice for a long trip between the Explorer and a Latitude, say, I’d choose the Explorer every time. You might remember my story of our Hatteras Circumnavigation? “Suffering in Hatteras,” was published in the first issue of Coast Busters e-zine. In that article I talked about the Latitude, and why it might not have been the best choice for a long, grinding trip in swell and wind. Two of the other paddlers, Rob and Dawn, were in Explorers. They brought guns to a gunfight, I brought a knife. D’oh!
It all comes down to the tracking. The boat’s long water line and reduced rocker results in straight and true long distance paddling. The Explorer just goes straighter with less effort over long distances. And of course, it has great capacity for gear. Those two things make it a true expeditionary machine.
There isn’t one boat for everything, and no one boat that fits every body type. But the Explorer has a range that allows some variance and it really does so many things well. For instance, like to down-wind? This boat is a down-wind machine. It is my and many other paddlers' choice for tide races. It surfs surprisingly well for a long boat, agile and easily controlled for the skilled paddler. It rolls and sculls beautifully.
The various models:
The Low Volume has an approximately ½ inch lowered deck. It is created from a standard Explorer by cutting the deck down. These boats are generally custom ordered, and can be found used on the market only occasionally. Nigel says he will produce them no more as of 2022. Paula Reigel of Kayak Waveology, comes to mind instantly when considering paddlers who paddle this boat. She makes the boat dance in the tide races of both North America and Europe.
Paula Reigel, Explorer LV. Credit L Shore 2019
The standard Explorer has many fans. It is quite a popular boat and can be found in most NDK boat shops, as well as the used market. Examples of dedicated fans of this boat are Dawn Stewart, Greg Paquin, and Mitch Mitchell.
Randi Kruger in the Explorer, credit T Dole 2023
The High Volume Explorer really isn’t “high” volume. It is quite similar to the standard Explorer in most measurements, other than those knee bumps. The knee bumps allow someone like me, with lower back issues, to comfortably paddle all day, every day, for many miles. Paddlers like me, who aren’t really “high volume” people, but need a high knee position may find this boat a great fit. Dale Williams is another example of a paddler who loves this model, for the lower back benefits.
Randi in the Explorer HV, credit R SanLuis 2020