NDK Romany Sea Kayak Review
Coming soon (more comprehensively when the Corona Virus Lockdown is fully lifted) - Testing an old NDK Romany (now known as the SKUK Romany Classic) sea kayak to see if it lives up to it's reputation as an easy to paddle, easy to roll, versatile and playful sea kayak designed to handle rough water.
Claimed to be a day/weekend kayak for the medium sized paddler. For me it will be very interesting to directly compare it to my Seabird Scott MV.
Length: 485cm (16ft), Width: 54cm (21.25"), Depth: 32.5cm(12.8") overall volume: 276.15 litres (60.75 imperial gallons), Suggested Paddler weight approx. 120-200lbs/54-91kg
Mine is an old, and somewhat tired, skegless version of the Romany c. 1997 that looks like it has been given a hard time by previous owners and has had several fibreglass repairs in the past. It also appears that the deck has been hand painted by a previous owner so it is not the smartest example cosmetically but it is, now, structurally sound. Despite the cosmetic challenges of my particular boat it is a pretty, sleek and purposeful looking kayak and often gets admiring glances. I am just under 6ft/1.83m and 86kg/189lb (So very near the top end of the weight range for the Romany Classic) and I have removed the original footrests and replaced them with a minicell foam block against the forward bulkhead, changed the seat (newer kayaks come with an improved seat as standard) and backrest and added minicell padding on the hull sides and moulded in thigh braces to custom fit me and now it is very comfortable and the keyhole cockpit shape makes it easy to get in and out while still giving plenty of contact for knees and thighs for controlling the boat.
It is lighter than my Seabird Scott which is a handy bonus when carrying it about. The round hatches make it harder to put large items into the boat. My C-Tug trolley for instance won't fit into the boat whereas I have managed to fit it into every other boat I have paddled with oval hatches. In fact I have ended up using a cheaper simple alloy fold up trolley which I then had to buy alternative wheels for which were both narrower and a slightly smaller diameter to fit through the circular hatch opening. I then cut off nearly an inch from the ends of each axle to match the narrower wheels so that it would fit (very) snugly within the kayak.
So far I have paddled it on rivers/flat water (Lakes/Norfolk Broads), some relatively calm sea lochs on the west coast of Scotland and a circumnavigation of Craigleith Island in the Firth of Forth from the North Berwick Coast (Eastern Scotland) in a reasonably steep chop coming at the boat from the side. Initial impressions are that it has reassuringly good initial stability and I don't think beginners would have any problems in it. It doesn't feel quite as fast as my (longer) Seabird Scott but is not far off and not slow and would certainly show a clean pair of heels to most recreational style kayaks and the sleek shape is easily driven. Having recently paddled it in 20mph gusting 40mph winds I would say the reduced windage and wetted surface area would actually make it equal to or even faster than the Seabird in these conditions and less effort to drive. Going back to the Seabird Scott after having only paddled the Romany for the last few paddles I definitely became aware of the extra effort required to drive the additional weight, volume and increased wetted surface area of the Seabird compared to the more easily driven smaller hull of the Romany but then I guess that is the penalty you pay for having the extra volume needed to carry full expedition camping gear etc, you can't beat the laws of physics.
Most newer Romany Classics will come with a skeg and this is the first sea kayak I have had without one but so far I haven't really missed or needed any skeg assistance, possibly because it is smaller/lower volume than my Seabird Scott MV so I sink the ends a little further into the water. I have deliberately put the Romany sideways across some gusty cross winds and it has been easy to correct with a little edge, and I never felt like I was fighting it. In the recent paddle in fairly extreme 20mph gusting 40mph wind conditions I did feel a couple of times that a little bit of skeg assistance would not be a bad thing to counteract mild weather cocking but it was not unmanageable and actually much better than my unloaded P&H Capella 166 RM would have been in these conditions even with the Capella's skeg fully deployed. Off the North Berwick coast with a side wind and steepish chop I did feel like a skeg might have been useful but soon got used to applying a little edge and found if I leaned back a little in the seat the boat is so finely balanced that the stern of the boat engaged the water a little more and I didn't feel like I was struggling. It was still better than my Capella 166 RM would have been with a fully deployed skeg. I also had what little weight I was carrying, trolley,shoes, and a mat I use to launch on to prevent scratches (my boats are cosseted!) all in the bow compartment so it would probably have helped if I had put them in the stern instead to sink that more.
The slightly V'eed hull means it is easy to edge with just a fraction of knee pressure or shifted weight distribution so negotiating bends on the river can be done almost just by thinking the kayak around the corner. I haven't noticed a huge difference in the manoeuvrability compared to my higher volume Seabird Scott MV (which I think is very good) yet but it will be interesting to see how it compares when I finally get it out in some waves or try rolling it. Lighter paddlers may find it more manoeuvrable than me as the bow and stern will lift higher out of the water when edging. At my weight I would probably find the slightly higher volume Romany Surf even more manoeuvrable and I would really like to try one of those now! As 99.9% of my paddles are now only unloaded day paddles if anyone fancies swopping a Romany Surf for my Seabird Scott MV then please let me know, battered and holed examples considered for the right deal!
So far I am really liking the Romany and I have already developed quite a fondness for it and it has become my "go to" choice for day paddles. It wouldn't be my first choice as an expedition boat, but that is what the Explorer is for in the NDK/SKUK range, due to it's more limited storage space and lower weight carrying ability (It may be better for lighter paddlers) but as a day/play boat the more I paddle the Romany the more I get to like and appreciate it
UPDATE - after paddling it a little more and my excursions to Scotland I think I have fallen in love with the Romany! Still haven't rolled it yet though!. Also, because of the heritage and popularity of the Romany design, owning/paddling it makes you feel like you have joined a rather special club! I can certainly see why it has such a large following. Despite being quite an old design now it appears Nigel Dennis and Aled Williams really did get it right first time. As I am at the top of the weight range for the Romany I am now thinking of also getting an NDK Explorer as a bigger sister to the Romany for those times when I need the extra volume to carry more gear and for longer expeditions.
A couple of stills below from GoPro footage of the Romany crossing Barton Broad in 20mph wind with ferocious gusts up to 40mph driving quite a steep chop which, until I paddled in Scotland, were the nearest thing to waves I had had in the Romany at the time. It was a very hard slog paddling into the very strong head wind but the conditions didn't trouble the Romany and the paddle back was much easier and very fast surfing on the small waves.
Here is a rather nice video from SKUK featuring a Romany Classic to get you in the mood to go paddling.
Best watched in full screen mode
And if you are wondering if the Romany can roll then here is the legendary "Dubside" demonstrating it can
Not a great quality video but you get the idea!
And here is a Romany surfing