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  • Phil Keetley

The Perfect Sea KayakingTow Rope?

A tow rope is one of those critical safety components that I would never go afloat without. In all my years of kayaking, I have sought the perfect tow rope; whilst I remain a seeker, I might have found the closest thing yet.

BLUF (Bottom line up front): The Whetman Guide Towrope Mk II. A brilliant, innovative tow rope that is fit for commercial use, ideal for leaders on the sea.

As a previous owner of Peak, Palm, Throw Tows and North Shore tow ropes, I feel that I have had a fair look at what is on offer. Many towropes offer something, but not quite the entire package. Most often the packages are not bad quality, but put together badly, without the care and attention that a true sea kayaker would require to make the system fast, responsive and adaptable.

As a professional and commercial guide/ coach I tried the Steve Whetman Guide Towrope a couple of years ago. I like Steve's kit; he is a small operation, genuinely trying to think, innovate and improve. He seeks those small improvements, what Team Skye would call 'incremental gains.' His innovations have produced some really interesting equipment, and thus I was drawn to his Guide Towrope. Having used it for the past two years I can honestly say that I like it, a lot in fact, but it was not quite perfect. I resented its bulk, and the fact that it rubbed on my deck - somewhat squeaking with each body rotation.

I loved the innovative contact tow line and main tow, the robust build quality and comfortable shaped fit, and especially the two simple loops on the side of the belt for the crabs (akin to a climbing harness....simple, totally brilliant meaning that you do not need to clip the towline on the BA in a ready to use position). The caribiners are quickly accessible and always in the right place.

Climbing harness style side loops

Always in the right place

So, when Steve Whetman produced a new, improved version of the Guide Tow Rope, I was keen to see what he had done.

Mark I and II comparison

The new version is billed as 10 percent smaller, which is accurate, and more than welcome. The result is a true workhorse of a towrope, certainly more than fit for the demands of commercial day to day use, but with a lower profile and sleeker fit. I love the rope itself. It is just the right size, sufficiently big for grip and handling, but small enough to pack well. The build quality remains very impressive, and I expect this towrope to last.

The Kraken in use - a perfect fit

The attention to detail is impressive, from the snag free fastenings and self amalgamating tape to the new unique Whetman designed 'Kraken' carabiners, which are simply a game changer. Made of marine grade stainless steel, with a clean nose and curved wire gate making clipping efficient, the Kraken is maintenance free. The carabiner is also shaped to fit over the deck of a sea kayak: totally brilliant in function and design, they really are a step up from anything else I have seen on the market.

Steve has set up the system to use the rope, threaded through the decline of the casualties boat, back to the robust O ring on the belt. This system, similar to Jeff Allan's Throw Tow works well in many environments, allowing the tow rope to be adjusted from full length (15m) to half length quickly.

This doubling system does have some limitations though, there is some concern over nylon over nylon ropes (although I have never seen a rope failure with wet ropes on the sea), it can be can be fiddly and slow to reset the towline. Personally, I have added in an additional stainless steel clip at the belt end to facilitate a daisy-chained towrope to reduce the length for the majority of tows. This allows for a rapid repack or reset of the towrope as it is only about 7m long. If I require a longer tow on a downwind run, I can release the daisy chain to extend the rope to its full length. I feel that this is the optimum set up, allowing for the balance of speed and reset.

Daisy chained to 7m

Like Jeff Allan of Sea Kayak Cornwall, I truly believe that there is a place for a throw bag on the sea; which will be subject of a further blog post. Indeed, Steve Whetman has just produced a new throw-in for the sea, the Limpet which I hope to trial soon.

I finally think that I have the perfect system, using my Steve Whetman Guide Towline as my main contact tow, and my main short and long tow line. If I need to project a throw-line in to a gully or cave that I am not prepared to enter, then I can take the Jeff Allan Throw Tow from my rear deck and project it in to the gully, fastening my end to my Steve Whetman contact tow line - creating a releasable, projectable tow, and one that remains easy to pack and reset if required. I also still have my main tow line to hand if required.

I have used this tow rope in anger in Beaufort F6, gusting 7 and found it to be a superbly robust and simple. It is well designed and considered, allowing for optimum repack. I would highly recommend this system for sea kayak leaders, advanced leaders and guides.


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