Don’t get me wrong, I love my Jitsu. I think it’s an awesome boat. But as I started to learn more, and use it on more varied water, its foibles became more apparent, which I’ll come to shortly.
There were two main things that triggered off my thoughts for replacing it. The first was that when I was in Uganda I really struggled on ferry glides in the more volumes water. I found it difficult to control the pearling when I did so, leading to a bit of irritation on my part.
The second was when I recently had coaching off a top international freestyler, and he mentioned to me that my Jitsu looked very low in the water. He said that although it would be fine for flat water, it would not be great for paddling in white water.
He was right of course. The way that the Jitsu is wider at the front of the cockpit before tapering to the rear so that the tail of the boat is much narrower than most other playboat models, means that it can be squirrelly. When this is combined with it’s quite aggressive edges, it can keep you on your toes. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I never disliked it for those edges. In fact it made for great surfs in the sea, and its low rear rocker meant it was a much faster boat than its short length should theoretically allow.
So why didn’t I replace it with a slightly larger Jitsu? I could have done so, but I wanted to fatten up the rear volume a bit and try something a bit different.
First impressions of the GuiGui Exo Helixir
Next to the Jitsu, although it looks to be the opposite from the photo below, the Helixir has in fact substantially more volume, and more length. The specs say that the Helixir S is 170cm, but I measured mine at 172cm, vs 177 measured on my Jitsu. It doesn’t sound much but it makes a difference and is much more apparent when the boats are seen side-by-side in the flesh.
Width wise the Jitsu is supposedly 64cm wide, while the Helixir S is specced at 64.5cm. Let’s just say that while I could not measure totally accurately, neither boat is close to those numbers when I measured them! The Helixir is wider than the Jitsu however. Noticeably so.
Pretty much what we are talking about here is that if you are used to a small Jitsu, or a small Rock Star, the Helixir S is a small plus. You can’t judge a boat by volume, but the specs are interesting never-the-less. The Jitsu small is said to be 182 litres, while the Helixir S is 202 litres.
I have no idea what the real volume of the boats are. I think Jackson are the only company that actually measures volume on a production boat, while most other manufacturers are guessed from the CAD design, so there is often variance in the production boat from that figure.
However, with that in mind, this makes the Helixir a full 20 litres bigger in volume than the small Jitsu. To put that into perspective, the average home brewing barrel for beer is around 15 litres, which is around 40 pints of beer. Not that I’d know anything about that…
To give another idea of the volume in the back, I have put in two airbags that I used to use in my creek boat. In my Jitsu, fully inflated, they would start to encroach on the seat. In the Helixir, even when fully inflated they don’t fill the volume! So I will actually need bigger airbags!
So the volume difference is quite marked, what are the other differences?
As mentioned earlier, the Jitsu narrows quite markedly towards the tail, while the Helixir, when viewed from the top, is more of a ‘swedish’ profile, with the widest point at the rear quarter of the cockpit, tapering very subtly towards the nose before rounding off. Meanwhile the rear of the boat tapers too, but ends much wider than the Jitsu, which should hopefully make for a more stable ride while paddling white water. It’ll be interesting to see what difference it makes when surfing sea waves.
Rocker wise the Jitsu seems to have a higher nose rocker and at first glance would seem to be more slicey there too. While at the rear the GuiGui most definitely has the thinner ‘sliciness’ to it.
Despite the larger volume I have had to come to terms with the fact that I don’t seem to have quite as much foot room in the Helixir as I did with the Jitsu. Not uncomfortably so, but I have had to put some thought into how I outfit the boat. Having been used to my homemade outfitting in the Jitsu with immovable hip pads etc, it has taken some getting used to coming back to stock style outfitting.
The Helixir is a light boat, so it won’t require the same sort of DIY quest that I embarked upon with the Jitsu. It will take me a while to dial in the outfitting though.
So far I have my seat set one notch off fully back. But the thing to consider here is that the distance between notches on the Helixir are very small. The second is that when I first got into the boat the extra volume can make it feel like you are sat quite low. So I have installed some seat shims under the seat pad to lift me up. But because they follow the seat contour they also have the effect of pushing me forward slightly, compensating for moving the seat back.
After a lot of playing with the hip pad shims and angles, I still didn’t feel quite right. I decided to sit in Emily’s boat, and amazingly it fitted like a glove! BTW, look on with jealousy at the colour of her boat below! She’s named it “Suzi Q” given its rock/punk like vibe.
What was different about her boat? Simple, she had the intelligence and forethought to put the Sweet Cheeks from her Rock Star into it! Needless to say I tried them in my boat and immediately felt much more connected to the hull. So I’ve order one. I’ve taken one of the three seat shims I had installed out to compensate for the Sweet Cheeks, although I have yet to try it on the water with this configuration.
The good news is that the strap for the Sweet Cheeks goes around the side of the Hilixir seat, so it can be attached to the boat easily. I have also ordered some 3M heavy duty velcro in case I want to take the stock seat cover out and give the Sweet Cheeks a better fixing.
I’m firmly of the opinion that you can get a far better fit into your boat if you stop being too precious about the neat and shiny stock outfitting. It’s all very lovely, but there’s no point sacrificing connectivity. Its the hull that makes the boat fun, not the outfitting. Although having good outfitting allows you to enjoy the hull much more!
The plastic Helixir outfitting has just been totally redesigned. So the stock outfitting you see in my boat is very different from the one that came with the first versions. It has been redesigned to make things stronger, stiffer, and a lot lighter. The centre hull track that runs the length of the hull is very rigid indeed, and should make for a really good, stiff hull surface. At the front and rear of the boat is a solid plastic pillar. Again this is very stiff, and at the front makes for a great carry handle for the hand while shouldering the boat.
The only drawback is that there’s no frills, such as a place to put a water bottle, throw line, etc. This is very much designed for high performance, place your bottle on the bank, style boating. But if you are taking the Helixir on something like the Nile or Zambezi, you might appreciate having somewhere to put some water etc. It wouldn’t be too hard to put some elastic ties around the front pillar, though stopping the bottle from moving around still might be tricky.
First world problems aside, it’s all well put together. Seat fore-aft adjustment requires loosing a thumb screw at the back of the seat, and then undoing two hex bolts behind each hip pad, so it’s pretty easy and straightforward.
A piece of shaped foam for a foot wedge comes with the boat, with some pre-cut shims that can be taken off to tune it to your leg length. Again I made my own. Feet are too varied, especially in the small space of a freestyle boat for a one size fits all solution. But the supplied foam makes a good starting point.
Initial impressions on the water
I haven’t yet taken the Helixir on proper white water. There’s nothing worse than a boat that hasn’t been outfitted properly on the white stuff. But while testing out my fit I have done some flat water shenanigans.
Thus far I have found that both ends initiate very easily, much more so than the Jitsu, despite the extra length and volume. It would appear that the Helixir is a cartwheeling machine! Emily has also found the ends much easier to initiate and get vertical with than her 2014 Rock Star. It also balances well in both the bow and the stern stall.
Much more to come in a follow up blog. In the meantime, what is happening to the Jitsu? At the moment it looks like I’ll be doing a C1 conversion on it! So more fun and frolics to come!