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Ongoing impressions of Stellar 18 Expedition

CPS

Paddler
Joined
Oct 27, 2020
Messages
438
Location
BC
I recently bought a Stellar S18 Expedition in the carbon kevlar layup they call 'Multi-Sport'.

Specs from the Stellar website:

Length: 18' / 5.5m
Beam: 21.5" / 54.7cm
Depth: 12.6" / 32cm
Paddler: 5' - 6'6" / 1.5m-2m
Capacity: 385 lbs / 175kg
Cockpit W: 17.3"
Cockpit L: 31.9"
Bow Storage: 23.1 Gal
Stern Storage: 33.3 Gal

They say 18kg on the website, mine weighs 18.7kg.

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I thought I would share some alterations and adjustments as I make them, as well as share my overall thoughts on the boat as I paddle it more.

I got the opportunity to test paddle the 18 Touring a few months ago and was quite pleased with how it performed. I didn't adjust anything other than the foot pegs and paddled a bit over 50 kilometers in it, in flat water as well as some decent waves while fighting a headwind. The Touring and the Expedition share the same hull design, but the Expedition adds a small deck pod in front of the cockpit, as well as a day hatch and additional bulkhead. There is also a keel strip which runs the entire length.

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As expected the stock 18 Expedition paddles just the same as the 18 Touring, at least as far as I could tell from a quick evening paddle yesterday.

I am a fairly small guy, so today I moved the seat forward a bit. This is easily accomplished by undoing a few nuts and sliding the seat pan forward. There are holes in three spots, allowing about 2" of adjustment forward.

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The general arrangement is visible in this picture. The black plastic strip with holes in it is part of the backband.
Behind the backband are some marks that look similar to residue from a polishing compound. Not something I care about, but I could see some people being put off by the finish.

That being said, it's nice to be able to make adjustments to the seat at all. Most other manufacturers make it much more difficult to (re)move the seat pan. Given that I intend to paddle this for many years, I can foresee wanting to look under the seat pan to inspect for wear from time to time.
The underside of the seat pan does have some thin foam in contact areas which should help prevent pieces of grit from wearing the hull if they're trapped under the seat.

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While I was at it I also removed the backband and reinstalled it upside down. This has the effect of lowering the total height by a noticeable amount.
I was a little concerned that moving the seat forward might create a pinch point, but the backband strap seems to cover it well once it's installed.

I will paddle it this way for a little which before making further adjustments. I may add a bit of padding for my hips, as well as a small amount underneath the thigh braces for a bit more comfortable bracing.

Alterations I am considering making going forward include:

  • Removing some of the logos. Luckily these are vinyl decals which should come off easily with a little heat.
  • Changing the handles. The large rubber handles are comfortable enough but a little ugly and I'm more of a toggle kind of guy.
  • Altering the bungee on the rear deck to make them better for paddle float re-entries. Not something I expect to be doing a lot of but the current arrangement doesn't seem super useful as is.
  • In the long term I would like to add a sail. I've been intrigued by Falcon sails and this should be a good platform for that.
I did consider removing the small deck pod up front as I normally use a North Water underdeck bag in my boats and have grown accustomed to having my pump and paddle float under the deck. I think that moving the seat forward likely provided a good area behind the seat for those items anyways.

In my Rapier I installed some lashing points on the floor for holding a water bladder in place. The seat pan of the Stellar has an integrated water bottle holder, which takes up that space. It will be easy enough to remove if I don't like it.

Some small details that I quite enjoy are the Smart Track rudder and footpegs.

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The use of Spectra instead of stainless steel rudder cable is also nice.
I'd prefer a footboard but there is a significant amount of storage space between the pedals and forward of them that I would rather not give up.

As a side note, I'm excited for the extra space to wear warmer footwear in winter. The neoprene pad under the foot pedals should help keep my heels warm as well as preventing me grinding grit into the hull as I paddle.

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This photo also does a good job showing the construction. Carbon kevlar layup on the hull, with a carbon strip running down the most of the hull. The deck is a vacuum infused soric foam core fibreglass construction. Which is to say reasonably stiff but light weight.

I'll be away from home for a while, eagerly anticipating paddling more.
 
Looks like a very nice boat and I agree with your plans for some minor changes.
Keep an eye on that possible chafe spot where the rudder line from the foot pedal goes into the tube.
Stellar footpegs marked.jpg
 
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Congrats on the new boat and thank you for the detailed write up!

Cheers,
Andrew
 
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That is a beautiful boat. When I saw one in person in Washington the forward deck bungies crossed directly over the forward deck pod, which made me thinking it might be difficult to access the pod one handed. I cannot tell with certainty from your forward shot if perhaps the bungie lines have been moved to not cross directly over the pod lid? Just something weird that stood out to me at the time.
 
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Perhaps they're rearranged the deck bungees or perhaps the one you saw wasn't stock. Can't say for sure.

But the current arrangement from Stellar leaves the pod clear and easy to access. It should be noted it's not a very large compartment so some might prefer a more convenient bungee layout if storing charts on the foredeck is preferred.
 
On the weekend I got out for another paddle, which confirmed that I like the seat position and back band, but will want to add some hip pads and more substantial padding for the knees/thighs.

I've got plans for that but didn't have the material on hand so instead I changed up the deck rigging.

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Reflective perimeter line has been hard to find for a while. I serendipitously found two scrap pieces at work that were just the right size. The bow arrangement is basically unchanged except for a bit less tail past the knots to snag on.

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I changed up the rear deck lines by combining the perimeter lines and bungee. This gives me some more play on the lines to slip a paddle under for paddle float re-entries.
I'll have to see how this setup works. I may change the knot positions so there is less distance before the perimeter line knot so it acts as a stopper. What seems good in the garage may not be ideal on the water.


I also changed the handle arrangement.
First I removed the handles and was a bit surprised to see a little patch of velcro. It must be to stop the webbing on the handles from twisting. I thought that was a pretty nice touch but I don't like the handles so pulled off the velcro.


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This is my prototype arrangement. Normally I would just use a padeye but I want to keep the original holes if possible. A bit of bungee holds the toggle snug and prevents it clattering about, as well as giving a bit of less jarring feeling when picking it up. I may play around with a thinner bungee, we'll see. Only concern I have is that now all loading is on a single bolt as opposed to being spread out over two as with the original arrangement. I think it will be fine.

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I did a similar setup at the bow and also took off the rather large bow logo.
Because of the tight curve of the deck at the bow the fittings I used overhang by about 1/16" or so. I doubt that will be an issue but will again try it out and see.
 
I wanted to try hip pads that are not just blocks of foam glued in. Normally that would be my go-to but I figured why not try out something a little prettier?

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So I picked up a pair of Harmony hip pads. They have a pocket where you can add extra shims of foam if needed. They seem like a pretty good fit for me without any additional shims.

Included instructions would have you drill holes and rivet a few strips of velcro to the seat pan. My thought is that they have polyethylene in mind so don't trust adhesive. I suspect the "Extreme Outdoor" adhesive backed velcro I used will be more than sufficient.

The pads come with straps as well to hold them in place. These don't work well with the seat pan shape. The top one gets a bet fouled in the backband strap and the bottom one rides up at the back of the seat pan. I may Dremel a few small slots to feed the straps through in the future. It would probably look a little neater but I doubt the straps are really necessary for anything other than preventing it floating away if I accidentally loosen the pad.

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I will leave the hip pads in this configuration for a while before I decide if I want to change the backband's rigid plastic strip for a bit of thicker webbing. If I do make that swap I will likely cut those small slots while I'm at it.

The next thing to tweak was the thigh braces, which I felt needed a bit more padding for my fairly twiggish legs.

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The stock padding is actually made up of two pieces. One for the sides which extends to where the coaming joint the deck, and another smaller piece for the thigh brace itself. I replaced the smaller piece with a thicker but of foam, cut to have a slight wedge shape to give my knees a bit more purchase when bracing.

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These are thoughtful mods. When’s the first overnighter? I look forward to that report!

Cheers,
Andrew
 
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I have my sights set on a weekend trip at the end of October. Hopefully it's a bit cooler by then.
 
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So I just counted it up and I've paddled a bit over 385 kilometers in this kayak so far. I'm enjoying it quite a bit and it is generally performing well. Despite relatively low decks it still holds a good amount of gear for trips, and the efficiency is nice. I spent just shy of 9 consecutive hours in it a few weeks back, so the fit is working pretty well.

That being said, I have pulled out the rigid back band and replaced it with a piece of webbing. This should be a bit more comfortable for me on long days, although I haven't had a chance to try it yet. I am also debating removing the back band altogether, similar to how my Valley Rapier is outfitted. Further experimentation will follow.
 
That is an impressive weight, especially for an 18 foot boat. How is it with the rudder up? Is the hull so fast that it requires it?
 
It's pretty good without the rudder. I usually deploy it but it certainly doesn't need it. In wind it's definitely helpful to have though.
It's quite a long waterline, so a pretty aggressive edge is required if you want to turn when stationary. But when paddling with rudder up the usual subconscious weight shifting edging will correct things.

If I compare it to my Looksha IV where I almost never use the rudder, or my Valley Rapier where the rudder is absolutely necessary, it's much closer in feel to the Looksha. That was somewhat surprising to me, but one of the reasons I chose to buy this kayak. It's fast and fun without being impractical for most paddling, as I find the Rapier or Stellar S18R to be. Both are very fun boats but not ones I feel particularly comfortable and confident in lumpy water.

Somewhat interesting (for me, at least) is comparing the speeds I get over a long day of paddling when in the 18 Exp vs the Rapier.

My longest distance in the Rapier was 68 kilometers, with a few stops, and getting out of the boat 3 times. That was a ten and a half hour day, with nine hours and forty minutes spent paddling.
Average speed when moving was 6.7kmph, max speed was 12.7kmph.

My longest distance in the 18 Exp was on a few rivers, so I will ignore that one.
I have a day where I paddled 53 kilometers in eight hours and eighteen minutes of moving, with half an hour of stops, never getting out of the boat. Average speed of 6.4kmph and a max speed of 13kmph.
Another day was crossing the Strait of Georgia twice, where I had a hard time finding a good pace. I suspect this was due to the lack of perceived movement. I find it much easier to stay motivated when I can see the shore going by.
Distance on that day was 55.2 kilometers. I did that in 11 hours of paddling, with an hour break for lunch on shore. Average moving speed of 5kmph, and max of 11.3kmph.
When I first tried the Stellar 18 Touring (same hull, different deck) in a different layup, I did 53.2 kilometers in eight hours and forty minutes, with a forty minutes of breaks, including lunch on shore. Average speed was 6.1kmph and max was 13.9kmph.

All these numbers are close enough to get a pretty good sense that my general paddling pace is around 6kmph over a full day of paddling. The Rapier is about 10-15% faster perhaps.
I'll be curious to see if these speeds increase in the summer, when I'm not wearing a drysuit and generally feeling more energetic, as was the case with the Rapier data point.

I'm always a bit wary to believe these numbers (especially max speeds) exactly because the app I use is a bit janky at times, but I used the same app for both so they should be at least accurate enough relative to each other.
 
... I have pulled out the rigid back band and replaced it with a piece of webbing. This should be a bit more comfortable for me on long days, although I haven't had a chance to try it yet.

I sort of forgot that I did this, never tried it, then did a 5 day trip in Desolation Sound. I heartily recommend taking out the solid plastic strip which originally supported the padded back band, and replacing it with something flexible. I used 1" webbing, which is what I had on hand, as well as some spare fastex buckles. To prevent the padded back band from rolling over itself during re-entries (something which happens sometimes in my Necky) I kept a short section of the original band in place to give some structure to the band. Now I can unclip my back band if I need to access something behind the seat. Currently I am storing my pump and paddle float back there, but I bet I could move those somewhere else and put something like a water bladder back there.

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In the photo you can see the shortened portion of original band with the webbing and buckle taped in place with electrical tape. Not the prettiest solution, perhaps, but I'll replace it when (if) it needs it. The webbing on the right side continues to the original hole and attaches using the original hardware.
When I can bring myself to brave the cold I'll do some rolling practice. I am certain that the more flexible backband will help for anything where laying back is needed.
 
More tinkering today!

I recently took this boat to Surge Narrows for some playing (and swimming) in current. What a lot of fun that was even in a long boat with no rocker!



But I felt that my outfitting was a bit too loose still. So today I pulled out the hip pads and cut out the little shims I added to the thigh braces and started again, this time using some scrap minicell foam I had kicking around. It's black, as opposed to the usual grey. One piece came out of my Valley Rapier, but I can't remember where the other piece came from.

In any case I shaped some rather aggressive hip pads and thick braces. I adjusted the fit while sitting in the kayak. This was very useful for dialing things in, though it was a bit messy.

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To shape the foam I used a piece of Dragon Skin, which I don't think is easily found nowadays. It's essentially perforated metal with little teeth that make quick work of minicell.

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Once everything was shaped I did a quick pass with a blowtorch to melt the little fuzzies into the foam, for a slightly nicer appearance. I'm hoping to find some time soon to try out the new outfitting. My goal is for a good blend of comfort for long days while also giving me some better control in rough stuff. I can always shape the pieces smaller so I started with them a bit aggressive.
 
DragonSkin is really an excellent tool for shaping foam. I bought a few pieces some years ago and I'm keeping it close! :)

It's a precious commodity! I haven't seen anything similar. A real shame they ceased production.
 
I took the boat out for a paddle and Howe Sound and enjoyed the new outfitting. Very responsive and still comfortable.

I think the next thing I'll do is take out the Smart Track rudder controls and put Sealect foot pedals in their place. Ergonomically I prefer them.
The difficulty is that the studs are too short so I'll have to do a transplant. A tedious job and it will have to wait until I find my Dremel.
 
Rather than mess about trying to remove the existing studs I decided to slightly modify the Sealect Design system. This way if I don't like the change I can revert to the original set-up without fuss.

The issue is that the existing studs didn't reach through the entire assembly of the replacement rails, preventing me from putting a nut on the end. However if I drilled the holes out a bit to 3/8" I could use a different hardware setup.

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The little piece of metal is threaded on the inside 1/4" x 20, same as the stud. It is long enough to reach the threads of the stud and fasten securely. I picked it up from the specialty hardware bins at the local hardware store. They're originally for furniture. Unfortunately they're nickel plated, so may not be as long lasting as stainless steel but at least it lets me test out the arrangement.

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Here's one installed with the original in place on the left.
 
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