Fennix Swordfish S - First Looks

Monday, 24 February 2020 12:01 | Written by 
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The old and the new Fenn Kayaks Swordfish S The old and the new Fenn Kayaks Swordfish S

I finally got my hands on a demo Fennix Swordfish S this weekend and did two Miller's Runs in succession to see if I could feel any difference in handling between the 2018 Swordfish S and the new Fennix model.  Conditions were challenging: False Bay was covered in whitecaps, whipped by a combination of a 25-30kt southeaster and small, confused seas.  The result?  I definitely want to spend more time in this boat.


What's with the branding?

Fenn Kayaks lost their entire factory to a devastating fire in June 2019. 

Fortunately well insured, they immediately started to rebuild and they made a clever (IMO) play on the idea of the mythological phoenix of Greek folklore, rising reborn from the ashes - Phoenix/Fennix, get it?!

Design Tweaks

Having lost many of their moulds and plugs, Fenn took the opportunity to tweak some of the designs - and the Swordfish S was one of them.  I've been paddling a Swordfish S since January, 2018 and absolutely love it.  I have half a dozen of my best Miller's Runs time in it - and smashed my Miller's Personal Best a few weeks ago.  I find the boat super-stable, yet very responsive and quick in the runs. 

Suffice to say that I am intimately familiar with the boat, having logged approximately 4,000km in the last two years, most of it in downwind conditions.

So - what of the Fennix version?

The demo boat is a glass vacuum model - weighing in at about 15kg, it's a few kg heavier than my Carbon Hybrid Swordfish S.

Increased Volume

The most obvious difference is the shape of the nose - the deck is tapered down - but what's not quite so obvious is that the volume has been bulked up.  The circumference of the hull is roughly 1cm bigger from the foot-well forward.

Higher Rails

At the scuppers, the distance from the bottom of the foot-well to the top of the rail is increased by .5cm. 

New seat

I'm not sure that it's a new shape, I think perhaps they've gone back to the old shape which should be good news for my coccyx; I had to put a bum pad into my Swordfish S to make it bearable to sit it.  (I have a coccyx that seems to stick out more than other people's, and I often have problems with surfski seats...)

Shorter Cockpit overall

Caveat: the different shape of the seat makes it difficult to measure any differences to the centre of gravity, but I can report that:

  • The forward bulkhead is 1.5cm closer to the tail than the old Swordfish S.
  • The leash anchor is 1cm closer to the tail than the old Swordfish S.
  • The rudder is exactly the same distance from the tail as the old Swordfish S.

I tried setting the footplate at the same position as my old Swordfish S for my first Miller's Run, but found it too short and lengthened it by one position for the second run, which was much more comfortable.  This tends to confirm my suspicion that the cockpit is a little shorter.  One benefit of this is that the cockpit holds less water when flooded.

Hull Shape

The bottom of the hull from the nose to the seat is slightly more V-shaped.

The distance from the tail to the rudder pin is identical to the old Swordfish.

In summary, the new Fennix Swordfish S has:

  • More volume in the hull forward of the seat.
  • Slightly higher rails.
  • (Seemingly) a slightly shorter cockpit (although, as noted, the different shape of the seat makes this difficult to confirm).
  • A slightly more obvious V-shape to the bottom of the hull forward of the seat.
  • The same rudder position.
  • A different seat shape.
  • A more elegantly shaped (to my view!) nose.

DSC 2095

The differences between the boats are subtle


DSC 2091

The rails on the Fennix Swordfish S are slightly higher


I did two Miller's Runs (our favourite 12km downwind here in False Bay, Cape Town) back to back.  Conditions were challenging: for the first run we had 25-30kt wind with small, confused seas and for the second run slightly less wind (20-27kt) with even more confused waves.

Side-on to the wind and waves

To get to the start of the Miller's Run, you have to paddle out 800m to Bakoven Rock, with the wind and waves hitting you side-on, a good test of your stability in a surfski! 

When I hopped into the boat, my primary impression was that of pain.  I'd paddled another new boat from a different manufacturer a few days before and it had rubbed my coccyx raw (and no, it's not because I push too hard with my legs, it's because my coccyx is more bony and sticks out more than other people's, and in boats that don't accomodate it, it doesn't take long for the skin to rub off... A genuine pain in the ass...)

And the footplate was set too short.  I'd set it to the same length on the adjusters as my old boat, but that was definitely one notch too short.

As a result, and I think as a consequence of the increased volume, I felt a little corky and tippy.  I paddled very tentatively out to the rock, somewhat disappointed with my lack of stability.


But...  after a couple of minutes, my backside went satisfactorily numb and I could start to focus on my paddling.

The first thing I noted was that the surfski does feel different.  The Fennix ski, perhaps as a result of its increased buoyancy, feels more lively than the old Swordfish S.  Buddies who normally paddle more elite-level boats have commented in the past that the Swordfish S feels a little sluggish in comparison - but I think they'd change their minds with the Fennix boat.

(One paddling buddy in particular is about to take delivery of a carbon Fennix Swordfish S, so I'll be getting feedback from him in the near future.  He currently paddles a Fenn Elite S and although he loves it, in really hectic conditions he finds it a handful.)

In my old Swordfish S, I find that if I let the nose dip as I surf the runs, the boat tends slow down, so I tend to focus on leaning back to keep the nose up; by doing this I can often bounce over the next wave to create sequences, surfing from one wave to the next. 

The Fennix Swordfish S seems to dip its nose less - which is to be expected given the increased volume in the nose.  I found myself leaning back less, yet maintaining speed and bouncing the runs more. 

A fast Miller's Run for me is around 45min. My PB is 43:10, achieved in exceptioinal circumstances (very strong wind, combined with big, clean waves).

My first Miller's in the Fennix boat was just under 50min - but given the confused seas and my severe discomfort, I wasn't dismayed at all - and I had some fabulous runs, one sequence around 300m without taking a stroke.  So far so good.

Second Miller's

An hour later I did a second run, with a new batch of paddlers; my buddies from the first run had decided that the conditions weren't good enough to justify a second go - but I was keen to spend as much time in the borrowed boat as possible.

By now my coccyx was on fire and on the way out to Bakoven Rock I was sitting at a weird angle in the boat, one leg almost straight as I tried to find a way to lessen the pain.  I'd lengthened the footplate position by one notch so the leg length felt better - but oh man, I was praying for the numbness to set in.  Which it did, but only about 2km into the downwind. 

Conditions were pretty horrible - the confused waves were even more so, some of them hitting side-on, 90 degrees to our course.  And the wind had died down to about 20kt.

And my time reflected it the deteriorated conditions - 52min. 

But - pain notwithstanding, I did enjoy the way the boat handled the waves.  On my own Swordfish S, I remember that when I paddled it for the first few times with the standard rudder, it veered off course very easily - and I equipped it first with a big elliptical rudder made by Orka Paddles here in Cape Town, and then with a DK rudder, which helped it to track much straighter.

In contrast, this boat seems to track very well with the standard rudder - and I wasn't being knocked off course by the side-on chop.  And I was able to maneauver, turning back and forth to find the dips in the sea ahead of me.

I want more!

Feeling very sorry for myself, I took the boat back to the Orka shop this morning.  Why sorry?  Not only do I have a raw backside, but I also pulled a muscle in my side yesterday so although the SE wind is pumping again today, I'm going to have to take a few days off to try and heal my injuries.  Bleh!

But I'm amped to take that boat out again.  I think that it's a better downwind boat than my current Swordfish S and I want to give it a proper go in decent conditions.

First Looks Summary

The Fennix Swordfish S is definitely a different beast compared to the old Swordfish S.

It still fits into the "intermediate" category, but I suspect that performance, especially downwind, has been improved.  If you paddle a Swordfish S at the moment and you're in the market for a new boat, the Fennix version is definitely worth trying out.

But I'll be spending more time in the boat, and will report back further as I become more familiar with it.



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