Sabalo - my review 3 years on.

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Type of boat I like: Fishing SOTs.
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Sabalo - my review 3 years on.

Post by goanywhere » Thu Jul 31, 2014 8:40 am

Hello all. It's been awhile since I've been here posting threads, but I wanted to offer my thoughts and experience regarding the mighty Sabalo as an all-rounder fishing/touring/sailing kayak.

I built my Sabalo in 2011, and have put her to good use since in a variety of modes, so I think I am in a position to make some comments for any would-be S & G kayak builders out there considering this design.

The build.

This design as it was when I built it is quite a challenge for the novice builder (as I was), but is definitely doable if you are determined and willing to spend lots of time standing in front of your project scratching your head, or are prepared to spend heaps of time on this forum asking for and receiving advice.

The plans are excellent and the support on here is second-to-none, but even so, it's not an easy build without it's challenges.

I made lots of little (and not so little) mistakes with this build. It has some quite complex aspects, particularly the sub-frame, and getting all those panels to line up nice and straight can be a challenge. I was told that it would be a challenge for a novice, and I can say that these comments were well founded. Don't attempt this build unless you have a steely determination and a willingness to take advice!

However, if you can work through the harder bits, the effort is well and truly worth it!

As a fishing yak:

The Sabalo is a very stable fishing platform that remains very fishable even in quite rough conditions. I have been out in conditions that sent most other vessels scrambling for shelter, and I can say that I have never felt in any danger. Even landing on a beach with sizeable waves isn't too much of a problem. If you get caught sideways, you can just let it go with the surf and you don't have to worry too much about capsizing. The Sabalo surfs pretty well too, so those dumping beaches aren't the scary prospect for me that they are for most other kayaks.

The Sabalo can be built as a real fishing machine. I made the middle storage compartment into an ice-box, and I am still so glad I did. Storing my catch is made easy, and I can keep bait fresher for longer even in hot weather by popping a few frozen drink-bottles of water in there to keep things cool.

The great thing about Jem designs, and more importantly, the forum community, is the options that open up for customization. You can customize the Sabalo to any extent you like, with rod storage and mounting options, consoles for mounting fish finders and GPS etc.

The Sabalo can carry a huge amount of gear also. I can fit a milk-crate right behind me, and can fit enough fishing gear under the deck in my modified storage compartment to be ready for what ever species I want to target or encounter.

As a Sailing yak.

I always wanted a kayak design I could adapt for sail. I built mine with fittings for mounting outriggers and a sail. I mount a 35 sq ft. leg-o-mutton sprit sail, which is quite large for a kayak, and it has turned her into a true sailing trimaran. With some thinking and help, it is possible to build the Sabalo with extra strength where required to handle the stresses that sailing bring into play. With a suitable rudder and the right sail design, the Sabalo can handle herself in conditions that are a challenge for many small sailboats. She can make good speed too, up to 7 knots in the right conditions!

As a Tourer.

If you want to be able to load up and paddle long distances with all the gear you will need for an overnighter or many weeks on the move, you can do alot worse than choose the Sabalo. She can store more gear than most sea kayaks, and with her wide beam, remains very stable when fully loaded.

I wouldn't recommend the Sabalo for long open sea voyages, as the hull design isn't as fast or sleek as a good sea kayak, but for extended river, estuary or lake trips, where dry land stops for resting regularly are available, the Sabalo makes an excellent choice. The hull design is 'efficient but not fast' is how Matt described it to me, and that's a very good guide. I can paddle around 30 kilometers a day in calm conditions, but if you are looking to cover 60-80 kms a day, then choose a fast sea kayak design. However, the open cockpit and roominess of the Sabalo allows plenty of 'wriggle room' and the ability to easily turn around to fetch gear without fearing a capsize. And getting in and out are a breeze. I have capsized a SIK when getting both in and out and it's not much fun, so I love the stability and ease of the SOT here.


There aren't many, and all the cons I can think of are related to what the Sabalo isn't really designed for anyway. But there are a couple.

The lack of scuppers in the rear of the cockpit (at least on my version) make paddling with a wet behind an occasional annoyance.

The need to install drain plugs for all 'sealed' compartments. I have 3 drain plugs installed to allow every compartment to be drained now. I don't know how, but water will find it's way into 'sealed' compartments if you ship water. I thought I had sealed the bulk heads pretty well, but I have found that water will get in somehow, so drain plugs are the answer here. (This might say more about my lack of skills than about the design though!)

That's about it for the negatives.

My conclusions:

After 3 years of fairly solid use, there are no signs of wear or deterioration other than a few dings and nicks you would expect. The epoxy top coat is still in very good condition even though the Bote Cote epoxy is not supposed to be very UV stable. I do store the kayak under cover in my carport, so that obviously helps.

I am about to embark on another extended trip over 8 days on the Murray River and I have every confidence that I will return with a boat that is in as good condition as when I leave, and having had another fantastic trip.

Thanks Matt for an excellent all-round kayak design. I look forward to paddling in my 'go-anywhere' kayak for many years to come.
My psychologist reckons I need lots of fishin' therapy!

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Re: Sabalo - my review 3 years on.

Post by jem » Fri Aug 01, 2014 11:26 am

Thanks for the review. Good points on the scuppers and that it's not a touring yak.

Always wanted to make a touring SOT but it's hard to make a narrow hull that supports a good load and not have it be 17'+ long.
-Matt. Designer.

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