Back to the Futura by Ted Burnell

IMG_0625.JPG

In this era of excellent reviews of all the newest “latest and greatest” surfskis to hit the market, I think it’s time to take a step back, in time.   I recently used the Mr. Fusion unit I had installed on my Ford Explorer (easier to find than a DeLorean) and went back to 1995 and picked up a brand new Futura Carrera.  I would like to share this time travel experience with you here.

My good friend and my OC-2 Chattajack partner Jason Hjelseth recently contacted me about a Futura Carrera he found on the interwebs. It looked to be in perfect condition and the price was less than a new paddle.   My first two skis were Futuras.  My first was a yellow Futura C-4 (Big Bird), and the second was a pastel purple Futura Blade (Barney).  I had moved from these workhorse beasts to a Think Uno Max, Think Ion and Think Evo II.  But I have a weak spot for the old Futura skis.  When I saw the price and condition on this ski I just had to go get it.

This boat was in a retirement community in  Florida, an eleven hour drive from my Tennessee home, but I was going to be in the area visiting family anyway.  Trust me; going into a Florida retirement community was going back in time, they haven’t changed since I visited my grandparents back in the 70s.

IMG_0631.JPG

This background on this ski was an all too common story found with older skis.  Guy buys it new, never really fits in it, and puts it in a garage thinking he’ll lose weight.   Twenty two years later there’s still a new condition ski sitting in his garage along with every other ski and kayak he’s had in that time.   

We pulled it out in the sun and inspected it.   There was slight corrosion on the stainless rudder cables and slightly pitted aluminum pedals.  The hull is perfect.  Not a scratch.  Nada.  The top deck is nearly perfect except a couple of minor nicks in the seat area repaired with little dots of epoxy.  So this like new boat is on my car and heads out of the trailer park and into 2017, an era where skis are shaped like torpedoes and feel like they are made of egg shell.

Loading this boat on and off the car is an undertaking.   This ski is a glass layup, and the owner stated that it’s 39 pounds.   If it is 39 pounds, then a moose only weighs 39 pounds.   If you have a boat like this and there is no one helping load it in the V-rack, you’ll really be happy about the powerlifting you’ve been doing in the off season.

The Carrera was an intermediate boat, at 20 inches wide and ~19 feet long; similar to the current Epic V8 Pro®.  Like all Futuras that I have ever encountered, it has a kick up rudder.  This particular specimen has NO outfitting which adds to its fresh, out-of-the box feel.  No deck bungees, no hatches, no glued-in seat padding.   Curiously, it has no drain plug.  Like my previous Futuras, it does have a small breather hole drilled at the very bow in the deck.    Since this is the wettest area of the ski, I always found that placement rather curious.   I will be plugging it and adding a breather higher on the foredeck.  

I managed to get the ski out in flat conditions on Thanksgiving morning for a five mile paddle.  This was a bit of advance penance for the wanton gluttony that was to follow.  I was on the intercoastal waterway near Sebastian, Florida, but in the early morning it was like glass with no cruisers turning up wakes.

Spending most of my time in a 17.5” wide Think Ion, I really expected the paddling ergonomics of this wider boat to feel like I was paddling a plastic sit-on-top.  However, I was immediately surprised that the stroke felt extremely natural and that this ski had shockingly good glide.   The ergonomics were  a bit weird.  There was  a much lower hump level than my old Futura Blade made for better leg drive, but the very tight individual footwells really squeezed my calves.  Not painfully, but it was noticeable.  This mostly will be resolved with better footplate adjustment.   The primary stability on this boat was astonishing.   It felt like I was on an  outrigger it was so stable.   I could barely rock it side-to-side on purpose.   I’ve been in 24” kayaks that felt twitchy compared to this thing.   Secondary stability?  I couldn’t dream up a way to test it in flat water.  It was that stable.  

Eventually, a loaded small fishing boat cruised by at about 6 mph and I jumped onto his side wake to see how it felt.   I couldn’t even feel his wave, no impact on stability, no impact on steering.    I did manage to get some more speed on that wake and kept pace with the boat for about 2 miles.   I jumped across the prop wash, still no movement in the boat.   It was unflappable.  I really would like to get it in some rougher conditions soon and see how it feels.

This ski doesn’t feel like a modern ski at all.  It’s like someone took an 18’ unlimited paddleboard, put a low bucket molded into the deck, and you paddle it seated with a double blade.  It feels very “flat” whereas newer skis having you sitting higher and more “in” the ski rather than on top of it.   When you sprint in this boat, it goes up on plane.  Of course, sprinting in this boat is a good way to get a hernia with its weight.    The hull is very V-shaped, unlike the more rounded or chined hulls of modern skis.  

The rudder is an overhung, aluminum rudder steered with humongous aluminum pedals which are connected by ¼ inch thick stainless steel cables.   If you aren’t using these cables to steer, you could use them to lift an engine out of car or pull stumps out with a tractor.    The only repair I had to do the ski was to replace the bungees that keep tension on the pedals and rudder.  The originals were dry-rotted completely through.  

One thing that most modern ski owners will find interesting in this boat is the lack of any kind of bailer.  I imagine the thoughts at the time were that skis were meant to be awash.  The footwells and bucket are relatively low volume, and I found these don’t paddle much differently full of water.  Also, you can pump out some of the foot well water by repeatedly slamming your feet back and forth.   We’ll chalk up the introduction of bailers as a good change for sure.

So why own an old ski like this?  This particular ski is very stable and easy to paddle, so it’s a great ski to introduce friends to the sport.  It’s also a great cold weather training ski where swimming is a bad option regardless of thermal protection.  These old skis are also incredibly easy to remount due to their shallow buckets.  Also, thanks to its overhung rudder, heavy construction, and extremely low price point it makes a great shallow river boat.   That’s a big consideration for us inland paddlers .   And for me, I like the nostalgia of owning a pristine Futura.

So, much like the antique car hunters looking for barn finds, get out there and find an old ski, canoe, or kayak and rescue it.  It’s fun traipsing around in the past.  Just don’t forget to get your DeLorean up to 88 mph to go back to the Futura!