Not for the first time I will boldly speculate that the Austrian-made Semperit Forelle II (‘trout’, right) was the first serious modern IK, designed in the 1960s from tough hypalon ‘rafting’ fabric.
According to online data, it was 3.6m long, only 70cm wide and weighed just 12kg. This guy says Semperit were last made in 1983 at which point (or soon after) Grabner (also Austrian) bought the rights.
Grabner then got Gumotex, in Braclav just over the border (and maybe the Iron Curtain, back then) to produce a cloned Forelle called the Grabner Fun (left), but made from Gumotex’s hypalon-like fabric called Nitrilon. Back in the 1980s I’m sure Nitrilon would have been cheaper and probably as good as DuPont hypalon made in western Europe. The Fun was discontinued (or stock ran out) a few years ago.
Grabner Fun: length and width 365 x 75 cm; weight 12 kg; payload 170 kg; pressure 0.2 bar; fabric 1100 dtex Nitrilon
Not being one of their boats, the Fun was undersold by Grabner (notice the table, right). Instead, the similar but longer Holiday range got the fanfare and is still made today with few changes. Grabner boats were made from another hypalon-like fabric called EPDM which, combined with Grabner’s hot vulcanising method, explains how their boats managed to run 50% more pressure (0.3 bar) than the Fun and other Gumotex IKs at the time. Gael A. paddled an aged Grabner H2 along the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail a couple of years ago. Among others, Incept also used the twin-side beam design to produce a 70-cm wide K40 which is also 70cm longer than the Forelle II, making it one of the fastest IKs around.
You can occasionally find aged Forelle IIs for around €300 in Germany; a new H2 goes for €1600, while Funs were being discounted for as little as €400 new, but seem much rarer now. I was curious about tracking down a Forelle recently and below are a few shots I picked up off the web and from some sellers. Apart from the odd repair, the indestructible hypalon fabric should be fine and the seats may well have been improved (Grabner’s still use the crude ‘backrest bar’ design). The boats should come with a huge wooden rudder which might be replaced by a skeg, but one off-putting aspect are the basic inflation plugs (left); no better than an old Gumotex seat. These could easily be cut out and replaced with proper Halkey valves, maybe in a more accessible position, too.
But one thing that can’t get avoided is that a Forelle (and a Fun) still run only 0.2 bar pressure. Same as most Gumoteii, though helped by the stiffer twin side beam hull. Modern Grabners run .03 bar which I feel makes a big difference. Some newer Gumotex IKs now run 0.25, though that can be pushed to 0.3 bar with care.