Takacat’s new inflatable cats are light, stable and fun –and tough enough to handle whatever your recreational flavour might throw at them.
Designer and manufacturer Greg Sowden has been producing Takacats since 2007, and has developed three ranges: the Sport, the Explorer and now the new Lite X. These lightweight, practical little boats are portable and easy to assemble, and are used by Coastguard and other organisations, as well as by recreational boaties as tenders or fun boats for baches or campervans.
Sowden grew up on Auckland’s North Shore and spent lots of time hanging out at Taka(puna) Beach with his mates – hence both the name of his invention and the location of our rendezvous. Auckland’s pouring autumn rain is giving it a rest for once and it’s a beautiful, sunny, warm afternoon.
We’ve come to check out the newly-released Lite X, which has a major new feature: an open bow. Instead of a traditional-style, high bow with tapered pontoons, which can make it difficult to get back into the boat from the water – especially when encumbered with dive tanks or catch bags – the inflatable floor runs right forward to between the tips of the pontoons.
“This makes it easier to come into either a beach or boat ramp and just walk off. Kids can climb in and out of the water easily, and if you’re diving, snorkelling or swimming you can get on and off without difficulty,” says Sowden. “I do a lot of diving and I’ve got small kids, so that was the idea behind it.”
To accommodate the open bow, the Lite X has a slightly narrower floor than the earlier Lite model, tapering towards the bow, to make it more rigid. Think of the floor as being like an inflatable SUP — once filled with air, it’s extremely solid and stable to stand on.
It’s also tough enough to take dive tanks, laden catch bags and other gear without acting like an airbed. The Lite X comes in two sizes: 3m and 3.4m, and is made of tough PVC. The boats can also be custom-made in Hypalon rubber, which is specified by organisations such as Coastguard.
The transom is just a frame rather than a solid element, which saves about 7kg of weight and makes the boat easier to assemble and transport. It also means any water which comes over the bow can simply run out the back, rather than pooling in the boat.
The cats come with oars, quick-release beach wheels which can be flipped over and clipped into position when required, as well as a ‘float seat’ full of high-pressure air, a sort of marine pouf which can be moved to where it’s needed, rather than having fixed seats.
For our trial run the new Takacats have been paired with new outboards from Honda. We have powered up the 3m Takacat with a 4hp and the 3.4m with a 6hp. (The cats are rated for up to 10hp for the 3m and up to 15hp for the 3.4m, if you want more grunt.)
The new BF range comes in 4, 5 and 6hp models, all four-strokes, all with a stylish new aerodynamic cowling, and all with a useful carry handle. All three are the same weight – 27kg all up – and their ergonomic design helps when carrying them from car to boat by one person.
Other features of the new engines are rubber engine mounts, to reduce vibration and noise; a big, chunky, rubber-coated tiller for good grip and control; and a low-oil light paired with a rev limiter, to avoid accidental engine damage.
As four-strokes they have reduced emissions, better fuel efficiency and are quieter than two-stroke outboards. They also offer one-pull start – thanks to a decompression mechanism which opens the exhaust valve during start-up. So while they have a choke, you don’t really need it. And when you’ve finished your trip, there’s a one-push stop switch to shut down the engine – no holding down the button till it sputters into silence.
Honda Marine’s Leon Warner says previously Honda only offered a 2hp, a 3hp and then a 5, so the 4 and 6 are new sizes. “Going from 3 to 5 was a big step – the 4hp really fills that gap,” says Warner.
The two smaller engines have an integrated 1.5 litre fuel tank, and the BF6 has a connection point for attaching a tote tank.
The engines can run more than for 40 minutes at full noise on their internal tank. Warner says the BF6 also comes with the option of a 6A/12V charging port so you can juice up your GoPro or other device while on the go.
On the water
The Takacats attracted some interested onlookers as they were put together. Assembly is easy: first inflate one pontoon, then the other, then slip the floor in place between them and pump it up too. The inflatables come with a hand-pump, but unless you want a workout it’s much quicker and easier to inflate with a portable electric pump. In Sowden’s capable hands it takes less than 10 minutes to set up each boat and less than five to pack them away again.
The boats come in two bags which fit easily in the back of the car, with the tubes weighing just 20kg for the 3m boat and 23kg for the 3.4. The assembled boats weigh just 31kg (35kg all up for the 3.4m), and don’t take too much muscle to move around.
“You can put the bags on a roof rack, or I can fit four of them in the back of my Subaru,” says Sowden. “When deflated you can pack them into a motorhome or they can be stored at the bach. They can also be used as a tender for a bigger boat, either packed away or inflated and hung on davits.”
There’s lots of fun to be had, pulling donuts and opening up the throttles for our camera boat. The boats are very stable, with a different feel to a rigid-hulled inflatable – you kind of bounce along, cushioned by a layer of air between the floor and the water’s surface. They plane easily and corner comfortably, and would be great fun for kids to muck about in.
Sowden obligingly demonstrates how easy to it is to get in from the water, but apart from that voluntary wetting it’s a dry ride.
The Hondas do indeed start first pull, and the big tiller has good grip and is easy to control. There is definitely less noise than from a two-stroke, and there is plenty of power to send us skimming along the waves.
The Takacat certainly offers a practical, fun tender option — a ‘boat in a bag’ which you can take anywhere and get out onto the water in double-quick time.