|Right from the opening of the box for the Malone Sea Wings MPG107MD, I could tell that the product came from a manufacturer that cared about quality. The way it was packed and packaged, with thought and care, said that these guys wanted to do it right. It was the complement of the speedy and cheerful contact I had had with the sales department in arranging this evaluation.
So I was eager to get the unit mounted on the factory rack of my Toyota van. I laid out the individually packed items. The molded plastic wings were much heavier construction than I had anticipated. I had imagined that they would be flexible and would mold somewhat to the shape of the kayak. But they were not. They were thick and strong structural members.
The connectors for each wing unit were clamps secured by plastic molded T knob wing nuts. There were three sets of bolts for the clamps depending on the thickness of your individual installation. The same clamps are used for both the square (Thule), round (Yakima) and oval (factory) cross bars. While this is a clever design to accommodate all three cross bar systems with one piece, it means that there is less contact area between the clamp and the cross bar than there would be for individually designed pieces. The clamp bar was a very solid piece of cast metal of impressive size and weight.
The unit came with the MPG350 Stinger kayak load assist option. This sliding add-on to the rear wing can be pulled out to provide a cradle to slide the kayak up onto the roof from the rear of the vehicle. Placing the base of the Stinger under the rear wing raises the unit up a little and requires the use of the longer bolts provided in the kit.
I took the unpacked unit out to the car to fasten it onto the rack system. I quickly realized that I would need the longer bolts to fit the unit onto my factory rack. The middle length bolts were the proper choice. Do not use bolts that are too long as it is possible to screw the bolts into the top of your car roof if you choose bolts that are too long.
I like to mount my roof racks at the ends of the cross bar as the factory cross bars are not as sturdy as the custom Thule and Yakima racks. The other racks I have mount using an Allen wrench from the top. With these T knobs, no tool is required. However because of the very low profile of the factory rack and these units, there is very little room underneath to access the T knobs. I found the installation to be a little difficult, holding the rack in place and attempting to close the clamp and start the T knob onto the bolt. A third hand would have been very helpful here. After some struggle I got the T Knobs started onto the bolts and tightened the clamp on to the cross bars. Because of the small surface contact of the all-in-one clamp, my first attempt had the clamp mounted with a slant as the oval bar had slipped into the cutout for the square bar. I loosened the T knob a little and reset the unit, tightening the T knob with one finger from under the side of the factory rack. With the wide separation of the contact area on the bar, the connection was solid. If you are going to be taking this unit on and off frequently on a factory rack, the tight tolerances of this rack will get annoying. But with the sleek profile and good looks of the Malone Sea Wing, leaving it on is not all that bad.
No room going under the bar
Not a lot of room over either
The Stinger load assist unit has two more T knobs that loosen the slide tracks to allow the piece to be moved forward and back to the rear of the vehicle. I have a little spoiler that keeps the dust off the back window of the car. The Stinger sits perfectly on that unit. On other cars the piece will be sticking up in the air prior to the loading of a kayak. A little no-slip rubber pad on the underside of the V slide protects the finish. While the inside T knob is easy enough to get to when the kayak is not on the rack, the outside knob near the factory rail is a pain in the butt. On custom racks this will not be a problem as the cross bars are attached by much less extensive connections than the long horizontal rail of a factory rack. Unlike the rack itself, this load assist bar will be adjusted frequently so that inaccessibility of the T knobs is a problem. I would like to see Malone design a quick release lever that would tighten and release the slide for easy positioning of this non-load bearing item. If you fail to tighten the T knobs sufficiently there is nothing to keep them from loosening while transporting the kayak and you will loose the T knob. If not a quick release lever, I would at least like to see a nylon insert in the T knob that would keep them from coming off if not tightened well.
Inside T Knob on the Stinger Unit with other knobs in background
Stinger Unit positioned for loading the kayak
The load assist unit holds the bow of the kayak securely side to side when the bow is placed in the unit. I recommend holding onto the kayak while you move to the stern of the kayak so that the kayak does not slide back off the roof, just to be safe. Once the stern of the boat is brought up, the kayak slides smoothly across the Stinger cradle and the two roof cradles. As the inside slots for the tie downs are difficult to reach from the far side or the near side once the kayak is loaded, the straps should be threaded through the unit prior to loading. The bright red straps do not have any protective covers for the cast metal buckles. The usual plastic under pad is there, but the types and sides of the buckles are exposed, ready to mar the finish at any careless moment. This is particularly important for this unit as one needs to preset the straps and the buckles will be contacting the roof and or the other kayak on the roof and they need protection from the heavy, hard and edged metal buckles. A 0.5 mm neoprene or 500 denier nylon sewn over the buckles would provide the needed protection. I am sure that Malone could find a source of straps that would provide protection like the Thule straps with the plastic covers or many others I have come across. With their attention to other details I am surprised that this one escaped them.
My kayak is a Mariner Express - a low production volume, high hull volume kayak from Seattle. It is an unusual shape. It is swedeform - meaning the widest part of the kayak is in back of the cockpit and the cockpit is well aft. The forefoot is a full rounded V shape and transitions to a flat bottom with rounded chines at the cockpit then back to a deep V with keel. No other kayak on the market has this shape. So the fit of my kayak to the Malone Sea Wing is not typical. It is frankly not good. That will not be the case with many popular kayaks and my comments have to be interpreted in that light. However, it does bring up the point that since the Sea Wings are not flexible, the match between their shape and that of your particular kayak will matter - a lot. That is why a visit to a Malone dealer would be a very good idea before purchasing.
So I placed my kayak with about a third of the kayak overlapping the back of the vehicle. The Stinger slider was already fully extended to the rear. I placed an old floor mat that I keep in the car for this purpose (and for standing on when getting out of my shoes and wet suit on a stone parking lot) under the back end of the kayak to protect it. I then raised the kayak onto the Stinger support. With the fullness of my bow, it would not drop into the slot where may sharper V bottoms would. With the extra friction of the rubber mat the kayak remained in place, but in most instances I would still recommend holding on to the kayak. Moving to the stern I picked up the kayak and raised it to near horizontal. The kayak was easy to slide over the Stinger support. As I got to the flat bottom transition however, the kayak started to slide sideways, but the bow was already between the wings of the rear unit so it would not have fallen off even if I had not corrected the sideways slide. Deep Vs will not have this problem but it should be watched on flatter hulls like recreational or fishing kayaks.
Once the kayak is up on the two main supports, the Stinger support is just floating in the air, providing no support whatsoever on my boat. If you loosen the T knobs and slide the support forward it will contact the bottom, but with the difficulty of reaching the outside T Knob on the factory rack, I would never do it. The loading procedure was simple and easily accomplished with very little effort.
Unloading is the reverse of the loading procedure (except it is hard to know where to put the floor mat). Getting the kayak to slide back off the two supports is much harder than shoving it back on, but tipping the end of the kayak down to get it off the front unit helps a lot.
The fit of my rounded V bottom was not too bad on the front wing. The bottom tended to rest on the front edge of the wing instead of fitting nicely flat. I loosened the T knobs and let the angle of the wing adjust to the hull to get a good fit before tightening them up again. This additional adjustment argues once more for keeping the Sea Wings on the entire season.
The fit in the back was not so good. The hull tended to sit high in the rack on the chines of the boat destroying some of the low profile advantage of the Sea Wings. There was a lot of daylight under the hull and very little of the rack contacted the hull, although what contact there was was on a strong portion of the hull.
The straps go through the slots at the ends of the wings where the rack flattens out. As you can see from the above picture that location is well outboard of the hull for a relatively narrow kayak like mine. That means that there is some possibility of sliding horizontally on the rack and for rotating in the rack. The package comes with bow and stern lines. The lines end in galvanized S hooks, that I would like to see dipped in plastic coat like the handles of high quality tools (PlastiDip). I will dip mine in
So in conclusion, the Malone Sea Wings are good looking, well constructed, mostly well thought out racks. The Stinger load assist works really well as a simple design if you aren't going to move the position of it. But whether the Malone rack will work for you depends on the shape of your kayak. For me and my Mariner, we are going to pass because the fit isn't there. Deep V kayaks, like British boats, (the P&H Sirius comes to mind) might have some difficulty because of the flat profile of this rack. But for fatter, high initial stability recreational and fishing type kayaks I think the fit would be good. Try before you buy.
Malone makes a flexible & felt saddle unit, the MPG110MD that should adjust to just about any hull shape. If the wings don't work for your boat, look into these units. Maybe they would let you use the high quality construction of Malone rack accessories which far exceed that of Thule and Yakima. Be sure to check out their loading systems and sport trailer too.