My main intent for this boat was multi-day touring, with a side of evening/weekend day paddles since I live close to the water. I'm around 6'2"-6'3" and ~200lbs. The rudder pedals are out just far enough to be comfortable at the end of their length adjustment, and the knee braces and seat are close-fitting but still comfortable. Anyone taller and/or heavier than me may not fit this boat. Do try though, because you may still be able to fit with some further adjustment/slight modification of components.
After paddling a number of other poly boats from various manufacturers, I found them generally very slow and unwieldy in turns. This was further compounded when I was convinced to try a Necky Looksha Elite by a rep during a local paddlefest event. The elite was a beautiful, fast boat that turned on a dime, yet still had decent primary and excellent secondary stability. It was also something like $3500, way WAY out of my price range.
Anyway, not long after, I spotted the used Cortez. It was a great price for a used boat, so even though I had no idea that Dagger even made ocean kayaks at all, I figured I would go check it out and take it for a test paddle. As soon as I got it on the water, it exhibited almost the same level of speed and handling as the Looksha Elite. (Turns on a dime, decent primary, and excellent secondary stability.) I agree with the other reviews in that it's squirrelly when the rudder is up, but drop the rudder and it tracks like an arrow. I knew right then I had found my boat, and bought it on the spot!
Since then, it has been on many day trips, one 3-day trip, and one 5-day trip in the Broken Islands. I had no trouble fitting in all my gear, food etc. for the 5-day trip, and the boat is very stable but still quick while carrying a full load. My only touring related complaint is that the rear hatch leaks slightly, and the back pad doesn't provide much support. The back pad can of course be replaced with a better one.
I also took the boat out in some surf to play around. It has no trouble slicing through breakers while paddling out, but I found it tough to surf the breakers back in. The boat would always turn sideways to the wave when trying to catch one, but this could have been due to my complete inexperience kayak-surfing breakers. It will easily catch and surf swells though, as I found out in the Broken Islands, and it's a lot of fun in those conditions!
In short, I love this boat, and I'm sure I will keep it for a long time or until I wear it out! Gave it a 9 because of the leaky rear hatch and sub-optimal back pad.
Overall I'd easily say the stability of this boat will keep you feeling confident in many different types of conditions. It will take a day or two to really get acclimated with the boat but I think that applies to any kayak. I've only paddled one boat that was faster than this one too. The speed is very good.
I had heard that the boat has issues with weather cocking and that's the only reason I gave it a 9. It weather cocks pretty easily but with some corrective strokes/edging you can keep it on course in windy conditions fairly easily. And if you are struggling, just drop the rudder and it tracks straight as an arrow.
I had never rolled a boat before so I decided to find out if I could learn on my own in this one. Two hours of practice later and I had learned a simple eskimo roll. I've got nothing to compare it to here but I'm assuming this is an easy boat to roll as well.
The Cortez is a specialty performance touring kayak. It was designed to fill a gap in the sport. It’s one of the few rockered touring kayaks, thus making it highly maneuverable when need be, but hard tracking when the ruder is down, or when your skills are up. It’s not intended for the novice or the non-adventurous recreational yaker. My son, almost 6’ and about 180 pounds, pilots this kayak like it was a fighter jet (Note: all of our kids grew up in kayaks and canoes). We’ve spent a fair amount of time in high mountain lakes with all sorts of winds and navigational challenges. Though no long camping trips in this kayak yet, the blasted thing moves just as well loaded as it does running light. I’m about 6’2” and 235 pounds. For me it’s a little uncomfortable. My son can spend hours in it for days on end. It might just be my age showing, but after 45 minutes or so, I’m ready to get out.
For the record, I rate it very high because it does exactly what it is supposed to do, and then some. Also, I recommend this be paddled in the environment it was intended to be used in. I would not expect a Honda Accord to out perform a Humvee off road, and I would not expect the Humvee to get better mileage than the Honda Accord on the highway. If you are (or want to become) a skilled pilot of a high volume, highly maneuverable, hard tracking, poly touring speed demon kayak... this might be for you. Check it out first though. After all, not everybody likes the same pair of shoes.
The ocean is a little different. I finally found the limitations of the boat when a 7 to 8 foot swell came in a couple of weeks ago. It is impossible to get out in really rough water. I am able to handle it in 4 to 5 foot waves though. The length and width of the boat are balanced well for handling the rough water.
There were minor problems with the rudder raising piece. The plastic clip breaks off within the first couple of usages. I have since replaced it with something sturdier and have experienced no problems.
Overall, the boat construction is great for a plastic boat. The cavities seal almost perfect. The only time I had water in a hatch was when I was thrashed by an 8 foot wave. Even then, only a cup of sea water was in the rear hatch. I have spent up to 3 hours in the boat and find it to be comfortable as well. I think it is suited well for people my size (I am 6'2" ~200 lbs) and I plan on keeping it for a long time.
The Cortez won’t go straight for very long. With the front and rear rocker, and the wide flat-ish back hull, makes the kayak veer off when paddling straight. On the local lake, the Cortez weather cocks into the wind, badly. With the hull design, corrective strokes and edging, just work poorly. Tie down the rear end down by using the rudder. Problem solved.
The kayak is just plain squirrelly in initial stability. Get in and the kayak wants to tip to either side all the time, very unsettling at first. Yet when really leaned, resistance develops. The Cortez will hang forever when leaned on edge – secondary stability. When under way, the kayak is surprisingly stable. Keep my body centered over the kayak and let the lower half, attached to the kayak, rotate with the waves. On the long narrow lake, whether up, down or sidewise in the wind (10-20 mph), the Cortez just dances in the waves.
The 16.5 ft plastic boat is fast, not as fast as a longer touring kayak or a racing kayak or canoe, but it is fast. Its 2 miles down the lake, making 4 miles round trip. I can do it in 40 to 55 minutes depending on wind speed (10 – 20 mph) &/or direction (cross or head wind) if any. That’s no rest, paddling straight and steady. That is about 4.3 mph pace at the slowest – lots of wind. If I push it, and its calm, I can do it in 6. Two laps is 8 miles, and takes me just under 1 hour 40 to 54 minutes. That is 4.2 to 4.8 mph at regular paddling speed. Three laps is 12 miles, takes about 2 hours 35 to 45 minutes. That is about 4.3 to 4.6 mph. I was able to match a tandem racing canoe for 1/4 mile at 7 mph on the GPS meter, before I got tired and had to slow. How those paddlers can keep up that speed up mile after mile, I don’t know. I carry a short, single blade (canoe) paddle as a backup. Once a month paddle with it. Have to edge the boat slightly, and use the rudder to prevent boat rotation and keeping the kayak tracking straight. Stroke on a side till I get tired, move to the other side, then back again. The Cortez moves a bit slower pace with the single bladed paddle - about 4 mph. The short canoe paddle has a greater surface area, with which to paddle. I have just acquired a Greenland Paddle - Mitchell Horizon. I can still maintain the same top speed with the Greenland paddle – about 4.5 miles per hour.
I paddle for exercise, drop the rudder and concentrate on my forward stroke with torso rotation. Stroke on the right, then left, takes 2 seconds, or a second a side at cruising speed. The limiting factor on speed of this hull is the paddle. Using a Werner Camano paddle I run out of gas just getting a grip on the water, too much slippage. I find that the boat benefits from a larger paddle (and shorter). I can propel the kayak at a higher speed and maintain that speed easily, with slower, quiet strokes, with a much larger, Werner Kauai touring paddle. When I want to go faster I just increase the stroke rate on my paddling, the boat responds. I just lack the horse power to keep it up for very long.
I paddle with a spray skirt even in the hot Texas summer. With Harmony kevlar spray skirt attached, cool max (nylon) t-shirt, cool max underwear and nylon pants, I have to drink two 26 oz bottles of water per lap (4 miles) of the lake. That is lots of sweat - both above, and below deck. My nylon pants are soaked. I have to roll in the lake to keep cool. Temps in the low 90’s to as high as 114 degrees – now that was a heat wave! In the cooler winter months, I can go 8 miles (two laps) without taking a drink. No sweat below deck and slight under the PFD. I have paddled in the cold rain with nylon pants over polartec fleece trousers; Cool max T-shirt, regular T-shirt under polartec fleece top and a NRS dry top over that. Stayed toasty warm, cold hands though – needed gloves.
With its narrow less than 22 inch width, the Cortez rolls easier than my white water kayaks. Sweep, Pawlata, Extended Paddle, roll are all easy to perform. The boat is just slower to bring upright than white water boats.
I practice self rescues in the Cortez. Bail out of the boat in open water, then get back in. Most effective method is the reenter upside down and roll, with or without, the paddle float.
The Cortez is narrow, but flairs to both depth and width quickly - giving it a surprising amount of storage space for its width. I can pack more in my Cortez than I can pack in my backpack. Was able to get the therm-a-rest pad, blue tarp (ground cloth); sheet, pillow in dry bag; extra clothes and shoes in another dry bag, water purifier, binoculars, 250 ft of paracord, headlamps (flash lights), small 24 oz water bottles, in front hatch. Sleeping bag in dry bag, cook stuff – pots and eating utensils for the group, food in dry bag, water – gallon containers, fishing tackle boxes – 3 small, tent, spare canoe paddle, in the back hatch – with room to spare. Water bottles – 3 under the front bungies, waterproof map case on top of the front bungies. Fishing rod on the bow - hooked into the front bungies and the bow rope. Big sponge (removal of excess water), gatorade bottle (dirty water storage when paddling), bilge (water) pump, paddle float, and 15 ft strap nylon rescue leash were stored behind the seat in the cockpit. Rear bungies were kept clean.
Took a surf class in the Cortez, the kayak surfs great. Just two, quick, deep strokes, and you are on the wave riding it in. I was able to catch (full, flat-ish hull) the small waves when the other fiberglass touring kayak s (“V” bottom and/or hard chines) could not. While down at the coast (Quintana Beach), about a mile out, if I was not paddling, the boat turned into the wind. We had 2 foot swells coming in and a 10 knot wind coming at 90 degrees to the waves. I could paddle without the rudder just fine in that crazy water.
Often I go back upstream past the bridge on the local lake. The narrow creek twists and turns till I hit the log jams and have to quit. I take a bow saw and branch nippers to keep the way clear of strainers to the jam.
I see nutria, beaver, deer, raccoon; osprey(s) and bald eagle(s) hunting fish, anhingas (water turkey) in the summer, loons in the winter, great blue heron, snowy egret, cattle egret; water snakes swimming or basking in the sun, and gar surfacing.
Me: I am 53 years old, 30 inch inseam, size 10 feet. I used to weigh 230 lbs but now weigh 200. Paddling 8 miles, two to three times per week, really takes the weight off, and puts on muscle.
The Cortez has sharp entry lines into the water, then rapidly flairs to its maximum width and maintains the width through out most of its length, giving it a rather high volume for its narrow (at less than 22 inches) width. It is poor in initial stability but will hang forever on edge - great secondary stability. After a half an hour the kayak, it no longer feels squirrelly and you have settled in for the ride. It represents a distinct departure in design from Dagger's past, non rockered, hard chined, flat bottomed, touring boats. This kayak has a flat-ish bottom with a double chine - that's two chines on a side - one at 90 degrees and the other at 45 degrees - giving an overall much more rounded (with a flat bottom) cross section. The boat is almost neutral in steering when being edged. One has to really get it up on edge for the kayak to respond. It finally turns away from the side being edged. In addition the kayak has a pronounced front and rear rocker for increased maneuverability. It is so maneuverable that is refuses to go straight for very long - acting more like a white water boat. Edging it does not work well in correcting this problem. Lightly loaded the Cortez also weathercocks badly. The wind blows and the boat just turns into the wind. There is very little that you can do to correct it. Edging, sweep stroke on the off side does not work.
Use the rudder. This Kayak was designed for a rudder. Do not buy this boat without the rudder. If it gives you a hard time tracking straight, just drop the rudder and go. Concentrate on your strokes without having to worry about correcting the kayak's attitude. With the rear end pegged down, you can adjust the rudder, or mildly edge the boat to make course corrections. You will either love the boat (speed and maneuverability) or you will hate it (its unpredictable nature and handling).
Likes: Maneuverability; cockpit fit; seat comfort; rigging; weight (for being plastic boat); overall performance--good speed, quick, maneuvers easily, good initial and secondary stability, and rolls easily.
Dislikes: Factory installation of seat and routing of rudder cables through the seat (whoever assembled that part of my boat was clueless; I redid the seat assembly and added cable guides in the seat area for the rudder); plastic seems to damage easier than my first plastic boat, a Necky.
This kayak feels high out of the water with my 190lbs. I'm 5'9" and find the high deck discourages leaving things under the bungies, but the bungie arrangement is a good one for securing things. I'd recommend installing a set of bungies below the deck. The down side to the high maneuverability without the rudder is that the stern feels like it has a 20lb ball on the end of a big rubber band when it really starts to slide, it's easily corrected compared to a SeaLion/Eclipse for example. A beginner would be tempted to resort to the rudder a lot. I'd definately recommend this as a high volume fast touring and/or play boat for rough water should it's manner of turning be to your taste and the weight of the paddler high enough.