Excellent craft! Easy to maneuver, comfortable to sit in, and adjustable foot pegs enhance the factory installed rudder, a major help for this senior to maintain direction in strong winds.
Having to be budget conscious, I was looking for something used but a good all rounder that would handle my 6'2" 245lb frame. I was mostly concerned with speed so I could explore more open waters and go against a slow river and still get somewhere. Having researched Prijon among many, I was aware of the material quality and at one time a Kodiak was on my short list of dream boats. I found this barely used Calabria locally on Craigslist. It came with the float bag and a spray skirt for $500 (no rudder). It had been sitting in storage so was dusty. A good scrub and some protectant and it looked brand new. It is more stable than I expected and I am quite happy with the speed It seems to be a good ride for a first timer too. My GF took to it with ease. I know I need instruction and practice to wring more potential from the boat, yet am becoming aware that this will be an intermediate ride until I can shell out money for something better.
I have about 5 years experience kayaking. Not what I would call a ton, but I know enough at this point that I should have instruction while trying to roll, wet exit/enter. Tried on my own with laughable results. Perhaps it isn't the best boat to learn those skills but a more expert opinion should judge that. I would agree that it doesn't track as well as I would like. I may invest in that rudder one day.
My plan is to keep it as my buddy boat for kids and friends after my skills and confidence grow and I figure out my real abilities and taste. For now I find myself craving getting back in it after 3 days and a great run.
I am no expert kayaker but I feel very comfortable in this boat. My boat does have a rudder on it and I have used it with and without the rudder down. The more I learn to paddle better the less I feel like I need the rudder. The boat tracks very well without it. Couldn't be happier.
Today, I went out to have a rudder put on. Yes, I was nervous... because I still got the impression to not put one on. But you know what?? After getting my rudder on, I went out on a fairly large lake, with winds 5-20mph. Paddled for 3-1/2 hours. I c-o-u-l-d not believe the ease of steering this particular kayak!!!! ;o) Normally I would be struggling to keep my boat on a straighter course, because my hubby has the sea kayak.
Long story short, if you have a Calabria Prijon Kayak, and are planning on using it for the pleasure and enjoyment you should be getting out of it, get the rudder. I highly recommend it. If only I had known the difference it would of made for me.
The Calabria is already set-up to install a Prijon Wild Wacker Balance Wing Rudder, which is made for this particular boat.
The Calabria is tough. Prijon's HTP plastic is stiff throughout and very damage resistant. I have done some pretty dumb things to this boat, yet it bears only minor scars from my more spectacular mishaps. The hatch, bulkhead, and other fittings have stood up well to a normal season of wear. The front flotation bag has withstood several dunkings during practice rescues. The adjustable foot pegs, thigh braces, and seat allow for a custom fit and have remained secure once tightened. Storage is ample for overnighters.
On the water I found the mix of maneuverability, stability, speed, and tracking I was hoping for. The Calabria can follow a 10' rec boat down all but the narrowest creeks and dead fall "slaloms". On open water, it lives up to its reputation for excellent secondary stability and carving. A couple of trips through the chaotic chop and rebounding waves of the Upper Wisconsin Dells were a blast and really sold me on the Calabria's overall handling characteristics. I also like the boat's speed and efficiency. I have taken 20-mile day trips that required sustained upstream paddling on the outbound leg. As to tracking it is sensitive to weather cocking, but like some other reviewers, I found some gentle leaning and/or occasional stroke adjustment sufficient to correct course in most conditions. No doubt some hull designs in this category reflect a greater emphasis on tracking. For example, the Current Designs Whistler exhibited better glide and tracking during a test paddle, but sacrificed too much maneuverability for my tastes.
Two minor features that I wish skewed more toward touring considerations are the back rest and internal space behind it. The back rest is held in place in part by two metal posts that tend to pop out during entry. The space behind the seat is great for storing non essentials during a casual paddle, but a hassle to drain after capsize.
In sum, I think the Calabria is a great looking, versatile, tough little boat that is a lot of fun to paddle.
Once paid for and installed, I paddled for over two hours on a local lake and observed several things. First, my impression of the rudder-up Calabria being a poor tracking vessel was confirmed. Many say -"I want to learn to paddle correctly rather than have a rudder". Be my guest. I mild breezes 5-10 mph, that rudder-up Prijon starts rotating like on a pivot before I can get the opposite paddle in the water! It tracks well for a while, then boom, starts to drift substantially. I have paddled every weekend for two years, and many years in canoe as a kid -- not an expert, but I know poor tracking when I see it. Now, put new rudder down, and big improvement! The rudder goes up and down well, and when down, tracks very well. In fact, without using the foot controls it can be a tad hard to turn at times; this is a new sensation in this whirling dervish of a yak. I experimented with eyes closed, and after 30 seconds of paddling without the rudder, I could literally be going 90-180 degrees (yes, almost all the way around in the wrong direction) off course. With the rudder down, I was pretty much on target to a point on the horizon. As a newbie to rudders, though, I will say that I do not love that my yak --pristine, one piece, rattleless, and simple-- now has a mechanical unit with guide-wires, control ropes and a blade. Some message board posters suggested that rudders can break, I used to say, "How?" Now I know. My immediate test run in my backyard pond pulled a cable out of the foot peg due to a loose screw. Easy fix, but a pain in the butt. So, simplicity goes to the wayside when you add a rudder (a skeg would be nice, but not available on any Prijons). Another key: the rudder DOES give drag. It is small but perceptible. I used to think, "How can a Washington quarter thin rudder give drag" Answer: when you pivot it, ever so slightly (10 degrees), there is drag equal to the entire surface area. Even perfectly straight, drag noted. If I was blinded to the rudder position, I think I could still, just barely, tell that it was down by the drag. Add that times two hours or all day kayaking, and we may have an issue. The footpegs work well with the gas pedal controls; even applying heavy pressure on the footrests, the pressure goes on the axel pedal, not on the gas portion thus not an issue for rudder control.
All in all, a fine kayak made better with the rudder, but I suppose I am not much of a rudder kind of fellow, and would prefer the silent, sleek lines of a yak with no moving parts as opposed to the rudder. I concur with reviewers below that the Calabria requires a rudder. I question though if the Calabria is the right vessel for everyone as it is really middle ground…not a super speed stealth (and even dowdier with the rudder), and a little long for creeks and streams, yet a tad short for large water. My Capri(s) plus a longer seaworthy boat might have been the key for me.
It actually--without rudder--tracks WORSE than my Prijon Capri. There is no keel, and I believe with the longer profile it catches crosswind that the Capri does not and --as other reviewers mention below, some emphatically, but even the reviewers that love the boat seem to mention it--one must work to keep it tracking. It is not a "chore" unless windy and weathercocking, but even with breezeless flatwater paddles, it can be an issue; I find myself adjusting my paddle stroke strength one on side or other to keep tracking smoothly.
Although I agree with prior reviewers that it turns well and responds well to leaning, and is fast, I do not feel that the 10 lb (about 20%!) weight premium over the Capri is well spent as the tracking is not improved. Please note that, I have adjusted the seat, and with the seat in a more forward (frontward) position, the front end stays in water and tracking may be a very small amount improved).
I do like Prijon boats in general (although feel their accessories, such as paddles, are heavy and antiquated), and have stuck with the brand and would continue to do so. Very well constructed (German made, like a Benz) with adjustable seat, thigh braces, etc.
NOTE: I have not yet added the $199 rudder, but have it ordered from Prijon, and will install and update this review--the reviewer below seems to feel it made a huge difference, I will give you my experience. Bottom line: rudderless, anyway, the Capri is lighter, cheaper cost (but same high quality build), and tracks better and is just as speedy.
I did not demo it prior to purchase because most of the water in the upper Midwest was in a solid state. However I sat in it for a long time at Canoecopia (some of the more experienced paddlers on this board informed me that comfort is an extremely major factor even if you do not get a chance to demo).
Here are my general impressions:
Thanks to Maximadude and the other reviewers of this boat for their insightful comments.
I'm 6'2' and 185 lbs. The boat is a perfect fit for me. My wife at 5'2" and 130 lbs has no difficulty paddling this boat whatsoever, but prefers a cushion on top of the seat to raise her by about 2", as she feels the cockpit edge is a little too high for her. We will be checking out the Prijon Catalina for her, as it in theory is designed for a smaller person.
The tough rigid plastic has shown no signs at all of warping, denting, oil canning, and I have been able to strap it down quite tight with the ratchet straps on my racks. The 36" keyhole cockpit design makes entry/eggress a snap. The boat came with a rudder but have not yet found a need nor an opportunity to attach it.
The aesthetics of this boat combined with the high great fit and finish gives it the appearance of a high quality boat. Two outfitting places in Toronto sell the Prijon line. It pays to shop around (all of which I did via e-mails and a few phonecalls).
Invested several months during winter/sprint of 2003 researching a kayak that would fit my needs, my body and my budget. The big thing I learned is everything is a compromise--I wanted speed (which often = length) AND a responsive performer; wanted sturdy construction AND light weight for transport; wanted to occasionally go on "big water" (for me that means Great Lakes Michigan and Superior) AND negotiate a 15' wide, meandering river; wanted features AND good price; wanted to do occasional overnighters in something that met the other parameters above. One additional important point was I wanted to share the experience with others. I ended up buying two kayaks a week apart. The other is a Pungo Classic (see that review), which I also am very happy with.
I poured over the literature, and sat in as many boats over winter that I could. That is a HUGE consideration as you will quickly determine whether the seating comfort, ease of entry (ie, cockpit size), and general fit will be to your liking. Boats that looked good "on paper" were quickly dismissed by me in 10 seconds when I got into and sat down in them. The reviews on Paddling.net were invaluable--manufacture's hype is fine to get your attention but I'd rather hear directly from the people who use them.
I've paddled my Calabria about 30 times so far, mostly on rivers with moderate currents but no whitewater yet. I've been venturing out on Lake Michigan more lately. The Calabria is quick and nimble, accelerates well and carves like a sporty sedan. The hard chine hull is stable when entering the boat and when I lean. I mostly go up river and then come back down, and with the huge rains we've had in Spring of '04 flows were up to 20X normal rate. Up to this year I've gone without a rudder and felt in control, though often I had to work harder to keep my line. It's sensitive, which is good when you want to turn sharply, but I was feeling a little pushed around when wind and current became challenging. the 12' Pungo actually tracked better--it has a keel that runs the length of the boat. Then I read that the people at Wildwasser designed a new rudder shape this year so I opted for this $200 option. The Calabria comes "rudder ready" with pre-drilled holes and guides, gas-pedal footpegs and a plastic stern rudder piece already on the boat. The rudder was easy to put on and very well made. In a word: Wow--the rudder makes this boat track like a dream and yet still remain nimble. I love that I can hold a line across a lake, wind and chop be damned. When on a river, I can stop paddling to take a picture or use binoculars and hold a line or steer as required to keep me on track. In my opinion, it completes the boat.
The HTTP plastic and special construction method make this a stiff boat and therefore, more "big water worthy." Practically, to me, the stiffness (combined with the multi-chine hull) translated into a feeling of confidence from the first stroke I took on a demo paddle--this boat feels like it can do things that will take me years to learn. I'm taking it on a Lake Superior Adventure in a few months. Most outfitters I talked to would not allow tour participants to bring their own plastic boats, but made an exception for the Calabria. That's a great endorsement in my mind.
The seat and thigh brace adjustment is cool--this boat fits me the best of all I tried. I'm 6' 1" and 210 lbs and never feel cramped. I do have a gripe about where the back rest adjustment is located--I can barely make and adjustment when in the boat. The V-notch that's supposed to keep it firm often slips when I put pressure on the seat back and it's a pain to readjust. Also, one of the plastic "D-rings" that are a part of that system broke right away, so I replaced it with a two inexpensive key-ring-type metal things. Personally, I get some back fatigue after several hours of paddling which I attribute to the backrest's non-adjustability. I'm going to try a small foam piece (from a "noodle") to give some lumbar support. The thigh braces are comfortable and very useful, once you've used them, every boat without them feels like it's missing something. The Keyhole cockpit is great--feels snug and fits the skirt well, and yet allows you to lift your knees. The area right behind the cockpit is strong and very conducive to entry with paddle support. The cowling is strong and keeps most water out.
The double covered rear hatch is great, the storage ample. An included bow flotation bag was a nice touch. The rigging and safety lines that run the length of the boat are very useful to bungee things to and the net-type holder on the front is a welcome addition. I've towed my tired wife across a lake with the included tow line. My 20# dog Maggie is often with me and I've rigger her a "deck" from a milk crate and carpeting that sits on the bow. She fits well between my legs in the cockpit too.
Other boats I looked at, paddled, and liked were Wilderness Systems Cape Lookout 14.5, Perception Carolina 14.5. Decent boats, but neither felt as secure and seaworthy to my size and weight. The adjustability, included niceties and rudder-ready set-up are what pushed me to purchase the Calabria and I've very happy with my choice. Sorry this review got a bit lengthy, but when spending over $1000 ( $850 plus $200 for rudder), more info is helpful.
It is fast, stable and carves on dime. Even though I as yet do not have a rudder I tried the dagger style zero sum rudder and did not like it. I was much happier with the gas pedal style used by Prijon. I am 6'2" and weigh 215 lbs and find the boat more than big enough even for my size 11's. I have done no long term camping with it as yet so the single rear hatch has been enough and I really like the Prijon hatch design.
A couple of things I'd suggest: make the first adjustments with foot pegs only, then adjust the thigh braces. Paddle a bit and make adjustments as necessary. I would suggest only adjusting the seat as a last ditch effort b/c it can be tough to get it locked in straight. That said, I very much appreciate the adjustments b/c I am 6 feet tall but only have 30 inch legs and a lot of boats didn't fit me well. Prijon is the only line I saw with this level of customization for under $1000.
Final thought: if you plan to do a lot of camping and the 2nd bulkhead is required, I'd look at the Catalina. You get the 2nd bulkhead and lose about 12 pounds of weight. On the flip side - it is a bit longer and about $450 more. See you on the water!