Installation of the SmartTrack system was difficult. The 20" hole spacing for the Necky footpeg system exceeded the company's alignment kits. I ended up using a tap and die set with a piece of high density plastic to fabricate my own block, allowing me to reuse the existing holes.
After installation it took some getting used to the footpegs. After a few times out I noted less stability (smaller rudder than factory) but much better control, leg drive (well, as much as possible in a tight cockpit), and nearly identical turning. All this with slightly more speed! Really a great system that when it hits an obstruction it springs right back into place. I posted a YouTube video that shows its performance.
This year I purchased a Stellar ST21 to race with. The Smarttrack rudder was redesigned and NOT the same as the one I had purchased. The spring pulled it up (out of the water), not down, allowing it to lay flat on the deck. So on my first race the clam cleat that locks it down failed...twice. The first time it sent me into a T-bone collision with a downstream racer, the second time was a near miss. It then held steady the rest of the race, but cost me a full minute of time.
After inspection I just saw that the entire casing of the rudder housing was cracked. Not sure if this was related to my issues, but I will replace it with another SmartTrack housing that stays in the water. Stellar Kayaks sells alternate rudder styles than you can find at most stores.
** UPDATE ** 2015-02-27
The aluminum mount (not a SmartTrack product) is a custom mount made only for Pygmy Osprey double and triple kayaks. Smarttrack provided me with a free replacement newer style spring with "much better corrosion resistance".
Updated rating: 9 out of 10
There are thirteen moving parts on each side. They might be fine if you don't put many miles on your boat in a year or if you just paddle in fresh water. Over the years I have had parts and pieces break on several of the boats we have. The final straw was last year when I had to replace the rails on both sides of two boats that were only one year old. One fell off in the boat while I was using it, and when I inspected the other and then two more on my wife's boat, found them to be decaying too. Evidently the salt water is not compatible with the cheap grade of aluminum and it looked like "termites" ate up the aluminum. They were completely rotted out. I have pictures that I will gladly send to anyone that would like to see them.
My boat was originally rudderless, but came prepped for a rudder with bolts in the stern to attach the rudder mount and "frog eyes" molded into the deck that just needed holes drilled for the rudder control cables. The installation was very straight-forward. I spent about six hours over three evenings on it. A good part of that time was spent admiring my handiwork. The next one I install (on my wife's boat) will take about two hours.
The kit is almost complete as delivered. I bought a tube of Permatex thread-locker for the rudder mount bolts. The Tsunami does not use lock nuts on these bolts, so I wanted to be sure the bolts would not work themselves loose. I also bought a tube of marine sealant. I squeezed a bit on the rear bulkhead where the control cables pass through, and put a dab on the "frog eyes" as well.
One tip not stated in the instructions: Use a butane lighter to melt the end of the control cable tubing where it exits the stern at the "frog eyes." With a bit of flame, the tubing will melt and form a rounded end with a "flange" that prevents the tubing from being pulled into the boat.
Another tip: Don't cut all the excess control cable off at the rudder and don't melt the heat-shrink tubing until you've completed a test-paddle. I needed to fine-tune the position of the control pedals for comfort after an initial short paddle. Once adjusted for comfort and correct operation, you can cut the excess cable.
The vertical adjustment kit is optional unless the bolt spacing for the foot pegs on your boat is not 14.5 inches (which it is on the Tsunami). I'm a smaller than average guy with size 8 feet. The vertical adjustment kit allowed me to mount the pegs lower for more comfortable operation of the control pedals. If you are not sure that you need it, you can easily add it later.
I had one question about the installation that Peter at Austin Canoe & Kayak answered immediately. His advice before and after my purchase was spot-on. Kudos to ACK for customer service.
I was anxious to see how the rudder worked in a real sea-trial, so, with a forecast of 70 degree temps in January, I headed from my home in Alexandria, Va to the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. I paddled for two beautiful days in the tidal creeks and in the open water of Tangier Sound with winds up to 20 knots and seas of 2-3 feet.
The boat tracked beautifully with wind from any direction. Pre-rudder, I would have needed continuous carving and sweep strokes to maintain a heading with strong quartering winds from the rear. The SmartTrack allowed me to maintain my heading with normal forward strokes. This was much less tiring and much more enjoyable.
Unlike most rudders that stow flat on the deck, the SmartTrack stows in a vertical position. This is part of what makes the SmartTrack a more efficient design than other rudders. However, this design also leaves the rudder vulnerable to rear impact. You need to remember that the rudder is hanging out there if you're floating backwards into a piling or some rocks.
The SmartTrack is an elegantly engineered design. All components are top quality and are obviously built to last. Installation is a piece of cake with a few hand tools and a drill. After using the SmartTrack for a few weeks, I can't think of any way it could be improved. Inclusion of small tubes of thread-locker and sealant would be a nice touch to make the kit 100% complete.
I give the SmartTrack two thumbs up.