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The Sawyer Cedar Voyager is a laminated, straight shaft, beavertail canoe paddle for flatwater use. It features fiberglass reinforced blade faces, composite tip and edge protection, an oval shaft and a slightly large grip. This is a high end paddle, among the lightest that can be found in wood, with lots of fine hand workmanship. It is a great expression of the art. It is also a serious, down and dirty stern or solo paddle with a big bite and tremendous strength. My rational for buying such a nice paddle is that approximately $100 seperates a good, sturdy paddle from a gorgeous, featherweight one of carefully wrought dimensions; from one that you hang in the garage to one you hang in the den. This is not to mention every paddlestroke being lighter, more effective and enjoyable.
First impressions were that it really is a pretty paddle, built of straight, exceptionally tight grained cedar. However, while very light, it was not the magical lightness of a composite design. Also, the fiberglass reinforcement gave the blade faces a somewhat rippled surface and the thick varnish was slightly less than perfect. On the other hand, the tip of the remarkably thin blade seemed like it had the ideal amount of spring, the shaft and grip dimensions felt perfect and the balance was simply exquisite.
Out on the water, this paddle has two characters, both very satisfactory. For slow, windless paddling, it is delicate and light and extremely quiet. It J's beautifully, with so much blade authority that simply making the motion keeps my 16'Penobscot in line. It excels at gentle, effortless, all day paddling. However, when the wind and current come up hard and you are being blown against the rocks and you are wondering how your paddle doesn't snap from the strain, this is the one to have. Under maximum effort conditions, this paddle doesn't show the slightest trace of flutter, swerve, or torque. The shaft seems to show no flex at all and you can feel measured tip deflection. It is not like the snap and twang I get from my AT Exception composite kayak paddle, but a softer rebound that seems very effective for moving a canoe. All tolled, a very nice, highly capable paddle that even has a finish that doesn't generate blisters. And oh that wonderful balance...
As you might expect from its short length (14'1") and wide beam (25 1/4"), it has a limited top speed, great stability and rather relaxed tracking. The real magic of the Pachena for me however is its delightful speed for a moderate effort. Its acceleration is surprising and it coasts forever. Moving the boat at a good clip requires nothing more than going through the motions and its ability to penetrate upwind at a solid rate with an easy effort is uncanny. If you are paddling, you are moving along just fine. Its stability is so robust that you can usually ignore the sea state and paddle finesse and just motor straight towards your destination; an excellent kayak for a tired paddler covering distance.
This efficiency was apparent at the 2005 Monterey Bay Paddlefest where their Pachena was popular with the smallest paddlers who, despite some complaints of clipping the high, fore cockpit coaming, were able to zip around at surprising speeds. It was clearly the fastest kayak for small paddlers and beginners, no doubt helped by the fact that the wide hull is completely indifferent to sloppy paddling and we beginners could throw our shoulders into the strokes and just fling the lightweight little kayak around. I found it to be much faster and more stable than any of the dozen or so designs I had tried and to have no trace of the false sense of tipsiness that comes from a shallow V hull, although the Pachena is listed as such. Top speed honors at that event incidentally have to go to a magnificent pair of wooden Actionfish kayaks that, with great dignity, effortlessly outran everything on the water, barely disturbing its surface as they glided by.
The versatility of the kayak does make for compromises. The cockpit of the Pachena for instance is huge, actually too big for a 5"9' paddler such as myself, with an enormous, plastic, tractor-like seat, molded without a drain and capable of holding gallons of water. It will fill quickly too, as an unskirted ride in a Pachena is a very wet affair from paddle drips, with the extended keyhole cockpit catching every last drop that might be missed by the wide coaming. I come back from two hour trips soaked, with an inch of water sloshing around in the bottom. I love it.
A nice set of thigh braces can be made for this and other kayaks by using Tupperware type containers bolted to the side of the kayak with 3/8" closed cell foam adhered to the lids. I use nylon hardware which is likely to shear before damaging the hull and mount small hooks inside for clipping valuables. This allows dry, accessible storage for suntan lotion, fig newtons and other vital equipment. I found the Sterilite "Ultra Seal" 2qt. cereal container to fit the deep sidewalls of the Pachena nicely and provide that "night and day" lower body fit. These are almost weightless and have nifty hinged lids that are perfect for the purpose.
The rudder works well, serving not only to help with directionality, but also stabilizing it in roll, and helping neutral tracking by adding a little drag far aft and extending the keel. It reduces the overall liveliness of the hull. It's fun to surf along the crest of the leading edge of waves, using the rudder to keep it on the face.
Construction deserves comment. The worst aspect of my Pachena is the gelcoat. It seems thin, brittle and chips and scratches easily. It has broken through in two small holes at the aftmost point of the hull where it was unadhered to the mesh. Mine came with an unrepaired bad area with the underlayer showing. The "smoke" color of the hull may be hard to match for repairs; white is not available. All of this is unfortunate as it seems to be largely a materials issue and degrades a well made kayak (and my rating to a 9). The interior layup, bulkhead fitting and most other important details are superb. The hatches are works of art.
So, if you are looking for a kayak to keep forever as you expand your uses for it rather than change equipment, the Pachena is pretty ideal. As a fishing boat, or five day campout boat, or one to take to the big family picnic at the lake where it will be fun and safe for everyone, the Pachena is a great choice. Or, if you are like me who prefers birding to bracing and enjoys ignoring 18" broadside waves while sitting with both feet hanging in the water, and then being able to streak back to the shore at sundown, the Pachena is perfect. It always seems to be 10% more than I expect while so many others were 10% less. It is not inexpensive, but it is the cheapest Kevlar to be found and a top notch product. Besides, It looks fabulous in a living room.
The problem with the suit is that it uses a wide strap over the shoulders that secures with a snap and Velcro. The Velcro is fitted to the front of the suit and to the underside of the strap. In theory, the strap is adjustable by not using the snap and setting the Velcro attachment where it is comfortable. However, NRS has put the scratchy side of the Velcro on the shoulder pad. If any of it touches your shoulder, under the weight of a PFD, jacket, etc. It will rub it raw instantly. A little of the scratchy Velcro even seems to find its way out when the strap is snapped and the Velcro is covered. Why they didn't put the soft Velcro material on the underside of the strap and the scratchy stuff on the front of the suit is inexplicable. It can be changed if you want to sew the reverse material into the suit, or the excess scratchy surface can be covered by a piece of non-glued, soft sewing Velcro placed over it. The NRS rep has been told of this and hopefully they will simply reverse the Velcro placement. I would not recommend the suit unless this is done and would give it an enthusiastic 10 if the change is made.
I love the boat and its compromises are well suited to my needs. However, it has some serious issues from construction and (presumably) handling that I would suggest you look for if you purchase or own one.
I had looked at kayaks for ages and bought the Sonoma within a day of seeing Outdoorplay's price including delivery and with no tax. Cool.
It arrived in only 3 days. However on unwrapping it, I found the bolt ahead of fore bungie clip had been overtightened. This produced a 1/2" stress fracture in the gel coat and a "whitening" stress line in the plastic of about 2". Also, the bow foam support leaned rather dramatically, with the centerline being about 1" from the edge of the 4" wide foam. I sent pictures to Outdoorplay and they made a reasonable adjustment to the price and I effected an ugly repair necessitating drilling the ends of the crack and filling the surface. Not a problem as I intend to cover it with a compass. However, the boat also showed signs of really sloppy glue work- smeared on the front of the hull and not wiped off at application??(it can't be removed now) and just generally poor workmanship. To add to these woes (on such a gorgeous little kayak!), I think the boat has been poorly handled. It has a bonk in the bow in the hull and one on the deck about 1" ahead of the crack. Most importantly, the decking overhang is cracked in a long continuous split where it overhangs the hull, exactly the length of the Perception writing and logo on the port side. If I had seen this earlier, I never would have accepted the boat. I have no idea how that long crack could occur without damaging the hull, but it is there, and now glued. There are a few other small dents in the surface and I would guess that the material has a "memory" and retains them.
My conclusion is that Perception has a very nicely designed and attractive kayak that is being very indifferently assembled. Caution is advised.