Name: Monkeyhead

Most Recent Reviews

I’ve been paddling sea kayaks for 35 years or so. A few years ago, I heard about “Pack boats” (kind of an open-decked kayak that can be propelled with a 2-bladed paddle) for the first time, and then last year had the opportunity to demo one at Collinsville Canoe & Kayak. I weigh 200 lb and am 5’6”. The person who I demo’d the boat with thought my best option would be Swift Canoe’s Cruiser 14.8. I felt very good about the test paddle and soon thereafter contacted the shop to put in my order, specifying color and layup options. Several months later, the boat was ready for pick up at the retailer shop in Connecticut or, for an extra charge, delivery to Atlanta. I opted to drive back up to Connecticut and have a few adventures with my new boat on the to Atlanta. I have since had it out in big and small lakes, a couple of lazy current rivers, and a coastal salt marsh.

I really like this boat. First and foremost, it is crazy light. I opted for the carbon integra weave and the total weight is in the low 20’s! I’m 61 and solo load my boat onto the top of a pickup. I really appreciate a light boat, each year more than the last - not just for getting the boat on and off my truck, but carrying it to and from the launch point when that is necessary. The easiest hand carry for me is to place my hands on the bolt holes where you would normally attach the optional yoke (I kind of wish I had purchased that and now it’s sold out), and resting the folded down seat on my head (I slipped a piece of foam into the back of the seat to make this a bit more comfortable).

My kayak is still my number 1 boat, but it is undeniably easier to go for a paddle in the pack boat. It’s easier to handle when off the water owing to the weight, as alluded to above, and you can just plop your gear and amenities behind the seat or in front of your feet, as opposed to loading through hatches that are mostly inaccessible while on the water. And no fussing with a sprayskirt every time you get in or out…it just feels easy. I do miss being able to cool off with a balance brace or roll and, depending on the environment, it’s always in the back of my mind that an accidental flip would be problematic so I’m a bit more conscious of where I’m paddling.

It’s sort of a ritual that about halfway through my paddles, I’ll stop and enjoy a long coffee break, usually on the water. Getting as comfortable as possible during these breaks can be a bit of a challenge in my sea kayak (I manage), but I find that in my Cruiser, with no bulkheads, I can just lay down in the hull with my head resting on the seat. It’s pretty easy to drift off (go to sleep that is) in this position. And not to be morbid but at 61, I’ve also thought about the possibility of some sort of medical incident while on the water. I think this would be much easier to deal with in the pack boat as I would be able to lay down in the hull to lower my center of gravity and wait for assistance.

I didn’t know if I would want to keep using my Greenland paddle or, instead, switch to a spoon-type paddle. I’ve now tried both and find no reason to switch. My GP and all the strokes I use it for in my kayak work just as well in my Cruiser. The pinched gunwales in the middle of the boat are a very nice feature btw, allowing for a near vertical stroke with either paddle type. Performance wise, the boat gets high marks. It’s agile. The flat hull, shallow draft, and relatively short length (compared to my sea kayak) allow me to get in and out of tight spaces pretty easily (e.g., while gunk-holing). I thought that weather-cocking might be an issue but I have been pleasantly surprised. I’ve mostly been out in light-moderate winds (probably not more than 15 knots) but even with rear quartering winds, I haven’t found myself needing to use many corrective strokes. The boat does of course have a higher profile than the average sea kayak and, as such, I would expect that with a stiff beam wind, one would get shoved off course, but for the conditions I expect to find myself in, I have no concerns. The speed is decent. With my high-end touring kayak, I maintain a comfortable sustainable speed of about 3.8 mph. In my Cruiser 14.8, I average about 3.4 mph. I consider this to be a mostly inconsequential difference. The boat is plenty stable. I can pretty much recover (using a paddle) after getting the gunwale within an inch or so of the water. The boat will, without any action on my part, return to upright when heeled over up to about 28 degrees (I presume this would be affected by how much weight you’ve got in the boat).

I think it would be pretty easy to camp out of this boat for several days. If you were purchasing a Swift boat primarily for camping, you might choose one of the longer models or perhaps a different model altogether but for mostly day use with occasional camping, I think the 14.8 is fine. One more thing, the customer service at Swift Canoe is excellent. I abused my boat right off the bat (trying some different approaches to solo re-entries) and cracked the adhesive on a glued-on carbon thwart (you might ask for bolt on thwarts if you plan on similar activities). I contacted the company, the owner - Bill Swift - called me back, and the issue was resolved to my complete satisfaction. They really went above and beyond IMO. All-in-all, If you’re considering a pack boat, I’d definitely suggest giving the Swift Canoe Cruiser a try.

I purchased a Grand Illusion in 2017 and have paddled it maybe 50 times since; mostly in lakes, lazy rivers, bays, estuaries and less frequently exposed coast. I have been paddling for 30 some years and, during that time, have owned a Wilderness Systems Sealution II, a CLC Chesapeake 16, and most recently a Necky Chatham 17. One of the main attributes I was looking for in a new boat was superior rough-water performance. Although those are not my typical paddling conditions, I almost always paddle solo and on rare occasions when paddling away from home have found myself in conditions elevated my heart rate. After soliciting advice on candidate boats (on the forum), I checked out the Grand Illusion, and a few other boats. Overall, I’m very pleased with the Grand Illusion. I’m currently 58 and this could well be my last boat as I don’t see how I could improve on it, unless in my age-related quest for ever lighter boats I one-day end up going the fabric-on-frame route. Speaking of which, I ordered the Grand Illusion in one of the lighter lay-ups. It weighs in at 41.8 lbs.

Despite the heavy rocker, the boat is just as fast as my Chatham. Neither are speedboats but on infrequent group paddles I am generally near the front of the pack without expending any effort beyond my normal relaxed paddling style. The boat turns quickly, easily, and with a tight radius (this is another attribute I was hoping for as I felt I was struggling too much to quickly turn the boat around to point back out into the waves after side surfing). I attribute this agility in large part to the heavy rocker. Edging/leaning on either side (i.e., towards or away from the turn) helps but it turns well without leaning. It has plenty of primary and secondary stability. When turning, I find it easy to submerge the edge of the coaming without struggling to stay upright (I’m probably using a light paddle skim). Although this boat seems most at home on open water, it’s ability to turn tightly is also a nice attribute when gunkholing in narrow winding salt marsh creeks and so on. An unexpected benefit of the heavy rocker is that I can set the boat at the edge of a paved ramp, just out of the water’s reach such that any waves are not pushing on the stern and grinding the hull back and forth on the concrete. After I load my gear into the boat and go park, I can come back, lift the boat up by the bow toggle and have the stern rock into the water and float. Not sure if I made that clear but the bottom line is that I get far fewer scratches on the hull now when the boat is sitting at the ramp than with my more straighter keeled boats,.

The cockpit opening is large enough and the boat stable enough that it is easy to straddle the boat while it sits in shallow water, plunk my butt into the seat and draw my legs in w/o ever feeling unstable. In reverse, it is similarly easy to pull legs out of the cockpit while still seated and exit. For what it’s worth, I’m 5’6” and 200 lbs. Also easy to get back into the boat during a re-entry and roll or cowboy scramble.

I don’t have any problem rolling this boat. I had hoped that my ability to balance brace, which I could do effortlessly ,with the Chesapeake 16 but not with the Chatham 17 that followed, might return but it has not.

I have tried to swamp the boat and, at least in calm waters, it is virtually impossible to get enough water in that it is not paddle-able. If I get out of the boat and try to flip it, it mostly wants to sit at about a 135 degree angle to the water. To deliberately fill the boat with water at this angle has not been possible.

I was worried that the position of the skeg (the skeel as Sterling calls it) box, within the day hatch, would make access to certain items difficult. However, I have actually found this to be a useful feature in that it acts as a partition of sorts, allowing me to organize the items in that compartment a bit better. The hatch covers work quite well at keeping water out but you have to really make sure they are in position and correctly seated.

I have mostly paddled in light winds (below 15 knots and typically below 10). To my surprise, the boat shows very little tendency to weathercock when winds are abeam. It does however try to turn sideways to the wind when the wind is coming at an angle from the rear quarter (but not directly behind). The skeg adequately addresses this issue (when it is working – see below). On one occasion I was out in very brisk winds, which were being accelerated as they passed through some bridge pylons. Turning upwind was very difficult.

Similarly, I have infrequently been out in big waves. This last week however, I was paddling in some 2-3 feet waves just outside the surf line and the boat really didn’t care and neither did I. I have also paddled in a location (James Island, SC) where winds, tides, river outflow and ocean waves bend around sandbars and create some crazy claptosis. The boat felt pretty secure in this as well – more so I believe than my Chatham would have.

The negatives are very few. Personally, although I’m glad for the rocker and the performance attributes it comes with, but the boat does look a bit like a floating banana, so not the most attractive boat to my eye. I suppose that’s a personal preference though. On the subject of aesthetics, note that you can customize the color scheme anyway you like since these are built to order (they probably have some available in their inventory as well) including, for an upcharge, various patterns (i.e., not just the hull one color, the seam another, and the deck something else). There is a page on the Sterling website with lots of pictures of some customer boats.

Functionally, my only complaint is that the skeg, or skeel, seems to jam almost every time I go out. It retracts into the skeg box with very little clearance. My guess is that this works very well to prevent pebbles from getting in and jamming the skeg (which based on my limited experience in the area seems like the predominant beach type in the area where the boat is manufactured). However, I paddle in areas with lots of sand and I think the sand still gets in and doesn’t wash out too easily. I know I did not have this problem with my Chatham which has more clearance. The last time I was out, the skeg jammed (as usual) and when I tugged on the string that helps pull the skeg out when the cable jams, the cable separated from the skeg. I bought some epoxy puddy and will hopefully be able to make this repair myself this week. (I'm going to give the boat 5 stars anyway but this is the only issue that made me consider 4 stars).

All in all though, I think this is a great boat. Fast enough, agile, stable and a good boat in challenging conditions.

Just to balance things out...... I love to take these camping with me…

Just to balance things out......
I love to take these camping with me, inside my tent. That way, when I get up in the middle of the night or early morning to take a pee, I can slip something on my feet and then slip them off again before I get back into tent. This is especially useful at a beach where I don't want to track sand back into tent and have my sweaty feet soiled with sand. They are easier and quicker to slip on and off then a shoe, which would also work, and they take up a minimum of space. I always pack them in my kayak on overnighters.

As for keeping feet dry while in kayak....I don't feet get wet from sweat. If its warm out, I paddle barefoot.

I purchased this boat about a year ago, after trying several others. My previous boats are a polymer Wilderness Systems Sealution and a Chesapeake Light Craft Chesapeake 16 - both excellent boats in their own right. I was looking for something that was lightweight, as I generally go solo and have to take the kayak off and on a pickup truck, something that I could camp out of for several days if need be, and something that would be reasonably quick for the more common day trips that I do where I want to get out to an island or other distant destination, have time to do some exploring, and then get back before nightfall. The boat is ideally suited for these purposes.

I have to admit that I was a bit worried about space after popping the hatches and looking inside. Although it is a good bit longer than my CLC Chesapeake 16, there is less apparent volume/length owing to the lower profile deck, narrowness, and skeg box in the rear hold. Nonetheless, I packed everything I needed for a 5 day voyage and had room to spare (not much, but I probably could have geared up for 8 or maybe even 9 days if I needed to). Note that I do not pack my tent or sleeping bag in their own dry bags. This takes up way too much space IMO. Instead, I cram those types of items up into the bow and stern stems. As I was camping on Gulf of Mexico Islands (Horn, E and W Ship, Cat), I did not even use the sleeping bag, but had I been somewhere colder, I probably would have put that in its own dry bag. However, I had full faith in the gold standard Valley hatches and have found them empirically to keep the compartments bone dry. Of course, on an outing such as this, I was not rolling or playing around in the surf, but have on other occasions and never found any leakage.

All the way around, the outfitting on the boat is very good. I believe that Necky is a component of Johnson Marine, so one would think that they are not feeling their way along as they go...and one would be right. They know their s@#t. I really appreciate the day hatch. It is plenty roomy, perhaps excessively so as I found that I packed all I needed for a day trip and used the remaining space for other items that could have gone into either the rear or forwards hatch. I am 5'6" and found also that their was room in the cockpit, ahead of the footpegs, for more items.

The boat has rock solid primary stability. It is not at all tipsy. I find (@190 lbs) that I can't get too far into a lean to explore the secondary stability, because the boat just doesn't want to go over that much. I can push it, but it feels to me that the zone of secondary stability is somewhat narrow and when I really push it into a heavy lean, I either push it too far and go over, beyond the last stability point (where I can remain upright only with a brace) or just have to be very careful to not go beyond that point. To me, it just seems hard to stay balanced when near the tipping point. You have to use a lot of force to get it to that point, and then you are in danger of going over. Their website suggests that the boat does very well with leaning and edging and so on, so demo it for yourself and see what you think.

The boat is reasonably quick - quicker I believe than my Chesapeake, but not a speed demon. My GPS indicates a sustained touring pace of 4 mph (3.47 knots). I demo'd this boat together with a Wilderness Systems Tempest and a Seda Ikkuma and found it to be slightly faster than both. I haven't had it out in howling wind, but have been out in moderate winds and found that it tracks very well. In fact, with the skeg all the way down, I have found that it can lee-cock.

I've already mentioned the ample room of the cockpit. Combined with the excellent primary stability, this allows me pretty much lay down in the cockpit, with my head rested on my folded up PFD which I place on the aft-deck during a late afternoon coffee stop) and sip coffee for an hour or so, gently bobbing with the waves.

So in short...quality craftsmanship, very solid primary stability, hard to explore secondary stability, moderately fast, excellent tracking, ample storage for the conscientious, disciplined packer, lightweight (but if you look at the YouTube video, it can clearly take a lot of abuse), and it also looks nice IMO. This is almost the perfect boat for what I do, given that I can afford only one boat.