Basically, Dagger hit a home run with this boat. Tracking is okay with the skeg up, while maneuverability is excellent -- not as good as my whitewater boat of course, but decent. Tracking with the skeg down is awesome, and the skeg itself has never clogged up on me, even when I slide through mud. This boat is well-engineered, and the hull design is a work of art and science. It's a big boat that performs beyond all expectations.
The Max both tracks and turns well for a 17-foot boat, and that is a very tough combination to come by. Speed and stability are also strong on the Max. The Max has a neat, almost liquid feel to it in waves. I feel as if I'm part of the water rather than a kayak on top of the water. With a loaded Max, you'll really feel a gyroscopic ride in waves. Also, the hull design lends itself to good speed in waves, too. Some sea kayaks tend to either dive their bows into waves or slap on top of the waves, but the Max does neither. It's an eerily gentle ride in waves.
I'm a paraplegic, and I used the Max for kayak camping on a Pukaskwa National Park trip on Lake Superior in July with two able-bodied buddies. My Max has the sliding seat. It makes entry and exit easy for me, plus it has a side benefit. I invented a camping mobility device that I call my Dune Bug. It's an aluminum frame, and I put quick-release Roll-eez wheels on it (now Wheel-eez). Then I use the sliding seat from my Max for the Dune Bug seat. I propel the Dune Bug with cross country ski poles.
Anyway, I can't say enough good things about the performance of the Mariner Max. The only complaints I've heard about Mariner boats is "uncomfortable seating" and some good-sized guys want a higher deck in front of the cockpit. They get cramped in the boat. For me, the Max fits very well. I've even found a way to roll the boat using an extended paddle. I'm paralyzed below my rib cage, so I've got no hip snap or trunk control. Part of why I can roll the Max is that I put weights in the bottom of the hatches so that the hull is self-righting. Plus, the shape of the Max hull makes it easy to right regardless, as well as offering a very deep secondary stability. Then too, being that I have no feet, I'm not interested in a rudder, and the Max was designed to not need one.
I could go on and on about the merits of the Max, but I'll force myself to stop talking now. The last I heard, Mariner Kayaks are in production again, so if you can get a hold of one, you'll have a kayak that you'll want to keep forever. There are no finer boats on the water.
The tracking is still great when going into the wind; however, with tailwinds the back end wants to blow around. Of course, in river valleys in the Upper Midwest where I live, wind isn't much of an issue.
Dagger used to make a boat called the Cypress. The Catalyst seems like a new and improved Cypress to me. I liked the Cypress, but the Catalyst turns much quicker. Plus, with the front and rear bulkheads and hatches, the Catalyst is a seaworthy boat. If big waves splash over the rear deck though, the rear hatch cover will let in some water.
Stability on this boat is awesome. Initial stability is very comforting, and the secondary is super strong and lasts forever, it seems. I'm a paraplegic over 200 pounds, so I'm top-heavy and need some stability from my boat to make up for a lack of trunk stability of my own. I'm paralyzed below my rib cage. The only modification I made to the Catalyst is an extended backrest to reach up into my functional musculature.
I know that Dagger called the Catalyst a touring kayak, but really, it's not a true touring boat. However, it is the best multi-purpose boat I've paddled to date. I've got six kayaks -- different boats for different purposes -- but if I were forced to choose only one boat, it would be the Catalyst 13.0 because I can do anything with it if need be, and it simply excels on rivers up to Class II.
My thanks to Dagger for building a little plastic piece of magic.
The hullavators are a fantastic product, but it is true that they sometimes don't latch in the down position. Another annoyance is that they often whistle while driving at highway speeds with a boat in place. I figured out that the whistle came from wind across the slot for the sliding saddle's adjuster. With a boat in place, there is a venturi effect. When the rack is empty, there is no whistle. Anyway, I fixed the situation by adding grey duct tape between the saddles. It matches the grey hullavators exactly.
Just add duct tape. No more whistle.
I gave the hullavators a 9 because they truly are a great product. There's still room for improvement though.
Speed is good for a 14-footer. You'd swear the boat isn't over 24 inches wide, the way it goes (it's 26 inches wide). Primary stability is quite comforting, and secondary is very strong, even for people with a high center of gravity. I'm a T7/8 complete paraplegic, so I'm top-heavy, but this boat gives me confidence even in choppy water. I made an extension for the factory backrest and I brace it up against the inside of the rear coaming.
Maneuverability is decent, and tracking is excellent for the most part, though some winds cause weathercocking. Still, I don't recommend bothering with a rudder.
In my opinion, a 37-inch cockpit rather than 39 would be ideal for this boat, but either way, it's fine for its intended light touring purpose. Easy butt-first entry. For me, this is a multi-purpose boat, usable on Lake Superior, inland lakes, flat rivers, and even up to easy Class II. I can't recommend the TCS material for heavy-duty rivers though. I bought a Kestrel 120 in the fall and ran a solid Class III rapids with it. My stern spanked a rock hard and cracked. A fiberglass patch on the inside made it good as new, but a boat that can crack just isn't a good application for Class III's.
Other than that, I can't imagine anyone not liking the TCS Kestrels. Anyone who paddles them is favorably impressed. My hat is off to the Current Designs hull designer on these boats. I don't like to give out 10's, but this boat is much more than a 9, so I had to round up.
It's almost unbelievable how well this 12.5-foot boat performs as a light tourer. I wanted to use it in rivers though, and it was fine until I ran a solid Class III rapids with it in the fall. My stern spanked a rock hard and cracked. A fiberglass patch on the inside made it good as new, but a boat that can crack just isn't a good application for Class III's. TCS just isn't made for rock-bashing. Small bumps aren't an issue.
The tracking on the Kestrel 120 is absolutely amazing. It seems to ignore wind entirely. It just goes wherever you want, almost as if by thought. A rudder would be a useless appendage.
I can't imagine anyone not liking the TCS Kestrels. (I've got the Kestrel 140, too). Anyone who paddles them is favorably impressed. My hat is off to the Current Designs hull designer on these boats. However, I will sell the 120 since I can't use it as my river boat, and the 140 fulfills all my desires as a light touring boat.
Still, I have to rate the Kestrel 120 as a 9.9, which rounds up to 10.
The beauty of the Solstice GT HV for me is that it has more primary stability than any touring kayak I have tested. I like to take pictures. Mind you, at 24.25 inches wide, the secondary stability is also very strong, such that a person with a high center of gravity (me) feels quite secure. And the secondary stability kicks in with just a slight lean due to the very shallow V hull shape.
For a boat of this width, my Solstice has a nice, easy cruising speed. A friend and I recently paddled 52 miles in 13.25 hours (total elapsed time). We beached our boats for fifteen minutes every two hours. In other words, about 4.5 mph is an easy paddling speed for the Solstice. 5 mph is very doable if you're breathing a bit, but I couldn't keep it up all day without wearing out. Two hours at 5mph is okay.
The only negative about the Solstice is that of course it won't turn. Add a little wind, and it pretty much takes an Act of Congress to bring it around. The tracking is spectacular though. I ordered my boat without a rudder since I can't use my feet, and in the vast majority of paddling situations, in my opinion, the boat does not need a rudder.
If you edge the boat heavily, it does turn slightly better, but nobody will ever accuse it of being maneuverable if they've paddled something that truly turns well.
I've recently learned an extended-paddle high-bracing sweep that enables me to lean the boat 90 degrees. The stability still feels predictable. Likewise, I can heel the boat over with a low-bracing turn, and it feels good. Of course, it does help that I've epoxied some brackets on the bottom of my rear hatch and I bungee a 20-pound leaden bar in there. The boat is stable without the ballast, but with it, it's rock solid for a person with a high center of gravity. It makes up for my lack of leg weight.
Overall, if you're looking for a more nimble, easily leaned boat, then the Solstice is not for you. But, if you want a very stable, efficient touring kayak, you can't go wrong with the Solstice. And my hatches are cavernous.
The only reason I give the boat a 9 rather than a 10 is that it won't turn.
The Element seems a hair faster than the Delta, and the Element is definitely a more seaworthy boat. The skirt on the Element's 38-inch cockpit is very secure, whereas it was impossible to get a really waterproof seal on the 4-foot cockpit of the Delta.
The Delta is a great boat for getting you down a nice Class II river, but the Element offers more fun as you do it. It's a little more maneuverable than the Delta, and the Element has little hard chines so that edging a bit enhances the turning. What with the edging ability, the Element tracks better than the Delta as well, particularly in wind. Just get the Element on a chine and you can overcome the slight weathercocking tendency easily.
I'm giving the Element a 9.75 score, which rounds off to 10. The deduction is for the slight weathercocking.
The Dagger Delta looks like a barge, but has amazing performance. The Element, however, is a sexy-looking thing with performance to match. My hat is off to the Dagger hull designer on the Element. It's great in rivers, and I don't mind paddling it in flat water, either, though I mostly use my touring boat for that.
Extraneous notes: I've kept my Delta for a guest boat. The guy who said you can't fit more than size 11's in the Element is mistaken. It all depends what kind of footwear you have. I have size 13's, but I wear neoprene booties when kayaking, and they fit very easily in the Element. I have a 34-inch inseam and I have two holes left on my footrest rails. If I wore tennis shoes, my feet wouldn't fit well, but then I've never sat in a kayak that fits size 13 tennis shoes well. The Element narrows quickly in front of the cockpit so that you don't need a paddle longer than 220 cm. I feel that with the retail price under $600, the Element is a true bargain, and you get a lot for the money. It's a sophisticated hull for a little rec boat. I really think of it as more of a Class I-III river boat. Just add some more floatation in the bow. The little foam block installed by Dagger isn't enough.
The only negative I have is that with the skeg deployed, the boat wandered to the left. So, I put a small bend in the skeg blade, which made the tracking perfect. Also, the velcro strips that the factory put in the skeg slot came loose and then jammed the skeg, so I removed them. They're unnecessary.
I believe all larger people would enjoy the Charleston 15. I feel that it's too big for a smaller person though. The bottom line is that I really enjoy paddling this boat. It's a keeper.