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Name: LeeG

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It's been awhile since I paddled a Caribou, I've owned about a dozen sea kayaks and built the same number in s&g. Been paddling 14yrs, moderate experience. Long time favorite was a Mariner Express and presently paddle a Chatham 16.

I don't get it, this is such a simple hull shape, originally made in plywood, that works as well as most molded hulls. I'd put it in a list of top five "all around" sea kayaks with this one giving more speed and stability than most.

Update: two days later, breeze upwards of 10mph and numerous boat wakes in…

Update:
two days later, breeze upwards of 10mph and numerous boat wakes in Annapolis. This is a smidge disappointing. Nice range of stability and wave handling. Very comfortable surfing little waves. But the bow doesn't unweight enough when leaned, so it doesn't correct weathercocking well enough until leaned hard over. Weathercocks less than a Tempest 170 but not as responsive when leaned. Kind of like a Pygmy Coho except the pivot point is a foot or so too far forward.

The 16'x21", 17'x22" and 18'x21 Mergansers are similar in pivot point resistance to weathercocking and response on a lean, the 17W sticks out regarding weathercocking and response to a lean. You could toss five lbs in the stern or add a long 3/4" skeg to the stern but a retractable skeg would probably be ideal. Moving the seat back would put one up against the coaming. What would really be ideal is a slight re-design so it handled similar to the other Mergansers.

I made a 16' and 18' Merganser previously. Only had it out in flat water with a slight breeze. It's different handling hull than the 18, not just more maneuverable, there's a looseness to the stern that I suspect would be good in rough water but feels almost like the cockpit/seat position needs to be an inch aft. I've got the backband about 3" forward of the back of the coaming which allows adequate room to twist ones torso around. Seeing a friend paddle it the stern sits 1" below the water and the bow is curved out so it looks balanced in the water. I'll post another review when I get the chance to get it in wind/waves.
It's a little like a s&g version of a Gulfstream/Scirocco.

This is the second Merganser I've made. Much better fit compared to the 16 for 200lb paddler. As a kit it goes together quickly, having built one before made this one go together well.

A couple things are worth mentioning for the next builder. The coaming has little overhang on the sides so trimming the two halves of the coaming spacer might help make a little more overhang on the sides, maybe a shade under 1/8" would do it. I've got about 1/2" overhang which feels minimal. Pre-glassing the inside of the hull panels before stitching up makes finishing the interior easy. The thigh braces on the coaming recess are mounted kind of far forward and inward, I've trimmed the inside and forward portion of the thigh braces to allow more room for entry/exit but they need to be moved back about an inch. On the next one I'll connect a little piece to extend the thigh braces closer to the thighs instead of knees.

Ok, handling, think of a slightly tippier Caribou with stiffer tracking but less weather cocking. It'll have less of a tendency to slide sideways on a wave compared to a Caribou but it'll still turn where you want with a constant lean. It won't allow as much green water over the foredeck as a Caribou. I only had a chance to take it out in 15mph breeze but it felt good in all angles to the wind/waves.

The 18 is not a big kayak, I think it's about a half cubic foot bigger than the Caribou, but for 200lb paddler with 60lbs of gear I bet it would be great in a lot of wind. For reference I've built two Pygmys, seven CLCs, a Merganser 16 and my own attempt at a 18'x21" s&g kayak. Have worked in kayak stores and taught sea kayaking.

Two thumbs up.

I got a glass Chatham18 recently. I've had it out in gentle conditions off Annapolis about a dozen times this month. Waves around 1' and wind less than 15mph. It is related to the Chatham 16,,more maneuverable than expected for a long/low rocker hull,,but tracks well enough for a reasonably fast hull although not a really fast hull, but I'm not a fast paddler so go figure. In other words another kayak that's faster than me. This description may sound wishy-washy but I'm not,,someone tried to make this kayak do a lot of things well,,and it does. It's related to the 16 regarding excellent handling in wind but you wanted 'faster' and more volume. If you ever wanted a kayak that only needed a little skeg trim this is it,,if you wanted a kayak that could still be maneuvered in changeable conditions with a disabled skeg,,this is it. Try paddling a Tempest170 with a broken skeg with a beam wind and stern seas to see what I mean.

The few times I got onto small surfing waves it was surprising to find it 'settled down' while flying. Most kayaks get kind of 'busy' when the transition to high speed happens on a wave but this one gets 'settled'. The bow develops lift at surfing speeds that you don't discover until moving fast down a wave. "Hmmm,,this was meant to be this way". Hopefully it'll be as satisfying in the ocean as the Chatham16 turned out to be.

The beam measurement doesn't mean much,,it's more stable than you'd think a 20" wide kayak would be. Certainly more comfortable than an Elaho HV.

One aspect that I'm sure is a marketing decision is that the cockpit is big,,the foredeck could be an inch lower. I'm 5'9" with size 11 feet and have a extra inch of foot room with feet oriented straight up,,which makes me think it'll fit folks 6'4" with size 14 feet just fine if they're accustomed to narrow kayaks. I'm happy for you 6'4" paddlers with size 14ft but you're outside the bell curve,,Necky? bring out a lower foredeck boat with a smidge less aft deck por favor. As it is I'm rigging the underside of the foredeck with LOTS of bungie for misc. gear.

Details,,the construction technique is fairly unique, it looks to involve less labor in deck/hull assembly than the average deck/hull construction that uses interior glass tape, it uses an adhesive with no interior/exterior seam tape. It's got a very low resin/glass ratio which would imply a higher strength/weight ratio. I wasn't aware that the interior glass deck/hull flange was a guide and not a structural bonding element so don't worry if it looks like there isn't adhesive between the flange and the hull,,the adhesive is on the exterior flange. I figure if you got something in there it might as well be bonded but the folks at Necky say it's fine. So I'm going to take them at their word and USE it well.

You'll get a kick out of the construction,,shine a flashlight in the compartments and run your hands around the inside,,,different, I'm charmed with it. Messing with kayak building can do that to a person.

Unfortunately you can't get one shipped with the forward bulkhead uninstalled for custom placement but that was fortuitous in my case. I had it shipped without footbraces installed and was considering cutting out the bulkhead then re-installing one further aft with interior mounted Yakimas as there's a LOT of unused volume in the cockpit. In the mean time I've stuffed three big blocks of 3" minicell for footbraces. All these years I've put up with footbraces,,no more,,I might eventually reposition the bulkhead but in the mean time it's nice having a larger footbrace area than just the ball of the feet,,much better.

The glassing around the aft end of skeg box needs to be re-figured as there is one exterior 5" gel coat crack in the hull that came as delivered, I suspect the skeg box provides a rigid point from the flexible hull panel but it doesn't look like a structural issue regarding the hull itself,,more that the gel coat can't bridge the transition. For folks unfamiliar with gel coat it'll be disconcerting,,and most folks spending $3000 will probably make the dealer fix it or send it back but I'm doing so much stuff to it that it's minor. In heavy use your average glass kayak gets stress cracks in the gel coat,,something tells me this kind of construction won't get as many.

When the Perception Sea Lion came out years ago it was THE boat you'd get if you were a beginner who wanted to learn with the bar set a bit higher than a beginners comfort level. The Chatham 18 is kind of like that but with a higher bar for the average customer now that the average customer should know how to brace/roll. Kind of like when an athlete decides to get into cycling and jumps straight to a road bike with skinny hard tires after riding mtn. bike with larger tires and shocks. The Chatham18 has show room leg comfort, predictable handling on the water, it'll force a beginner to learn how to brace and lean but not be so far out there to eliminate the experienced paddler who likes some stability.

There isn't an appreciable weight/cost difference between the glass and carbon/glass version so Necky should market the attraction of the carbon/glass composite better.

More misc. thoughts,,the ratchet back band adjustments are ridiculous,,all that work to make recessed hardware in the coaming to accomodate them,,toss them out. Who adjusts a backband while paddling a 20" wide kayak??? That's like needing tennis shoes that can be retied while running. Makes no sense.

I haven't bought a new composite kayak in 12 yrs and this is worth it so far. I've owned a dozen kayaks, teach sea kayaking.

I've been padding for 13yrs. Teach sea kayaking, fat and not very fit anymore. The ocean is 2hrs away. My regular boat has been a glass Mariner Express.

Positives: The Chatham16 is excellent for handling in high winds, mild weathercocking that skill or skeg can counteract. Similar to my Express in control but without any of the tendency to slide sideways across the surface of the water. This is the boat to have if you're stuck in high winds. Stable. Good combination of maneuverability and tracking. There are more maneuverable kayaks, there are stiffer tracking kayaks.

The cockpit is accomodating to modification but I don't think it's what Necky intended. Toss the blue minicell seat and carve your own. I've been in small surf a few times and like it. The coaming is narrow enough that with the aluminum thigh braces removed I can have adequate bracing for rolling but can paddle knees up when I want in flatter water.

Negatives: Aluminum seat frame is the wrong size to accomodate more paddlers who can fit the displacement of the hull. I've got a 31" inseam and HAD to shove the seat frame all the way to the aft setting so as to not experience cutting pain from the frame. With the new carved seat from 3" minicell, chunks of foam extending forward from the frame it's perfect. The rusting ratchet seat back widgets are worthless, throw them out. The aluminum thigh braces are ok but find the narrow coaming provides adequate control for rolling/bracing in surf. Maybe there's an old fashioned set of braces I can cut to fit. There needs to be a different hatch gasket material, redid the day hatch with 1/16" neoprene and that fixed it. The other hatches are next as they take on at least a pint in half a days worth of surf.

This is a good kayak, fixed mine with under deck bag, doubled deck bungies. Found a soccer ball on the river today, jammed it under the two doubled foredeck bungies and it made a great bass guitar. Good tone. I have a composite Chatham18 on order.

6/03, just came back from the beach at Assateague, I'm satisfied with it's wave handling attributes. When making the Merganser I allowed the ends to get more pinched than they should, which might be controlled if there was a temporary bulkhead used to help position the deck and hull panels in the ends during construction, or I followed directions. All it took was a couple moments surfing forwards and backwards into a broach to see that the balance was right, a smooth carving accelleration. That balance being cg, rocker and distributed volume (flare, fore/aft). It's interesting how fore/aft volume rocker and flare can correspond to the two axis the paddlers body moves in, torso rotation and hip movement. On the next construction I'm considering removing some of the entry in the bottom panels to reduce the resistance of the bow to turning. For my 190lbs it's a bit tippy but very quick to accelerate. We'll see how it is in high winds next chance I get but so far it's a good choice where efficiency/speed with adequate control is more the preference than immediate maneuverability.

A year later at the same demo location. I like how the Scirocco handles more than the Gulfstream. The Gulfstream has more primary stability, the Scirocco is a little easier to lean,,whether that translates to better turning or handling I'm not exactly sure but the Scirocco is more to my taste regardless of cost.

This is a follow-up to the review of 5/02. I took the Coho on a week long trip in Maine last fall as I wanted a boat with better glide for long distance paddling than the Express I took the year before. The subjective nature of evaluating a kayak was really brought home on the second day as the first day of managing in winds was making the aspect of weathercocking a possible chore compared to my Express. Mysteriously the 'problem' disappeared over the following days, even as winds pumped up to 20mph with 2' waves. The transition from 14hrs car time to kayak time requires a little adjustment. Carrying 5 1/2 gallons of water plus a full load of gear made for a heavy boat but the flip side of it is feeling like being in a sports car while day paddling unloaded,,,and having a boat that responded well while unloaded. As much as everyone want's a skinny "fast" boat I've got to admit there's something to be said for having a kayak with enough beam that bringing ones legs out and dangling them over either side for a break/stretch/nap isn't a bad thing. Buddhas observations are valid if the boat in question wasn't outfitted for him, the nature of home built boats is that the seat/hip/thigh outfitting can be good or awful according to the builder/user. Given the overall handling envelope that the design is working towards, speed, efficiency at crusing speeds, maneuverabilty,load carrying, stability I find the nature of wave handling from the stern and weathercocking acceptable (these two areas seem to be where designs can show their limitations). Until other designs show up in mult panel s&g this is the best all around kayak kit available in the med/large displacement category.

Waves, second time around. I'm pleasantly surprised, had a chance to paddle around conflicted 1' waves and occasional 2' waves from wakes coming off the Naval Academys patrol boats. The Merganser has a good balance of above waterline volume in the bow and aft volume, ie. the bow doesn't bury, I'm sure in bigger waves it could disappear but I should be looking at 17 for me and not the 16 anyway. It would take until the end of summer to come up with a satisfactory review but there's enough from this one to warrant making a 17 for me at 190lbs. Eric has a 17W (23"wide) that would probably appeal to beggining paddlers compared to the regular 17 (22"wide).