My experience is that this seat totally transformed my experience of paddling a sit-on-top (SOT) kayak. I normally paddle a high-performance, sit-in, sea kayak, and I dislike paddling SOTs and do not own one since they are so uncomfortable for me to paddle. For some reason, even when pushing hard on the heel stops built into a SOT, my butt slides forward when paddling the kayak, which results in an extreme reclining position so that I cannot use torso rotation, which is very painful to my lower back and extremely exhausting (I become exhausted partly from the pain). However, when I visited Lake Tahoe last summer a SOT was the only kind available to rent, but all of the SOTs had the Ocean Kayak Comfort Seat installed. I was dubious, but rented one anyway. What a transformation! While the 11-ft by 32-inch kayak itself was somewhat of a barge, and weathercocked badly, I stayed in place and could use my normal torso rotation, and did not get unnaturally exhausted. Although I do not own a SOT, I plan to buy a Comfort Seat to take along when I run into SOT kayak rentals. I cannot think of any reason not to rate this item a "10".
These keel strips appear to be very abrasion resistant. I installed the strips on each end (2-3-ft on bow and stern) of my 15.5-ft carbon fiber kayak. I had been super careful of my somewhat delicate boat as it has a foam core and no gel coat, so it dents and abrades quite easily. I now can launch from concrete boat ramps and pull up onto rocky beaches with no damage to my hull. After several months of hard use this summer, the keel strips show little wear, vinyl is tough, but when the strips do wear out they can be easily removed using a heat gun, and new strips installed.
Overall, I am quite please with the Keel Easy Keel Strips and highly recommend them.
I requested a more rugged "expedition" layup be used for my LW 15.5, since I had some minor denting in the hull of my LW 12.5 after several years of weekly use. The expedition layup consists of a carbon/fiberglass/carbon "sandwich" on the outside of a Corecell foam core with a single layer of carbon on the inside of the hull. My boat weighs 32 Lbs vs. 28 Lbs for the normal all carbon layup. It is still very light weight for a kayak of this size with a 14'8" waterline length.
I have paddled my LW 15.5 3-4 times per week for three months in various types of water including 2-4-ft waves and surf landings in Lake Superior. Like my LW 12.5, the 15.5 is fast for its overall length and stable in rough water, and it is almost 'intuitive' in its tracking and turning - it simply goes where you want it to go. The difference is my 15.5 does not dent when making moderately hard landings or encountering unexpected obstacles under the water. I installed Keel Easy keel strips on the bow and stern sections of my boat, the first and last 2-3 ft, which I would recommend for any composite kayak as it prevents abrasion in those areas.
The 15.5, as would be expected with its longer waterline length, is both faster, smoother-riding and has more glide in choppy water than the 12.5. For comparison, I normally cruise in the 12.5 at 3.8-4.0 mph, but in the 15.5 I can average 4.2-4.5 mph. The hull shape seems very efficient. In group paddles with intermediate-level paddlers on Lake Superior and other large lakes I have no trouble staying at the front of the group; I often have to wait for others in their 17-ft kayaks to catch up.
Overall, I am very pleased with the LW 15.5. Now that I have a Little Wing with the more rugged layup, I cannot think of anything that I would change.
The following is from a note that I sent to Pat right after I installed and tested the footbar:
"To paraphrase the words of the immortal Dr. King, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, I'm (at least my knees and thighs are) free at last!' I installed the footbar on the Keepers (for now, as I just got the Yakimas and could not wait) pegs and rails, and tried out the set-up today. The foobar must be the single biggest improvement I could make to my kayak. I am getting a lot more torso rotation and power in my stroke, and am traveling faster in the water. Thanks for making a great product and the quick delivery. My legs to do not get cramped as the did previously since I can move my feet to various positions."
In my opinion, every touring kayak should come standard with a footbar/board as they are much more comfortable than footpegs.
I was told that it is almost impossible to create a watertight seal between the neoprene and skirt and the nylon tunnel. However, the new Excursions are tape sealed from the outside of the skirt, and IR generously offered to tape mine on the outside. In the meantime, I completely sealed the neo/nylon from the outside using tent seam sealer available from Wal Mart and any other store with a camping department. No more soaking from paddle drips.
High marks to IR overall for their great customer service.
My Little Wing drew a fair amount of interest and many questions from fellow paddlers. However, mostly they were somewhat amused by the design; they live in a Brit boat world and don't plan to change. The organizers and fellow paddlers were very impressed with the weight and the construction and finish of the Little Wing.
After the organizers saw my boat, they approved it for the intermediate-level tours. Many of these paddlers in their 17-foot kayaks Brit boats were probably somewhat less amused during the 6-8 mile tour of the mainland sea caves in the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. On the way out, we encountered 2-ft beam and following waves (which I had never even seen before on any water body, much less paddled; most of the other paddlers encountered conditions like these quite frequently in their paddles on the Great Lakes). My 12.5-ft Little Wing handled these conditions very well and was among the "faster" boats. The two guides/instructors split us into two groups for a more direct trip back through a 10-15-knot headwind and 2-foot waves. Surprisingly, I (and my Little Wing) was assigned to the faster group of paddlers, and the Little Wing was not the last craft to reach the put-in beach. Needless to say, the LW was easier than the longer boats to maneuver in the sea caves and surrounding rocks.
Overall, I am very pleased that my 12.5-ft Little Wing more than kept up with the 17-ft boats on the intermediate level tours in mildly rough waters. My boat seems to have much of the performance of the longer boats, but is much lighter and more compact.
Being of small stature (5-ft, 3-in and 125 Lbs) and 63-years of age I was particularly interested in Warren’s 22-Lb Little Wing 12.5, although they also make 14, 15.5, 16 and 18-ft kayaks. I wanted a kayak that was very easy to car top and carry to the water and that was very efficient to paddle at touring speeds.
Selection of the Little Wing 12.5:
I currently own a 10-ft, 10-in Necky Gannet and a 16-ft, 6-inch Folbot Cooper. Another boat that I have a fair amount of experience paddling is a Necky Chatham 16. I was looking for a kayak that was very light weight and that had the speed of the Cooper, the rock-solid stability of the Gannet and the rough water capability of the Chatham. I think that the LW 12.5 may be that boat.
I created a spreadsheet of 20 kayaks with three tables of specifications using information from Sea Kayaker Magazine tests and hydrostatics charts with a 150-Lb paddler weight, which was close to my weight plus some day-touring gear. I would be happy to provide the entire spreadsheet on request to my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I only included in the spreadsheet kayaks that I have either owned or personally paddled or were deemed especially efficient for smaller paddlers at touring speeds by Sea Kayaker Magazine or other Warren Light Craft models.
First Impressions (fit and finish):
The LW 12.5 is a high-end sea kayak; and it is very light weight! I measured the boat at 24 Lbs by weighing myself on a scale and picking it up. Many boats are 5-10 Lbs heavier than advertised when I weigh them like this. The boat was wrapped in bubble wrap and was shipped in a very sturdy, trapezoidal-shaped, heavy (100-Lbs) wooden box that totally protected the kayak.
The LW 12.5 is well outfitted with a very comfortable carbon-fiber seat of Warren’s own design fitted with a mini-cell foam pad, Immersion Research "Lounge" back band and Keepers foot braces. The immaculate finish on the LW 12.5 is unlike that of any other kayak of which I am aware. Warren does not use a gel coat, but paints their boat using automotive paint techniques, and you can order your kayak in any color that you have seen or can imagine. I chose yellow for high visibility as we have many powerboats in our local lakes. The yellow pearl color that Ted and Zac Warren helped me select also has metallic gold flakes. Near sunset and in cloudy weather, the finish takes on a golden tone. The boat is beautiful, even stunning! Although the decks and hulls are molded separately, there is no visible seam on the outside of the kayak. The carbon layup inside the cockpit and hatches is very smooth and well finished with no rough surfaces or edges.
The shape of the boat is unique and is patented. The boat is narrowest at the cockpit (20 in) and flares out nearer the bow and stern to 21.5 in into "wings" which enhances stability. The wetted beam is only 19.5 inches with a 150-Lb paddler which results in greater speed and efficiency than the typical 12-13-ft kayak. The bow is shaped like that of a canoe and the stern with its transom and built-in skeg looks like that of a sailboard or small sailboat.
The foot pegs happened to be in the correct position for me as delivered. The seat and backband were very comfortable for several hours paddling, and the boat felt like they would be comfortable all day. I will probably add about another inch of foam to the thigh braces and hip pads as the fit was not tight enough for me. Only two kayaks that I have tried have ever fit me perfectly in stock form; the Necky Chatham and the CD Suka - and most people cannot even get into these boats.
The hull shape reminds me of a Necky Chatham without its overhanging upswept ends. The Chatham, with its shallow arched bottom and soft chines, is one of the best handling kayaks for me that I have some experience with, always feeling safe and stable in rough water.
How it Paddles:
I paddled the LW 12.5 for several hours today in our local lake. We had 15-20-mph winds and waves between 6 in and 1 foot (I was on a narrow arm of out local lake without much fetch). I will provide more details later, but it does seem to be some sort of 'magic' kayak in a least two ways. At first I was not too impressed with my effort vs. speed according to my GPS; I was expecting some sort of "magic" kayak that did not require hardly any paddler effort to cruise along pretty fast. I could comfortably cruise at about 3.8-4.0 mph, the same as in my nearly seventeen-foot Folbot Cooper (I know, pretty good for a 12.5 vs. a 16-footer!). The bow started making 'gurgling' noise at about those speeds. The 'magic' part was when I put pretty much full effort into my paddling to see what would happen. The speed almost instantly increased to 5.4-5.5 mph.
The other "magic" was the way the LW was securely stable in all wind and wave conditions and directions that I encountered. It seemed perfectly neutral in the wind and waves; it did not either weathercock or lee-cock at all, but when I stopped paddling it slowly broached to the wind. Warren does not provide either a rudder or skeg with the LW 12.5 and several of their other kayaks. I agree that neither a rudder or skeg is needed to cope with wind and waves. The LW 12.5 had a lot of the handling characteristics of a 16-ft Chatham, probably because of the relatively narrow round bottom that somehow (to me, inexplicably) remains as stable as a Rec boat, yet very responsive to paddler input.
After paddling my Cooper for several years, which tracks like it is on rails, it took some getting used to having to make any effort to keep the LW 12.5 in a straight line. But, it was quite easy to make minor corrective strokes. I love the quick turning of the LW.
I have paddled the LW 12.5 only once so far, but overall it appears to have the quick turning and stability of my Gannet and the Necky Chatham and the speed of my 16-ft plus Folbot Cooper, combined with the ease of handling on and off the water because of its ultra-light weight. The LW 12.5 is quite a remarkable kayak. I rate it a "10" for meeting or exceeding my expectations and my needs.
It is designed to be attached to a PFD, but Scotty makes a deck fitting with a detachable 20-inch aluminum pole that gets the light up off the deck and an up into the air where it can be seen in all directions by other watercraft. The swaying of the kayak causes the light to twinkle like a very bright star or flash almost like a strobe light. I purchased the Scotty set up (which includes the Sea-Light) for $19.95.