Most Recent Reviews
Having owned many kayaks the Eddyline's are the best you can buy in plastic-by far. Others that have imitated the ABS plastic (circa 2007 Current Designs, Hurricane, etc.) do not compare to the durability, quality, or design. That said, the ABS plastics simply do not perform as well as composites; the stiffness and energy transfer is not the same.
The Merlin XT itself is a good transitional kayak, serving the role between recreational and experienced sea kayak. At only 15 feet this kayak does well without a rudder, adequately stable for beginners, yet provides enough performance to still be a fun ride.
Most tandem sea kayaks have a beam of 26" or more and paddle like a rec kayak. Not this one, it comes alive - quick acceleration, reasonable turning, excellent fit, and the best footplates of any kayak made. At 55lbs (Advantage layup) also very easily car-topped and portaged solo.
I made a few modifications to mine:
-Replaced the rudder with the SmartTrack Race rudder. The rudder this comes with has a plastic housing which was cracked (shippers fault, not Stellar). Also, the original rudder deploys by pulling the rudder cord, unlike the race rudder which you simply release from the clam cleat to deploy. Problems with the original rudder led to a collision and cost me a full minute in my race. Note that the Race rudder does not store neatly when retracted, it sticks out just above horizontal. If ordering I would request this modification.
-Removed the seat pads. Makes it comfortable but hard to rotate, on my short paddles I prefer the smooth seat which is also easier to keep clean.
-Replaced the seat backs. I developed a major scrape from rotating along the coarse stock seat backs.
Distance between cockpits is marginally adequate for non-synchronized paddling. Deck cutaways allow a close catch, steering is very responsive, turning adequate, tracking is excellent, and finish is flawless. Not a beginner kayak, but reasonable for intermediate paddlers. My biggest gripe is the rubber hatch covers: yes, they are water tight, but they're also a pain to fully seat!
If you want a fast, well-made tandem sea kayak the ST21 is the best I've found.
Hobie and Point65 seem to use a better plastic than other manufacturers- it is more durable and repairable, does not seem to oil can as much.
Bottom line: Ingenious idea, wish it was mine! This kayak gives up very little in performance for the flexibility to convert between a solo and tandem, and ability to store, transport, and portage. Does it have more flex than a one-piece? Sure. Can you really add an infinite number of middle sections? No, at least not if you want to paddle somewhere. But for a single or double, great concept, great execution.
Point65 makes excellent composite and racing kayaks, so great to see them enter the recreational market with elements of these kayaks. The Tequila is the lower end of their modular lineup, but is still among the best of the recreational kayaks. The linear polyethylene used by Point65 is similar to that of the Hobie's, much higher quality than most other rec boats. Like the Hobie's it is easily weldable/repairable too.
Minor items to improve: Better deck hardware (cheap/easy to replace), more solid lock (3 buckles instead of two?), and carry handles to better hold the individual pieces - particularly on the mid-section. My kayak is a bit older (2012) and pre-rudder/skeg, but still tracks relatively well.
Not bad at all for getting kids out on the water safely, nice dry gear storage compartment, ample room in the back, but where it counts most (handling) it definitely handled more like a water toy. It was well balanced for carrying it with the center handle and much lighter than most full-size tandems though, so if your interest is simply summer recreation on calm water this is not a bad choice. It wasn't bad paddling it solo either, so the versatility was nice.
Installation of the SmartTrack system was difficult. The 20" hole spacing for the Necky footpeg system exceeded the company's alignment kits. I ended up using a tap and die set with a piece of high density plastic to fabricate my own block, allowing me to reuse the existing holes.
After installation it took some getting used to the footpegs. After a few times out I noted less stability (smaller rudder than factory) but much better control, leg drive (well, as much as possible in a tight cockpit), and nearly identical turning. All this with slightly more speed! Really a great system that when it hits an obstruction it springs right back into place. I posted a YouTube video that shows its performance.
This year I purchased a Stellar ST21 to race with. The Smarttrack rudder was redesigned and NOT the same as the one I had purchased. The spring pulled it up (out of the water), not down, allowing it to lay flat on the deck. So on my first race the clam cleat that locks it down failed...twice. The first time it sent me into a T-bone collision with a downstream racer, the second time was a near miss. It then held steady the rest of the race, but cost me a full minute of time.
After inspection I just saw that the entire casing of the rudder housing was cracked. Not sure if this was related to my issues, but I will replace it with another SmartTrack housing that stays in the water. Stellar Kayaks sells alternate rudder styles than you can find at most stores.
I primarily use the surfski for fitness paddling on a slow river (flat water), and at 200 lbs this surfski easily accommodates my weight in these conditions. The river I paddle on is very crowded in warm weather, and the steering responsiveness is excellent to get around gaps in floaters/SUPs.
Stability is good. Perhaps four swims the first summer of ownership, none so far this year. Very forgiving secondary stability once you learn to trust it. I'm still using the large rudder to assist with stability.
Speed is good. I measure all my paddles with GPS, and for me this surfski is about 10% faster than my Fast Sea Kayaks (Necky Looksha 3 and CD Extreme) and that makes it about 100% more fun.
Improvements that would make this a "10" include an improved bailer (higher capacity, adjustable, more easily reached, better seal when closed) and an improved air plug (cheap plastic part that does not stay closed). Would also be ideal to reduce the massive space in front of the footplate as this is much bigger than necessary.
Very happy with purchase, build quality has been excellent. Added a weed guard from Stellar which has proven very effective late season.
My only minor complaints are that the deck bungees used are 1/8" and have limited holding strength, and the paddle-holder bungees are glassed in through the kayak shell which would make it very difficult to replace.
Kayak seating is exceptional. Very comfortable/adjustable seats, and the spacing of the seats allows non-synchronized paddling. This helps for taking out the kids and letting them practice. The center hatch is large enough for a small child to sit in, but not comfortably or for very long periods of time given the limited leg room. Would be great to hold tons of gear.
This kayak paddles very well. Obviously not as fast as longer sleeker tandems, but can easily maintain 3.5 mph cruising and can hold 5 mph with effort. Two adult paddlers would be a bit more efficient! Stability is excellent. Can easily get in/out of the seats on the water.
Kayak turns very well with the large rudder and is lots of fun around motor boat wakes. Dry ride in the two-foot swells we've experienced and absolutely no rolling concerns with young kids.
Wide cockpits and light weight make this kayak enjoyable to get into the water. Much easier to cartop and portage than most. Would highly recommend to anyone looking for a quality kayak at the beginning to intermediate recreational/light touring level.
Third time out in it was today. Destroyed my sea kayak PRs set in my Current Designs Extreme, though it would be difficult to compare the two kayaks as they have very different characteristics and are both in a class of their own.
Rudder dependent? Absolutely. Only way to race though. And this rudder along with a bit of lean will turn this 20' kayak on a dime at speed. If you're willing, this kayak would really benefit from one of the newer rudder setups with toe controls, the nylon adjustment straps are tough to adjust exactly right. Note that the footpeg holes are set at 20" so conversion kits would have to be customized.
Build quality is excellent. Not a rough spot on this inside or out, and Necky uses a quality gelcoat. This is the most comfortable kayak to portage – fits right on the shoulder and is perfectly balanced, very light for its size. It is a bit snug for me (6'1" with size 12 shoes and a very lean 200 lbs). I'm probably at the upper end of being able to fit in the cockpit, though it does fit me very comfortably. Finding one in pristine condition is difficult though, I looked for a while before I found one without major damage. Not a lot of them produced, and the light weight, length, and stereotypical user seems to make them more susceptible to be damaged.
For a beginner I would recommend the Current Designs Extreme over this. Much more stable, wider range of fit, excellent rough water performance, straight tracking.
For an experienced fitness paddler, hands down the Looksha 3 – faster (about 3%) and provides much sharper turns. Of course, both is always better!