Submitted: 07-05-2006 by KD in PDX
My wife and I were new to kayaking. We spent about 6 weeks researching kayaks for the type of large river, lake, and coastal sea kayaking we planned to do. We took lessons, demo'd boats at local dealers and attended demo days. We tried 15-18' boats from Perception, Eddyline, Current Designs, P&H, & Wilderness Systems. Although, like anyone, we loved the look of the glass/composite/carbon/kevlar boats, we decided that we would buy poly models for cost reasons (we were buying two...gulp). (Although the durability of poly for novice kayakers was a plus.) What we didn't want to do was buy a boat that our skills would outgrow in the 3-5 years we expected to own it.
Considering the general rule of thumb about narrowness of beam and instability, we thought we'd be more comfortable in a wider beam boat. After "trying on" many boats, we both tended to like a snug cockpit that made us feel more attached to the kayak. There is a lot of science and engineering that goes into designing and building a kayak, but we're of the opinion that you buy one because of the way it feels. Specs become secondary, paddling reveals all. That, and a lot of patient advice from the very nice folks at Alder Creek Kayak.
To make a 6 week long story short, we both found that we liked the Necky line. We concentrated a bit more time on their longer sea kayak models in poly (Elaho, Chatham 16, Chatham 17). Conclusion: we both loved the Chatham 17. Surprisingly, it's probably the narrowest beamed boat we paddled but it felt completely stable. The cockpit is also very snug while the foot pegs are long enough to accommodate my 6'2" frame.
So we've been taking more lessons and paddling lakes and rivers nearly weekend since April. We've had no buyer's remorse. The Chatham 17's respond to every new skill we acquire and have been a delight. They can track well without the skeg and edge better than anything else we tried. They are a great compromise between kayak designs that are meant to go straight as an arrow and those that can turn but can't track. We've found windage to be minimal...it's not a high volume boat and is pretty low slung (though it can handle large wake on the Willamette and Columbia without a problem). Drop the skeg and you can handle a windy day on Vancouver Lake.
We love our Chatham 17's. Would recommend that you try one if your criteria for a boat are similar to ours.