Submitted: 06-04-2007 by John
Let me first note my background: I have no real kayaking experience. I first thought of getting an inflatable kayak back in 2000, after going inner-tubing down the Shenandoah River in Virginia. I greatly enjoyed the experience, but was a little frustrated by the difficulty in actually maneuvering an inner tube on the River. Shortly afterwards, I was at REI with a friend, and noticed an inflatable Kayak on the wall. I'm fairly certain it was a Yukatat, because it was Gold, etc. (The Yukatat is actually a Gold tone, or Amber, not a yellow.) I therefore think this came out well before 2000 (I've seen other earlier dates associated with this elsewhere as well.)
Anyway, I thought it would be the perfect answer to someone who enjoyed whitewater floating, but wanted a bit more control. I also realized when younger that inflatable sleds were much better than regular sleds in that they absorbed most of the impact, and figured the same would apply to whitewater kayaking. (Worries of "popping" the kayak were obvious initially, but I then realized that the larger rafts that traditionally do whitewater are also inflatables.) Anyway, I had my eye on the Yukatat since then, but never had the spare cash until recently. However, last week, I was finally able to order one after months of online research, including reviews of this page and the Airframe (advanced elements - AE) kayak.
Bottom line, it appeared that the Yukatat and the AE kaykak were largely identical except for minor features. I chose the Yukatat, despite the criticisms here, because I frankly preferred the look and style -- it just looks nicer to me, more professional, etc.
I had some issues with the delivery -- the valve cover and a seat belt buckle were missing. However, Amazon refunded me $40 for the valve cover alone, and I'm going to try to get more cash for the buckle, which should make it a worthwhile trade-off overall. (I figure I can replace the buckle elsewhere or directly through Stearns.)
On the water (first time yesterday), I noticed the following things: First, my overall experience was pretty nice. It moves fairly slow in standing water, but I got this to float down moving rivers. Once I got to the river, I was surprised how quickly I was moving. Paddling, of course, increased the speed further. As long as I kept alternating sides, as normal in a kayak, I had no trouble keeping a fairly straight course. I also got decent glide for several yards after I stopped paddling, even on standing water. Left to its own devices, the kayak will pretty much drift aimlessly. Maybe a skeg would be helpful for this -- I do know my kayak has a shallow, 1-2 foot long fin in the front that may help produce some stability. However, compared to the tubes and rafts I've experienced in the past, this wasn't a big change. All I really needed to do to keep it straight was an occasional correctional paddle in either side, if I just wanted to drift.
I did notice that the natural tendency is to recline in the chair. However, I'm not sure if this is such a bad thing -- I liked being able to stretch my head back and relax on the stern when I wanted to. For those desiring a more constant upright posture, I would recommend creating some kind of harness that hooks up to the bow D-rings and provides further back support. Another option is to simply stuff clothes, towels, etc. behind the seat in a drybag of some sort. This greatly improves support while also providing storage. (While the storage area under the deck, behind the seat is not huge, is is large enough for a sleeping bag, and/or a few other items.) Again, though, personally, I liked being able to stretch back, and even put my feet on the front deck, and/or dangle my feet in the water, when I felt like taking a break. I could still paddle in this position if I wanted to, especially for steering.
I'm 6'1, 205 lbs, and with my feet in the kayak, they were fairly close together, but I could fully stretch them out with room to spare.
Bottom line, for me: I don't think there's a huge difference between this and the Advanced Elements (Airframe). The Airframe may have a small skeg that helps with tracking somewhat, but they otherwise appear essentially identical. I would recommend you therefore check out the Airframe Reviews, most of which will apply to this boat as well. I'm sure as a softshell, this lags the performance of a hardshell in some respects, and a purist may not be completely satisfied. However, I found this extremely comfortable, due to its inherently cushioned nature, and I definitely enjoyed my paddle. The ease of setup was very nice, and I was able to break it down in about two minutes when my ride back to the car was ready to go.
Let me note a couple things that others may find helpful. While the carry bag that comes with the kayak technically "fits", it requires a bit more effort to fold the boat down perfectly to that point. Also, the bag doesn't have a shoulder strap, so it's more unwieldy than necessary. Finally, the bag doesn't really breathe, which can be problematic with damp items. Here's what I did: I looked for a large "mesh/net sack" type bag that could more easily carry the deflated boat. I found a Boat Cover Holder from K-Mart for $5.00 that was 30 X 34 inches, and the boat fit almost completely into that. I then hooked up the shoulder strap from my suit bag to that bag (it has the adjustable clips on the end), and I had a carry bag that was easier to load, unload, and carry, while letting the vinyl further dry in the process. Dunham's online has a slightly larger (30X36) cover which I may eventually order. I also found a larger mesh/net ball holder at Dunham's which I'm going to try out. (I'm not sure if the netting's strong enough.) Basically, the larger the better, so you can cinch the end and hook up the shoulder carrier on a horizontal axis, distributing the weight better. Anyway, that's my suggestion for the board. Aside from that, I think this is a great first kayak for beginners, in terms of cost, comfort, and fun. You can always get more hard-core and purist with more experience, and I probably will as well. However, for now, I can see myself taking this kayak on all kinds of rivers all over the country. It seems very durable, and seems almost impossible to capsize. While I haven't had any other kayak experience yet, this definitely was easier and more fun to deal with than a canoe. (I also seemed to move more quickly than the canoes I encountered.)
I'm looking forward to taking this thing on a 2-3 day trip down some rivers, with my sleeping bag and tent strapped on the kayak. Seems a lot more fun and easy than hiking.