Submitted: 09-26-2007 by WaterBird
I bought the Cayuga 146 in 2006 with very little research, based primarily on the Old Town name and the fact that I found it with a rudder for $825, which is a very good price. This year I researched kayaks extensively and now have a pretty good knowledge of them, and I still rate the Cayuga 146 very highly. I will discuss both its good and bad points.
First, the seat is extremely comfortable. The Extrasport XtraComfort is one of the very few truly comfortable seats on the market, along with the Phase 3. Iíve tried both and I prefer the XtraComfort for long paddles. When youíre in your kayak an entire day, with only a few or no rest stops, believe me, you want a good seat. This seat adjusts 3 ways to fit your body perfectly. The drawback is that itís very hard to adjust while youíre sitting in the kayak---the adjusting straps are hard to locate and itís almost impossible to tilt the lumbar support far enough forward to raise or lower it. I also find that my shorts stick to the rubber and ride up in the crotch, which doesnít occur with the nylon-covered Phase 3.
The cockpit should fit a fairly large person, which I am. For me it has a comfortably snug fit. My knees and thighs wedge nicely against the sides and the thigh braces, so control feels good. The cockpit is large enough for comfort and small enough to discourage waves from entering---a very nice compromise between a recreational boat (which cannot be used on a large windy lake or on the ocean) and a sea kayak, which is very cramped for many people.
If youíre used to the huge cockpit of a recreational kayak, you may think the Cayuga LOOKS confining. But once youíre in it it actually feels very good. You feel securely held and in direct contact with the hull for enhanced control. In fact the Cayuga feels better to me than a recreational cockpit, which gives you a feeling of not being held securely.
The storage capacity of the Cayuga is excellent. I used the Cayuga for a 5-day camping trip this summer and had adequate space without having to cram my gear into the hatches. I did use the large space in front of my feet for additional storage. With everything in plastic bags that worked fine. The hatches are reasonably water tight, but not perfectly so. I have intentionally submerged the boat upside down in the water and almost no water entered the hatches. I have paddled in high waves for several miles and again found very little water in the hatches. I believe there is general agreement that no hatch is totally waterproof, and you must always use drybags or plastic bags. The dayhatch (glove compartment) at the front of the cockpit is very handy. I use it a lot for my camera, sunglasses, and so on. It is NOT waterproof. It leaks enough that your camera should at least be in a ziplock bag.
My Cayuga tracks perfectly. Still, I often use the rudder because it does help in wind and waves, and itís just plain fun. I wouldnít want to be without a rudder personally.
Seaworthiness: The stability of this boat is really excellent. I have paddled the Cayuga 146 in waves up to about 2 feet and in extremely windy conditions for fairly long distances. Although I was a bit rattled and had to pay careful attention to each paddle stroke---especially in a following sea---in fact I have never been swamped nor tipped over. In a following sea I did receive some water behind the seat---my fault for not having a sprayskirt. The bow rides nicely over the waves rather than crashing through them. When a wave comes at you from the side you can roll the boat up and over it without being in danger of rolling over.
Iíve had the Cayuga on the ocean, but only close to shore on a calm day, or in waves but in a harbor, not on the open ocean. But I feel that this boat is ocean worthy, in spite of those who say only a 16-footer is ocean worthy. On a windy day the large lakes of western Maine present conditions that are very similar to the ocean. The Cayuga 146 is perfect for those conditions. I never tempt fate by crossing a large expanse of open water under those conditions, but I wouldnít do that in a true sea kayak either. Nor would I go out in 3-foot waves in ANY boat---thatís just not fun for me.
The perimeter lines are there for safety, allowing you to tackle rough conditions knowing that you will be able to reenter the boat. Many kayakers justify the uncomfortable seat of a sea kayak with its very low back by saying that a high back prevents reentry. I have reentered the Cayuga many times in SOLO practice and can assure you that the seat back does not prevent reentry. It will either fold down or pop down to its lowest adjustment point while youíre sliding over it. Yes, it will be difficult to get it back up once youíre in the boat, but at least youíre in the boat safely. In fact my guess is that it is considerably easier to reenter the Cayuga than the smaller cockpit of a sea kayak.
Speed: In calm water this boat glides beautifully and tracks perfectly. It is a joy to paddle in calm water. In wind and waves it takes considerably more effort. However, a friend who has the same boat assures me that she is able to keep up with sea kayaks in rough seas. Iím not a speed demon---I would much rather have a stable boat like the Cayuga and sacrifice a little speed.
Now we come to the two big drawbacks of the Cayuga 146. The first is its weight. My boat with rudder weighs 56 pounds. You will find different sources claim it weighs either 50 or 52 pounds without the rudder. Old Town is infamous for understating the weights of its boats, so if this question concerns you, by all means take your scales with you when you test the Cayuga. In any case, putting this boat on and off a car and hauling it in and out of the garage is a drag, so much so that I use it far less than I would like to because of the weight. But you have two choices: shell out another $500-$1000 or more for a lighter boat, or live with the extra 10 to 15 pounds of the Cayuga. Fortunately, once you get the boat in the water those 10 to 15 pounds become meaningless. In fact I sort of like the substantial feel of the Cayuga in the water---it does not get tossed about by wind and waves.
I spent the entire summer looking for a light (35 to 45 pounds) composite boat that would have all the other characteristics of the Cayuga: comfortable seat, reasonably narrow, 2 hatches, 14 feet. Let me tell you right now that such a boat barely exists on the market, if at all. For example, the popular Kestrel 140 in composite is a beautiful boat, but it paddles like bathtub due to its excessive width and the seat is nowhere near as comfortable as the XtraComfort. Hence I am still paddling the Cayuga while waiting for some smart manufacturer to design its 40-pound twin.
The second drawback of the Cayuga is the single-layer plastic that Old Town chose in 2007. If you put a polylink 3 and SL side by side and press on the cockpit rim, you will readily see the difference. The SLP is very soft by comparison. I havenít paddled an SLP, but I suspect it must be slower than the 2006 polylink 3 (stiff = fast in the kayak world). I think Old Town made a mistake when they changed the material and Iím very glad I have a 2006 model.
A few words for those who are debating whether to get a recreational, transitional, or sea kayak: if youíre a beginner or intermediate, get the Cayuga 146 and stop fretting. It will answer all of the needs of an intermediate paddler---calm lake, wind and waves, many ocean conditions, day trips, long tours. It will excel at all of those and you will do it in comfort and safety. Why paddle a short, fat bathtub (recreational kayak)? For a great many paddlers a sea kayak is overkill, subjecting you to a cramped cockpit, lousy seat, and low waterline when all you want to do is have a leisurely afternoon cruise on a calm lake. Plus you have to store those monsters in your garage. If you buy a 10- to 12-foot recreational kayak, you will not be able to use it for touring, will be limited to calm water, and will outgrow it in a single season. My advice is to start with an intermediate boat, which anyone can learn to paddle in a matter of minutes.
I conclude that the Cayuga 146 is the best touring boat on the market for the time being, for its combination of comfort, stability, and touring capacity. I rest my case. Get yourself a Cayuga 146. You wonít regret it.
P.S. If the Cayuga 146 is good, does that mean the 160 is better? I say no. Why grapple with more length and weight when the 146 will do it all? I havenít paddled the 130 so I donít have an opinion about it, except that it would be a good recreational choice at the very least. The Old Town website says it weighs 2.5 pounds MORE than the 146---a mystery indeed.