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Submitted: 03-23-2009 by mikehenebry
Warren Light Craft is a small, father and son company located in Salem, MA that hand builds ultra-light, carbon-fiber, high performance kayaks that have a unique and patented shape that results in a great combination of stability and speed. They also will construct kayaks in fiberglass, but most of their customers opt for the carbon layup.
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.
The Warren LW 12.5 looked on paper like it could be for me an ideal combination of light weight, and touring paddling efficiency and speed. However, the proof is always in the paddling.
- Waterline Length is a good predictor of the top hull speed of a boat. The longer the boat the higher the theoretical top sprint speed. Because of its short waterline length of 11-ft, 11-in, the LW 12.5 came in fourth from the bottom, between the Epic Rec GP and the Eddyline Skylark.
- Waterline Length to Waterline Beam is one way to predict a combination of speed and efficiency of a kayak. The higher the ratio the "faster" the kayak. In my chart his ratio ranged from a low or 4.15 for the Old Town Otter and my 4.92 Necky Gannet to a high 12.14 for the Warren LW 18. Because of its narrow wetted beam, the LW 12.5 moved up the middle of the chart on this measure; it had a ratio of 7.33, which put it in the range of the Necky Chatham 16 (7.42) and the Feathercraft Wisper (7.63). The ratio for my Folbot Cooper was 8.55.
- Wetted Surface Area (WSA) is considered a good predictor of paddling efficiency (ease of paddling) at common (3-4-knot) touring speeds. The lower the WSA the less energy it takes to paddle the boat. The LW 12.5 WSA at 16.4 was at the top of the list; there were two other kayaks that equaled the 16.4 WSA, but none was lower. The highest WSA was for the LW 18 at 20.6; my Folbot Cooper had a WSA of 19.2 and I do not know the WSA of my Necky Gannet.
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.
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