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Submitted: 05-18-2009 by jimyaker
The Manta Ray 14 is a very versatile boat that is well suited for the larger paddler. I've paddled it on class II whitewater, on a whitecapping river, on a 14 mile easy river trip, and of course on a glassy smooth lake. This is a solid boat in all conditions. It can be flipped, but it's not easy to do.
The really nice hull design allows this kayak to turn quickly at slow speeds and track and glide well once you are moving. It's very maneuverable compared to a WS Tarpon 14 or OK Prowler 15, but not as much as a Mad River Synergy. I think it's rated for class III whitewater, but I think you'd need some good whitewater skills before trying to move this large 14 footer through class III rapids or anything that is very technical. I never put thigh straps on mine, but they would help if you planned to do very much whitewater with the Manta Ray.
The boat really likes glassy water and performs admirably with little or no wind (great glide). Once you get in an 8 to 10 mph breeze, it will start to push you around and can become a bit of a hassle needing quite a few correction strokes. Once you get into the 15 to 20 mph winds you have to keep the boat aligned with the wind most of the time. It does really well in 2 to 3 foot waves, but the accompanying wind creates some resistance moving against it. It is definitely not a sea kayak and you'd have a tough time keeping up with long-boaters in rough conditions.
The high sides are part of the problem in the wind, but they do come in handy in whitewater as it's pretty hard for the current to grab the edge and pull it down even when you get up against a strainer. It is a forgiving boat in easy whitewater conditions. The Manta Ray also has a very shallow draft. With about 250 lbs on board, it only needs about 3 to 4 inches of water to avoid scraping. It can handle areas where a Pungo 14 can only dream of going. This also helps make it a great fishing platform. Then you consider the huge tankwell, the numerous areas for rod holders and anchor lines, as well as the little console area for holding small items, it really is a well thought out design for those who want to rig one up as a fishing machine.
The other great thing is the storage capacity of these kayaks. You can load a ton of stuff inside the large front hatch and another ton in the tankwell. It would be a great boat for multi-day camping on the river. The new 2009 model has a few upgrades that I have mixed feeling about. I really liked the old LiquidLogic seat design, but I think the new design may actually be better. I broke a seat in a 2007 model and they seem to have reinforced the hull right under the seat with the 2009 models. The new footpegs are easier to adjust, but the big pad feels mushier than the old, standard footpeg design. Overall I liked the older design better and may remove the big pad from my boat.
I also noticed that the new seat changed my footpeg setting a couple of notches, so someone with very long legs should be good in the Manta Ray. My inseam is 33 inches, so if yours is under about 38 in., I think you will be comfy in the newer design.
The metal hook for the paddle keeper is much better and less likely to dig into your leg or grab at your clothing. This was a needed improvement as it was annoying in the 2007 model.
The recessed cleats on the front hatch and in the tankwell are still a bit of a pain to use. Putting the shock cord back in place in the front requires running the cord up the edge first and then snapping it in. It shouldn't be that difficult.
The scupper plugs come with the new design and are welcome. I generally won't use them, as the ride is dry, but they may come in handy sooner or later. They also removed the seat scuppers. This means that water can't come up into the seat (yay!), but also means that it can't drain from the seat (boo!). Once you get water in the seat, you sit in water the rest of the day. This rarely happens on flatwater, so it isn't a big deal. If you run much whitewater in it, the scuppers would be nice to have.
They are also sanding the raindrop (question mark) LiquidLogic logo off the bow and the hatch covers which just looks a bit weird. The small hatches feel tighter on the new boats and I'll likely use them more often for small items.
Overall the new 2009s are a better design and should be more durable. The weight is still in the 60 to 65 lb range, so this isn't a light boat to lug around. It's a two person carry most of the time, especially if it has any gear in/on it.
This is not a dedicated fishing machine, it's not a cargo hauler, it's not a whitewater boat, and it's definitely not a touring boat, but it can do all of those things to some degree and that's what makes this a really versatile boat.
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