Submitted: 06-03-2009 by Jeff
The Chatham 17 was the boat I finally bought after weeks of trying several boats. This is a review of not only this boat but also others and of the whole buying experience from a newbie's point of view.
First let me give you some background which will add a little context to the review. I am 6'1", 225 LBS, 40 in waist, 32" inseam and size 11 shoe. I am new to this sport and not tremendously comfortable on or in the water. I went to a demo day, tried and retried several boats. Gave my list of things I wanted to each company's rep: Flat water: lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, some protected coastal waters on Cape Cod, stability* important, and it needs to look sharp. Prior to the Demo day I had done as much research as possible without paddling. The Chatham 17 was not even on the radar at Demo day because I was told it was too advanced of a boat for me by everyone at Demo day and even Necky’s YouTube videos lead you to believe the boat is for a more advance paddler. What was "recommended" were: the CD Vision 150, Necky’s Manitou 14, Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140, the Eddyline Journey and the Hurricane Tampico 140 L. I loved the way the Vision 150 felt but I hated the lack of color choices. I loved the stability and comfort of Wilderness Tsunami 140 but hated that Poly look (demo boats always make me think "This is what my boat is going to look like in a year"). I like the stability and comfort of the Eddyline Journey but I was not convinced on the longevity or reparability of Thermoform. The Manitou 14 was ok, but I liked the CD vision better.
Demo day came and went with no decision made, enter Boat store sales crew. The CD Gulfstream came highly recommended; it had the colors choices, was FG and fit me. I spent about 4 hours in this boat and found that I didn't like its stability*. The Tsunami 175 Pro was great; has all that Wilderness Systems comfort stuff, seat adjustable foot pedals from within cockpit; but only 3 color choice and none were what I wanted. But I didn’t rule it out completely.
4 weeks go by since demo day and I'm driving my boat store staff absolutely crazy by trying boat after boat and not being able to make a decision. My mind and eye keeps coming back to Necky boats in the store probably due to the fact that I think their web site is excellent, their YouTube videos are helpful if not entertaining, the boats just looks stunning for the price and their color choices are superb. But this is where it gets interesting. So far my store has steered me away from the longer Necky boats. So I go to another store and try a Necky Looksha 17 (staying away from Chatham because it's too advanced remember). We’re getting warmer, stability was good, not great. But I now have a 4 hour private lesson under my belt and about 10 more hours of rentals. I strike up a conversation with a guy fixing boats at this "other" store. I tell him about all the above and could he tell me about reliability, as I wonder what he see for repairs on a daily basis. This is where the Wilderness Tsunami gets ruled out, the "comfort features and moving parts", seat, foot pedal adjustments, etc., break often. He's got 5 boats out to repair and three of them are Wilderness Systems. That's all I need to know. While we are talking I see a real tall guy, he must be 6'4" get out of a Chatham 17 after trying it; so much for being too small for tall people. So I ask the repair guy what he thinks about a Chatham for me? He lights up and says he has a Chatham 16 and he wouldn't part with it, it's great for surfing, it's the best boat etc. etc. I have to remind him that we're talking about for me a newbie. He says, rent it for an hour and see if you like it. But what about stability* I ask. And here is the asterisk explanation for stability. His response to this question is the best I have heard or read to date about stability and matches my feeling to date on the topic exactly.
"The definition of stability has more to do with the person in the boat AND the boat than the boat itself. Both initial stability and secondary stability are going to depend on the experience level of the person in the boat, the weight and height of the person in the boat added to the specs (length and width, chine, rocker etc. ) and capacity of the boat. In other words what is stable for me may be unstable for you, initial or secondary. Get in and see how it feels to you."
I was in it 10 minutes and I knew. The Chatham 17 just feels comfortable on me. The deck is not too high, I like a snug cockpit, like the Vision 150 was on me. It's snug but not tight. It's a skeg boat; no rudder debate here. It moves through the water with ease and tracks great and maneuvers fantastic for such a long boat. The Necky Hulls are great for beginners I think. AND IT'S A BEAUTIFUL BOAT. I got the Mango, which I hear they are no longer making for 2009. Good. It will be like my red Vermont Castings wood stove: a classic.
As I said earlier I was impressed by those Necky YouTube videos seeing a hammer hit the hull without any damage. That's the boat for me I thought. Unfortunately, I would have to say something is wrong there because I have a real reason to NOT believe what is presented in that video. My boat fell off my car while I was unloading it and the bow hit the pavement. There was a 7 inch crack in the gel coat along the keel of the hull and 4 inch square damage to the layup near the left foot pedal anchors probably other damage as well. I took it out on a lake for a few hours and there was water in all the hatches. Not a lot, but they are supposed to be air tight. The bow hatch I could understand because of the gel coat crack was right underneath (within) the bow hatch. But there was no visible damage to the other areas. So needless to say I am worried as my baby is in the hospital now being repaired. My store was nice enough to lend me a poly Chatham 16 and yes I fit in that as well. I can't figure why I was kept away from these boats from my other store.
LESSON: Try everything even when the sales guy says not to. Do your own research and critiquing.
I can paddle this boat for 4 hours straight and not be sore anywhere when I get out of it, it is that comfortable and fits that well AND I consider myself quite out of shape and just starting as a paddler. It can only get easier. I think the 16 is a little smaller than 17 for me capacity and cockpit wise but it is just as much fun as the 17.
So how did I end up buying a 17’ boat when I was looking for something smaller for flat water you ask? I asked myself that question a hundred times. The best answer came from the owner of the first boat store, "You can always paddle your boat down but you can't paddle it up. If you want to grow into a boat and not rule out surfing or touring at some point, you don’t want a small boat. A 17' boat will be fine on flat water, a 14' foot boat will not be fine touring on open water."
The fine folks at the KayakCentre in Wickford Rhode Island are the very best. The fine folks at Charles River Canoe and Kayak in Newton are a close second.