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Submitted: 09-17-2009 by mziebell
I have been paddling a Chilco since 2006. The previous reviewer has done good job of describing the performance characteristics of the Chilco so I won't repeat. Since I just took delivery of a new Chilco last week, I'll take this opportunity to compare the old with the new.
In 2006, when that years new Chilco came in, I decided to go over it "with a fine tooth comb" since a) I was still new to Seaward products and, b) its my job as I am responsible for purchase and maintenance of a fleet of these boats. After an hour or so of going over all the fittings, playing with the rudder and control lines and giving a careful "hands on" inspection of the glass work and gel coat, I was perplexed: surely there had to be some flaw, somewhere. I asked another experienced instructor to assist me and we spent another half hour trying to find anything we weren't satisfied with. Despite our best efforts, we were left without a single manufacturing defect to complain about. I couldn't believe it, frankly. I simply had never encountered a new boat where I couldn't find something that had been missed by the manufacturer – a small imperfection in the glass layup, cables crimped imperfectly, a screw left loose. It was obvious, to Seaward's credit, that they had covered all the phases of construction with the highest caliber workmanship. The materials were the best available, the fittings and cables were overbuilt and oversized (I still have not had to replace any part of the rudder mechanism after three years of hard institutional use.)
Now to this year's (2009) boat. When the fleet of new boats arrived, I was pleased to see that Seaward continues to package their boats for shipping in what I consider a proper manner. Lots of high quality foam sheet and a bomber outside "scuff layer" of thick corrugated box paper. To make it any beefier they'd have to put it in a wooden box. Once the boats were unpackaged and inspected for shipping damage, I again took the opportunity to set the Chilco aside for more careful inspection together with assistance from another experienced boater. Here's what we found.
Glasswork: Seaward’s reputation for high quality glass layup work was reinforced for me. No cutting corners, 100% weave impregnation, everything finished cleanly. Easily some of the best work I've seen from any manufacturer. Of the 6 boats we received, we found only one flaw (an edge of glass tape had lifted slightly on the forward bulkhead).
Gelcoat: Flawless as in '06.
Fittings: Good, but I noticed that the absolute attention to detail that I found in '06 was missing: A screw loose on one of the deck fittings, imperfect knots on perimeter lines (though still functionally fine), and most notably, Seaward has replaced the high-density aft skid guard (previous screwed on which made for straight-forward replacement) with a glued-on piece of what looks like PVC. I cannot help but imagine that the glue will fail with repeated rough landings, but I've been wrong about plastics and adhesives before – perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised. Seaward has also replaced their excellent (though somewhat fussy) foot pegs with a standard Seadog footbrace system. I will admit to limited experience with this system – we've only had them in boats purchased a year ago. However, its worth mentioning that the old system was fabricated almost entirely of steel and aluminum while Seadogs are mostly plastic. Plastics technology has continued to evolve, I know, but I am still wary of plastic fittings. That said, I trust that the folks at Seaward have really given Seadogs a good testing-out before committing to installing them in all their boats. The hatch covers are still beautifully made and finished. The design is remarkable in that it allows for continued seaworthiness even if the cover is damaged or lost. A great expedition design found on several manufacturers boats and executed to perfection in the Seaward line.
A final note on fittings: Seaward has gone to using internal control cables on their rudder deploy/retract cables. The control is a slider just to the paddler's side. While convenient and good-looking, I have often seen this system fail when used for skeg control in other manufacturer's boats. I do not look forward to maintaining this difficult-to-access system after the boats come back from a couple of months on expedition. The old "lines-on-the-deck" system was a joy to inspect and never failed me.
Seats: Seaward has moved from their proprietary "loose cushion" seat to a more conventional molded plastic seat. If you are not familiar with their old seat cushion system, it is worth reading the review in Sea Kayaker magazine from a few years ago. It doesn't look like it will function well but it does, and after comparing it to the conventional systems seen in most high-end boats I found it superior, placing the paddler low in the boat yet on a super comfy molded cushion. Furthermore, at the end of a day of paddling with the usual getting in and out of the cockpit (with accompanying sand and gravel), the cushion is easily removed allowing complete access to the entire cockpit sole for thorough cleaning. When I balked at the new seat system, Seaward kindly offered to outfit this year's fleet with the tried-and-trusted cushions. I'm a big fan and I'm sad to see that Seaward has elected to drop this system in favor of convention.
Customer service: Apart from the fact that the company is not open on Fridays and that they are closed most of August (during which everyone seems to be off paddling – a good thing for a kayak manufacturer, I suppose, but I'm jealous…), I've enjoyed very good service from everyone at Seaward. The owners (who often answer the phone) and staff really appear to understand my needs as an institutional boater and warehouse manager.
To summarize: The '09 Chilco is a top of the line boat from a reputable manufacturer. It is not an inexpensive boat, but you do get what you pay for: a well-design, beautifully outfitted watercraft that you will be proud of for many years. While there are signs of a slight dip in quality compared to boats made a few years ago, Seaward kayaks continues to manufacture boats that are of the highest quality industry-wide.
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