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Submitted: 08-04-2010 by Dean G.
The Feathercraft Java is a remarkable little craft that can best be described as a rigid-folding-inflatable-sit-on-top. I purchased a used Java after reviewing a number of kayak models and trying to locate one that could be packed to fit in my small car, taken on an airplane, be rugged, reliable, and sea worthy. The Java seemed to fit all those requirements.
First, the java is pricey. It is in a category almost by itself amongst folders. The quality is great. Feathercraft kayaks are legendary and virtually bombproof. That doesn't mean you shouldn't treat the Java well, just know that it can take it.
The set up is a little tricky given the bare-bones instructions. Others have mentioned that it can take 45 minutes. I found the first two times setting up was a little confusing. Once you have the hang of it, it goes together in about 10-15 minutes. The thing that takes awhile is the inflation of the four sponsoons. The previous owner of my Java replaced the hand pump with a larger foot pump. This cut the assembly time in half. The aluminum frame w/shockcords, rugged webbing, adjustable seat, tough hull material, and sleek lines shows an amazing attention to detail and design.
Although just 15' in length, the Java tracks extremely well with the drop skeg deployed. Other reviewers have complained that the cord that deploys the retractable skeg is a design flaw and too difficult to use. They recommend deploying the skeg before you head out. I found this wasn't the case with the Java. While a little stiff, a smooth firm pull on the cord towards the bow of the boat easily deployed the skeg. A similar pull the opposite side brings the skeg back up. With the skeg deployed, the Java tracks like it's on rails. Amazing handling even in waves, choppy water and large swells.
As others have mentioned, the Java is an "intermediate" skill level kayak. It can feel tippy due to the higher center of gravity so it requires some practice to feel comfortable in certain conditions. Here in Hawaii, I have been able to take the Java into a wide range of paddling conditions and quite frankly, I'm floored how well this thing handles. Paddling with other kayakers, I found the Java performed admirably. I was expecting a very slow kayak (typical for folders or inflatables) instead I found I was easily able to keep up with the plastic sit-on-tops and most other kayaks. I like keeping the sponsoons fully inflated for the added rigidity. While the Java is more tippy this way, it is fairly fast on the surface.
Larger ocean swells and chop. For reasons I don't fully understand, the Java was remarkable in the larger ocean swells. The flexibility of the Java allows the kayak to ride along the top and back down. My previous experience with plastic sit-on-tops was that the nose would "hunt" back and forth as the swells pushed it around. Even without the available rudder option on the Java, I found I could ride large swells with surprising agility.
You will get wet. The opening for the drop skeg allows water to sweep in the keel pocket and drain. As you look down, you will see water down the center of the keel. The seats are fairly ingenious and I found by inflating the bottom of the seat I could stay comfortably dry in most conditions.
Two seat configuration:
I fitted the Java with two seats in order to bring my son along. With the second seat configuration, the Java handles very differently. While adjustable, there isn't much room for two people on the Java. Having said that, the Java seats are very comfortable. We were able to spend the whole afternoon on the water. With two people, we decided to stay in the calmer waters of the bay.
As others have mentioned, I recommend dressing for water temp not the air temp. Other safety tips are not to leave the inflated kayak in the sun or the sponsoons can rupture (they can be replaced fairly easily.) Other good advice includes letting the hull dry out completely before packing it up. Deflating the Java and letting it dry in the sun is a pretty good idea. While UV rays are not the greatest thing for your kayak deck, it's far better than letting mildew and mold grow.
Finally, why did I give the Java 9 out of 10 with such a great review? The only place I wouldn't take this kayak is in large breaking waves here in Hawaii. Surf boards,some kayaks and surf skis can ride these waves but the Java would end up as folded aluminum pretty quickly. Who knows, maybe Feathercraft will take this as a design challenge?
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