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Submitted: 12-03-2013 by nyE
I love my Journey 13.5, plain and simple. I also own and love a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 14' and can comment on some of the similarities and differences between these boats as both have been used extensively for everything from day use to extended expeditions.
Firstly, in terms of performance, the Journey excels in all conditions I have taken it on, ranging from flatwater lakes and rivers, to class II whitewater, to rough open water and fast moving tidal conditions with heavy swell and breaking waves up to 8ft(I'm sure can handle bigger waves I just haven't tested it on them yet). The Journey is extremely maneuverable compared to the Tsunami, which runs on rails. For the tsunami, this can be a major advantage when covering large distances, and open crossings to maintain a bearing with crosswinds, or tides. For the Journey, straight tracking can be achieved, however it requires much more constant paddling and adjustment to maintain its course. While in comparison this can be frustrating for many, I personally see the brightside, which is outstanding ability to maneuver into tight spaces like creeks and marshes, as well as most importantly the ability to tackle very rough water conditions. Particularly in following seas, when tide and wind are against each other, the ability to literally dance over the water makes the Journey a boat I have utmost confidence in. It can almost be spun in circles and pivoted like a whitewater boat using appropriate paddling and bracing techniques, which is surprising for a boat of its length. This makes it possible to cross heavy currents and avoid taking water over the sides of the coaming into the cockpit, while the Tsunami tends to get more overwash. This does of course take significant skill, so I would consider the Journey a boat more appropriate for intermediate-advanced paddlers than the Tsunami, which I think is much more suitable for beginners-advanced. I have seen other reviewers mention this tracking issue as a problem with the Journey 14, though I think it depends on your intended application. If you are worried about tracking and are not comfortable making minor course corrections with sweep strokes, you may want to test paddle a boat with Jackson's rudder system, though I feel no need for this additional bulk or weight, as my Tsunami has a rudder I have hardly felt the need to use. Learning your boat's nuances and behavior under different conditions, in my opinion, establishes much stronger and more consistent paddling technique.
As far as stability, both boats have comparable initial stability, though the Tsunami's harder chined hull provides a bit more secondary stability. The softer chined hull of the Journey also contributes to its maneuverability in rough water, and makes edging the boat much easier The Journey is also an extremely fast boat for its length, I keep up with and overtake friends in 16 and 17' boats no problem. This makes covering large distances on day trips very doable, I have paddled mine up to 20 miles round trip in a day, and the storage capacity is not huge compared to larger boats, however I have taken 7 day trips in the spring (where heavy clothing and winter weight sleeping gear is still needed) and had plenty of room left over. The capacity is smaller than my 14' Tsunami, however the size forces more efficient packing and use of space. I am no minimalist by any stretch, and I still have room for everything I need.
One of the things that is of course great about Jackson Kayaks is color selection, and the ability to purchase custom colors that are not bright and high visibility. For me, this is a major consideration as I use my touring kayaks for both wildlife viewing and photography, as well as hunting. Few touring kayaks come in subdued colors, though my Tsunami was offered in olive drab for its first season back in 2005(?). Jackson colors are vibrant and unique and my Olive Journey looks great on the water, and blends right into the environment without scaring animals and birds away.
The only reasons I cannot give the Journey a 10/10 are two things: the hatch design, and the rigidity of the plastic. The plastic has experienced some denting from constant use on a my roof rack, however this is more than likely due to my having left it on my roof for looong periods when it was getting daily use. There is absolutely no performance loss as a result of the slight inward denting though, and I still feel confident taking it anywhere under any conditions. This is only noteworthy because in 9 months, it has dented more noticeably than my Tsunami has in 7-8 years, though I'd still buy another one. Leaving it upside down in the sun will let you push the dent out back to normal.
The hatches are the main reason for giving it a 9/10. Jackson claims their design is "watertight", at the same time admitting that no hatch is truly "waterproof". Jackson, for some reason, has opted not to use the more traditional molded hatch rim for hatch covers to seal to, and instead uses a separate plastic rim which is bolted to the Kayak. In doing so, they have created potential failure points, in that water is able to leak around the rim of the hatch coaming, even if the hatch itself is sealed tightly. This is frustrating, considering my Tsunami's molded hatches are 100 percent waterproof, and have never leaked once in many years of use, and I don't even use dry bags half the time. I can be paddling the Journey on glassy flat waters, and still sometimes wind up with a cup of water in the bottom of my front hatch, while the same amount usually gets in under heavy rains, or when paddling in heavy waves where water is constantly washing over the bow. I'm sure I could fix this by adding some Lexel sealant around the inside of the rim, however I haven't gotten around to it in 9 months of paddling, so it is easily tolerable especially if you pack your gear in dry bags, which most paddlers should get used to doing anyway. One other minor gripe about the hatch design is that the insides of the rim have sharp plastic edges which may require smoothing out to avoid injury to sensitive hands and fingers when packing hatches full.
Overall, I think the Journey is an excellent boat. I got mine to replace a Necky Manitou 13 that was taken by a coastal storm, and figured I would be better off upgrading than replacing the Manitou, which has only one hatch (not watertight) and one bulkhead.
As a smaller paddler, 5' 5", the Journey 13.5 is more than enough space for me though anyone over 5'8" would likely want the Journey 14. The outfitting compared to the Tsunami is much more conducive for sea kayaking as it includes hip pads which can be custom sized for the boater by adding strips of minicell foam that are included with the Kayak. Also, bungees are well placed and provide plenty of secure on deck storage and mounting points, and for self rescue.
For me, all the positives far outweight any negatives, though if Wilderness Systems got around to offering their boats in more diverse or custom color choices, I likely would have gotten a Tsunami 12 or 13 because of my previous experience and comfort with that design. However, I do not regret my choice for a second, and once I got my Journey, my Tsunami has been used a lot less, and when I take friends paddling, I always use the Journey for myself. It is lively and efficient, and takes me and my gear anywhere I want to go without worries, just like a kayak should do.
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