Submitted: 03-22-2002 by daveshames
Since purchasing an Alto six months ago, I've paddled in many conditions -- breaking surf, shallow rivers, and winds up to 40 mph. I've been very pleased with the boat (after modifying it as discussed below.) The Alto has a very soft, shallow "V" bottom, making for high initial stability despite its 22 inch width. It's possible to do a "cowboy" reentry by climbing onto the rear deck and working yourself back into the cockpit. I did this once in surf with the boat full of water. The initial stability is strong enough that I use the Alto for most of my fishing. I've anchored in flowing rivers and ocean swells to fish without feeling nervous.
The secondary stability when leaning is also very strong because of the flared sides of the boat which are normally above the waterline. They come into play nicely as the boat is leaned, giving excellent feel. Speed seems reasonably good for the size and shape of the boat. Measured over a short distance, but fairly accurately, my leisurely cruising speed was 4.0 mph, steady cruising pace 5.0 mph, and all-out sprint speed 6.1 mph.
The deciding factor in purchasing the boat was its comfort. I like the padded seat with high seatback (though it makes it harder to lay back across the rear deck during sweep rolls.) The pronounced thigh braces provide a very secure fit, but make it harder to squeeze in or out of the cockpit. In fact, if you already have or buy an Alto, be sure to practice your wet exit right away.
The day hatch is really nice (I wish all boats had one) and the rear hatch offers plenty of storage, but doesn't stay completely dry during rolls. There is no front bulkhead or hatch, just a flotation bag. This saves weight, but means more water can get into the boat on a capsize.
The biggest flaw of the Alto is its lack of directional stability, perhaps due to its noticeable rocker. If you plan on using a rudder all the time, it's not a problem. Otherwise, nearly constant attention must be devoted to keeping the boat on course even in still water. In the short time it takes to grab a drink of water, the Alto will usually yaw way off course. The stern, if unloaded, will then swing around, almost skimming across the water, to accentuate the unwanted turn. If you want to work on developing a perfect forward stroke, this would be the boat to practice in.
A second significant problem is pronounced weathercocking. Without a rudder, you can find yourself paddling on only one side of the boat when quartering winds reach 15 mph.
I'd still highly recommend the Alto, but either get it with a rudder, or do as I did, and use the factory-provided rudder attachment screws to mount a small, home-made, shallow-running skeg blade. This simple modification minimized the weathercocking problem, and makes the boat track and glide straight as an arrow. Surprisingly, it enhanced maneuverability because the shallow skeg blade naturally comes mostly out of the water when the boat is leaned on its side to carve a turn. In rotating out of the water, the skeg also acts like a little flipper to impart the initial turning force in the desired direction. Now I can carve perfectly controlled turns of over 90 degrees just by leaning and without ever using the paddle. The key to this performance is the combination of the Alto's directionally unstable hull, and a stabilizer. The stabilizer governs when the boat is upright, and the natural tendency of the hull to yaw governs when the boat is leaned to rotate the stabilizer out of the water. I would have never believed it, but the Alto has become the best handling boat I've ever been in. I'm sure this concept would also work for a lot of other boats which track poorly. Anyone interested in giving this a try should email me for more specifics and a picture.