Submitted: 04-14-2003 by joossens
This is the 3rd kayak I've owned now--hopefully the last. I first bought a Mainstream Twist SOT from Sam's. I think Sam's has converted thousands to kayaking with their cheap kayaks. That one lasted only long enough for me to determine I loved kayaking over all other forms of boating. About 2 trips and I'd had enough of paddling myself to death trying to keep it moving forward. It had unbelievable drag. It was so bad it would actually make a churning sound at the stern! From there I went with a Wilderness Systems Cape Horn 17 touring kayak. I loved that kayak and took it out almost once a month for 6 months--not often enough. There were several problems with the Cape Horn. First it's an open water touring kayak and I never used it for what I intended: long expeditions requiring food and camping gear. Second I find I mostly take short trips down narrow winding streams and it proved to be a challenge with longer hull. Thrid, I didn't use it as often as I would have liked and felt uncomfortable having so much invested in it. So I decided to go with a shorter (and cheaper) recreational model kayak. It HAD to be a Wilderness Systems model because I was very impressed with the build quality of the Cape Horn. The one I settled on right away was the Pungo 120. I'm 6' 3" and I need leg room. I test paddled the Pungo and fit the bill for a shorter kayak. At one point someone on a Tarpon 160 breezed past me giving me a chance to test the speed of the Pungo. I caught right up with no effort. So I decided on the Pungo 120 but I didn't buy that day.
I took home a WS catalog and when I looked through it I saw the photo on the back of the guy on a Tarpon 120 angler model. It really looked comfortable to sit on and I was attracted to the HUGE tank well on the back. When I came back to get the Pungo I happened to see a Tarpon 120 sitting right at ground level. I decided to go ahead and sit on it to see how it felt. To my delight it felt totally comfortable. Back when I bought the Cape Horn I sat on one of the original Tarpons and my lower back started hurting right away. Just to make sure I took a Pungo and sat in it also. I quickly realized I felt more comfortable on the Tarpon. One of the major problems I had with the first SOT I bought was the fact that I was sitting in a puddle of water the whole time. The longer I paddled the deeper the puddle got. It was like sitting in a bathtub filled with cold water. But this Tarpon 120 has a seat that is actually raised up above the level where your feet go. So there is no puddle to sit in. Another thing that sold me on the Tarpon was all the storage space it has for only a 12 foot kayak. That tank well on the back gives you room for a quite a bit of cargo. I also like the front storage hatch as well as the 5 in day hatch right behind the seat. I had a day hatch on my Cape Horn and used it all the time. It has a very small hatch in the cockpit area that I'm not sure I'll use very often. However I'm glad they provided access to that space. If I ever do go on a camping expedition it would come in handy. I would probably stuff food and any other small light items down in there. The designers basically provided storage access to every square inch of the hull. I really like the paddle holders they provided on each side. It's also nice having 4 handles all the way around to grab onto. With those side handles I've been thinking I could put a good death grip on them as I take a ride over a waterfall! I'm still debating the wisdom of that idea though...
With my first SOT I followed someone else's advice from a review and bought some of those yellow practice foam golf balls from Walmart to plug the scupper holes. Trouble is water seeped right through them even after I glued em down with silicone. The Tarpon 120 has no less than 8 scupper holes. I'm not exactly tickled about all the holes! As a matter of fact I was going to give the kayak a 10 but for that reason I should knock it down a peg to 9. ;) I went to Walmart and bought 8 brass screw type drain plugs from the marine dept. They expand to fit the holes very snuggly and ZERO water makes it past them. As a test I pulled off one of the front plugs and water flowed right in and left about a 1 inch puddle in the area where your feet go--plugged it right back up and stayed dry. The tips of the plugs stick up from the surface but the designers were good to place the holes in places where you don't have to worry about bumping them with your feet.
I took a chance buying this kayak without testing it first. However I was not surprised that it was so well mannered. I would say it cruises about the same speed as the Pungo 120. Neither of the two paddle as fast as the Cape Horn of course and at first I was missing the crusing speed I was able to maintain on the Cape Horn. After awhile though I was able to adjust my paddling to a point where I felt like I was moving along well but not "working" to keep it going as was the case with the first SOT I had. It was every bit as enjoyable and relaxing as the Cape Horn albeit not as fast. It also tracks straight just like others have said while still being very maneuverable. I have the model without a rudder To test it's turning ability I took it down a very winding narrow stream that used to push the technical limits of the Cape Horn. I was very pleased with the way it made turns. On open water it did have a tendency to want to blow left or right in a headwind. However it was still very easy to keep it going straight even without a rudder.
There's nothing about this kayak I feel the urge to complain about. I also can't think of anything I would add. One thing I did though is fashion an extra-high back rest out of a peice of oak pallet wood and some high density foam. I slip it between the strap that holds up the back and the back itself and it works beautful! The back rest is already fairly high but I'm tall so I like a higher back rest. It's like a recliner now! I also added some foam padding on the back rest and cut out some foam to cover the seat. It doesn't really NEED it but I have a permenant injury to my lower back and I don't believe it's possible to get too comfortable while kayaking. :O) At first I wasn't sure if I liked the rubber hatch cover. While it pops open quickly I had some trouble closing it back down at first. Then I realized it's just like a Tupperware lid where you push down on the middle and it seats fairly easy. Something I REALLY liked about the Tarpon 120 was when I was able to gain access the front hatch right on the water without fear of tipping over. Unthinkable on the Cape Horn! Of course that's not something I can see making a regular practice of... I never used the cargo holds on the Cape Horn but I somehow ended up stuffing several items in the front hatch that I used to be able to place on the outside of the Cape Horn.
The Pungo is no slouch! I really liked it and would have bought it without hesitation. The more time I spend with this kayak though the more I know I've got THE kayak for me. I never took the time to write up a review on my other kayaks but this one has me wanting to rave. Something I'm seeing about Wilderness Systems is they listen to what users say about their kayaks and they make changes accordingly. I'm not going to name names but some kayak makers are putting out some cheap products. I think we all know one of the main culprits. This kayak is VERY well thought out and it's a keeper for sure. Two thumbs WAY up! Now I don't feel so bad having parted with my beloved Cape Horn...