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Submitted: 07-07-2005 by Cervinus
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Last summer I was introduced to the wonderful world of kayaking thanks to a morning tour with Kitty Hawk Kites down in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. A few rentals later, I decided I needed a boat of my own. Accordingly, I spent a fair amount of time researching my decision online and considering the kayaks I had tried to date. I traveled to several local outfitters and ‘dry tested’ a goodly number of boats. Unfortunately, I was not able to wet test, though all sources recommend doing so before purchasing. Ultimately, I chose the Jolt 116, and I am very happy with my purchase.

As indicated above, I am a beginner to kayaking. Prior to acquiring my Jolt, I’d kayaked in a Necky (Sky, I believe) on a small canal, a Dagger Element on a small lake, and a short (<10’) kayak (name unnoted) on a moderately-sized river. This summer, I paddled a Pungo (14’) on still water, and I’ve also paddled my friends Acadia 12’6”.

As for me, I am a short (5’3”), small-framed woman carrying a few extra pounds. Since I live in western PA on the banks of the Ohio River, I was especially interested in finding a kayak that would permit me to paddle around meandering creeks but at the same time would handle moderate to large, slow moving rivers.

In light of my paddling interest, I narrowed my choices to boats roughly 12’ in length. I felt this size would permit maneuverability in tight areas but not be so short as to be unmanageable on larger bodies of water. It would also be small enough to car-top and portage short distances. I was looking for a boat that offered a goodly amount of maneuverability but would track well and move speedily though the water.

Having said all that, how does the Jolt measure up? Very well!

Beginning with the physical construction, I am pleased to report that OT’s polylink 3 material provides a good stiff hull. Some other kayaks seemed rubbery or more flexible or just plain old cheesier. On the down side, this kayak is not light for its size. At 47 pounds though, it’s not a backbreaker either. I’m especially pleased with the cockpit combing. It’s a separate piece of black molded plastic fitted over the opening’s edges. This provides a smooth edge to brace your knees/thighs against and a more comfortable handhold when entering/exiting/carrying the boat. It gives the construction a more finished look and feel.

Since the previous reviewer mentioned that the bolts/screws protruded far into the hull, I checked mine before purchase, and I do not have the same problem. All metal fastenings are shorn off at reasonable lengths and don’t seem particularly sharp. Like the other writer, I also have grab straps instead of the more comfortable rubber handle-style grips. I will be picking up a set of grips since they do make two-person carrying easier.

This kayak has one hatch – in the rear. I really like the ease of opening it. Twist two recessed latches, and the hard plastic hatch hinges back to reveal a generous opening and storage area. Unless you’re a contortionist, you won’t be able to open the hatch while in the boat, but a partner could easily do so from a neighboring kayak without upsetting either vessel. Under normal paddling conditions, the hatch stays dry. After swamping the boat, it doesn’t. No front rigging is provided, and the rear rigging is minimal. Likewise, this kayak does not feature a perimeter line, a notch behind the cockpit to facilitate paddle float rescue, a paddle park, or a cleat for locking/securing the boat. These little extras would have been a nice touch.

For me, the cockpit is a near perfect fit (30” inseam, 43” hips). I can certainly see where it might involve some thigh-wedging for the previous reviewer, especially if he is an average-sized guy as opposed to a gal like myself. At 16” x 34”, the cockpit is definitely smaller than many other kayaks I tried, and there’s not a great amount of space between the seat and boat top (though it seemed deeper than the Necky Gannet). Note however, I definitely prefer the snugger fit. Without the need for foam padding, I can establish good contact from my feet through my knees/thighs to my back, and yet I can still enter and exit the boat without any difficulty. I can even sit semi-cross legged or bend my knees up in front of me. In nearly all other kayaks I tried (except Necky’s Manitou) I felt as though I was floating around in the cockpit. I preferred the Jolt’s seat to any other I tried. It offers firm lower back support yet is comfortable enough for the long haul. While seated, I can tug on the adjustment straps to increase support or loosen them if I want to kick back a little. I even favored this sturdy seat over the notorious Wilderness Systems Phase III which seemed excessive (a bit too much like a camp chair – not conducive to good posture).

The boat itself falls into the fish form category, advantageous for the fact that the hull is narrow enough at the cockpit so as not to inhibit paddling despite my short stature. Like others have mentioned, I have however managed to knock my knuckles or catch my finger on the foremost skeg rigging. This is probably my greatest irritation with the boat as I have to pay close attention not to become lax in my paddling lest I scrape skin or rip a nail.

With regard to handling, I am especially pleased with my Jolt. The boat seems very stable when entering and paddling. I’ve only managed to swamp myself and dump the boat when seriously fooling around (wedging myself against a tree in fast-moving water and leaning toward the flow – duh – and again when attempting to board midstream – not a good strategy). As stable as this kayak is, it is also wonderfully maneuverable. With the skeg up, I can practically spin in circles; paddling straight with the skeg up is doable though the boat does waddle a bit. In shallow, rocky, fast-moving water, I put the skeg up to increase handling and to avoid dragging it across the rocks. In most other situations, I deploy the skeg and magically the boat tracks straight as an arrow. I have no trouble keeping up with my partner in his 12’6” Acadia. In fact, he feels less confident in tackling some of the rapids or tight areas I’ve enjoyed in the Jolt, so I feel as though I’ve got the best of both worlds. Initially when shopping and researching I pooh-poohed the idea of a skeg as a gimmick for beginners. Now that I appreciate the versatility it’s provided, I wouldn’t be without one (granted I am still a beginning paddler!).

To date, I’ve enjoyed paddling my Jolt on the Ohio River (on both calm and very choppy days) and on a few of its tributaries, both large and small. This kayak has performed admirably regardless of conditions and has been a real joy. As a beginner, I feel as though I can handle the boat successfully. More importantly, I believe that the Jolt is versatile enough to to challenge me for years to come; I don’t anticipate feeling the need to ‘upgrade’ unless I decide to pursue serious whitewater. None of the other kayaks I’ve sampled have given me the same thrill that the quality and handling the Jolt provides. Really, I could have written this review in one four-word sentence. I LOVE MY BOAT!

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