Submitted: 09-23-2005 by dutchhenrykayak
I purchased a Chatham 17 (RM) at the end of June, and after paddling it for the summer I feel I can write an informed review. FYI, I’m 6’1” and weigh about 185. I do most of my paddling in bays and oceans…been paddling off and on since 1991.
Cruising: This boat has a lot of wetted surface, so theoretically it has a pretty good top speed…but you’ll find yourself needing to increase your strokes to achieve it! At an all day, touring cadence, this boat feels efficient (it won’t tire you out) but it’s not particularly fast. Pick up the pace, however, and the boat is more than adequate in the speed department. It has decent glide, requires little effort, yet by no means is it a speed demon. It is significantly faster than its cousin, the Chatham 16. If all you want to do is go fast, there are certainly better boats out there. Personally, I found that having good stability + good tracking + decent speed leaves me feeling less tired at the end of the day than if I paddled a boat requiring constant correction or lots of bracing.
Tracking: I was told by someone at Necky that the 17 has the strongest tracking of the Chatham family, including the 18. It’s pretty tight steering. Good cockpit fit is essential in this boat because you’ll find yourself using a lot of hip for turning. It’s relatively easy to make gentle micro-corrections while paddling. Folks coming from loose-steering boats or who rely extensively on rudders will need to take some time to get comfortable on this front. Because of the solid tracking, I find that I use the skeg very little. At the end of the day, I’d be willing to sacrifice some of the Chatham 17’s tracking for a boat that’s a little more responsive/has a more delicate feel.
Stability: Very strong primary stability, especially given the narrow beam. Secondary is very good. I’ve had beginner paddlers in this boat and they’ve felt completely at ease in it. Plenty of stability for doing things like popping your skirt to grab something below deck, taking a photo, etc. The boat it feels lively edge to edge, it’s fun, yet it’s predictable and controllable.
Surfing: This boat is easily fast enough for catching swells. And the boat surfs well…it’s a blast. But if surfing is your focus, consider the Chatham 16 instead. The additional rocker will make carving way more dynamic.
Rolling: It can’t get much easier than rolling a Chatham 17. The low stern deck makes it easy to lie back, and the boat comes around quickly. This is a British-inspired design, meaning that it roughly approximates Greenlandic designs, most of which are stellar rollers.
Ride and weathercocking: Weathercocking is *very* minimal and well within any reasonable paddler’s tolerance…in the wind, this boat’s low profile is a tremendous asset. The bow had good volume for resurfacing, and generally stays above the waves. The deck doesn’t throw up spray in most cases and it sheds water quickly. All in all, a dry ride. It’s smooth in chop—rather than smacking down, it settles into the troughs. The 17 is a predictable performer. I’d describe everything as a bit dampened (bear with me here…) no movement is sudden or snappy—the secondary stability as you brace is pretty constant, turning describes a gradual arc, the boat gets up to speed in a few moments and once there, will glide well. There are no sudden surprises. In my opinion, this makes the boat a clear favorite in rough water—you simply know what it’s going to do. It’s very solid in confused water. Yet predictable doesn’t mean boring. With proper outfitting, the fit is snug and you feel connected to the boat and the water.
Fit/finish: Necky is known for their quality construction, and this boat certainly adheres to high quality standards. I had a small problem with the skeg, and Necky’s customer service was top notch about resolving it. I happen to like the looks and I think the deck layout is functional. The dayhatch is handy. Hatches are watertight and the compartments stay dry. I wish there was a bit of space behind the seat to store a camelback.
Cockpit and seat: The large cockpit is comfortable and secure. Necky’s thigh hooks are fully adjustable and give excellent support during rolling and bracing. Necky’s ’06 seat is the best non-custom seat I’ve used…it alleviates nearly all the lower back and leg pain I’ve experienced with other commercial seats. The ratcheting backband is incredibly comfortable and supportive, but doesn’t hinder rolling. There is a problem with the ratchets rusting up, but Necky has since engineered a replacement part. The hip pads are somewhat ridiculous—I ended up throwing them away and getting an aftermarket product. I have a 34” waist the pads that came with boat gave me a loose, sloppy fit. There’s plenty of room for my size 11 1/2 feet.
Final word: This boat is a great all-arounder. I’d recommend this boat to anyone looking for an RM day-tripper that excels in a wide variety of conditions. Consider the Chatham if you’re looking for an all-in-one day-tripper, rough-water boat, and occasional weekender. The Chatham truly shines in chop and rough stuff, tracks incredibly well, and had acceptable speed. There isn’t a ton of volume for packing a lot of gear, but it’s adequate for go-light camping. And in exchange for that lack of volume, you gain better performance and better feel. If I could change anything, it’d be to loosen up the steering a bit. I give it an 8 out of 10, which I consider high marks.