Acquired early '80s Isere through barter for work in a garden. Have used several but this is the first kayak I have owned so my opinion based on incomplete relative experience. Had it for about 8 years.
Have taken this boat through everything from: flock of Brant in an Adirondack Lake days after ice out; streams flat to mild whitewater; ponds; tidal marshes; surfing wakes of oil barges and the Rodney Dangerfield style yacht on the Hudson River; to the ocean.
This boat is a workout machine that makes you want to push yourself faster and further just because you can. Have no desire to find another. You must modify the seat or be willing to blame your sore back on lifting something that you shouldn't have.I recently purchased an ancient (70s?)Phoenix Isere and I am impressed with its utility. The light weight was the attraction for me (as well as the low used price). My claim (yet to be disproved) is that Kayak use is inversely proportional to weight. I have a nice river 150 yards behind my home and the Isere makes kayaking an attractive workout option. By comparison, my Prijon Kodiak is a strain just to get to the river. The tracking is good but I would say that the Isere would be improved by a rudder in that it assures complete equality in left/right strokes and allows the paddler to use wider, lower strokes. The Isere is fairly wide (as it should be at 14ft) and large volume so weather cocking and wide strokes are to be expected. By comparison, the Kodiak is useless with the rudder up, better with rudder down. The stability is not as high as I would like but I am sure this is due to the seat height more than an inch over the bottom. I plan to angle cut the seat mount and move it to the bottom and rearward.
My needs could be unique as I am 6’ 2” and quite top-heavy. The Isere is fast for its length but beyond this it is more pleasurable than other fast kayaks because it gets up to speed so fast due to the light weight. The 14ft waterline is about optimal with low surface area drag bringing you well past hull speed. The bottom stays smooth because the thin hull gives rather than focusing weight and scratching. Nylon and fiberglass doesn’t sound high performance but the result is more capable than many Kevlar hulls I have seen.The boat I bought new and had shipped from Kentucky to San Diego is a "second" fiberglass boat, and I saved a couple hundred dollars by buying it on their “steals and deals” page. I wish I hadn’t as the resin is thicker and it added weight. I have paddled it a couple of years on a weekly basis in a lot of different conditions on San Diego bay, the ocean and the San Juan river with class 3 rapids. I have been very pleased with the overall ownership experience. The boat is easy to handle without a rudder except in strong quartering tail winds/waves where it takes a lot of work to hold the line. I got a rudder just to keep up with a pal in the same boat, who got a rudder first. It is light weight, but by the time I put the rudder, deck cords and factory foot pegs (modified to steer) along with floatation bags, I hit 42 lbs. Not bad for fiberglass, but not the 29 advertised.
It is a sturdy boat, as I expected, as I also own a 20 year old Vagabond 2 person boat made by Phoenix. I treat the poor things badly and drag them around with no regard for cosmetic damage. I do try and avoid the big rocks on the way down the river, but I don’t always succeed. I haven’t put a hole in either one yet, and the Vagabond went down the river in very low water (2002 drought) banging on a lot of rocks, still no holes.
The Isere is a good do-all boat that will pack a lot for a trip, yet works well as an exercise rig in big water. It maneuvers well in the reeds with the rudder up and is reasonably fast with the rudder down. I had good luck with the factory shipping, my friend did not, although they did take the first one back with no questions when subcutaneous damage was suspected by my friend.