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First, the java is pricey. It is in a category almost by itself amongst folders. The quality is great. Feathercraft kayaks are legendary and virtually bombproof. That doesn't mean you shouldn't treat the Java well, just know that it can take it.
The set up is a little tricky given the bare-bones instructions. Others have mentioned that it can take 45 minutes. I found the first two times setting up was a little confusing. Once you have the hang of it, it goes together in about 10-15 minutes. The thing that takes awhile is the inflation of the four sponsoons. The previous owner of my Java replaced the hand pump with a larger foot pump. This cut the assembly time in half. The aluminum frame w/shockcords, rugged webbing, adjustable seat, tough hull material, and sleek lines shows an amazing attention to detail and design.
Although just 15' in length, the Java tracks extremely well with the drop skeg deployed. Other reviewers have complained that the cord that deploys the retractable skeg is a design flaw and too difficult to use. They recommend deploying the skeg before you head out. I found this wasn't the case with the Java. While a little stiff, a smooth firm pull on the cord towards the bow of the boat easily deployed the skeg. A similar pull the opposite side brings the skeg back up. With the skeg deployed, the Java tracks like it's on rails. Amazing handling even in waves, choppy water and large swells.
As others have mentioned, the Java is an "intermediate" skill level kayak. It can feel tippy due to the higher center of gravity so it requires some practice to feel comfortable in certain conditions. Here in Hawaii, I have been able to take the Java into a wide range of paddling conditions and quite frankly, I'm floored how well this thing handles. Paddling with other kayakers, I found the Java performed admirably. I was expecting a very slow kayak (typical for folders or inflatables) instead I found I was easily able to keep up with the plastic sit-on-tops and most other kayaks. I like keeping the sponsoons fully inflated for the added rigidity. While the Java is more tippy this way, it is fairly fast on the surface.
Larger ocean swells and chop. For reasons I don't fully understand, the Java was remarkable in the larger ocean swells. The flexibility of the Java allows the kayak to ride along the top and back down. My previous experience with plastic sit-on-tops was that the nose would "hunt" back and forth as the swells pushed it around. Even without the available rudder option on the Java, I found I could ride large swells with surprising agility.
You will get wet. The opening for the drop skeg allows water to sweep in the keel pocket and drain. As you look down, you will see water down the center of the keel. The seats are fairly ingenious and I found by inflating the bottom of the seat I could stay comfortably dry in most conditions.
Two seat configuration:
I fitted the Java with two seats in order to bring my son along. With the second seat configuration, the Java handles very differently. While adjustable, there isn't much room for two people on the Java. Having said that, the Java seats are very comfortable. We were able to spend the whole afternoon on the water. With two people, we decided to stay in the calmer waters of the bay.
As others have mentioned, I recommend dressing for water temp not the air temp. Other safety tips are not to leave the inflated kayak in the sun or the sponsoons can rupture (they can be replaced fairly easily.) Other good advice includes letting the hull dry out completely before packing it up. Deflating the Java and letting it dry in the sun is a pretty good idea. While UV rays are not the greatest thing for your kayak deck, it's far better than letting mildew and mold grow.
Finally, why did I give the Java 9 out of 10 with such a great review? The only place I wouldn't take this kayak is in large breaking waves here in Hawaii. Surf boards,some kayaks and surf skis can ride these waves but the Java would end up as folded aluminum pretty quickly. Who knows, maybe Feathercraft will take this as a design challenge?
The Java paddles true with the skeg up or down and the surf rudder is a worthy addition. A second seat can be mounted for twin day trips or cargo can be securely fastened to the deck for longer single trips with the multiple anchor points. The kayak handles well in moderate wind and points well upwind and downwind. Other reviewers have mentioned the high CoG, but if you consider the inflatable SOT a separate category the Java is an exceptional boat. The price is high but so is the quality, after five years my java is still in great cosmetic and usable shape with a minimum of maintenance. Whenever I store my kayak I spray the aluminum frame joints with Boesheild T-9 and hose the hull down with fresh water, that's all it takes.
The Java assembles in about 15 minutes without tools, breakdown is quicker, but it usually takes a few hours in the sun to dry out the hull before I can fold it up and store it. I don't do much hard paddling, but when I do the Java skims along the water nicely. The submerged part of the hull is quite streamlined with most of the inflated sponsons above the waterline. the boat has more freeboard than traditional kayaks, but the inherent buoyancy of an inflatable hull brings a sense of security on trips away from a suitable beach.
In conclusion, this is a great recreational kayak with some serious capabilities. This boat shines in a warm climate when you want to just jump in a boat and paddle. If it's in your budget I highly recommend the Java.
Set up goes on a bit compared to a Sunny: you slot in the keel and skeg pole and then the side poles, velcro it all in place, attached the seat by seemingly too many straps, pump up the four sponsons and off you go. Realistically, 20 minutes is a very good assembly time. It's a sleek looking boat for an IK; nothing else comes close but one of the biggest hassles are the inflation valves: basic screw and lock items seemingly off the end of a cheap Thermarest. The thin plastic hose on the hand pump supplied just pushes on but when it's hot or wet it twists off, or if you pump too hard it blows off and then the air rushes out as there is no one-way valve on the sponsons, you have to screw it shut quick. I thought for a while there was some component missing from the pump but no, this is it. I found holding the hose onto the valve with one hand while pumping the two-way pump with the other was an extremely awkward but more effective way of pumping up. Even if it's bigger, give me a foot pump any day.
At 28 inches (71cm) it's officially 4 inches but actually 2 inches narrower than my Sunny set up but feels more - chiefly because you sit ON it rather than in it. FC are right in describing the Java as an inflatable sit-on-top. With my 90kg+ weight, the poles are more there to aid the hull profile than longitudinal rigidity. It's 15 feet 4 inches (4.65m) long but you can't get much into the last foot and a half at each end; the usual problem with IKs. I took it out for a scoot across the Vallecito reservoir one evening with the two inner sponsons not too firm and was relieved not to find it not too tippy. On the way back I struggled with the pump some more to firm the middle sponsons up and found it less stable but still OK, and probably faster. And before I got caught out, I tried getting in out of the water. As long as I crawled aboard without any sudden movements it could be done - in calm flat water...
The retractable skeg is a great feature but with the middle sponsons firmly pumped up the actuating chord which comes up between them is jammed. It's best to manually make sure it's fully down before setting off but this partly defeats the retractable feature. At least you know that if it snags on a rock it will just pivot back harmlessly. A good fix to help pivot the skeg with the chord would be to have the chord passing through a short section of thick garden hose or rigid plastic tube jammed between the sponsons, so enabling it to slide freely. The slot through which the skeg passes is also the bailing hole, designed we're told, to suck water out of the boat with a venturi effect as it moves over still water (less effective in a current going with the boat). Can't say I noticed water rising as I stopped, but it sounds plausible. Paddling without the skeg was OK on flat water, but of course with it deployed you can power on. The footrests, knee braces and comfy seat (also inflatable) all help here. One problem with the footrests is the angle they rest at forces your knees outwards into the paddle arc (as others have commented). I also wonder how secure they are to push hard on, screwed down against a protruding rivet. A flat rather than pointy end to the securing screw pin sitting against the 2mm height of a rivet might be better and could easily be done. Anyway they never shifted during the easy paddling I did.
The Java has very neat cargo nets: easy to use and secure. I've since bought a pair for my Sunny. Inflation valve design apart, workmanship is what you'd expect for over $2000 with good attention to detail. The 'envelope' or hull does not really need to be sealed in any way as the four sponsons or bladders slot into their respective chambers and, with the poles, make this pile of nylon and rubber into the only IK I know that looks close to a proper sea kayak.
Next day disaster struck. I left the boat on the roof of the car and went out very early to Silverton on the train. It had been a week of storms in the Rockies and camped in the forest I figured it would be OK in the shade and probable afternoon storm. But on the way back, when the bus driver mentioned it was a hot afternoon in Durango I thought "oh dear, I hope it hasn't..."
It had. The thick black hull material had caught the sun as it passed over the clearing and ruptured three of the sponsons. My lovely new boat, not one day out of the bag was a floppy mess. I yanked out a limp sponson (easily done) and found the rather light, flysheet-like ripstop nylon cover material split, and pinprick holes in the airtight urethane that the nylon was bonded to. That was the end of my Java paddling in CO. I ordered a full set of sponsons from FC in Vancouver and when they discovered the boat was nearly new they generously offered to send them free of charge. Good on you FC.
Back home we went to Scotland and I tried out the Java alongside my Sunny. G-friend's first impression was that I was too big for it; probably due to its low SoT stance; and that also it was too fiddly to set-up for my keep-it-simple prefs. She had a point and although it was amazingly light for what it was, it was pretty bulky. In Denver I'd spend hours packing it carefully for the flight back for fear of having the near yard-long tubes damaged in transit. On my bathroom scales in the blue holdall ready to paddle it weighs 17kg (37.5lbs). The boat's envelope alone (no seat or tubes) weighs 9kg (19.8lbs). In other words, about the same as my Sunny but two and a half feet longer.
On the lochs the Java slipped along, 10 kph (6.2 mph) flashing on the GPS for a second though 6 or 7 kph was a more sustainable speed. I experimented with a touring payload using rocks and varying inner sponson and seat pressures; at one point sitting on the rails and in water. The boat didn't really feel right to me: the old problem of too narrow and me sitting too high for my weight making a high CoG. An experienced hardsheller would probably not have a problem. We went on to a freshwater loch, a little windier by now. I tried to visualize myself in a fairly normal one-metre swell out at sea. The rocks hadn't really added an impression of stability and overall I didn't feel confident anticipating less than perfect conditions I wanted to be prepared to face.
Back at the chalet the biggest hassle of all: the Java takes hours to dry - maybe even days. But dry well it surely must, especially rinsed after a sea paddle. Sure, I'd read this in a review but it now dawned on me the problem was common to all sponson/bladder IKs (like all Aires). Water will always get in the bladder chambers and other crannies and will always take a while to evaporate.
A spin in my basic Sunny reminded me what a great boat it was - quick to set up, fast drying and good enough performance. If only it bailed! Lesson: try before you buy and if it's not possible (as it wasn't for me in the UK, short of flying to Vancouver), be prepared to accept the consequences.
You will be slower than hard shells, but other than that had no problems. The skeg is a pain to lower w/ the rope. Recommend you drop by hand before launching (my wife uses the skeg, I do not). Left the boat assembled for 11 months. Only slightly sticky to break down.
Let me start with inflation. Be sure that the tubes on each side are equally inflated. This is not an easy thing to do and if not achieved the boat will track badly. The foot pegs are attached to metal tracks along the inside of the outer tubes. They can be tightened in place or left un-tightened if the boat has a rudder and you wish to use it (ours did have a rudder and we had to use it some times because of unequal inflation). But whether loose or tight, the foot pegs are very uncomfortable. There is no way to position your feet on them that is not unpleasant. They sit at the wrong angle for your foot to rest flat whether you use your heel or the ball of your foot and your foot constantly rubs against the metal track. An hour of that is very difficult. Our boats were assembled and inflated by our guide (or crew members of the boat we were on). On at least one occasion the foot peg tracks placed the foot pegs at different angles from each other. Once the boat is inflated this is impossible to adjust. In a tropical climate they have to be deflated a certain amount after each use if they are exposed to the sun when stored. This means they have to be reinflated each time they are used.
The boats actually handle pretty well. The skeg needs to be down at all times or they don't track well. But even with the skeg down they are easy to turn and not that difficult to keep going straight. They do tend to move left and right as you paddle and consequently are not as efficient as a hard shell boat. They are not fast either because they do not glide very far and cannot be pushed much beyond 4 mph. They are stable boats but at first you may not be sure. They bob around like corks and feel like they are going to turn over with every wave. But if you relax they just bob along without a problem. It is actually difficult to turn them over if you try.
I do not recommend this boat unless you have no other alternative.
I have paddled it so far on the ocean in gentle seas, and in the sounds of NC and Florida. Tracks well enough without the skeg and turns in it's own diameter with the skeg up. I am very pleased with the customer service of Feathercraft. The boat clearly is a quality product. Although spendy, in this case you get what you paid for.
Word of caution make sure you use sunblock as you will be so comfortable you will likely stay out on the water longer that your old tired butt is use to. I plan to use the Java thru the winter while wearing a wet suit. Always dress for the WATER TEMP not the AIR TEMP.
Set up time was 45 min out of the box as I read the instructions. Now down to 20-30 minutes including talking to the inquisitive by standers. Very gracefull lines and sea manners so far.
Suggestions:1. Make the skeg a little easier to lower. Currently must do it before launching. 2. Make the bow and stern ends 3 inches longer for better hand holds when carrying. 3.Carrying bag ends already showing some puncture wear from aluminum pole ends after two times thru Airport terminals.
Waves were not an issue; it was strange not having to modify my paddling stroke in conditions where my Arluk would have required some attention. I stayed at a hotel, and I decided to assemble and disassemble the kayak each day, keeping it in my rental vehicle between paddles. Assembly is fast, though next time I am going to try a larger barrel pump for inflating the sponsoons. There are several nooks and crannies in the skin that were hard to get dry for the trip home, but flying with this boat was really easy. I packed the kayak, 4-piece paddle, and life jacket in the duffle bag provided by Feathercraft and checked it as luggage. This is a great boat for warm-water kayaking. It can certainly hold enough gear for weekend touring, and could possibly be used for longer trips. I intend also to use it on cooler waters once I get a drysuit.
Okay, having identified the weaknesses of the Java, lets talk about what makes this boat so neat. It is so simple to use; it is just plain fun. With a regular kayak, there is a "protocol" -- you put on the sprayskirt; you put on the PFD; you ensure that you have a paddle float available. This takes time. With the Java, you grab your PFD and your paddle. Attach the paddle to the lash and get in the water. The boat moves well; the turning of the boat is amazing; the boat is stable (even when the water is not). Even though it is a wet ride, it is a fun ride. This boat introduces you to kayaking in its simplest form.
A fun boat and one that I am glad that I got.
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