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It is a good all around boat for beginners, easy to turn if you have nothing with you, fast and stable, and therefore good for ocean or touring. You can even do some mild whitewater. It also has a fantastic seat, hard foam with an adjustable back. The cockpit is pretty large, easy to get in and out of, I am 5'6" and 140, I am very comfortable but this yak is suited for larger people, i would not recommend it for a small person.
This is a very good kayak for the price, and I would suggest it to anyone new to this sport.
My kayaking had gotten progressively complicated and too gear-oriented. This little boat gets me back to the simple, pure enjoyment of it all.
My husband's first experience in the 120 felt too "tipsy." He said he felt "it was trying to throw me out." I don't think he gave it enough chance to see that it is very stable, think it was more psychological and he was "over correcting." I had none of these problems from the beginning (but then I'm the athlete in the family....) But he went and bought an Old Towne Vapor. Now we have an extra Current Design for friends to use.
I'm trying to get him to race, which he hasn't been willing to do. I know it's because he can see how my Kestrel 120 MOVES! Not cool to have your 57 year old wife beat you!! I would like no skid strips or something in the center of the boat to allow me to keep my knees bent and feet on floor, for change of position. Will check if something like this exists! I love this kayak!
I bought the Kestral 120 TCS in Red. I like the color, some say it's too bright. I had gone to buy a WS Tsunami 145, but it weighed in at 54 lbs. My Kestral just under 40. At the end of a day of paddling, that makes a difference. I will update this (or add a new) review when I've had it for a month or so, but I'm really sold on this one. It has most of the things I was looking for; tracks great, ample storage in the rear, enough room for additional storage up front, stable and easy to get in and out of - again, after a long day of paddling you don't want to have to struggle out of a tight cockpit.
I bought mine from Blue Mountain Outfitters on the Susquehana River near Harrisburg, PA. Great people there, and I really want to thank them for being patient with me. I spent over two hours trying to make up my mind on what to buy. Still in the testing phase, and that is why it gets a nine, but I will let you know how it holds up.
Here is what I have found out so far: Measured with a GPS, my 2007 Kestrel 120 Kevlar fiberglass/kevlar hybrid goes 4.7 mph for my normal 9 mile flat water river run, and 4.5 for 14 miles (half upstream, half down, to average out the gentle current). As far as I can tell after experimenting with a borrowed 18í long 22" wide Eddyline Falcon, the "crossover" point is at about 4.5 mph. That is, below 4.5 mph, the Kestrel is easier to paddle. Above 4.5 mph (about 4 knots), the Falcon starts to get easier. The difference at 4.7 mph is quite subtle. And although I can only sprint at about 4.9 mph with the Kestrel, I got to 5.2 mph in the Falcon relatively easily (the Falcon is classified as a "fast sea kayak", for racing).
These things are difficult to estimate, because there are so many variables: Current, wind, fatigue, and the fact that Iím unfamiliar with the Falcon. I hope if other people have different data they will post them. If youíre planning for flat water exercise and are trying to decide between the recreational Kestrel 120 and something longer, remember that given a lower paddling "horsepower" the shorter boat is quicker. And much, much easier to get onto the car. If youíre a beginning paddler and you can demo the boat before you buy, find a way to measure your speed for at least 15 minutes. That will tell you if thereís some ceiling for you to grow into. If youíre near 4.5 mph already (and if speed matters to you), you might want to consider a longer boat.
On the other side of the coin, if youíre trying to decide between the Kestrel and a heavier, wider recreational kayak, Iím pretty sure I canít get much above 4.0 mph in your average wide plastic rental. I originally considered getting a less expensive boat. Iím so glad that I didnít. If youíve "topped out" in your boat and more effort doesnít give you better results, exercise sessions get boring.
Also, now that Iím more into paddling, I have considered joining a paddling club. But most of the trips are on the ocean. If I want to be social, I need a more "sea worthy" boat! Iíve taken the Kestrel on the ocean, but only with adult supervision and a very quite sea. It has good primary but poor secondary stability. Not bad for a rec boat, though.
Bottom line is this: For a recreational kayak, the Kestrel is excellent. I chose the Kevlar version to encourage myself to paddle often, like going to the gym. I can swing it onto and off of the car, and get in with an ease that the narrow sea kayak paddlers envy. Even if I get a longer boat for speed and to use in the ocean, I intend to keep the Kestrel for impromptu fitness runs on my local river until Iíve completely "topped out" in it. Not there yet.
It's almost unbelievable how well this 12.5-foot boat performs as a light tourer. I wanted to use it in rivers though, and it was fine until I ran a solid Class III rapids with it in the fall. My stern spanked a rock hard and cracked. A fiberglass patch on the inside made it good as new, but a boat that can crack just isn't a good application for Class III's. TCS just isn't made for rock-bashing. Small bumps aren't an issue.
The tracking on the Kestrel 120 is absolutely amazing. It seems to ignore wind entirely. It just goes wherever you want, almost as if by thought. A rudder would be a useless appendage.
I can't imagine anyone not liking the TCS Kestrels. (I've got the Kestrel 140, too). Anyone who paddles them is favorably impressed. My hat is off to the Current Designs hull designer on these boats. However, I will sell the 120 since I can't use it as my river boat, and the 140 fulfills all my desires as a light touring boat.
Still, I have to rate the Kestrel 120 as a 9.9, which rounds up to 10.
I work with glass/kevlar/ & carbon building radio control sailplanes, so I put it in my workshop and spent a few hours fixing it, then when satisfied with the repair, I glued support foam under the entire back edge of the seat. After many hours of paddling, I can report the problem is fixed. My dealer could have done it, but I would have had to wait, so I did it myself. The boat is a joy to paddle, and moves well for a rec boat. We use it for fun, fishing, photography, lending out to friends and first timers to paddle with us, and anywhere a good handling stable boat is needed. I would recommend this boat to anyone.
I purchased NRS split floatation bags, and using strips of 2" velcro to lock them in, put them in the inside up front. I had occasion to test them out when I lost a battle with a submerged rock and dumped on the Susquehanna River. They worked fine, and my wife did a T rescue to empty the boat, and just loved the 30# Kestrel in this situation. We have 6 boats, all touring kayaks except for this one. Four composite and two plastic, and are partial to CD boats. This little rec kayak fills a niche for us. I use Armoral auto protectorant inside and out on all rubber covers to make them go on and off easier, and seal up well. The rear compartment is nice and large for day trips. Even with having some problems, I rate the boat very high.
I bought this kayak after searching high and low for a 'swamper'. I've got a couple of 17+ boats and wanted something to do the tight and twisty stuff in, plus I wanted one that was less than 40 pounds. What I have obtained is now my most frequently used boat simply because of its weight.
Last month I traveled to Ontario to explore. I took 2 kayaks, a QCC 700 and the CD Kestrel. Both kayaks enjoyed Canadian waters but the Kestrel saw more miles because of the two it was the easiest to portage by far, not counting car topping.
I've collected kayaks over the years and have 15 now. The closest in the group to the Kestrel is another rec boat, the Acadia by Perception. It really is unfair to compare those two, in fact because of the layup and all the attentive details CD poured into the Kestrel it probably shines above all other rec boats with one obvious and glaring exception- that same layup that gives it the incredible lightness will not do well when dragged across a parking lot or ground into oyster beds.
Saying this, it should be obvious to any would be buyer that the Kestrel hybrid has an intended use and that use precludes punishment of the abrasive kind, but as far as paddling into a stump I have no fear that the kevlar will happily bounce back.
If you're looking for a fishing platform or a photography platform in a boat that you can grab and heft with one hand then this is a boat to consider. Fishing simply because of the integral fishing rod holders-one on each side, and they make good paddle parks too. Photography because this boat is stable, at 26inches wide it should be. Another niche is, believe it or not, those who paddle for exercise, and when I took it out for an exercise paddle I took along a GPS and was shocked to discover that it cruised at 4.3 mph!! I didnít believe it so before paddling the Kestrel the next time I changed batteries in the GPS and compared the GPS used with the GPS in the vehicle...guess what? The little Kestrel cruises at 4.3 mph.
Storage? if you are an ultralightweight backpacker and can do 3 days on the trail with 28-32 pounds (and thatís with winter gear) then you can enjoy the Kestrel for a 2-3 day trip...differing from a Nordkapp or a QCC700 you will have to leave some items at home.
Some complained somewhere that CD didnít include a forward hatch...well for the intended use and any honest person would admit that is day paddles, the one waterproof hatch rear is more than enough, but if you just have to do a multi-nighter remember that dry bags will fit forward of your feet on either side of the integral foam pillar CD provides.
The hatch....make note of it. I'm sure CD designers considered VCP or Kajaksport hatches but have you ever weighed one? To keep this kayak sub 30 pounds CD had to engineer their own, and since this boat (intended use again) is probably not on the top contender list for rolling, the hatch cover is just fine and its already tethered, another little plus.
The Kestrel Hybrids begs an interesting question...do you truly love to paddle for paddling's sake or do you have to have the large sea kayak loaded for an expedition to have fun and excitement. The reason I ask is because for many of us there are little bodies of water we pass daily, maybe too small to warrant the effort required to get an 18 foot long boat to, but maybe not when its only 30 pounds you have to get from the rooftop to the water.
OK, so given the intended use why only a 9 for the Kestrel? there is a design flaw, the second time I sat in the seat it cracked where the seat back meets the bottom (its all one formed piece, and unfortunately formed into the cockpit coming as well), maybe it happened when I leaned back to stretch. When I looked closely at the seat design I noticed that there is no structure of the seat in its rear most aspect carrying the force of my weight to the hull so a fulcrum was created and the seat lost.
My solution was simply to place a 'carved to fit' piece of closed cell foam under that rear most aspect of the seat thus carrying the weight of the paddler to the hull where it can be dispersed.
Other than that this boat is ever so sweet.
Also, I purchased the boat from Old Orchard Canoe and Kayak, they had it to me in three days via air freight.
I am not disappointed. I haven't done any rough stuff with the boat; my paddling needs are for casual upstream paddling on my backyard river. I can go about eight miles before the river is too shallow and rocky. The boat seems to acquit itself well in winds from all quarters and in choppy powerboat wakes, and feels very stable.
This isn't much of a performance review, but I thought the size reference might be useful to other big paddlers looking for a boat. With the foot pegs all the way forward, I can brade my feet comfortably without my toes rubbing the underdeck, and the whole thing fits quite well.
I was only able to get out paddling once last year. So far this year I have had the Kestrel out on some small flat water, some big flat water, and last week, I had the chance to paddle on Pennís Creek, in central Pa. This week I will be on the Susquehanna again. There is nothing I have not been satisfied with from this kayak on the water. This boat paddles very efficiently, and even with longer kayaks is pretty quick, for its length. Its stability is very comforting, and I can lean it pretty well to carve turns. I really believe its tracking will impress anyone who paddles, even in windy conditions, but it also maneuvered rather well on a low water Pennís Creek.
As far as the construction of the Kestrel, I know its plastic, and Prijon is alleged to have the best plastic, but in my paltry estimate, Current Designs does not take a back seat to any one. The Kestrel is sturdy, and itís pretty.
I really only have one complaint. Why didnít Current Designs incorporate a bow bulkhead? I will add float bags. My only other complaint, if you can call it that, is this past week I had a change to demo the Kestrel 120 in TCS. I know it more expensive, but I was able to see a decided difference, an improvement in efficiency, and I guess Iíd call it glide.
I also paddled the new Kestrel 140 in TCS, and this is an amazing kayak. It was the talk among the other dealer reps at that demo day. I will wait until next year, but I know unless something else comes along, this time next year I will be the owner of two Kestrels, because I wonít get rid of my Kestrel 120.
The Kestrel is available in three different materials: a hybrid layup, TCS, and rotomolded plastic. The rotomolded version is a bit shorter, narrower, heavier, and less expensive than the other two. In addition, the TCS and rotomolded styles may be ordered in "High Volume" versions for larger paddlers so there are really five versions of the Kestrel to look at (plus the new 14-foot version).
For beginning paddlers, the Kestrel will feel more stable. The Manitou is plenty stable but it takes more time to realize that; I was unnecessarily nervous in the Manitou for several outings. The Kestrel doesn't have that unnerving "tippy kayak" feeling and the larger cockpit makes for easier entry and exit than with the Manitou. On the other hand, the Manitou is more efficient when moving through the water. When I paddle hard, the Kestrel will make a noticeable splashing sound at the bow while it pushes the water out of the way. The Manitou slices silently through the water no matter how fast I attempt to go.
Storage capacity, for both you and your cargo, is similar in both boats; however, the Kestrel has built-in paddle rests on both sides of the boat (the paddle lays against a shallow groove on the side of the boat and a bungie cord-and-hook keeps it in place - very handy). The Manitou has no paddle parks, but the seat is adjustable while you're driving. You can only adjust the Kestrel seat while you're outside of the boat. Both boats have footpegs. The Manitou pegs are adjustable from in front of the pegs (while you're in the boat); Kestrel pegs are adjustable from the far side of the pegs (I can't reach them while seated).
I've only paddled small inland lakes and slow moving rivers so there may be other concerns about both of these boats not mentioned here. For the beginner, fisherman, and photographer, my vote is for the Kestrel because of its roomy cockpit and stability. If you find you need to cross sizable millponds or river distances to get somewhere and want to be able to do so in a hurry, I'd suggest the Manitou.
Given the subtle differences, it's a close call. I have no choice but to keep them both. When someone makes a kayak with the recreational speed, functions and perks of a Necky Manitou, and with the sheer beauty, craftsmanship and lean weight of a Current Designs Kestrel, I'll only need one boat.
I decided to at least paddle it once before putting it up for sale. I carefully launched it from my home in the Florida Keys and within 10 minutes I knew it was a keeper. There is a large mangrove flats area adjacent to me that I frequently take short paddles and this little boat paddled effortlessly and in the shallow water was as fast as the long boats and much more maneuverable. The Kestrel is now my main boat for playing in the mangroves.
This is Current Designs smallest boat. Itís made of high-grade poly and shares itís deck rigging, including reflective perimeter lines, with its big brothers. I feel this a very capable boat for light to moderate conditions. I will use my sea kayaks for those long open water crossings, but this is a fun quality backwater boat. As previous written, it is the class in its class...
Perhaps I should add that at five foot eight inches and 180+ pounds, this kayak fits me like a glove. When on the foot pegs, my feet touch the bottom and top of the hull. Anyone larger may want to consider the Kestrel 120 High Volume which gives an extra inch of depth and two extra inches of depth.
The only draw backs may be the large cockpit opening. None of the spray skirts at Mountain Equipment Co-op would fit and the Current Design outlet, didn't have or carry the manufacturer's one. The other draw back I think will be its ability to carry enough gear to allow me to go over-night camping.
Anyway, an excellent kayak for the beginner.
After a beginners lesson,we went to a second demo.We first ruled out on-the-top designs.We initially thought of the liquidlogic sapphire,figuring the smaller the better.We knew we would only use it on lakes. After trying several brands,we decided the Sappire tracked terrible.We narrowed out choice down to the Seneca or the Kestral.After several rides back & forth,we will get 2 kestrels.It handles great.The kestrel 120 has a 25"width.There is an XL version at the same cost that is 2"wider & 1" deeper for a bigger person like myself.I'll get that & the wife will get the standard poly 120.They do make the Kestrel in a TCS composite.It costs twice as much & weighs 6 pounds less.I don't see the worth in it.
I paddle on a large (100 mile shoreline) shallow (12-30 feet) lake, Clear Lake, located in Clearlake, Ca., USA. If you've paddled on lakes before you know they can be very challenging. At times a lake is like a sheet of glass and in 5 minutes you can be in 3-4 ft. wind driven swells. The Kestrel is exceptional on calm waters, and it handles very well in headwinds and tail winds, but like most kayaks, a stiff cross breeze can be very difficult to maneuver the kayak. The Kestrel insists on turning into the wind.
I've been in some fairly difficult open water, with 17-20 mph headwinds, and gusts up to 25 mph. The only problem I've had with the Kestrel is getting it to track straight in high winds and to turn stern to the wind, the direction I needed to go to head home. The first time it happened to me it freaked me out because I was getting slammed with 3 foot broadside waves. I relaxed when I realized that it was NOT going to swamp or roll. I had to trust the boat. It took me 15-20 minutes of very hard paddling on one side of the boat to finally get it to turn. As far as the waves, the Kestrel is a champ. No matter the direction of the waves, bow, stern, broadside, it rode it out very smoothly, or sliced through.
The dealer I bought it from, as well as Current Designs sales rep., discouraged me from purchasing a rudder for this boat and told me to learn to paddle correctly In addition to the Kestrel, I now have a '95 15 foot fiberglass CD Pachena, with a rudder! I love the rudder, and I love this Pachena. If you get the Kestrel, and plan to paddle on open water, or in windy areas, invest in a rudder ... you'll be glad you did. I'm going to have one put on my Kestrel.
As they say, a rudder is not a replacement for good paddling skills, but when you need the rudder in high winds and/or fast currents, it sure makes for a more enjoyable, less taxing, paddle. After all, the main reason we paddle is to have fun. It's not fun, and can be dangerous, if you get to the point of exhaustion. I'm still going to give this kayak a 10 because it's such a feisty, solid little boat.
In addition to the Kestrel, I now have a '95 15 foot fiberglass CD Pachena, with a rudder! I love the rudder, and I love this Pachena. If you get the Kestrel, and plan to paddle on open water, or in windy areas, invest in a rudder ... you'll be glad you did. I'm going to have one put on my Kestrel. As they say, a rudder is not a replacement for good paddling skills, but when you need the rudder in high winds and/or fast currents, it sure makes for a more enjoyable, less taxing, paddle. After all, the main reason we paddle is to have fun. It's not fun, and can be dangerous, if you get to the point of exhaustion.
I'm still going to give this kayak a 10 because it's such a feisty, solid little boat.
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