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I have dealt with the company and found them very responsive. I do car top it and it took me awhile to find a easy way to get it on my car but now it is easy. I bought it for my 60th birthday so I am no spring chicken!
Initial Stability - Very good.
From the moment I sat in this yak I thought "It feels like a classic canoe." It's just a little bit tippy when you first sit down. Initial stability is less than all the following from tippiest to solid as a rock: Heritage Redfish, Tarpon, Ride 135, OK Big Game, Native Ultimate
I'd rate this boat as being very similar to a Heritage Redfish with slightly lower initial stability. Very slightly.
Secondary stability - Excellent.
Since it felt like a classic canoe I decided to see if I could really heel it over. I adjusted the foot braces, tightened the straps on the seat back and LEANED, and LEANED, and LEANED SOME MORE. I was able to lean it until I had water on the gunnels without it sliding out from under me. I'm sure it's possible to flip this yak, but it wouldn't be easy to do so. I stole an Idea from Chad and the W/S Commander when I was paddling this boat Saturday and I popped up on the rear deck for part of my paddling. The extra few inches above the water didn't make the boat feel tippy, but it did improve my ability to spot cruising fish. I found that I was able to stand in yak very easily as well, but I didn't get to do an extended poling session as the trip didn't line up with high tide. I can't wait to get it on the flats in a few days.
I'll rate it above the Redfish and Tarpon on secondary stability.
Storage capacity and ease of use - Excellent.
Large front hatch and huge tankwell. Front hatch is big enough that I was able to load 7 foot 1 piece spinning rods without a problem. I also tossed in my 9 ft 8wt fly rod - not broken down!!! Tankwell had my crate, soft sided cooler, shoes (ok I forgot to leave my crocs in the car), cast net, and an assortment of trash I picked up during the days paddling / fishing.
Seating - LOVE THE DVC seating system.
The molded seat is deep enough that it really gives you a solid felling in the yak. No scupper holes in the seat pan gets mixed reviews from me. On the plus side, no enema when you're pushing through waves; on the minus side, no drainage if / when you do get water in the seat. Carry a sponge and get the water out of the seat pan if it gets in there.
Cockpit size, dryness, and layout - The floor of the cockpit ACTUALLY SLOPES FORWARD - Why can't any other yak companies get this one right?????
This boat sits high and dry with my 200 pound frame, plus fishing gear, cast net, anchor, cooler, trash , etc. I probably had it loaded with 260 -270 pounds and never had a problem with water in the footwells. The cockpit is wider than the Tarpon so I get to relax my hips and let my knees rest in a more natural position. Cockpit width is very similar to the Redfish.
Footwell length is one area where this boat whips the competition. I have a 35 inch inseam and there was PLENTY of adjustment left in the foot rests. I'm guessing this yak could handle a 38 or 39 inch inseam EASILY. So you guys that are 6'4, - 6'7 should add this to the list when your checking out the next yak.
Cockpit layout is pretty good. I haven't started adding accessories yet, but the console is within easy reach. Molded in paddle keepers on each side of the hull come in handy. One issue I notice is that they're a bit small in diameter. My Stake Out Stik fits nicely, so does the handle of a fishing rod. It's a bit small for my paddle though. There are two good sized easily accessible flat areas behind the seat that are just begging for rod holders. Molded in cuholder, plus a couple of recessed wells make it easy to keep small items available. I put a few split shot in one just to have them handy to vary my presentation as the current kept changing. They do add a step to getting the yak clean when you get home.
There are 2 small day hatches; 1 in the cockpit and 1 behind the seat. The boat I picked up has a fitted plastic cup that fits in the day hatches instead of a catch bag. I used the one in the cockpit as a mini livewell. I filled it with water and dropped 5 or 6 mud minnows in there. I'm not sure how long they would last, because they were getting eaten pretty quickly on Saturday.
Paddling / tracking - Again, I found myself thinking about a classic canoe.
I was paddling by myself Saturday, so I don't have a good feel for ultimate speed of this boat. All I can say is WOW! for my first impression. Maneuverability is great. At low speed it turns easily. it responds well to leaning... just like a good canoe. Tracking was very good, but the wind wasn't blowing very hard on Saturday, so I need to get it out in 10-20 winds to see if it's going to weathercock. Glide is terrific on this boat. It takes about 3 or 4 paddle stroke to come up to speed. It took very little effort to maintain speed for a long paddle across Copahee Sound.
Noise - Very quiet hull while paddling. When you look at the boat in profile you notice a nicely raked bow and stern. Now compare this to a Tarpon which has a similar bow and a little less rake to the stern, or a Redfish which has even less rake to the bow and a vertical stern. I think the raked ends make for a quieter ride and improve the efficiency of this hull. The ends of the MR14 are narrower than the competition, so I believe this reduces noise as well.
I did notice a fair amount of hull slap when I was staked out perpendicular to the ripple. This is to be expected with the high flat sides on this boat and something to keep in mind when you set up to target spooky fish.
Weight - 65 pounds. This isn't a light boat, but it IS 13 pounds lighter than my Tarpon and 7 pounds light than my Redfish. I've read a number of reports of Redfish cracking as Heritage chases the weight game, so I'm a bit concerned about the durability of a boat this light. It warrants keeping a close eye on the stressed areas around the scuppers and at the seat edge.
Tracks very well; loads easily atop my Toyota FJ; excellent fishing platform. I use it all over the marshes of Louisiana, and in rivers, bayous and creeks. Never once tipped over, and the only time it got water over the side was due to a boat wake while I was stuck on a shoreline. Otherwise, it dips and moves over everything. I have battled into the teeth of some severe winds, and it cuts thru very well. Lots of space for my rods, tackle, icebag and other gear. This is a great SOT for fishing.
Ok, so why did I go from a Tempest 165 pro to a Manta Ray 14? 2 reasons: I needed something w/ a wider seat/cockpit [I am 5'8" 180 lb F], and I wanted something more stable to use as a photog. platform. Although DH wields his Canon 40D (stored in a dry bag) from the deck of his Impex Susquehanna, I couldn't manage camera, dry bag, paddle, AND balance comfortable in my Tempest 165, so I got to go kayak shopping!!
Of the boats I tested, I thought the Manta Ray 14 paddled most like a "real kayak". Tracks straight (w/ minimal wind); doesn't paddle like a barge; even w/out thigh straps I can get a smidge of lean. I find that I like the rudder even better than skeg to help w/ tracking across the wind (though it has taken a bit to unlearn the "push opposite" muscle memory from sailing that somehow transferred itself unhelpfully to steering the kayak :) I also find the LiquidLogic seat v. comfortable (not sure I would like the Native Watercraft seat). There is space between my legs for the camera in a dry bag. I also like the position of the water bottle well (near between legs).
So, if I like it, why did I rate it only 8? I'm concerned about the longevity of the black plastic rectangles screwed to molded mounting spots in the hull that are used as anchor points for the bungee system. The Manta Ray 14 I test paddled was missing one of the cockpit anchor points. The used Manta Ray 14 I bought is missing one of the anchor points for the tankwell bungee. I find the bungees across the deck hatch v. difficult to attach - and I can see motion in one of the anchor points when trying to secure the bungee - so I'm worried that another is going to pop off and I'm not sure how I'll re-secure it.
The small hatches fore and aft of the seat have plastic cups in them - but they're too small to be useful to me. I'd like to be able to put glasses case in the one in the cockpit (have prescription glasses & prescription sunglasses) but the cup is too shallow for the glasses case.
The LiquidLogic foot pegs are a bit stiff/sticky - I like to push on pegs while paddling (w/ rudder up) and pegs tend to stick and then move kinda loudly (been yaking among the fishermen) so need to try greasing the peg inside the rail, or seeing if there are flashing bits of plastic that need to be trimmed). If I can't fix the pegs/rails sufficiently I may end up swapping them out for a different system. (I liked the Tarpon foot pegs better, but can't remember why I didn't like the Tarpon as a whole compared to the Manta Ray)
On the whole I find the Manta Ray a good boat (but not great). It meets my needs, and paddles better than the other yaks I tested (Ultimate 12 - doesn't track well even w/ skeg down, sides too high and too flexy, foot peg system BAD, seat uncomfortable; Ultimate 14.5 - pretty much the same as the 12 but boat even more too flexy due to increased length; Ocean Kayak Prowler - molded in heel braces even w/ rudder and they hit my achilles tendon so NG for me; Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 - seat too narrow; Tarpon 160 - my notes don't mention how it paddled, just that it seemed narrower and lower than the Manta Ray 14 & so not so good as a photog platform)
My only gripe about this kayak is this...the sides of the boat are tall. I have smashed my fingers a couple of times while paddling because I'm used to a much lower profile boat (a Dagger Cayman).
I was concerned after putting this boat next to my Cayman that because it was higher off the water, it wouldn't perform very well in windy conditions. Boy, was I wrong! This kayak tracks AMAZINGLY well. No wind...no problem. Much wind...well, of course you can feel it and you may need to throw in a few more strokes in on one side over the other, but considering I don't have a rudder, I would expect that. Still, staying on track is no problem. I've taken this boat out in 20+ knots and I never exhausted myself.
Speed. One of the fastest SOT's I've ever paddled. I have no problem keeping up with people in enclosed tourers. It takes me about 4 strokes and I'm at top speed.
Stability. The boat is quite stable. I have been out with ocean chop up to 3-4 feet. Not a problem. I was hit with a giant wake from a 60+ft sport yacht (at cruising speed) and this kayak took it like a champ. Roll with your hips and the boat will take care of the rest.
Surf play. Being 14 feet, it is what it is but in mild surf this boat is a lot of fun. I can paddle out through the breakers without much trouble. The hull design makes it so you just slice through the water. You won't be carving up the face of a wave or anything.
Dry. The MR14 is the driest SOT I've ever paddled. If you read the manufacturers description about the scupper holes (4 in the cockpit), then believe me, it's all true. At 230 lbs, my butt is dry. With the way the cockpit is designed, the water never reaches your bum. However, in rough waters you may get a bit damp. Also, the hull does a fine job of diverting spray away from your face. Regardless of what the salesman says about the hull letting water over the top, know that the only time I ever got spray in my face was when the wind blew it back at me. There's not much you can do about Mother Nature.
Comfort. The straps to the backrest were put on wrong so it was constantly sliding back putting me into a more reclined position. Easy fix. I took the straps out and re-threaded them. The butt pad is very comfy.
Features. I was torn 50/50 between this boat and the Tarpon140. After examining the subtle differences, I went with the Manta Ray. Why? The rubber deck hatch has a hard plastic inlay (the gray portion) which really is great for strapping things to without compromising the seal by pushing it inward.
The drain plug is on the side of the boat making it so I don't have to stand a 14 foot tall boat on it's end. Nice feature. I can prop it up on the side and walk away.
The two smaller day hatches are not your usual nylon bag type. They come with plastic cups inside so if water does get into the boat (which, by the way, has not happened yet with me) your objects will still stay dry. I have not had any problem with those hatches leaking at all. I forgot to bring a ziploc bag to put my phone in and I decided to place it in the lower hatch along with my car keys and wallet. After a hard day of paddling and even a little surfing (with a wipeout or two) everything was fine and perfectly dry.
As for the rest of the features..well..just see for yourself. I think this is a fantastic kayak and I'm a pretty harsh critic.
Initial flatwater assessment of the Manta Ray 14. Fit and finish are excellent. Needs thigh straps. Any boat thatís touted as being able to handle whitewater needs thigh straps. Itís a very deep boat, compared to my Tarpon 160 and Hobie Mirage Classic. Almost didnít fit in my Malone Autoloader XvĒs. Like the cat bag just in front of the seat. Would be cool if it was bigger. Lots of flat spots for mounting stuff. The forward hatch space is huge. Like the paddle parks on both sides, very handy. It looks like the hull design should be better in whitewater than my other SOTís. My other SOTís have an edge that gets caught by the current when theyíre edged and it can flip you very quickly. The MR has rounded hull sides with some tumblehome which should be harder for the current to get a grip on. In a couple of weeks Iím gonna take it on some Class 1-2 stuff and give it the acid test. But not until I install thigh straps. Did you hear that LL? Thigh straps, thigh straps, thigh straps! Hehe.
In the water, initial stability is lower than the Tarpon 160 but the secondary comes on very quickly. (For reference, Iím 5í4Ē and 200 lbs.) I really like the feel, more like one of my sea kayaks than like one of the SOTís. Itís a very dry ride. Good glide and maneuverability. How they did both, Iím not sure, but its pretty amazing. The bow seems to ride a little high, but that might be normal. Iím 5í4 with a 29Ē inseam and the hooks that hold the paddle park on either side inside the cockpit are right where my knee is. Aggravatiní. Tryiní to figure out how to cover them up and still be able to use them, theyíre real handy. Seatbacks are a very personal thing. This one is good, but I still might replace it with my Surf to Summit one. But everyoneís different, your mileage may differ.
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