I've had my Essence 17 Airalite for 10 months. I ordered it and when it came in I thought it looked a little short and was a tight fit getting in so I measured it. It had an Essence 17 decal but was 16.5 in length. I took it back and they made another at Confluence but it took 2 months and I got no consideration from Perception for the lost time. I'm 6' 4" 208 and the boat is a tight fit. The new boat cut my shins on first entry due to sharp plastic which I needed to smooth out.
I've used it on lakes, sounds and the Outer Banks. With the pegs deployed all the way forward there is still more than a foot of space. I pack a bag in this area to get full use. The round hatch cover on the day hatch is an easy on and off but the round front hatch cover is very difficult to seal. I installed a stainless steel u-bolt on the stern to secure the boat.
I just got back from a week long trip to Bear island and found it a difficult pack requiring a lot of small dry bags. We went out and came back in small craft warnings and the boat is very stable. It edges well and is very maneuverable. It not as fast as I expected but I love the boat after working out the bugs.I am a new kayaker with more enthusiasm than experience so take this into consideration when reading this review. :D) I am a 54 yr old guy, 6'1 and 230 lbs, reasonably healthy with 1 year of experience.
I got a rec boat last year that was good enough for me to get excited about the sport.
This spring after a season first trip out I realized I wanted a faster and better tracking boat so I went from my Hurricane 11'6 28" beam to a Hurricane 13'5 23.5 beam and was thrilled at the improved speed and tracking and also how it handled choppy water. For 2 trips out. Then I started really researching the sport, equipment, training classes etc and started noticing size and weight recommendations and realized I had not in fact achieved Nirvana with my second boat.
I decided to take a beginner class with Kayak Acadamy here in the Seattle area to get started right. They put me in a Wilderness Tempest 180 and I loved it except by the end of the 6 hour class it started feeling like a cumbersome barge. It was large enough to do wet exits safely and obviously safety is #1 cause as they say, "the water doesn't care if you come home or not!"
I spent a week pondering my experience and decided to drop down in size so I rented the Wilderness Tempest 170 though the website info said it was a little small for me. I spent 2 days on the lake with it and loved it. However I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that getting in the cockpit was tight and wondering with my limited experience if a wet exit would be difficult.
It edged and turned well, accelerated on sprints well and speared thru 3 foot cigar boat swells with ease. It also rode right up on swell coming at 90 degrees with no problems at all. Pretty impressive for me with such limited skills. At the end of day 2 I wanted to do some bracing practice in the shallows so I was paying close attention to how far I could get up on edge before I started tipping. It did very well and I noticed that even after point of no return the boat seemed to give me almost 2 seconds to react with a bracing stroke to get it back upright. Very pleased to discover that.
All well and good till I tried a wet exit to finish a great weekend. I flipped the boat over but then my legs got hung on the thigh hooks! At class, I was in a bigger cockpit and wearing a drysuit that slid right off any contact with the boat. However on this day I was just wearing cotton baggy shorts so my wet skin, the tighter cockpit and a hint of fear and without my wife there I'm not sure I would be writing this today!! Luckily we were in 4 ft of water and I had instructed her if I had trouble to grab my PFD straps and pull me up sideways which she did.
I learned 2 things by this. I'm glad I put the ego away and prepared for trouble by not practicing alone and not insisting I was above getting in trouble. I also learned to listen to the nagging anxiety that something isn't right. I had been telling myself for 2 days I was worried about nothing every time I thought about how snug the boat felt.
Which brings me to the Perception Essence 17 Air. (I do indeed have a point.)
After my near miss I decided I wanted smaller than 180 but larger than 170. And that was tough to do as bigger guys have far fewer boats to choose from. I found the 17 online and saw that it is made in the same factory as the Tempests. In fact same company just different lines of boat. Like Buick and Pontiac are both GM.
I saw the boat dimensions were very similar to the 170 but with a longer and wider cockpit. The deck is also higher so more room all around
I found a dealer in Redmond, WA that had one in stock so I went in to look at it and boy was I impressed!
The 180 is made of fiberglass and costs $3000. The 170 is rotomold and costs $1600 but the p17 is made of thermoform ABS and runs $1800. $1200 less than FG And only $200 more than RM. it looks like FG and weighs alot less than the other 2 boats.
I jumped into the cockpit and knew I found my boat! No problems with being tight at all but with the adjustable leg lifters and thigh hooks and hip pads available I can snug up the fit when my skills grow. This boat handles just like the 170 so my comments about it apply to the P17 as well.
With some trepidation and the addition of a brother in law as an additional spotter I did wet exit practice and am now comfortable although still not totally proficient. I get out well but keep forgetting to hang onto the boat when coming up. The rear deck in flat and low so self rescues are relatively easy even for me.
All in all I think I have an excellent boat and an excellent value. One that my skills won't outgrow in 3 months.
The only reason I gave it 8 is because of some minor fit and finish issues and things like foam instead of plastic bulkheads and no security bar. That's also why it's $1800 and not $3000!
My advice? Research manufacturer websites and pay attention to recommended height and weight limits and then go get in it and then test paddle it. If you are concerned about fit DON'T ignore that. We rookies can get a tighter performance boat later but we have to stay alive long enough to get the experience that will take us to the next level (I hate tired sports analogies...)After having problems with the rudder on my Eclipse 17 Airalite, Confluence graciously traded that boat for a new Essence 17 Airalite, a recent release. This is a company that treats their customers extremely well.
The Essence appears to be an amalgam--British bow and North American stern with a slight rocker, modestly hard chine, and a shallow v-bottom. It's a big boat with a roomy cockpit and plenty of room for larger paddlers. The seat is excellent and the thigh braces are adjustable. Three storage compartments have plenty of room for gear, if not overly long. The boat carries a retractable skeg, and is rudder-ready with everything required except the rudder. I'm puzzled as to why this boat would need a rudder, however.
This is a very easy boat to paddle, a solid tracker, even with the skeg up, and weathercocks minimally. And it is fast and easy to push to speed and maintain. My fist day with the boat covered about five miles, after which I felt none of the fatigue I experienced after the same distance in my Eclipse. The boat has just enough freeboard to edge well, which helps maneuverability, as this boat tracks as if on rails. Initial stability is very good, and secondary is about what one would expect of a boat with this hullform (Swede), length, and beam.
For a vacuformed boat this one is quite light -- about 50lbs. My Eclipse was nearly 64lbs., mostly, I think, because the material was thicker. However I noticed no tendency to oilcan with the Essence. This boat is a keeper.