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Next the boat - 99ish 'glas, no skeg. Got it from a guy at an incredibly low price about three years ago. Minor scrapes and scars but when I wax it I still get comments from paddling buddies. Impeccable workmanship.
Now the review - in the context of full disclosure I own a few boats: Sirocco, Arctic Tern Hi that my son (6'8") paddles, a regular Arctic Tern (in progress), KajakSport Artisan Millennium Expedition, Sterling's Kayak Illusion, a home-built Sea Tour R (a Tom Yost design www.yostwerks.com), an older Folbot Greenland II, and several high-end whitewater inflatables... Oh, and my Scupper Pro fishing-and-general-messing-about yak. Not to mention I have demo'd around thirty+ other yaks. So I have some experience with different yaks. The Bou is my favorite. The Millennium is a better expedition boat - fast, tons of room, handles well for a big (18'3") yak but bobs like a cork with day-paddling kit. The Illusion is a finely tuned athlete, better in the surf and does everything well but is probably a better boat than I can really take advantage of. The Sirocco is a great all around boat and my first love that got me hooked on sea kayaking. It's the boat I put first timers in and the one I use for skills classes in the ocean and surf.
But the Bou... It does everything the many previous reviewers have testified to. I add my comments here purely as a counterpoint to previous reviews inferring that the Bou isn't for large paddlers. It can be. I paddled the Bou initially at a demo day. My initial impression was that it was too tight. The foot pegs didn't have enough range for me and that forced my knees hard into the deck. So I then tried the larger version known as the Isle. Just the opposite problem -I was swallowed by it. Felt like a kid wearing his dad's shoes. But I liked the way they paddled. So a year or more later this amazing deal popped up on Craigslist - could not pass it up ("Hi. My name's John and I'm a yakaholic"...) I took the boat home and immediately removed the seat, cut the front of the hangers back about 1 1/2" and redrilled the bolt holes. This moved the seat back and lowered it. Instant leg room and lower center of gravity. While I was at it I replaced the back band. I also padded the front bulkhead and use that as my foot rest rather than the pegs. Perfect fit!
I had hoped that moving my weight aft would help cure the weather-cocking others have mentioned, but it hasn't. It's my only demerit in the performance department. Just gets to be a chore to compensate on a long paddle in the incessant Westerlies we have here in the SF Bay. I'm sure with a skeg I'd be rating it a 10. But it handles the chop created by the wind-tide combat zones with ease. It seems to smooth out the lumps and bumps and just cruise! The same conditions that create drama when in a different yak are fun in the Bou. I find myself looking for the bigger waves and more confused water... Maybe there's still some adrenaline left after all...
But enough of this. The sun is out. The Bou is loaded. Let's go paddling!
Turns out it's a lot easier to paddle upwind in strong wind if the skeg is up. By the same token, going downwind is easier with the skeg down. You can go straight into the wind just fine with the skeg down, but once you start trying to go at an angle to the wind you'd better raise that skeg!
Additional information: My 'bou is fiberglass, and I bought it in 2000, when the factory was still in British Columbia. Mine seems very well-built but I can't address whether new ones are as well-built.
The only downside that I can think of is that it doesn't have a lot of cargo room so it's not the best rig for camping but that is not a biggie to me so I'm sticking with my 10 out of 10 rating.
I'm 5'4" with short arms, and this boat's narrowness is a boon to me - no leaning my whole body sideways for each paddle stroke just to keep my paddle shaft from hitting the gunwale.
All the nice stuff others have said here goes for me, too. It's fast (I think so, anyway), it tracks nicely (skeg gives a small improvement but without the skeg it's fine too), and it turns quite well enough, though not on a dime.
I feel more secure bracing against fixed foot pedals, so I actually like that there's no rudder.
The finish of the boat is poor. Air between the gel and glass behind the deck and thin gel in general is a disappointment for a boat in this price range. The glass work around the skeg box is crap. It looks sloppy and poorly rolled in. Being an old fibreglass man this is way to easy to be this sloppy. CD needs to look closely at the neatness and detail of their high end boats. That being said, all are easy enough repairs, just disheartening.
As I get the boat in more severe conditions I will add an additional review.
I read another post here about putting some weight in the back compartment. Good idea - I recently bought a little fat-wheeled caddy that breaks down and fits back there easily. The few extra pounds really does help the tracking, and solves the problem of carrying the extra weight, too. Sweet.
I paddle about 175 days a year and recently the use (not abuse and probably saltwater) caught up with it. My cockpit coaming became detached from the deck so I called CD and was put in touch with a terrific young man named Josh. We dropped the boat off in Winona on our way to visit our daughter in Minneapolis on a Friday and picked up the boat on Tuesday. Josh fixed the cockpit at no charge- covered under warranty, put in a keel strip in white that is hard to detect(came in on Saturday to complete), put in some fiberglass patches in the hull and cleaned up my crude gel coats. It is like a new boat. Plus we got a tour of their new factory. Was I impressed and grateful.
I learned to roll in this boat (skipped the river boat step because it is so comfortable) with a Greenland paddle (Feathercraft- great customer relations,Theresa is terrific) We spend 6 weeks in Feb-March at Indian pass FL where my brother with his NDK Greenlander Pro kayak and I paddle everyday in all kinds of conditions. My 'Bou surfs better than the GP,is only a tad slower at sprint speed (he is 2 yrs younger), but cruises just as effortlessly, rolls as well, and is a lot less nervous.
For a 63 yr old guy I appreciate its generous primary and secondary stability especially when we spot an alligator in one of the rivers. It does require some edging in 15+ mph winds but it does so easily. I figure that make me a better paddler and it works my obliques. If Chris Duff and his group can paddle around Iceland in skegless boats, I guess I can. It cruises at 4.5-5, 5.5 workout pace, and 6-6.5 all out. We did a 3 day 60 mile trip down the Wisconsin river and I was able to easily take everything I wanted. Plus it is an all day boat - very comfortable. Looks great especially knifing through the water with its hard chines and is a good boat for almost any level of paddler. However my 6ft 6in. son doesn't fit in it. I'm 6'1", 185lbs and my 11.5 water shoes wear quickly on the outside heel although I have another notch or two on the pedals. Luckily he fits in my Valley Skerray which is a nice all around boat, but a barge compared to the Caribou.
If this boat ever dies, I'll get another one maybe in kevlar because I'm a van guy and I'm not getting younger. Maybe without a skeg. My friends who paddle NDK GP's, Romany and Explorers love this boat. If you get one, get a greenland paddle-everything from rolling to sprinting to paddling all day is easier. You'll never go back to your euro paddle.
The Bou handled heavy weather much better and was faster. While the Tern was a larger boat for camping I would much rather pack lighter and take the Bou. The Bou maneuvered well, rode smooth in the bumps, had a ton of secondary. On a positive note, the new owner and I have become friends and occasional paddling partners so I still get to paddle the Bou.
The negatives are (to some) the hard chines and secondary are not conducive to some Greenland skills work and the low sleek bow does pearl a bit but never bothered me.
On the whole for speed, decent maneuverability and strong secondary, itís a hard boat to beat.
I don't get it, this is such a simple hull shape, originally made in plywood, that works as well as most molded hulls. I'd put it in a list of top five "all around" sea kayaks with this one giving more speed and stability than most.
Comparing it to other boats I have owned, it seems to be on the higher end of rough water performance, yet still be well-mannered enough to inspire confidence to push yourself.
Compared to my Seaward Navigator (barge) it is very lively, but not to the point where I ever felt uncomfortable, like in the P&H Sirius.( great boat but painfully uncomfortable for me).The boat does really like to surf, even in small swells, so be ready. I don't think the boat is as well built as a Seaward (durability-wise).
I think the fine bow and stern would likely wear if they were run onto the beach without any care, but time will tell. I did break one of the integrated thigh braces during roll practice. Wasn't exactly the best time for that to happen, but CD was very helpful in getting instructions and materials to do at home repairs. They would have done the repairs but I live on the east coast and had no intentions in sending my boat cross country for a relatively minor repair.
I've owned no less than eleven boats to this point and built one. No doubt I will own more. That said, I am very happy with the Caribou and will probably keep it for some time yet for its comfort and overall performance.
It carves turns easily on edge, and will sit on one side of the hard chined hull with considerable stability. It is the fastest boat I've tried or been around. While not a speedster (age 55), I have not had trouble keeping up with anyone in the paddling group, and can paddle for hours very comfortably.
My only criticism is the crappy backband, but I replaced it with an NSI whitewater band, and now am PERFECTLY COMFORTABLE all day.
The hull of this boat has NO round areas, and is completely multi-flat surfaced. It takes some getting used to, as it wants to lean over on one edge or the other when standing still, but it is a dream to paddle.
I've been mostly happy with it, comfort is good (5'10", 180lbs). Very nice deck rigging, including for spare paddles, either front or rear. Stability is reassuring; have yet to need to do an actual "brace."
Tracking is where the "mostly" comes in. If you search the forums you may stumble over a number of discussions where I've complained about a bit of wandering during light-air smooth-water conditions. The skeg of course can cure this but with the cost of some loss of glide and slower turning. Okay if you really need it for heavy wind, not ok when you don't think conditions should warrant using it.
Many comments said after more seat time you'll learn how to make it track. Well, after a full season it never happened. It was not a matter of not knowing how to get it back on line, it was just annoyance over how quickly it wanted to veer off line in the first place. The tracking just felt unstable, in anything other than a headwind.
Many owners, especially of the pre-skeg versions, talk about adding 10-20 lbs of weight in the back to improve tracking behavior. I use mine only for few-hour day trips and wanted to avoid this hassle. I did experiment though. I rigged 9 lbs of scuba weights on a stick that I could push way to the back, thinking the further back it went the less I would need. This was not good, boat was too heavy in back and the bow bobbed over waves most ungracefully.
After that I tried really hard to like using half-skeg most all the time, but just couldn't. So recently, back to the weight idea, this time I used just a 3 lb weight, again pushed back as far as it would go. Well, I'll be darned, it is pretty amazing what this does. It seems to balance the boat such that it responds more quickly to subtle leans to stay on course, and you can also feel turn-carving behavior respond to leans forward and back. It's like this is how the boat was meant to feel. Maybe I just have heavy feet, who knows. I'd guesstimate this moves the center of balance of the empty boat back about 5 inches. Very importantly, for me, it can be shoulder-carried to/from the water with the weight in place. I don't think this much weight hurts the rough-water riding behavior to any noticeable degree.
So, with that, I'm a happy 'bou owner and expect to keep it for quite awhile.
The Caribou fit me very well (5'-10" 180lbs), the seat is very comfortable, and the cockpit large. I especially liked the way I could enter the Caribou by straddling the kayak in shallow water, sitting down, and then pulling in one foot/leg and then the other, without a bobble by the kayak.
We paddle mostly flat water (NY Finger Lakes), but I did have a chance to take it out into 4-6 foot tumbling swells with 9-18" wind chop in Maine. The boat handled the conditions well, but for some reason I found it did not inspire confidence. Maybe it was the initial stability showing up in a somewhat jittery motion from the wind chop. I found out that the Caribou surfs like a rocket - it really took off on a couple of smaller breaking waves - what a ride!
While lots of people told me that the Caribou is reasonably easy to turn, I found it takes 4-5 sweep strokes to turn it 180 degrees when I need to go back and help someone. I also found that it weathercocks some, but the adjustable skeg does a wonderful job of putting you on track.
I went camping for 3 days with my son, who paddles an Eddyline Merlin LT (read limited storage), and I found that the Caribou has adequate storage and is pretty easy to get things in and out of the hatches. Packing articles around the skeg box was a bit of a challenge, but something that you learn to work around.
All in all, it's a great kayak. I sold two weeks ago. It's only weakness in my case is it's speed - the rest of my family couldn't keep up with it! Since one of my kayaking goals is exercise, I found myself waiting for them too much, and I decided to switch to a slower, more manoeverable kayak. Sigh. Some things are just too good.
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