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Unfortunately, this is an obituary for the old boat. Two days ago my son flipped on a branch and he and the kayak became tangled in an underwater tree. Again, my son was able to push his way out but was unable to free the boat. He spent the night and finally got home and we returned to the river, to our amazement, after almost 24 hours in a severe hydrolic situation, the kayak was still inflated. Unfortunately, in order to untangle the kayak from the tree, my son had to deflate the bladders and in the process, they have some holes from the bark. He was also forced to cut some of the straps off so I think she has run her last river.
I tried it in different conditions, from calm to more agitated (waves and about 70km/h wind), and I am very happy with it. Compared to a hard shell kayak, it's pretty comfortable, but still rigid enough to have fun in the waves. For those who are afraid of windy conditions with an inflatable kayak, I tested it facing a 70km/h wind on the way back (stupid mistake), and I managed to come back to the beach without too many problems.
Thanks to its length, it's very easy to turn, and you can still go reasonably fast. One drawback is that at one point, paddling faster won't make you go quicker, you will only "oscillate" more. But I guess this would be similar with a hard shell kayak having a similar length.
I strongly recommend this kayak.
I'm a big fat guy (6 foot, 250 or so pounds) and I was worried I'd be too big for this. But I fit in snugly... it's a bit tight, and I've had no trouble getting in and out thanks to the zippered skirt. I don't swamp or overload the boat.
The only drawbacks I've found so far are that it could be more roomy (or I could be less roomy, a smaller person will be fine) and storage space is limited.
I had my heart set on a Sevylor Rio, but couldn't find one. I checked out the West Marine version of the AE dragonfly but it looked a bit tight for me (I've seen these out on the water, and they do look pretty good). I found the Stearns on sale and decided to take a chance. I am so glad I did. I get compliments and questions about it almost every time I'm out. I'm glad now I got the yellow over the blue Sevylor as I paddle alone and the extra visibility is comforting. I'd advise anybody getting one of these to also spend a bit more on the basic safety equipment, good PFD, throw line, paddle leash (very important as an inflatable can run away in the wind quickly if you go over). It's worth it because once you see how this kayak handles, you'll want to keep on using it.
Finally, the portability is awesome, and the bag is large enough so that it's not a chore refolding the boat and re-stowing it (I've gotten it in first try every time). Keep a sponge or microfiber towel on hand to help dry it off, especially under the floor.
I also want to note that I've got the newer, B521 version of this kayak, which has a redesigned spray skirt to avoid the leaking problem others have described. It's also significantly lighter at 23 lbs.
I love this kayak. It's allowed me an inexpensive way to get onto the water without the storage and transport requirements of a hardshell. I'm on the water 15 minutes after zipping open the bag. I'm sure it takes longer to launch a hardshell.
SET UP: Under 10 minutes per boat. You'll never hesitate to take it out of the closet and go for a paddle.
HANDLING: Remarkable mix of turning (pivoting) and tracking. It glides better than you will expect, and I don't lose speed using a rest stroke.
SPEED: Easy paddle maintains 2.5 MPH
COMFORT: We go out for hours, and my back never gets sore. I definatley recommend adding a Sevylor seat. It can be used as a backrest or to sit a little higher in the 'yak. We mated our Sprees with Bending Branches "Whisper" paddles, 240 mm, and love 'em.
There are two downsides from our perspective. The first is the leaky skirt issue that several other reviewers have commented on. The other is drag, especially in choppy water (such as a lake churned up by wind or lots of power boats). If we're with a group of hard-shell in choppy conditions, we generally lag behind a bit (not the case on completely flat water). Still, these things are very minor compared to the portability, stability and freedom to have them in the trunk of our car and decide on the spur of the moment to enjoy one of our local lakes/ponds/rivers.
If my wife like it when she gets a chance to use it, I'll buy another. They would really enhance our camping life.
The only two downsides are 1.) the sagging of the built in spray skirt as mentioned in a previous review( easily remedied by putting a pool noodle, you know those neon color styrofoam tubes that kids play with, underneath the spray skirt to prop it up.) and 2.) the fact in has to dry before storage ( to avoid mildew/mold issues). I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a cheap portable boat.
The first time, I inflated it at home because the idea of doing so in public for the first time was not a great idea. I learned all of the quirks in this manner and moved on.
The second time, I re-inflated and dropped her in the water. I had a ball. She turns easily, goes nice and straight, and when necessary, stops on a dime.
The one thing I discovered is that the "sprak skit" can sag and will drip into your lap through the zipper. To remedy this little problem, I made up a "T" structure with some 1X2 and eased the edges with a router. I placed rags on any potential puncture areas and then placed the "T" under my knees when paddling. This provides a bit of a tent so the water rolls off the skirt.
Other than the one skirt issue, a wonderful product, well put together, and a blast to paddle. I am off today, so the plan is to go use it right now.
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