Submitted: 09-26-2007 by c1imbr
We bought a older used Prijon Barracuda without rudder to take on longer touring trips. Before trying any epic trips with it we took her out on a series of day and weekend paddles to decide on the proper outfitting (all lines were old and suspect and were removed), how much weight she could reasonably carry, what the weight distribution should be, and to get accustomed to the boat's handling characteristics and practice rescue techniques in rough conditions.
I read the reviews on here about how tippy the Barracuda is and laughed and wanted to find out for myself. First impressions on a local reservoir were that the Barracuda is very fast, that is confirmed by the fact I consistently have to slow down and wait for friends while paddling it. It isn't nearly as efficient as the Perception Avatar my gf paddles as it requires more effort to get up to speed and maintain speeds but the top end on the Barracuda is significantly faster. On the reservoir, tracking was excellent and leaned turns were fairly easy to do at speed. I brought out the wing paddle the second time out and had a couple of "scares" where a missed stroke felt like the boat was going to go over but it never did. The boat is tippy, but not unstable, it can however catch you by surprise.
Several trips out on the Cheasapeake and the Barracuda ate up everything from chop to 3ft waves and 30 knot winds. It paddles easily into and out of the surf but the boat has a tendency to nose into waves and can be handful holding a course going across waves - requiring constant edging or corrective strokes. I made the mistake of not putting the neoprene cover back on the front hatch on a windy day with 3 ft waves and learned that when nose heavy, the boat is a bear. It would surge forwards with each wave and surf really well but would then suddenly broach, threaten to roll, and force a series of panicked braces. It would then turn nose into the waves again despite my best efforts. I could not make headway towards shore, it was a scary and exhausting experience and in the end I had to tow my girlfriend and have her act as a huge skeg to keep the boat straight. When I made it to shore i swore i would get a new boat until we realized there was 50lbs of water in the front hatch.
The next couple of trips to the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Coast proved the boat, when properly balanced, is actually quite capable of handling whitecaps and 4ft seas but does feel twitchy when compared to the Avatar. The boat behaved well even while waves crashed over the bow and hit me in the face but I again had some steering issues with quartering seas. Paddling in those conditions was fun but required concentration in the 'cuda. My girlfriend meanwhile was laughing and enjoying being tossed about in the Avatar. Other friends bailed deciding the conditions were too rough.
The next couple of trips proved that the Barracuda not only is fast, THIS BOAT CAN HAUL SOME GEAR. Initial stability actually increases when the boat is loaded up. The hatches are huge and the high volume ends and the fact that the waterline is about the same as the LOA means the boat sinks very little. The low chines (below waterline even when unloaded) mean the characteristics of the boat don't change when heavily loaded - just don't try to stop quickly after you get a head of steam. Prijon boats seem to be made out of a stronger, denser, plastic than other polyethylene boats - the barracuda doesn't oil can or flex as much as the perception and dagger boats I've owned and doesn't scratch as easily.
The Barracuda is a great choice for paddling lakes, rivers and inland waterways. Its fast and surprisingly maneuverable given its waterline length and minimal rocker. It is not as maneuverable as a shorter boat with rocker and not the best choice for paddling in marshes or constrained areas. The length also leads to a lot of bottom drag in shallow water. It works well in the ocean, but there are better choices for serious open water paddling. A rudder is probably a good idea for oceans and large lakes with wave action.