Submitted: 09-05-2008 by John Pescatore
I've had my KayakPro Marlin for about six months now, so I figured I had enough mileage on it to do a review.
Wanting something faster than my plastic P&H Capella RM 166, I quickly narrowed it down to the QCC 600, the Epic 18x and the KayakPro Marlin. They are very similar boats in many ways, as they are all designed to fit the kayak racing rules while maximizing waterline length. I managed to get short test paddles in each boat (actually I test paddled a Kayakpro Nemo, which is the girl version of the Marlin, same hull just slightly less cockpit volume). All of the test paddles were in fairly calm river water and all felt good but the Nemo just seemed to feel the most like the Capella, so that was it - I ordered a Marlin from Kayakpro.
I ordered the carbon/Kevlar 36 lb layup in October - I didn't care that much about the weight savings, but I thought the $500 extra was worth it for stiffness and durability. Delivery was first estimated to be early December, but ended up being February. If you have to miss paddling months, missing Dec/Jan/Feb is the best way to go. The boat's yellow over white finish, the interior and all the fittings looked great. It really is purty.
The first problem was that when the boat showed up, there were no hatch covers - those were being shipped separately. So, I got out some garbage bags and rubber bands and covered the hatches and put-in on Triadelphia. Boy, is the Marlin fast compared to what I had been paddling - I am back to being the limiting factor in speed, vs. the boat. Doing a loop where I would push to average 5.2 mph in the Capella became an effortless 5.8 mph average in the Marlin. In sprinting, I still haven't hit the point where the boat just won't go faster, I always give out first. Plus, what a difference carrying a 40 lb kayak instead of a 65 lb kayak!
The hatch covers came in a few days later and I ran into the next problem - the small round front hatch cover was a tight fit and when I tried to push it on, the plastic hatch rim immediately separated from the kayak shell. A gentle tug on the large rear oval hatch rim caused that one to come off, too. Phone calls to KayakPro resulted in them sending marine epoxy and me scraping off the old adhesive, scoring the hatch rims and clamping and gluing them back on - a royal pain in the neck, especially on the large, oval rear hatch. But once that was done, I was back on the reservoir having a great time.
The next problem occurred when I finally got out on some textured water, a 20 mile paddle down the Patuxent River. The paddle started out with slight following winds but we hit a section where 1-2 foot (more 1 foot than 2 foot) confused seas started hitting us broadside and I immediately felt squirrelly and bloop - had an unintended swimming event. To someone who paddles racing kayaks, the Marlin probably feels like paddling a canoe. For me (who gets very little time on rougher water and has zero native balancing skill), the stability profile of the KayakPro is very different from the Capella - much less initial stability but probably stronger secondary.
Since then I've had a little bit of time in slightly rougher water and I'm starting to feel much more confident in the Marlin. Even I can tell that for a fast boat it is very stable - in both dimensions (speed and stability) the paddler is the limiting factor. By taking advantage of the adjustable seat and footpedal positioning, I was able to move my position forward which seemed to help stability quite a bit for me.
One last problem occurred when the rudder assembly fell off during a paddle on Triadelphia Reservoir. Turns out the threaded stud that the rudder pivots on had never been fully threaded into the rudder assembly and it had wobbled and stripped the lower threads. Some help from KayakPro and multiple Nemo owner Cyndi J. helped me get it re-installed and KayakPro is sending replacement parts.
Those are the only negatives I've experienced. Paddling the Marlin is a lot of fun. It has enough sea kayak features (two hatches, decent deck rigging) to be reliable for fast day touring. It is fast enough to be competitive in the fast touring categories in races. The rudder system with the gas pedal type controls makes steering and correcting a snap, while still providing firm support for leg pushing. I really like the seat - it doesn't have any back support, but every back rest I've used in a kayak has just ended up chafing my back and I don't miss it at all. I have plenty of padding on my rear end, but others might want to add a pad.
I've now had the KayakPro Marlin for about 6 months and probably have about 250 miles in it. Summary review:
Fit and finish - the hull and shell are great, very professional job. I find the seat very comfortable and I like the adjustability with one negative - the track that accepts the sliding seat bolt has a cutout just about where my optimum position wants to be. I guess the cutout is to make it easier to drop the bolt in vs. having to slide it in at the end of the track, but it does limit positioning choices. The rudder can not be raised or lowered from the cockpit, not an issue for racing but I'd rather be able to launch and land with the rudder up and you really can't do that with the Marlin unless someone is there to help you.
Workmanship - with the hatch rims and rudder falling off, obviously KayakPro has some process and quality assurance issues to work through. Their support has been great in dealing with the problems. I would also like them to include a manual or at least information on how to adjust the rudder and pedal control system since neither is intuitively obvious. The front hatch stays dry as a bone but I do get a few spoonfuls of water in the rear hatch, most likely due to my amateur job of clamping and re-gluing the large oval rear hatch rim back on.
Speed - top of the line for a sea kayak/racer hybrid. In the recent Broadkill 10 mile race I went from 1 hour 40 minutes killing myself in the Capella in 2007 to 1 hour 29 minutes in the Marlin paddling hard but less effort in 2008, under nearly identical water conditions.
Stability - I underestimated the difference between more stable, harder chined boats and a faster more rounded hull. As I've gotten more time in the Marlin I can see I'm the problem, not the boat. Anyone with decent roughwater skills will consider it very stable.
Tracking, maneuverability - at just under 18 feet long with a very sharp, nearly vertical bow, the Marlin isn't nimble. The rudder system works great, edging really makes it turn but it is really a boat mainly designed to go forward. Without the rudder it does weathercock a bit more than the Capella but not all that much. With the rudder down, not an issue of course. It plows through oncoming waves really well and seems much easier to control on following seas than the Capella.
Durability - I was concerned to move away from a plastic boat, since I'm not real gentle on bikes or boats. The Marlin has come away with the usual hull scratches but, with a decent amount of knocking around and no real babying, there have been no gouges or cracks or warps or anything.
Bottom line - I'm never going to be someone who has 5 or 6 kayaks, so the Marlin turned out to be exactly what I wanted: a boat fast enough to make me be the limiting factor in fitness training and local races but also fun and usable for touring day trips. If I really wanted to go deep in either racing or multi-day touring I'd pick a different more specialized boat. However, for doing my usual training paddles, local races and local day tours like Wye Island or the Eastern Neck, the Marlin is fast and fun (and easy to carry) all at the same time.