Submitted: 12-17-2008 by gregoryjacob
This review will be a bit longer than many because I feel it important to give a detailed report that can realistically help the next kayaking community buyer. At best, it is bittersweet to give a less-than-perfect score to a boat one owns. For no other reason, it can directly affect the potential resale value of one’s own investment! But I know how much I would appreciate good input when trying so hard to get the right model and so have finally decided to “come forth” and recount my experience. I think it’s also important to add that this report is not vindictive or a way to find a platform to whine about a manufacturer. It is given out of my own busy schedule, against the value of my own possession, to just add good support to the continuous search for excellence in the kayaking family. I am a keen supporter of the kayaking manufacturers who work hard to provide great products, often with very thin margins of profit. It is never a good thing to damper that faith. If any part of my critique is later worth modifying because of manufacturer response and improvements, I am the first to welcome it and support them!
First, to give some credence, I have owned and paddled a Kayakpro Marlin (Nemo) for a year and a half and put in many miles (hundreds) in varying conditions. I also own a QCC as well as a Fenn Mako 6. Previous kayaks include several years with the comparable Epic Endurance Ultra as well as a different Kayakpro model, the Jet, a good K1-style trainer for smaller paddlers (I am 6'1", 180 lbs and did not really fit the boat). I have paddled quite a few other models in these categories as well.
The Marlin (which is also the Nemo with a bit larger cockpit area) is lined up to compare with fast "sea kayaks", good primarily for training and racing but can also be used for some touring. Other popular boats in the U.S. that fall in this category are the Epic Endurance, Seda Glider, QCC 700X, Current Designs Stratus (Freedom)… I believe all these models are pretty close in speed, capable of winning the same race with the same paddler, and the Marlin is built to do the same. On a speed scale of 1 – 10, the Marlin would fall on the upper range. It is a fast 18 ft. composite kayak. It has a very sharp bow, open cockpit for paddling in the K1-style position as well as good rotation. And, along with the Freedom, comes in as probably the lightest of the group by perhaps a pound or so.
Now the downsides. On quality construction and durability, the QCC would probably rank highest, then the Glider, the Endurance, the Stratus, and finally at the bottom, the Marlin. I believe the Marlin is, in fact, a potential safety hazard in all but the most benign conditions. Here are the reasons why I would choose differently in purchasing my boat today. Here is a summary of my experience, from placing my order to present:
Finally, I must say that even though I was a repeat customer of Kayakpro, as well as a number of the accessories and other products, the Marlin reached a point of “dead end”. I realized the boat could not be “fixed” and, however gracious or courteous a response, the real issues were ultimately lost in empty apologies and any further commitment to delivering the boat that was marketed. This boat was expensive and sold as a higher-end elite model. And shipping costs are not included in quoted price. If I had to do it all over again, I’d be paddling one of the other boats mentioned earlier in this critique. At least from QCC and Epic, I have personal experience and ownership that can vouch for them. And close paddling friends who loyally swear by the Seda and Current Designs brands.
- The boats are built in "lots", in a Chinese factory, then shipped together in a container to the U.S. When ordering, count on a 4-6 month wait period. Expect delays of as much as an additional 4 months (both Jet and Marlin experience) from originally promised date of delivery.
- Marlin delivery date was changed 3 times and then finally arrived the day before a big race. However, it arrived with a broken-off piece of the combing area, like a “shark bite” off of one side. I called the company and was assured they would replace it (which they did 6 months later). Granted, it was still O.K. to paddle. I applied duct tape to cover the breakage and try to prevent further troubles. Took it out that same evening to adjust it for the race and … the steering cable snapped, leaving the rudder useless, dangling and dragging against the boat. This was a bad omen… Paddled it anyway, even though hatches chronically leaked…
- Replacement boat arrived 2.5 months later than date given. Cable (yes, the same one) snapped off first time out. Repaired and rebuilt cable connections. In my opinion, for a "sea kayak" the whole cable system design is a problem waiting to happen. Too much detail to go into here.
- This point isn’t regarding a factory defect but rather a design issue. The Marlin and Nemo come with a non-retractable rudder. In my opinion, this is an important issue. There are many scenarios where having to deploy a rudder manually is tough and, depending on skills, unacceptable, such as launching off rocky coastlines, strong surf or quick depth drops. But more crucial is the inability to retract a rudder in certain conditions. An immediate example is in the case of a cable snap (something that has happened several times in my case). Once the cable snaps, the rudder flops and cuts angles in the water. It then becomes a handicap and even a real danger, especially in strong surf, rock gardens, tidal or weather situations, or long distances from shore. I don’t think this boat should be touted as a "sea kayak" and compared in ads to the Explorer or Romany. Especially not without a more secure sea steering system.
- Also immediately discovered that the hatches leak straight through, like the previous model. Company apologizes by phone and gives instructions on how to repair them, recommending it be done by an experienced boat repair business.
Note: Kayakpro did offer to cover any repair expenses. I paid for the repairs and they discounted it off my boat’s final payment price. Apparently this was a problem in the whole production line series of my model. Apart from all the obvious trouble, what was particularly concerning was that it happened with two different boats from two different “lots”. Even with top grade repair work, the back hatch still somehow seeps in a small amount of water.
- Wider, larger Marlin seat (as opposed to Nemo) does not fit the contour of the boat bottom and so bends and creaks from side to side. Had to apply permanent thick layer of compressed foam on both sides to stabilize. Company acknowledged this was "an issue" but offer no clues as to remodeling.
- After a few outings, discovered that the footboard hinges are beginning to twist and bend. Upon wrestling and adjusting, conclude that the footboard design is flawed in several ways. First, it was designed with cheap quality piano hinges, too small to cover the footboard width properly, thus bending with foot pressure and cable counter-pressure. I eventually replaced these hinges with much thicker, larger ones. The hinges need to be marine grade and cover the entire width of footboard.
The whole footboard assembly is difficult to adjust. I discovered that, although the Marlin was touted for larger paddlers, you could not push the assembly far into the hull for a longer paddler (I am "tall" but not long-legged)! The footboard would scrape on the inside hull after a certain point. I sawed the extreme upper corners off the footboard in order to get it to fit farther. Next is the bungee cord-based "gas peddle" system. The whole design makes it unnecessarily complicated to modify for different paddlers. Not to bore with details and remedies, it should have the bungee reverse tension set directly on the retractable footboard assembly, not around an anchored screw at the front of the boat hull. This would eliminate having to go through the huge gymnastics of undoing that cord way down there every time there is a change of footboard position (say for a different paddler). This would also keep the bungee tension the same all the time, not tighter or looser with the change of the footboard. I ended up modifying my model with a marine pulley so as to make it a little less cumbersome and significantly more fluid.
Finally, in concluding the cable steering system, the snapped cables are a big concern and other paddlers have also mentioned it. The weak link has to do with some basically-useless micro adjustment knobs. They look good on paper and are fine for a K1 sprint model boat but completely unnecessary for a real sea kayak. In fact, they only serve to cause additional weak links in the cable line. The cable can be adjusted just fine by unscrewing the cable ties at the rudder just like 99% of all other sea kayaks.
- The cables started to rust out! And I haven’t even paddled the boat in salt water. Even though the cables are plastic coated, the rust has developed underneath and will have to be replaced. I mentioned this to Kayakpro and only got a “how surprising” response. They could not assure me of any replacements....
- After a few months of paddling, the boat surface layer began to crack and peel. At first it was only one small area (unrelated to a potentially vulnerable area such paddle or other surface contacts). I eventually had a boat repair shop grind, patch, buff and paint the section. Kayakpro acknowledged that this had “happened to some other boats as well”. They discounted these additional repairs from the final payment I never had to make.
- A month afterward, discovered a new bit of peeling / cracking on boat surface, in a new area, unrelated to the first one. They appear as "cracked egg" surface hairs, then the peeling and flaking progresses. More repairs, more expense (ever seen hourly cost of boat repairs?). The repairs have now eaten up what Kayakpro discounted from my original purchase payment. And I am waiting for the next surface “bubble” peel to appear…
- The ENTIRE combing around cockpit is now breaking off (!). I have duct taped it underneath to just hold it until I bite the bullet and have it properly repaired and reinforced. To use the boat, I am no longer handling it from any outer combing points and I do not allow my body to even lightly press it as I descend into the cockpit. And I never abused it, hardly used it, and certainly never gave it a proper working out such as re-entries or loading issues. Like the first defective model’s combing, it is simply too thin and lacks proper robust strength for what it is made to do. The real issue here is that the whole boat, in order to keep the weight down so low, was built with too thin a layer of gelcoat. Thus easy breakage, peeling skin, etc. The integrity of the boat was compromised from factory. The outer layer of the Marlin is just too thin. I would rather have an extra pound or two or three and a boat I could use in real conditions than pay this price for light weight. And no matter how many patches or repairs, it will always be the constant concern for a fragile toy, not a well-made sea kayak.