Submitted: 02-27-2012 by Chris_H
Two years ago I purchased the Tracer 165.
Prior to this kayak I was paddling either my Chesapeake 17, or SOF of my own design. I like both of these kayaks, yet I was toying with the idea of making something shorter than both in length and a a bit more agile. Time consuming pressing house projects canceled a kayak build project. At this time I came across the Tracer on-line and liked the specs.. The things that appealed to me about the Tracer was it had a nice rocker, a good sign of agility. The length an width looked good for keeping up when paddling with fellow paddlers. The overall weight and price also were appealing, yet didn't quite add up. I had the feeling that something might be smelling rotten about this kayak. At that time there was not a lot of reviews on the internet on the Tracer, yet I was able to find a paddling store a county away that carried the Tracer. I gave them a call and arranged a test paddle. a few days later I made it to the store to look over the Tracer prior to taking it out on the water. On the rack I noticed the oil can effect at about mid keel distance, (as mentioned by TS below in his review). Since I know a few people with polyp kayaks, and their experience with the oil can effect, I knew of a custom fit that would probably take care of the oil can issue. I insisted on carrying the kayak out of the shop to get a feel for the weight, sure enough it felt about 48lbs. in weight. On the water during the trial it performed as expected in a lively way, not that it was a problem to keep on track, it was just that it responded well to a leaned turn, and this kayak had no chines, so this did impress me. I'm not a fan of kayak with a skeg, and this kayak tracked fairly well in the slight wind of the conditions that day, yet just for the kicks of it I dropped the skeg about half way, and the Tracer appeared to be riding on a rail, yet it still responded well to turns. The water that day was a tad cold due to it was early spring. I brought along a neo skirt that fit the tracer and had a dry top, so this allowed me to put the Tracer in a balance brace. If the water was warmer I might have tried a roll. I didn't expect any issues here since I haven't come across a kayak I have tried that can't be sculled or rolled. The seat was cold and thinly padded, can't say I liked it. Adding padding to the seat was a thought, yet this would raise the center of gravity. Back at the shop with the kayak on the rack I noticed the seat could be fairly easy to remove, this would work well with my plans. I didn't think I would be sold that day, yet I was. The sun was shinning onto the orange deck of a nearby Tampico, the iridescent orange metal flake look just sold me on my color choice, and to my surprise I ordered a tracer 165 in orange.
A few weeks later it arrived at the shop for pick up. Once I had it home I removed the seat and added the closed cell formed happy bottom seat from Chesapeake Light Craft, with the help of some large Velcro pads added to the seat bottom and the floor of the Tracer. This seat is practically weight less, and personally comfortable. Two other added benefits to this seat is it lowered the center of gravity a tad, and most of all it solved the oil can effect by placing my body weight in direct contact with the bottom of the kayak. Any oil can effect would have to work against the weight of my minimally fat ars.
In the few weeks after the pick up, I also order custom neoprene hatch covers from Reed Chillcheater. So from removing the seat and the rubber Hurricane hatch covers and replacing these with the foam seat and neo hatch covers I removed about 6 lbs of weight, bringing the kayak to a little over 42lbs.. I'm not getting any younger so the loss of weight is best noticed in the carry to and from the car. I also added a bronze pad eye on the deck behind the cockpit for the use of a tow rope and a theft/locking point. The foot pegs were okay, yet I like the ability to correct on the water if needed, so I replaced them with the Duckworks adjustable type.
Now after a few years of paddling my handling characteristics are these.
Tracking: Generally fine, strangely a slight breeze appears to effect tracking more than a wind. Just half a skeg drop is what I use if I feel the need, this still allows for quick sharp turns if needed.
Stability: on flat water or mild chop I don't notice a stability issue at all with the Tracer, yet I have a feeling this is only due to my jaded and demanding aspect of paddling my 20in. width SOF. Paddling into more steep wind/tidal driven waves in the bays or Atlantic ocean this kayak excels. It breaks through waves well and holds a course well with or without the skeg. On following wind/tidal seas is where I find a negative aspect with the Tracer. I find even a full skeg drop has me giving this kayak my full attention. It appears to have a strong tendency to want to broach. My guess is the Stern is rising high enough to be a bit out of the water on a wave negating even the skeg, placing the bow deeper in the water where even a slight cock one way or the other gives the bow a very disconcerting bow rudder action. I compensate a lot with paddle strokes in high following seas basically to limit surfing and letting the bow to deep in the water. The sad fact is I enjoy surfing in my other kayaks, yet the Tracer I find demanding in these conditions. Added weigh in the rear compartment might help, yet I have yet to put this together under following seas conditions.
Hull strength: Well I timed a few surf entries wrong a few times and went practically vertical, which resulted in a big slap coming over these waves. It appears to take a pounding and keep on ticking. My spine is another story.
Rolling/sculling/balance brace: I'm very comfortable above or below the water with the Tracer, yet I would say that about most kayaks.
I'm giving the Tracer 165 a 8 rating only because of the following seas broaching issue I have. If I could tweak the design of the Tracer I would add one to three inches in the stern behind the cockpit and sharpen the bow a tad to limit the bow rudder effect. However, to have a solid bulk headed kayak at a custom weight of about 42lbs, with the good looks of this kayak, and at a very, very fair price, is a big plus for me.