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I am an intermediate paddler, 5'10", 175#, and have paddled a poly Chatham 17 for 5 years prior. I paddle ocean, rivers, tidal currents, ICW with lots of clapotis, inlets with rough chop, day paddles, and 3-4 day camping trips in the Everglades.
I found the carbon 18 to be amazingly light, but a bit "squirrely" compared to my poly 17, but have easily adapted to it, although I have not had it out in REALLY rough stuff yet. I have taken it out in 1-2 foot waves in the ICW with 20-25 mph headwinds and crosswinds, 2-4 foot ocean swell, and some tidal chop in an inlet. I anticipate perfecting my techniques and am looking forward to warmer weather to practice rescues and advance my rolling repertoire. Also, I am especially anxious to try cowboy and side scramble self rescue, as I've gathered it's not easy in such a narrow boat.
This boat is fast enough to easily handle 10-20 mile day paddles and daily 10-12 mile links of multiday trips. The foot room is great for a variety of footwear, the cockpit is just right. Some reviewers point out the forward bulkhead being too far forward, but I feel it's just right to fit in a seabag in front of the footpegs to carry extra gear for trips.
All around, it's a great boat and I would recommend it if you're looking for a boat to advance yourself. I think you'll find, as I have, that the 18 quickly settles into a comfortable rhythm in all types of paddleable conditions.
I love the primary stability. I can sit on top of my kayak and still launch through small waves. The secondary stability is so positive that I feel like I am learning each time I paddle. It feels like there is a moment when the boat says "okay, here's your chance to recover", a pause when a little hip flick will bring me back up.
This kayak dances over the waves. It feels wonderful even in 5 foot confused seas, and handles it all beautifully. I haven't had the chance to compare it to many other kayaks, mostly because I get in others, and say "not for me" because I can't get a close enough fit.
This boat fits me (5'4" 135 lb woman) perfectly, contact from outside of knee to thigh, to bum. Back band for me is perfect, and about three inches from the coaming. Every movement is translated to the boat. Very intuitive feel. I can do "kayak crunches" with this boat!
The Chatham 18 is amazing. As a beginner, the boat felt unstable but I quickly found the primary stability to be fantastic and not a problem. To my surprise, this long boat turns like a dream just by a bit of edging. Really nice. I was paddling 10 mile trips on average in a large lake and now 15-20 miles feels like the shorter trips. There was a lot of wasted energy paddling the Tsunami as opposed to this boat that really relays your body movements to the boat.
I love it and feel it will be a boat a beginner/intermediate paddler can grow into. Most likely is a good boat for me for another 3-5 years.
P.S. ratchet system is kind of kooky-isn't that off the whitewater boats???
I took the boat to Maine with me on vacation and had a great time with it. It handled 2-foot bay chop and 15mph wind upwind, crosswind and downwind without a problem. I havenít used the skeg since I owned the boat and havenít seen a need yet. I think the skeg is a little flimsy and I donít want to depend on it. However since it has a skeg, I am going to have a machine shop make me one that is a little stiffer just in case. The bow and stern hatches did leak due to water sweeping over the bow and stern.
I donít like leakage especially on a long trip. What I use on all my boats is a silicone grease along the sealing edge of the boat end seal mate. Every boat that I have ever owned had leaky hatches Artic Hawk, Currituck, Montauk, and Epic 18.
If I could make a few recommendations to Necky that would be the following:
The primary stability is solid and the secondary is fantastic, on edge the Chatham 18 spins on a dime... as for turning in wind, it very easy to hold a moderate to extreme edge when sweeping/ bow ruddering to turn upwind and likewise when back paddling to turn down wind.
As for things to modify (you always have to modify a new boat right?). I will have to move the front bulkhead aft about 7" or so-maybe a bit more, lots of wasted space. I got rid of the ratchet system and just attached my back band straps to the slots on the metal stays; I like low tech. and i didn't like having all those straps everywhere .... c'mon necky, what were you thinking, it's a cheesey set up for such a nice boat!! ... also I had to trim the fiberglass that connects to the metal stay (that only took a few minutes) the corner was digging into my leg, the skeg is too thin or too weak or too something because, when deployed, it hums like a bad country western singer. Good thing the boat doesn't seem to need a skeg ... besides the w.s. tempest series who figured this out first, kudos steve if you are reading, somebody else has *finally* put a skeg control recess out of the way of both your knee (inside the hull) and your knuckles on the control side - are you LISTENING NDK and VALLEY????
After I get done with a couple of tours I may take the skeg and skeg box out to gain more aft stowage space. Iíll make a post later this summer after a few trips. Oh yeah the fit of the boat is great. I am 5'9" 205, pretty much built like a tank and I have lots of room. I couldnít believe it to tell you the truth. Despite my quibbles, I gave the boat a 10 because it is a fantastic handling hull. I highly recommend the Chatham 18.
The back band has lumps in it where the bungees hook to it, painful. And the seat held in with velcro? We got to do better then this, guys at 3,199 dollars for a kayak with this? But the design of the kayak hull and deck is the best I ever paddled. Maybe I got a blim? Turns great and tracts great handles winds and heavy chop well, Iím sad but glad this kayak is lean and mean and can do what I want it too. Just this one has some problems, thatís all.
The few times I got onto small surfing waves it was surprising to find it 'settled down' while flying. Most kayaks get kind of 'busy' when the transition to high speed happens on a wave but this one gets 'settled'. The bow develops lift at surfing speeds that you don't discover until moving fast down a wave. "Hmmm,,this was meant to be this way". Hopefully it'll be as satisfying in the ocean as the Chatham16 turned out to be.
The beam measurement doesn't mean much,,it's more stable than you'd think a 20" wide kayak would be. Certainly more comfortable than an Elaho HV.
One aspect that I'm sure is a marketing decision is that the cockpit is big,,the foredeck could be an inch lower. I'm 5'9" with size 11 feet and have a extra inch of foot room with feet oriented straight up,,which makes me think it'll fit folks 6'4" with size 14 feet just fine if they're accustomed to narrow kayaks. I'm happy for you 6'4" paddlers with size 14ft but you're outside the bell curve,,Necky? bring out a lower foredeck boat with a smidge less aft deck por favor. As it is I'm rigging the underside of the foredeck with LOTS of bungie for misc. gear.
Details,,the construction technique is fairly unique, it looks to involve less labor in deck/hull assembly than the average deck/hull construction that uses interior glass tape, it uses an adhesive with no interior/exterior seam tape. It's got a very low resin/glass ratio which would imply a higher strength/weight ratio. I wasn't aware that the interior glass deck/hull flange was a guide and not a structural bonding element so don't worry if it looks like there isn't adhesive between the flange and the hull,,the adhesive is on the exterior flange. I figure if you got something in there it might as well be bonded but the folks at Necky say it's fine. So I'm going to take them at their word and USE it well.
You'll get a kick out of the construction,,shine a flashlight in the compartments and run your hands around the inside,,,different, I'm charmed with it. Messing with kayak building can do that to a person.
Unfortunately you can't get one shipped with the forward bulkhead uninstalled for custom placement but that was fortuitous in my case. I had it shipped without footbraces installed and was considering cutting out the bulkhead then re-installing one further aft with interior mounted Yakimas as there's a LOT of unused volume in the cockpit. In the mean time I've stuffed three big blocks of 3" minicell for footbraces. All these years I've put up with footbraces,,no more,,I might eventually reposition the bulkhead but in the mean time it's nice having a larger footbrace area than just the ball of the feet,,much better.
The glassing around the aft end of skeg box needs to be re-figured as there is one exterior 5" gel coat crack in the hull that came as delivered, I suspect the skeg box provides a rigid point from the flexible hull panel but it doesn't look like a structural issue regarding the hull itself,,more that the gel coat can't bridge the transition. For folks unfamiliar with gel coat it'll be disconcerting,,and most folks spending $3000 will probably make the dealer fix it or send it back but I'm doing so much stuff to it that it's minor. In heavy use your average glass kayak gets stress cracks in the gel coat,,something tells me this kind of construction won't get as many.
When the Perception Sea Lion came out years ago it was THE boat you'd get if you were a beginner who wanted to learn with the bar set a bit higher than a beginners comfort level. The Chatham 18 is kind of like that but with a higher bar for the average customer now that the average customer should know how to brace/roll. Kind of like when an athlete decides to get into cycling and jumps straight to a road bike with skinny hard tires after riding mtn. bike with larger tires and shocks. The Chatham18 has show room leg comfort, predictable handling on the water, it'll force a beginner to learn how to brace and lean but not be so far out there to eliminate the experienced paddler who likes some stability.
There isn't an appreciable weight/cost difference between the glass and carbon/glass version so Necky should market the attraction of the carbon/glass composite better.
More misc. thoughts,,the ratchet back band adjustments are ridiculous,,all that work to make recessed hardware in the coaming to accomodate them,,toss them out. Who adjusts a backband while paddling a 20" wide kayak??? That's like needing tennis shoes that can be retied while running. Makes no sense.
I haven't bought a new composite kayak in 12 yrs and this is worth it so far. I've owned a dozen kayaks, teach sea kayaking.
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