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I paddled a 16 ft plastic Chatham for 2 years, and loved it's handling, surfing abilities and confidence-inspiring stability, and it turns on a dime! But it is SLOOOOOOW! And heavy in plastic, it was time to reconsider. Like many marriages, I fell in love with her beauty, but the relationship has deepened as we have gotten familiar with each other.
My first paddle with the boat was in Northern California's Pillar Point, in 18 mph winds and 3-4 foot following seas. I was initially wondering if I should even be out there,given my skill set at the time. Boy, did I realize right away I had made a good choice. This boat is rock solid in a following sea, only breaking waves at the beach will make it broach. I never felt out of control, even as speed rapidly increased on the wind wave's face.Beach surfing is a bit different, it is a long boat and I find it hard to pull out of a broach as compared to the 16 ft Chatham, which is a legendary surfer. But I find with good torso rotation and a wing paddle I can keep 4.5 to 5mph going for hours. I was able in a time trial to average 6 mph over a two mile sprint. Not bad for a British-style skeg boat!
It is not as instantly maneuverable as the 16, but with an honest edge I can still 360 in about 4 strokes. Stability is fantastic for a 20" beam, and the cockpit is very nicely outfitted, much cleaner than my old plastic 16. I have had no issues with the hatches, they let in a little bit after a day in the spray, but not enough to care about, they wipe dry after paddling with a towel. Curved bulkheads help the hatch capacity, but this is definitely a low volume boat.
All in all, IMHO, the perfect cross between a mileage maker and a play boat, and absolutely ideal for the wide variety of conditions that are found in the San Francisco Bay, which is my boat's primary place to be enjoyed. A day Cruiser par excellence! Get this boat, a cheap plastic Looksha Sport for the rocks and coast, and a Seda Swift for packing with gear, and you will have every boat you will ever need,although the answer to the question"How many boats should you own?" is always the same, "Just one more!" Happy Paddling!
I have to admit that I was a bit worried about space after popping the hatches and looking inside. Although it is a good bit longer than my CLC Chesapeake 16, there is less apparent volume/length owing to the lower profile deck, narrowness, and skeg box in the rear hold. Nonetheless, I packed everything I needed for a 5 day voyage and had room to spare (not much, but I probably could have geared up for 8 or maybe even 9 days if I needed to). Note that I do not pack my tent or sleeping bag in their own dry bags. This takes up way too much space IMO. Instead, I cram those types of items up into the bow and stern stems. As I was camping on Gulf of Mexico Islands (Horn, E and W Ship, Cat), I did not even use the sleeping bag, but had I been somewhere colder, I probably would have put that in its own dry bag. However, I had full faith in the gold standard Valley hatches and have found them empirically to keep the compartments bone dry. Of course, on an outing such as this, I was not rolling or playing around in the surf, but have on other occasions and never found any leakage.
All the way around, the outfitting on the boat is very good. I believe that Necky is a component of Johnson Marine, so one would think that they are not feeling their way along as they go...and one would be right. They know their s@#t. I really appreciate the day hatch. It is plenty roomy, perhaps excessively so as I found that I packed all I needed for a day trip and used the remaining space for other items that could have gone into either the rear or forwards hatch. I am 5'6" and found also that their was room in the cockpit, ahead of the footpegs, for more items.
The boat has rock solid primary stability. It is not at all tipsy. I find (@190 lbs) that I can't get too far into a lean to explore the secondary stability, because the boat just doesn't want to go over that much. I can push it, but it feels to me that the zone of secondary stability is somewhat narrow and when I really push it into a heavy lean, I either push it too far and go over, beyond the last stability point (where I can remain upright only with a brace) or just have to be very careful to not go beyond that point. To me, it just seems hard to stay balanced when near the tipping point. You have to use a lot of force to get it to that point, and then you are in danger of going over. Their website suggests that the boat does very well with leaning and edging and so on, so demo it for yourself and see what you think.
The boat is reasonably quick - quicker I believe than my Chesapeake, but not a speed demon. My GPS indicates a sustained touring pace of 4 mph (3.47 knots). I demo'd this boat together with a Wilderness Systems Tempest and a Seda Ikkuma and found it to be slightly faster than both. I haven't had it out in howling wind, but have been out in moderate winds and found that it tracks very well. In fact, with the skeg all the way down, I have found that it can lee-cock.
I've already mentioned the ample room of the cockpit. Combined with the excellent primary stability, this allows me pretty much lay down in the cockpit, with my head rested on my folded up PFD which I place on the aft-deck during a late afternoon coffee stop) and sip coffee for an hour or so, gently bobbing with the waves.
So in short...quality craftsmanship, very solid primary stability, hard to explore secondary stability, moderately fast, excellent tracking, ample storage for the conscientious, disciplined packer, lightweight (but if you look at the YouTube video, it can clearly take a lot of abuse), and it also looks nice IMO. This is almost the perfect boat for what I do, given that I can afford only one boat.
First let me give you some background which will add a little context to the review. I am 6'1", 225 LBS, 40 in waist, 32" inseam and size 11 shoe. I am new to this sport and not tremendously comfortable on or in the water. I went to a demo day, tried and retried several boats. Gave my list of things I wanted to each company's rep: Flat water: lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, some protected coastal waters on Cape Cod, stability* important, and it needs to look sharp. Prior to the Demo day I had done as much research as possible without paddling. The Chatham 17 was not even on the radar at Demo day because I was told it was too advanced of a boat for me by everyone at Demo day and even Necky’s YouTube videos lead you to believe the boat is for a more advance paddler. What was "recommended" were: the CD Vision 150, Necky’s Manitou 14, Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140, the Eddyline Journey and the Hurricane Tampico 140 L. I loved the way the Vision 150 felt but I hated the lack of color choices. I loved the stability and comfort of Wilderness Tsunami 140 but hated that Poly look (demo boats always make me think "This is what my boat is going to look like in a year"). I like the stability and comfort of the Eddyline Journey but I was not convinced on the longevity or reparability of Thermoform. The Manitou 14 was ok, but I liked the CD vision better.
Demo day came and went with no decision made, enter Boat store sales crew. The CD Gulfstream came highly recommended; it had the colors choices, was FG and fit me. I spent about 4 hours in this boat and found that I didn't like its stability*. The Tsunami 175 Pro was great; has all that Wilderness Systems comfort stuff, seat adjustable foot pedals from within cockpit; but only 3 color choice and none were what I wanted. But I didn’t rule it out completely.
4 weeks go by since demo day and I'm driving my boat store staff absolutely crazy by trying boat after boat and not being able to make a decision. My mind and eye keeps coming back to Necky boats in the store probably due to the fact that I think their web site is excellent, their YouTube videos are helpful if not entertaining, the boats just looks stunning for the price and their color choices are superb. But this is where it gets interesting. So far my store has steered me away from the longer Necky boats. So I go to another store and try a Necky Looksha 17 (staying away from Chatham because it's too advanced remember). We’re getting warmer, stability was good, not great. But I now have a 4 hour private lesson under my belt and about 10 more hours of rentals. I strike up a conversation with a guy fixing boats at this "other" store. I tell him about all the above and could he tell me about reliability, as I wonder what he see for repairs on a daily basis. This is where the Wilderness Tsunami gets ruled out, the "comfort features and moving parts", seat, foot pedal adjustments, etc., break often. He's got 5 boats out to repair and three of them are Wilderness Systems. That's all I need to know. While we are talking I see a real tall guy, he must be 6'4" get out of a Chatham 17 after trying it; so much for being too small for tall people. So I ask the repair guy what he thinks about a Chatham for me? He lights up and says he has a Chatham 16 and he wouldn't part with it, it's great for surfing, it's the best boat etc. etc. I have to remind him that we're talking about for me a newbie. He says, rent it for an hour and see if you like it. But what about stability* I ask. And here is the asterisk explanation for stability. His response to this question is the best I have heard or read to date about stability and matches my feeling to date on the topic exactly.
"The definition of stability has more to do with the person in the boat AND the boat than the boat itself. Both initial stability and secondary stability are going to depend on the experience level of the person in the boat, the weight and height of the person in the boat added to the specs (length and width, chine, rocker etc. ) and capacity of the boat. In other words what is stable for me may be unstable for you, initial or secondary. Get in and see how it feels to you."
I was in it 10 minutes and I knew. The Chatham 17 just feels comfortable on me. The deck is not too high, I like a snug cockpit, like the Vision 150 was on me. It's snug but not tight. It's a skeg boat; no rudder debate here. It moves through the water with ease and tracks great and maneuvers fantastic for such a long boat. The Necky Hulls are great for beginners I think. AND IT'S A BEAUTIFUL BOAT. I got the Mango, which I hear they are no longer making for 2009. Good. It will be like my red Vermont Castings wood stove: a classic.
As I said earlier I was impressed by those Necky YouTube videos seeing a hammer hit the hull without any damage. That's the boat for me I thought. Unfortunately, I would have to say something is wrong there because I have a real reason to NOT believe what is presented in that video. My boat fell off my car while I was unloading it and the bow hit the pavement. There was a 7 inch crack in the gel coat along the keel of the hull and 4 inch square damage to the layup near the left foot pedal anchors probably other damage as well. I took it out on a lake for a few hours and there was water in all the hatches. Not a lot, but they are supposed to be air tight. The bow hatch I could understand because of the gel coat crack was right underneath (within) the bow hatch. But there was no visible damage to the other areas. So needless to say I am worried as my baby is in the hospital now being repaired. My store was nice enough to lend me a poly Chatham 16 and yes I fit in that as well. I can't figure why I was kept away from these boats from my other store.
LESSON: Try everything even when the sales guy says not to. Do your own research and critiquing.
I can paddle this boat for 4 hours straight and not be sore anywhere when I get out of it, it is that comfortable and fits that well AND I consider myself quite out of shape and just starting as a paddler. It can only get easier. I think the 16 is a little smaller than 17 for me capacity and cockpit wise but it is just as much fun as the 17.
So how did I end up buying a 17’ boat when I was looking for something smaller for flat water you ask? I asked myself that question a hundred times. The best answer came from the owner of the first boat store, "You can always paddle your boat down but you can't paddle it up. If you want to grow into a boat and not rule out surfing or touring at some point, you don’t want a small boat. A 17' boat will be fine on flat water, a 14' foot boat will not be fine touring on open water."
The fine folks at the KayakCentre in Wickford Rhode Island are the very best. The fine folks at Charles River Canoe and Kayak in Newton are a close second.
In all my years of paddling I have never seen such a fine job of laying out the cloth in such a manner that it appears to be one piece of material with no seems. Oh yes, I got a clear coat black carbon boat. Looking like a dream is only the start because it paddles even better than it looks, if that were possible. I have been paddling the Chatam now for around 8 months and love the solid feel the edging and the great glide.
The Chatam handles waves and chop without a problem. The Chatam just feels right either moving or sitting the boat feels solid and like it is much wider than it's specs. The only thing I changed on my boat was adding a slightly wider back band. The factory back band was good but my new band is a little wider with a little addition support. Seat and thigh braces are very comfortable. Hatches are very dry and very easy to get in and out of. The curved bulkheads and smooth inside finish for places where your feet and legs touch make this boat even better. It also has a large cockpit which makes entry and exit very easy. Foot room is also excellent for my size 12 feet. So my rating is 10, 10, 10. Yes it is that good.
I've had the 17 in the ocean about six times now and while this summer has not produced some of the rougher waters I'm used to in the fall, impressions can be nevertheless made: Encountering large forward swell, the 17 keeps more boat in the water and plops rather than crashes into the troughs. Side swells or even wakes or chop are hardly even noticed by this paddler, no nervous twitching and leaning and anticipatory bracing. Following seas require a little bit of skeg to avoid needing to correct the boat as it surges down the waves. I haven't actually beach surfed this boat yet, but that is perhaps another area where the 16 is superior. The 16 perhaps because of its large amount of rocker was always neutral in following seas. Lastly, while the skeg had its use during following or a combination of following and quartering seas, it was totally unnecessary for wind. Simply put the 17 does not weathercock.
Oh yes, typical excellent Necky finish and fit, hatches were dry. While I loved the 16, it was definitely a playboat. The 17 is closer to answering the perennial question, "If I could only own one boat, which would it be? The Chatham 17 comes perilously close.
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