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I collect legendary kayaks. It's not as fast as the Seda Glider or the Epic 18X Sport. But if I'm launching into the surf I'm taking the Chatham. And still keeping pace with the group. What really impressed me was the customer support. Just email them the serial number and they'll send you an MSO (manufacturer's statement of origin, if it hasn't been previously issued) butyl rubber seals for the hatch coaming, or color matched polyethylene to make invisible repairs. All for free. I've done it.
I love the rubber hatch covers. Hatches you can access in seconds with one hand! And if you coat them with Aerospace 303 protectorant they'll last 10 years instead of the normal 5 years.
Unlike the kayaks with rudders, it responds especially well using a West Greenland style wooden paddle. Raise the skeg, lean into the turn a little and make a 90* turn with one stroke. The Necky Chatham has a real advantage over other 17 footers in creeks etc.
If I could only have one kayak it would be the Necky Chatham 17 poly. You can do anything with this boat. Explore creeks, tour, surf or pole it over oyster beds.
The combination of the up swept bow, stern, and rocker provide awesome control in big surf, as well insane water conditions. I also found that the wind has little effect due to the low profile. This boat is by most considered to be too low volume for touring. However, I manage to fit 16 days worth of food in it between resupplies. Another issue that others mention is the weight. There is no question as too why it weighs 63lbs, when you see the heavy duty construction that went into the design of this boat. The weight is a compromise that I accept for the rugged nature of coastal paddling.
The only feature that I am not entirely sold on is the day hatch, that is more of preference though. My other kayaks include Prijon Kodiak and Seayak. I also found that this boat rolls effortlessly, and has a nice stiff combing that works well with my sprayskirt. Soft shine and narrow beam work well also. This is quality boat that has made me believer in the Necky Design team. Would consider using a composite Chatham 17 as well.
Things I've noticed in the two seasons of owning my Chatham:
-It locks in when there is any type of energy on the water, and is easy to trim direction with the skeg. Putting the skeg all the way down, the boat will go down wind\wave almost on its own. The skeg will also trim for quartering, or running parallel to the wind.
-I do use the skeg regularly about a quarter of the way down to keep it moving straight. Takes a lot of edging\corrective strokes for me to paddle it with no skeg, except directly upwind.
-It surfs really well, and loves bumpy conditions.
-It and I love rough water, the boat is confidence inspiring in the rough stuff, it just digs in and goes where you want. The flat bottom and soft chines work well for me.
-I did have to reseal the hatches. Now they are bone dry.
-The boat has stood up well to two years of heavy use, and other than the hatches, I have had no issues with it.
-The boat is no fun in flat conditions, and for me feels slow. Once there is any type of energy in the water, it seems to come alive.
-There aren't many Chathams in the Northeast.
-Its easy to roll, and turns on a dime.
-The super low profile is sweet once conditions pick up, the boat just snakes through the water.
-In high wind (25+) the boat will be obstinate when broadside to the wind, and needs a little coercion to get either up\down wind. The "locking in" characteristics of the boat seem to work against itself a little here, but getting the boat either nosed a little up or down wind, the boats snaps out of it. All that is needed is a little lean and a strong sweep.
-The backband is comfortable, but the adjustment straps do work themselves loose while you are paddling the boat. I haven't tied them in yet, I simply readjust them a few times a day. I suppose I should just tie them in.
-I've never had any problems with the skeg, the Necky wire system is bombproof, at least so far (knocks on wood.)
-I wish it had enough capacity for me to take it on some extended expeditions (2-3 weeks) but I'd need to use a snorkel if I tried packing that much food, or for places like baja, water into it. I did take it on a 5 day trip in Maine, but again I almost needed a snorkel at the beginning of the trip. I was pretty much a torso on the water, waves were washing over the back deck pretty regularly.
All said, I think Chatham 17 is an excellent boats. For me the Chatham 17 excels in rough water\play. I find the Chatham maneuverable.
I'm a big guy (6'2", 210 pounds) and, at 21 inches wide, the Chatham 17 is a fairly narrow boat. Nevertheless, I felt very comfortable in it. I found the thigh bracking particularly well-done, as it enabled me to get a very firm but comfortable grip on the boat. I liked the seat, too.
Being a racer who uses a wing paddle, I prefer an upright paddling posture, and this seat definitely helped me maintain it. I mostly paddled it with the skeg deployed. It tracks very well and feels very stable, even when taking the occasional large wake from passing tug boats. I did not find it at all tippy, but as I am trained to paddle an olympic-sytle K-1 (that most-tippy of boats), mine is perhaps not the most credible endorsement of stability.
Now to the negatives: the Chatham 17 was not nearly as fast of a boat as I was expecting it to be, given its rather slender width. I could maintain a speed, as measured by a GPS odometer, of 5.7 m.p.h. without much trouble, and sprint the boat up to 6.3 m.p.h., but I can reach these speeds in almost any 17+ foot boat.
Two other negatives are noteworthy: I consider any boat that weighs more than 50 pounds to be a chiropractor's dream, and this one comes in at 63; and I dislike stiff rubber deck hatches, like the ones on the Chatham 17, for they are extremely hard to close with cold, wet hands.
For the boating considerations, the deciding factor was the cockpit, it's feel, features, etc. The sliding thigh braces are easy to adjust, comfortable and very funtional for bracing, rolls, leans, etc. I added a 1/2" pad to each due to my tendancy toward aggresive paddling. I also glued hip pads carved from minicel foam directly to the alumimum seat cradle. A final addition of 1/4" minicel to the top of the seat and all is well. The adjustable back band has been another surprise. Enough support for the long haul and yet flexible enough to allow back deck rolls and static braces. The adjusment loops are plastic, eliminating the rust-out of the previous not-so-stainless buckles in Necky boats. The only draw back is they slip a tiny bit from time to time if you put alot of pressure on them. That is easily compensated for with a quick pull adjustment, however.
The greatest aspect to the Chatham 17 is what some would percieve as a compromise when trying to find the "one" boat. 16 foot boats are great for surf, rock gardens and quick maneuvres but too slow on longer trips. 18 foot boats track on rails and glide efficiently but precarious in tight quarters where quick moves are necessary. One might think the 17 would bridge this gap but lack a little on both speed and maneuverabilty. To the contrary, I've found the 17 to be almost as spry as the 16, particularly in fast current, wind waves, swell and surf zones. It carves a little slower (and I do mean little, as in barely) than the 16 but is extremely comfortable and stable when held on edge. Windage is almost non-existant due to the low decks. I've had it out in winds up to 25 knots (supposedly, but it felt like less) and it surfed like a champ. Push hard enough down the face of a four footer and you can bury the bow enough to force an open water pitch-pole! The speed factor is hardly noticable as the main drawback to such a compromise. It has good glide but tends to plow a bit getting up to it. Again, this isn't really a draw back as it is minimal, especially if you aren't planning on racing the boat. Overall, the performance is everything I hoped it would be and then some. Still finding out what it's capable of.
On the durability side the boat is solid. The boat responds well to impacts in rock gardens as well. Have had to repair the gelcoat a few times but the glass has remained solid.
If I had to make a complaint it would be the hatches leaking a bit after playing in the surf or big water all day, but that should be expected. However, in flat water (even after a couple of rolls) they will stay bone dry.
Bottom line, I love this boat.
Considering the general rule of thumb about narrowness of beam and instability, we thought we'd be more comfortable in a wider beam boat. After "trying on" many boats, we both tended to like a snug cockpit that made us feel more attached to the kayak. There is a lot of science and engineering that goes into designing and building a kayak, but we're of the opinion that you buy one because of the way it feels. Specs become secondary, paddling reveals all. That, and a lot of patient advice from the very nice folks at Alder Creek Kayak.
To make a 6 week long story short, we both found that we liked the Necky line. We concentrated a bit more time on their longer sea kayak models in poly (Elaho, Chatham 16, Chatham 17). Conclusion: we both loved the Chatham 17. Surprisingly, it's probably the narrowest beamed boat we paddled but it felt completely stable. The cockpit is also very snug while the foot pegs are long enough to accommodate my 6'2" frame.
So we've been taking more lessons and paddling lakes and rivers nearly weekend since April. We've had no buyer's remorse. The Chatham 17's respond to every new skill we acquire and have been a delight. They can track well without the skeg and edge better than anything else we tried. They are a great compromise between kayak designs that are meant to go straight as an arrow and those that can turn but can't track. We've found windage to be minimal...it's not a high volume boat and is pretty low slung (though it can handle large wake on the Willamette and Columbia without a problem). Drop the skeg and you can handle a windy day on Vancouver Lake.
We love our Chatham 17's. Would recommend that you try one if your criteria for a boat are similar to ours.
I found the thigh braces just got in my way and I just removed them from day 1 and it worked a lot better for entry and exit. A smaller person might want to keep them though. I also was not keen on the rear bungy straps as that's where I like to strap in my PFD on calm waters and the way they have it makes it very difficult to do so. I found the skeg worked well but did not slide too easily so will try and lube it up. You tend to not need it much other than in windy conditions though. And speaking of wind, I also found it weathercocked in the wind.
Maybe in time I'll get better acquainted with my new boat and that won't happen though. That's all I can think about for now. Oh, and my 240 cm paddle is now too long for the much narrower boat so I have to go get a 220 or a 230cm.
Cruising: This boat has a lot of wetted surface, so theoretically it has a pretty good top speed…but you’ll find yourself needing to increase your strokes to achieve it! At an all day, touring cadence, this boat feels efficient (it won’t tire you out) but it’s not particularly fast. Pick up the pace, however, and the boat is more than adequate in the speed department. It has decent glide, requires little effort, yet by no means is it a speed demon. It is significantly faster than its cousin, the Chatham 16. If all you want to do is go fast, there are certainly better boats out there. Personally, I found that having good stability + good tracking + decent speed leaves me feeling less tired at the end of the day than if I paddled a boat requiring constant correction or lots of bracing.
Tracking: I was told by someone at Necky that the 17 has the strongest tracking of the Chatham family, including the 18. It’s pretty tight steering. Good cockpit fit is essential in this boat because you’ll find yourself using a lot of hip for turning. It’s relatively easy to make gentle micro-corrections while paddling. Folks coming from loose-steering boats or who rely extensively on rudders will need to take some time to get comfortable on this front. Because of the solid tracking, I find that I use the skeg very little. At the end of the day, I’d be willing to sacrifice some of the Chatham 17’s tracking for a boat that’s a little more responsive/has a more delicate feel.
Stability: Very strong primary stability, especially given the narrow beam. Secondary is very good. I’ve had beginner paddlers in this boat and they’ve felt completely at ease in it. Plenty of stability for doing things like popping your skirt to grab something below deck, taking a photo, etc. The boat it feels lively edge to edge, it’s fun, yet it’s predictable and controllable.
Surfing: This boat is easily fast enough for catching swells. And the boat surfs well…it’s a blast. But if surfing is your focus, consider the Chatham 16 instead. The additional rocker will make carving way more dynamic.
Rolling: It can’t get much easier than rolling a Chatham 17. The low stern deck makes it easy to lie back, and the boat comes around quickly. This is a British-inspired design, meaning that it roughly approximates Greenlandic designs, most of which are stellar rollers.
Ride and weathercocking: Weathercocking is *very* minimal and well within any reasonable paddler’s tolerance…in the wind, this boat’s low profile is a tremendous asset. The bow had good volume for resurfacing, and generally stays above the waves. The deck doesn’t throw up spray in most cases and it sheds water quickly. All in all, a dry ride. It’s smooth in chop—rather than smacking down, it settles into the troughs. The 17 is a predictable performer. I’d describe everything as a bit dampened (bear with me here…) no movement is sudden or snappy—the secondary stability as you brace is pretty constant, turning describes a gradual arc, the boat gets up to speed in a few moments and once there, will glide well. There are no sudden surprises. In my opinion, this makes the boat a clear favorite in rough water—you simply know what it’s going to do. It’s very solid in confused water. Yet predictable doesn’t mean boring. With proper outfitting, the fit is snug and you feel connected to the boat and the water.
Fit/finish: Necky is known for their quality construction, and this boat certainly adheres to high quality standards. I had a small problem with the skeg, and Necky’s customer service was top notch about resolving it. I happen to like the looks and I think the deck layout is functional. The dayhatch is handy. Hatches are watertight and the compartments stay dry. I wish there was a bit of space behind the seat to store a camelback.
Cockpit and seat: The large cockpit is comfortable and secure. Necky’s thigh hooks are fully adjustable and give excellent support during rolling and bracing. Necky’s ’06 seat is the best non-custom seat I’ve used…it alleviates nearly all the lower back and leg pain I’ve experienced with other commercial seats. The ratcheting backband is incredibly comfortable and supportive, but doesn’t hinder rolling. There is a problem with the ratchets rusting up, but Necky has since engineered a replacement part. The hip pads are somewhat ridiculous—I ended up throwing them away and getting an aftermarket product. I have a 34” waist the pads that came with boat gave me a loose, sloppy fit. There’s plenty of room for my size 11 1/2 feet.
Final word: This boat is a great all-arounder. I’d recommend this boat to anyone looking for an RM day-tripper that excels in a wide variety of conditions. Consider the Chatham if you’re looking for an all-in-one day-tripper, rough-water boat, and occasional weekender. The Chatham truly shines in chop and rough stuff, tracks incredibly well, and had acceptable speed. There isn’t a ton of volume for packing a lot of gear, but it’s adequate for go-light camping. And in exchange for that lack of volume, you gain better performance and better feel. If I could change anything, it’d be to loosen up the steering a bit. I give it an 8 out of 10, which I consider high marks.
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