I tried the Necky Looksha Sport yesterday. I paddled it for two hours, 18.5 km down the Bow River in Calgary, Alberta, from Bowness to the Zoo.
While reading this review, keep in mind that there were a couple of issues with the particular boat I paddled that make me wonder whether the characteristics I observed would be present in other samples of this design. In particular, there was a large concave dent in the hull just forward of the seat (it was the entire width of the flat portion of the hull, and just as long), probably from the boat being tied too hard to a rack, and... one rudder cable was broken. Since the rudder pedals slide on tracks, without the tension provided by the cable, I had no foot brace on one side. I either had to spread my knees and push my feet together to try to brace, or just sit straight-legged. I tried boiling water to pop out the dent, but no go. I nearly took the boat back, but it was getting late and I thought I'd just make the best of it. Besides, it was drizzling and about 8įC, and I didn't want to spend any more time in the rain. (As it turned out, soon after I started paddling, the rain stopped and the sun came out, and I was alone on the river. Sweet!).
Having said that, I was still able to control the boat without using the rudder. The hull shape is a very shallow V (i.e. nearly flat), with hard chines. The primary stability is quite weak, and the boat will easily roll 10-20 degrees on either side. That's a little disconcerting when you first get in the boat. A slight mis-paddle gets the boat leaning over and you feel like it might continue all the way over. However, secondary stability is quite good. I later tried big leans in a sheltered bond, and I could lean the boat more than 30 degrees ( i.e. water almost up to the edge of the cockpit) without it wanting to tip over.
True to the Sport name, this boat is quite maneuverable. It appears to have a slight bit of rocker, and this gives rise to a complex behaviour. While paddling with speed, you can correct course heading (or maintain course heading) by counter leaning - i.e. lean left to move the nose to the right. However, if you hold the paddle in the water a little too long, or use the paddle to slow down while leaning to one side (say to the right), the boat will rapidly spin around in the direction it's leaning (say, to the right), almost on its own axis. A few times I felt as though the current were pushing the tail around, and it was impossible to stop the spin with a bow sweep. Instead, I had to use a rear pry to maintain a heading. Of course, being unable to use full bracing, I was unable to put as much torque into the hull as a I wanted, which may have had an impact. Also, the big "scoop" just forward of the seat may also have contributed to the directional instability. I know it probably slowed me down a bit.
The maneuverability came in handy a few times when I passed a bridge abutment, then quickly pivoted and tucked around into the downstream eddy. The boat felt much shorter than its 14'4" at that point. The boat also seems quite fast, probably due to its narrow beam (23"), and the few times that I turned back upriver (or was involuntarily turned :-) I was able to move upstream with a few good hard strokes.
The boat doesn't have discrete knee braces, but instead has a padded area to the underside of the top deck. This is probably fine for the intended purpose of the boat. I was told by the retailer that it's possible to retrofit gas-pedal style rudder pedals if desired. That might be preferable in rough water where you want to be solidly braced while still being able to use the rudder.
The seat is quite good. The seat pan is well padded, and the seat back is adjustable while on the water. There's a ratcheting type mechanism on each side of the forward cockpit so you can tighten one side more than the other if you wish (good for asymmetrical people? or crosswinds?). The cockpit opening is not very large (31" x 17"), which is good for bracing, and rolling (a small spray-skirt has more chance of staying in place underwater), but not too comforting for beginners (not the target market for this boat anyway).
I like the neoprene hatch covers, which slip on easily. Putting a knee on one end while you pull on the other with two hands makes it easy to slip them in place (thanks for the tip, Dave!). The hatch covers are protected by a fiberglass lid held in place by two straps.
One last point, the boat is a little heavy (58 lb) for self-loading onto the roof of a car, but any other poly sea kayak would likely be even heavier.
Here's what one retailer (Atlantic Kayak Tours) has to say about the Looksha Sport:
"The Looksha double chined design gives this kayak good edging abilities. The Looksha Sport is a big step up from the Zoar Sport in performance, and it has more flotation which allows for easier self rescues. The Looksha Sport falls solidly in the Kayak Touring range; well above a Rec Boat, but not a sea kayak. We prefer the hatch system on the Necky Chatham series of kayaks, but this system works fine. The cockpit and seat allow for larger paddlers. Smaller paddlers will need to foam out the sides, but most boats need foaming for a custom fit. We recommend that decklines be added, which is not difficult. The Looksha Sport has a high rigid seat back which we don't like as it impedes body rotation and laying back."
After Aquabatics repairs the boat, I'll take it for another spin (no pun intended) as it seems to be quite a versatile boat.
To all the reviewers who complain that this boat doesn't track well, I'd say that they may not have the paddling skills to be in the target market. I had no problem maintaining a relatively straight line through class 1 rapids and 30 cm waves. And that was without a rudder or being solidly braced. In flat water sections I was able to maintain a straight heading at even low speeds unless I got too slow or a little uneven in my stroke, and then the boat wanted to turn, as I've described earlier.
I'm rating this boat 7/10 which I consider fairly good. I see far too many 9/10 and 10/10 from reviewers who admit they've never paddled more than one boat.
Strengths: maneuverability (especially for its size), secondary stability, playfulness, seat adjustment, hatch covers.
Weakenesses: sliding rudder pedals (gas-pedal style would be better considering the intended market), heavy weight.