I have a late 2008 Model and it seems all the issues mentioned in the earlier reviews were taken care of: the Hatch rims are bolted into the the boat, there is a thin layer of mini cell foam under the seat which prevents the scuffing with the Hull, The rudder is a reliable TrackMaster.
I am 6 feet 215 lbs and it fits me great. The seat is a perfect match to my behind and it's built so there's no need for a back band. I have an Epic V8 to compare it to and it is slightly less stable and probably feels like the 18X stability wise. The boat is a very fast round chine with a definitive v shaped Hull. My 36 lbs CK layup is amazingly light and fun to paddle with room in the Hatches for a lot of Gear.
I would give it a 9 if it had a day hatch and 10 if it also had the flat bottomed hull of the 18x sport/v8 which would give me a little more primary stability.I rate this boat a 9 as a matter of principle. I don't give 10's. Something may come up. You never know. Having said that, after 30 years of paddling everything that would float from strip built cedar to early glass to the first roto-molded boats and to Kevlar and carbon, I am suddenly feeling like a kid with a new toy again.
The feeling first overcame me surfing 3 foot rollers in 25mph winds down the Carquinez Straits of the SF Bay Area. I just wanted to shout "Yahoo." I had just sold my Epic 18X Ultra after 20 months of a love-hate relationship and it was so nice to just have an uncomplicated "love." It wasn't that the Epic wasn't a good boat. It just never fit me right and so I never paddled it right. At 145 pounds I just never got enough of it in the water. I often felt like a cork on the sea when the wind and waves rose. No more. Not with the Nemo.
I also had some problems with the 18X Ultra. It delaminated badly between the Kevlar and Nomex core 11 months into my ownership. Epic was great about this. My dealer, California Canoe and Kayak, contacted Greg Barton one day and he approved an out of stock immediate replacement the next day. I couldn't have asked for better service. But then I've had a problem with the Nemo too. The rudder spindle shaft threads stripped off the rudder housing block. Well, same story there. I sent Gray Bourne an email one day and the next he shipped a replacement upgraded to his 2009 standards.
The moral of the story is that all kayaks have problems. No two come off the line the same. What you really want is a dealer and manufacturer who will work with you. I'm sure there is the occasional "horror" story for anyone in the retail industry. I found both companies to be very reasonable in standing behind their products.
I never got used to the seat in the Epic. I replaced it with a K-1 seat which was easy to retrofit with a standard carbon platform mounted to the Epic seat rail with some added shims. I liked it so much I thought I would do the same when I got the Nemo but I didn't need to as a I can rotate to my hearts content in the Nemo's stock seat.
The accessories (like deck lines, handles and such) are not as nice on my early 2008 vintage Epic boat as those on the Nemo. The Epic gear is easily replaced but it would be nice if newer models had better materials to begin with. Maybe they now do.
Speed? They both have it. At any given heart rate over the same flat course I would race myself to a dead heat. I'd win in the Nemo if the conditions were rough. Again, I believe this because of my size and the better fit the Nemo offers me.
How fast? In a race with dozens of kayaks and skis last weekend I was the first kayak in and just behind the second to the winning pod of skis. It was really fun to dog the skis in a sea kayak even if I couldn't beat the very best of them because I could turn right around and load the Nemo with a week's worth of gear and head up the coast. They couldn't...This review will be a bit longer than many because I feel it important to give a detailed report that can realistically help the next kayaking community buyer. At best, it is bittersweet to give a less-than-perfect score to a boat one owns. For no other reason, it can directly affect the potential resale value of one’s own investment! But I know how much I would appreciate good input when trying so hard to get the right model and so have finally decided to “come forth” and recount my experience. I think it’s also important to add that this report is not vindictive or a way to find a platform to whine about a manufacturer. It is given out of my own busy schedule, against the value of my own possession, to just add good support to the continuous search for excellence in the kayaking family. I am a keen supporter of the kayaking manufacturers who work hard to provide great products, often with very thin margins of profit. It is never a good thing to damper that faith. If any part of my critique is later worth modifying because of manufacturer response and improvements, I am the first to welcome it and support them!
First, to give some credence, I have owned and paddled a Kayakpro Marlin (Nemo) for a year and a half and put in many miles (hundreds) in varying conditions. I also own a QCC as well as a Fenn Mako 6. Previous kayaks include several years with the comparable Epic Endurance Ultra as well as a different Kayakpro model, the Jet, a good K1-style trainer for smaller paddlers (I am 6'1", 180 lbs and did not really fit the boat). I have paddled quite a few other models in these categories as well.
The Marlin (which is also the Nemo with a bit larger cockpit area) is lined up to compare with fast "sea kayaks", good primarily for training and racing but can also be used for some touring. Other popular boats in the U.S. that fall in this category are the Epic Endurance, Seda Glider, QCC 700X, Current Designs Stratus (Freedom)… I believe all these models are pretty close in speed, capable of winning the same race with the same paddler, and the Marlin is built to do the same. On a speed scale of 1 – 10, the Marlin would fall on the upper range. It is a fast 18 ft. composite kayak. It has a very sharp bow, open cockpit for paddling in the K1-style position as well as good rotation. And, along with the Freedom, comes in as probably the lightest of the group by perhaps a pound or so.
Now the downsides. On quality construction and durability, the QCC would probably rank highest, then the Glider, the Endurance, the Stratus, and finally at the bottom, the Marlin. I believe the Marlin is, in fact, a potential safety hazard in all but the most benign conditions. Here are the reasons why I would choose differently in purchasing my boat today. Here is a summary of my experience, from placing my order to present:
Finally, I must say that even though I was a repeat customer of Kayakpro, as well as a number of the accessories and other products, the Marlin reached a point of “dead end”. I realized the boat could not be “fixed” and, however gracious or courteous a response, the real issues were ultimately lost in empty apologies and any further commitment to delivering the boat that was marketed. This boat was expensive and sold as a higher-end elite model. And shipping costs are not included in quoted price. If I had to do it all over again, I’d be paddling one of the other boats mentioned earlier in this critique. At least from QCC and Epic, I have personal experience and ownership that can vouch for them. And close paddling friends who loyally swear by the Seda and Current Designs brands.I've had my KayakPro Marlin for about six months now, so I figured I had enough mileage on it to do a review.
- The boats are built in "lots", in a Chinese factory, then shipped together in a container to the U.S. When ordering, count on a 4-6 month wait period. Expect delays of as much as an additional 4 months (both Jet and Marlin experience) from originally promised date of delivery.
- Marlin delivery date was changed 3 times and then finally arrived the day before a big race. However, it arrived with a broken-off piece of the combing area, like a “shark bite” off of one side. I called the company and was assured they would replace it (which they did 6 months later). Granted, it was still O.K. to paddle. I applied duct tape to cover the breakage and try to prevent further troubles. Took it out that same evening to adjust it for the race and … the steering cable snapped, leaving the rudder useless, dangling and dragging against the boat. This was a bad omen… Paddled it anyway, even though hatches chronically leaked…
- Replacement boat arrived 2.5 months later than date given. Cable (yes, the same one) snapped off first time out. Repaired and rebuilt cable connections. In my opinion, for a "sea kayak" the whole cable system design is a problem waiting to happen. Too much detail to go into here.
- This point isn’t regarding a factory defect but rather a design issue. The Marlin and Nemo come with a non-retractable rudder. In my opinion, this is an important issue. There are many scenarios where having to deploy a rudder manually is tough and, depending on skills, unacceptable, such as launching off rocky coastlines, strong surf or quick depth drops. But more crucial is the inability to retract a rudder in certain conditions. An immediate example is in the case of a cable snap (something that has happened several times in my case). Once the cable snaps, the rudder flops and cuts angles in the water. It then becomes a handicap and even a real danger, especially in strong surf, rock gardens, tidal or weather situations, or long distances from shore. I don’t think this boat should be touted as a "sea kayak" and compared in ads to the Explorer or Romany. Especially not without a more secure sea steering system.
- Also immediately discovered that the hatches leak straight through, like the previous model. Company apologizes by phone and gives instructions on how to repair them, recommending it be done by an experienced boat repair business.
Note: Kayakpro did offer to cover any repair expenses. I paid for the repairs and they discounted it off my boat’s final payment price. Apparently this was a problem in the whole production line series of my model. Apart from all the obvious trouble, what was particularly concerning was that it happened with two different boats from two different “lots”. Even with top grade repair work, the back hatch still somehow seeps in a small amount of water.
- Wider, larger Marlin seat (as opposed to Nemo) does not fit the contour of the boat bottom and so bends and creaks from side to side. Had to apply permanent thick layer of compressed foam on both sides to stabilize. Company acknowledged this was "an issue" but offer no clues as to remodeling.
- After a few outings, discovered that the footboard hinges are beginning to twist and bend. Upon wrestling and adjusting, conclude that the footboard design is flawed in several ways. First, it was designed with cheap quality piano hinges, too small to cover the footboard width properly, thus bending with foot pressure and cable counter-pressure. I eventually replaced these hinges with much thicker, larger ones. The hinges need to be marine grade and cover the entire width of footboard.
The whole footboard assembly is difficult to adjust. I discovered that, although the Marlin was touted for larger paddlers, you could not push the assembly far into the hull for a longer paddler (I am "tall" but not long-legged)! The footboard would scrape on the inside hull after a certain point. I sawed the extreme upper corners off the footboard in order to get it to fit farther. Next is the bungee cord-based "gas peddle" system. The whole design makes it unnecessarily complicated to modify for different paddlers. Not to bore with details and remedies, it should have the bungee reverse tension set directly on the retractable footboard assembly, not around an anchored screw at the front of the boat hull. This would eliminate having to go through the huge gymnastics of undoing that cord way down there every time there is a change of footboard position (say for a different paddler). This would also keep the bungee tension the same all the time, not tighter or looser with the change of the footboard. I ended up modifying my model with a marine pulley so as to make it a little less cumbersome and significantly more fluid.
Finally, in concluding the cable steering system, the snapped cables are a big concern and other paddlers have also mentioned it. The weak link has to do with some basically-useless micro adjustment knobs. They look good on paper and are fine for a K1 sprint model boat but completely unnecessary for a real sea kayak. In fact, they only serve to cause additional weak links in the cable line. The cable can be adjusted just fine by unscrewing the cable ties at the rudder just like 99% of all other sea kayaks.
- The cables started to rust out! And I haven’t even paddled the boat in salt water. Even though the cables are plastic coated, the rust has developed underneath and will have to be replaced. I mentioned this to Kayakpro and only got a “how surprising” response. They could not assure me of any replacements....
- After a few months of paddling, the boat surface layer began to crack and peel. At first it was only one small area (unrelated to a potentially vulnerable area such paddle or other surface contacts). I eventually had a boat repair shop grind, patch, buff and paint the section. Kayakpro acknowledged that this had “happened to some other boats as well”. They discounted these additional repairs from the final payment I never had to make.
- A month afterward, discovered a new bit of peeling / cracking on boat surface, in a new area, unrelated to the first one. They appear as "cracked egg" surface hairs, then the peeling and flaking progresses. More repairs, more expense (ever seen hourly cost of boat repairs?). The repairs have now eaten up what Kayakpro discounted from my original purchase payment. And I am waiting for the next surface “bubble” peel to appear…
- The ENTIRE combing around cockpit is now breaking off (!). I have duct taped it underneath to just hold it until I bite the bullet and have it properly repaired and reinforced. To use the boat, I am no longer handling it from any outer combing points and I do not allow my body to even lightly press it as I descend into the cockpit. And I never abused it, hardly used it, and certainly never gave it a proper working out such as re-entries or loading issues. Like the first defective model’s combing, it is simply too thin and lacks proper robust strength for what it is made to do. The real issue here is that the whole boat, in order to keep the weight down so low, was built with too thin a layer of gelcoat. Thus easy breakage, peeling skin, etc. The integrity of the boat was compromised from factory. The outer layer of the Marlin is just too thin. I would rather have an extra pound or two or three and a boat I could use in real conditions than pay this price for light weight. And no matter how many patches or repairs, it will always be the constant concern for a fragile toy, not a well-made sea kayak.
Wanting something faster than my plastic P&H Capella RM 166, I quickly narrowed it down to the QCC 600, the Epic 18x and the KayakPro Marlin. They are very similar boats in many ways, as they are all designed to fit the kayak racing rules while maximizing waterline length. I managed to get short test paddles in each boat (actually I test paddled a Kayakpro Nemo, which is the girl version of the Marlin, same hull just slightly less cockpit volume). All of the test paddles were in fairly calm river water and all felt good but the Nemo just seemed to feel the most like the Capella, so that was it - I ordered a Marlin from Kayakpro.
I ordered the carbon/Kevlar 36 lb layup in October - I didn't care that much about the weight savings, but I thought the $500 extra was worth it for stiffness and durability. Delivery was first estimated to be early December, but ended up being February. If you have to miss paddling months, missing Dec/Jan/Feb is the best way to go. The boat's yellow over white finish, the interior and all the fittings looked great. It really is purty.
The first problem was that when the boat showed up, there were no hatch covers - those were being shipped separately. So, I got out some garbage bags and rubber bands and covered the hatches and put-in on Triadelphia. Boy, is the Marlin fast compared to what I had been paddling - I am back to being the limiting factor in speed, vs. the boat. Doing a loop where I would push to average 5.2 mph in the Capella became an effortless 5.8 mph average in the Marlin. In sprinting, I still haven't hit the point where the boat just won't go faster, I always give out first. Plus, what a difference carrying a 40 lb kayak instead of a 65 lb kayak!
The hatch covers came in a few days later and I ran into the next problem - the small round front hatch cover was a tight fit and when I tried to push it on, the plastic hatch rim immediately separated from the kayak shell. A gentle tug on the large rear oval hatch rim caused that one to come off, too. Phone calls to KayakPro resulted in them sending marine epoxy and me scraping off the old adhesive, scoring the hatch rims and clamping and gluing them back on - a royal pain in the neck, especially on the large, oval rear hatch. But once that was done, I was back on the reservoir having a great time.
The next problem occurred when I finally got out on some textured water, a 20 mile paddle down the Patuxent River. The paddle started out with slight following winds but we hit a section where 1-2 foot (more 1 foot than 2 foot) confused seas started hitting us broadside and I immediately felt squirrelly and bloop - had an unintended swimming event. To someone who paddles racing kayaks, the Marlin probably feels like paddling a canoe. For me (who gets very little time on rougher water and has zero native balancing skill), the stability profile of the KayakPro is very different from the Capella - much less initial stability but probably stronger secondary.
Since then I've had a little bit of time in slightly rougher water and I'm starting to feel much more confident in the Marlin. Even I can tell that for a fast boat it is very stable - in both dimensions (speed and stability) the paddler is the limiting factor. By taking advantage of the adjustable seat and footpedal positioning, I was able to move my position forward which seemed to help stability quite a bit for me.
One last problem occurred when the rudder assembly fell off during a paddle on Triadelphia Reservoir. Turns out the threaded stud that the rudder pivots on had never been fully threaded into the rudder assembly and it had wobbled and stripped the lower threads. Some help from KayakPro and multiple Nemo owner Cyndi J. helped me get it re-installed and KayakPro is sending replacement parts.
Those are the only negatives I've experienced. Paddling the Marlin is a lot of fun. It has enough sea kayak features (two hatches, decent deck rigging) to be reliable for fast day touring. It is fast enough to be competitive in the fast touring categories in races. The rudder system with the gas pedal type controls makes steering and correcting a snap, while still providing firm support for leg pushing. I really like the seat - it doesn't have any back support, but every back rest I've used in a kayak has just ended up chafing my back and I don't miss it at all. I have plenty of padding on my rear end, but others might want to add a pad.
I've now had the KayakPro Marlin for about 6 months and probably have about 250 miles in it. Summary review:
Fit and finish - the hull and shell are great, very professional job. I find the seat very comfortable and I like the adjustability with one negative - the track that accepts the sliding seat bolt has a cutout just about where my optimum position wants to be. I guess the cutout is to make it easier to drop the bolt in vs. having to slide it in at the end of the track, but it does limit positioning choices. The rudder can not be raised or lowered from the cockpit, not an issue for racing but I'd rather be able to launch and land with the rudder up and you really can't do that with the Marlin unless someone is there to help you.
Workmanship - with the hatch rims and rudder falling off, obviously KayakPro has some process and quality assurance issues to work through. Their support has been great in dealing with the problems. I would also like them to include a manual or at least information on how to adjust the rudder and pedal control system since neither is intuitively obvious. The front hatch stays dry as a bone but I do get a few spoonfuls of water in the rear hatch, most likely due to my amateur job of clamping and re-gluing the large oval rear hatch rim back on.
Speed - top of the line for a sea kayak/racer hybrid. In the recent Broadkill 10 mile race I went from 1 hour 40 minutes killing myself in the Capella in 2007 to 1 hour 29 minutes in the Marlin paddling hard but less effort in 2008, under nearly identical water conditions.
Stability - I underestimated the difference between more stable, harder chined boats and a faster more rounded hull. As I've gotten more time in the Marlin I can see I'm the problem, not the boat. Anyone with decent roughwater skills will consider it very stable.
Tracking, maneuverability - at just under 18 feet long with a very sharp, nearly vertical bow, the Marlin isn't nimble. The rudder system works great, edging really makes it turn but it is really a boat mainly designed to go forward. Without the rudder it does weathercock a bit more than the Capella but not all that much. With the rudder down, not an issue of course. It plows through oncoming waves really well and seems much easier to control on following seas than the Capella.
Durability - I was concerned to move away from a plastic boat, since I'm not real gentle on bikes or boats. The Marlin has come away with the usual hull scratches but, with a decent amount of knocking around and no real babying, there have been no gouges or cracks or warps or anything.
Bottom line - I'm never going to be someone who has 5 or 6 kayaks, so the Marlin turned out to be exactly what I wanted: a boat fast enough to make me be the limiting factor in fitness training and local races but also fun and usable for touring day trips. If I really wanted to go deep in either racing or multi-day touring I'd pick a different more specialized boat. However, for doing my usual training paddles, local races and local day tours like Wye Island or the Eastern Neck, the Marlin is fast and fun (and easy to carry) all at the same time.