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All in all, the Santa Cruze compares favorably with the Old Town in comfort and stability, and I would give it much higher marks for tracking and maneuverability. Also, as many of the reviewers note, you don't need the skeg in calm paddling so I took mine off.
The reason for an 8 and not a 10 rating is the seat back, which is a tad lower and smaller than it should be for full comfort. I'm short but still could use more back support. Otherwise, love this boat -- a bit on the heavy side for a 53-year old short woman to throw up on a car, but I can just manage it, and love it once I get out on the water.
Like others reviewers I have tried numerous kayaks before and this one will stay for the rest of my kayaking days.
A great piece of kit.
This kayak comes with a drop down skeg that I only use on lakes. I usually have it totally removed from my boat and it track pretty well. The dry hatch stays dry, the seat is comfy, the foot braces work fine and a sprayskirt is a must in moving water. I also added front flotation It is not the fastest boat or the most stable boat, but It IS the best mix of everything in my opinion. I use it in mostly class 1-3 rivers and creeks but I have used it in dead flat water and in the ocean with good results.
I really wished that they still make these! The Necky Manitou is basically the same boat, but it has no rocker in the front and it is a little wider. I give it a 9 because it is the best kayak for multiple water conditions.
FAR exceeded my expectations on performance, stability, and all-around practicality. Lots of different people use these boats when visiting us and they all remark on how well they work.
12' length is manageable for loading/carrying on our boat. Large cockpits are a big benefit for entering the kayaks from the deck of the big boat. High bow prevents water over the deck.
A bit less maneuverable than some similar boats, but they track far better, a good compromise.
If you're a larger paddler (I'm 6'6" and 240 lbs.) the Santa Cruz is a great choice. I was a little concerned at first with the difficulty in tracking, but after about 20 hours of paddling time, it was no longer a problem. I actually prefer not to use the skeg and compensate with my stroke instead. Overall, I think this kayak is a great choice for most people.
The actual dimensions of my Santa Cruze are 12 feet long and 25 inches wide. If you look at descriptions on the web, you'll get various strange dimensions, so I measured it myself.
My only complaint is that the cockpit is a lot longer than it needs to be... not huge like Perception's cockpits, but still pretty big. A spray skirt is pretty much required if you're on anything but totally flat water. Spray skirts that fit the Dagger Bayou will also fit the Santa Cruze. It's also possible to modify the cockpit by cutting a piece of heavy plastic to the right shape and sliding it into the "lip" of the cockpit to give your knees something rigid to push against. It won't change the size of spray skirt you need.. the whole thing is still covered by it. It's possible to get your knees under the deck as is, but uncomfortable and awkward. I plan on making some plastic knee braces for mine.
The Santa Cruze feels tippier than most rec boats, due to the hull shape and the fact that it's narrow for a rec boat. If you're used to pumpkinseed-style boats it may take some getting used to. But what it lacks in initial stability it makes up for in secondary stability. I've put mine up on edge so far water came up to the coaming, without bracing, and didn't flip.
The Santa Cruze is an awesome boat for a heavy paddler. I weigh about 220. A large part of my weight is in my legs, which makes a lot of kayaks plow water; the Santa Cruze doesn't even notice. The high-volume bow rides over waves and submerged logs easily.
I would recommend spending the extra money for one with a dry hatch or else adding float bags, and definitely use a spray skirt. The Santa Cruze has enough volume that it would be really hard to get it bailed out if it were swamped... and with the size of the cockpit that could happen pretty easily.
So far I've found the skeg to be pretty useless except in very high winds. Mine pulls to the left slightly with the skeg down, probably because I've hit so many things with it while carrying the boat to the put-in. Being able to put it up or down from the cockpit is nice, though, and it's easy to remove it and put it back on.
Overall, I'm very satisfied with my Santa Cruze. It's slightly more expensive than some other 12-foot boats, but is well worth it. If you want to do a little bit of everything... mild whitewater, lakes, swamps, ocean shorelines, and maybe even surfing for more advanced paddlers, this is your boat.
I like the boat very much and have a lot of confidence in its seaworthyness. It is a great boat for a someone who is starting out paddling. I wish it were drier in the cockpit and took less effort to maintain speed.
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