I bought a used Prijon Catalina a couple of years back and have used it for two seasons. I paddle mostly on Long Island Sound--not open ocean, but with the risks and pleasures of any large body of water. I've been very pleased with the Catalina for the most part--it's a little high volume for me (5'5", average build), which makes reentries a little harder than a boat that sits lower in the water, but it handles beautifully, particularly in terms of turning and tracking.
The Catalina does weathercock quite a bit in wind--that's my biggest (and really only) complaint about the Catalina. That said, leaning the boat slightly and using sweep strokes makes it easy to compensate for weathercocking, and models with a skeg probably mitigate the issue even more.
The Catalina has excellent secondary stability, making it easy to perform carved turns and practice sculling, bracing, etc. I'm purchasing a fiberglass boat this season, but plan on keeping the Catalina as a plastic knock-about boat and to take friends out in. It's been an excellent first boat to expand my skills in. Jealous of how much fun my husband, Kim Corson, was having with his Catalina, we bought me a Catalina as well. His is yellow and mine is purple. I prefer the darker color, but he argues yellow is more visable and there is a safety factor involved.
I agree with his comments on how the boat handles. However, for me, it tracks so well (without the rudder) that turning with just sweep strokes is a chore. To turn quickly, leaning and carving is necessary, but this is not a problem because secondary stability is so good. The kayak is also amazingly fast. I can easily keep up with those I paddle with, but I am a bit out of shape (5' 8" and 150 lbs) so I tire too easily, but I am almost 60 so I do not feel too bad about it. Even so, I can easily beat many others kayakers in their kayaks. I am getting stronger from kayaking and think it is a great way to get in shape.
My husband asks I point out some additional features or attributes he has learned. First the Catalina, in current production is not 23" wide, but is actually between 21 3/4" and 21 7/8" wide, as best he can measure it. It really is a narrow kayak. Also, the volume of the kayak is 360 litres, not 320, as he said in his review. Too, he tells me it weighs 46-47 lbs, not the 49 lbs advertised. Further, he asks me to tell you a lot of the kayak's speed comes not only from its sleek, narrow profile, but also from an efficient energy-from-the paddle-through-the-body transfer to the kayak hull, by a tight and excellent fit. He has padded my kayak up as well and I like the snug feeling and I can go faster. Finally, he askes me to say the trihedral hull has an extremely shallow V, going into hard angled chines, leading on up into rounded sides coming to the top deck, with the longitudinal mid-point at about the knees or a bit in front of the keyhole, with the center of buoyancy well aft, and a very low prismatic coefficient. What ever that means. All I care about is that I like my kayak and can go very fast in it with minimal energy spent. It really is fun.
This kayak is not, as the manufacturer could be misinterpreted to say, just for the medium-sized or smaller paddler, but it is also for the larger paddler who wants a snug-fitting real seakayak in a more compact package. I keep mine on my sailboat so it needs to be a bit more compact. Because of their higher centers of gravity, however, I do not recommend this kayak for paddlers much taller than six feet. Weight carrying ability is ambiguously stated by Prijon as (a) for paddlers from 90 lbs to 180 lbs (US catalog), (b) from 90 to 225 lbs (US Prijon website), (c) to a total weight of 220lbs (Prijon German website) and (d) elsewhere at up to 265 lbs (or equivalent in kilos).
The Catalina is an excellent kayak. It is very fast for its length and material, it accelerates quickly, it carves turns very well, it surfs, it tracks very well without a rudder (I find no need for one that justifies the damage risk and expense), and it is very stiff and does not oil can or flex noticeably at all. It is a good, fast all around boat for its length, but does not have a lot of storage space for long expeditions and its initial stability is not great. Its low freeboard or side profile minimizes weathercocking. Its sharp bow entry with little rocker inclines it to punch thru some waves rather than always ride over them, but this is a common price to be paid for more speed in less turbulent water for any given length. It is 11.5" deep on the inside front of the cockpit, 9 1/4" deep at the inside back, weighs only 49 lbs, is 93 gallons in volume or 320 liters or 11.152 cu ft., and has a keyhole cockpit entry which allows the thighs of a larger paddler to rest very comfortably against the undersides of the cockpit coaming, without using the thigh braces (use some thin padding). Smaller paddlers will want the braces. I am 6 feet and 185 lbs, but I still outfitted the cockpit with foam padding for a snugger fit at the hips, under the cockpit coaming and for my heels. For longer legged paddlers, large shoe sizes (> size 10 or 11) can be a problem in regard to room. The kayak has a 5 year warranty and is UV resistant, but use a UV spray anyway. Forward and aft bulkheads are very dry, but the neoprene seals under the plastic covers are hard to get on -- the price of waterproofness. Also, the adjustable seat back could be secured better and tends to come loose and fall forward on paddle float and other reentries from the aft end. Longer legged paddlers will not be able to reenter fanny first and then their legs. The kayak has grab lines around the perimeter of the deck which are very handy, as is the bow painter (not "lanyard.") that unhooks from a deck line cleat to moor or dock the boat.
This is a very strong kayak and hull. You can sit on it and it does not flex. This is also a new designed (late 2001), with no magazine reviews as yet. Initial stability is only fair, but secondary stability and dynamic (moving) stability are excellent. This is a kayak that the beginner will definitely need to grow into and that will require some perseverance and patience, but not necessarily a lot of time. The rewards are worth it, however. I personally know. (Get some training. It matters.) The hull cross-section is a very, very shallow "V", followed up on each side by a hard, flat chine at an angle (for carving turns and secondary stability), which goes further up into a rounded side toward the deck. The actual maximum kayak width is 22 1/4", not 23" as Prijon misstates. The seat and back brace are adjustable and very comfortable, but the seat back is a tad high (1/2" to 1" above the coaming) for easy paddle float reentries and lean back rolls. The kayak material is HTP polyethylene (a type of improved linear polyethylene) that is blow-molded rather than rotomolded. It is stronger, stiffer, more abrasion resistant and lighter than rotomolded linear polyethylene and by a significant margin.
All in all a great, this is a serious and great kayak in a smaller package that is fast and fits the larger paddler like a glove or an extension to his or her body.Have paddled previously on the East coast at a young age so I was anxious to expose my children to kayaking as well as get back into it myself. I tend to over analyze boat specifications and then decide on which boat to buy when I find one that comes closest to my expectations. My requirements were stiff hull, speed, capable but not superior handling, weight less than 50lbs, narrow (23" or less) and good quality. After training my wife and children in a Necky I bought myself a Catalina to join them. At first I thought the Seeyak would be the boat for me but the weight and the narrow width of the Catalina kept calling me back. After picking up the Cat and going out it was amazing. It felt like the fiberglass boats I was used to paddling, absolutely no hull deflection or twist. The tracking is equally impressive. It came with a rudder but I am now thinking of removing it. It goes through the water with little effort as well. Initial stability is slightly tippy but who cares. Secondary stability is excellent. Once going this boat is so controllable that you can lean to the edge of the cockpit and feel comfortable doing it. I was worried about the perceived tightness of the cockpit but getting in and out is no problem once you set the seatback all the way back. Once in, you are in and become part of the boat which I prefer. I am 5'11" and 175lbs. This boat is very quick and handles well. I guess I would call the feel of the boat crisp, not syrupy.
Prijon states in their literature that this boat is for smaller paddlers but I think they are steering a lot of people away from a great boat. Even the Wildwasser (Prijon) rep tried to steer me to a Seeyak which I almost did. Even my children recognize the Catalina as something special. They are constantly asking me if they can have the Cat while I get the Necky. Don't get me wrong, the Necky is a great boat, but once you have tried a Prijon Catalina everything else pales in comparison. Lesson learned: Don't get cheap on your kids boats if you want them to take off with kayaking. Give them the tools to succeed and they will take off. They will also become your best kayaking companions. As for the Catalina, I suspect I will need to buy about three to four more now. Great boat! Thanks Prijon.