Baja Boat Test
6 kayaks from Necky for fun in the sun
When Paddling Life recently joined The Johnson Outdoors Watersports team for some fun in the sun in Baja, it led to the anticipated campfire debauchery, including raunchy jokes amidst fresh lobster tails, fish tacos and cervezas (not necessarily in that order). But it also led to an inside look at how some of Necky’s sea kayaks handled in the surging Pacific surf, rock-gardening nooks and crannies (our motto: let’s see what happens to Spike), and open crossings. In different boats every day, from plastic to composite, we paddled through narrow, hull-scraping sea caves, stuck our sterns into blowholes, charged such questionable routes as “Head Chopper,” and even toured to giant circular tuna farms. What’s not to like about a mid-winter field test? Following is a look at how the boats fared:
New for 2007, the Eliza is built for chicas and mujeres, but that didn’t stop the guys from testing her rails as well. “It’s actually a great boat for down here,” maintains Necky’s Murray Hamilton. “It’s small enough to fit in all these tight slots, has a fast hull speed and is very well proportioned.” I tried one on day two and didn’t feel my manhood compromised in the least. Designed with women’s proportions in mind, the Eliza is a tourer first and foremost, and is perfect for beginning to intermediate paddlers thanks to an efficient hull that handles everything from wind to waves. During the crossing to the tuna farms, it parted oncoming chop and kept up with the longer boats. It’s also more than stable enough for novices, yet has an edge that more advanced paddlers can take advantage of for maneuvering. The deck sheds water—save for when it comes from above from a blowhole–and a streamlined design helps you get up to its most efficient cruising speed and stay there with minimal effort. If you’re big, however, the ergonomic cockpit might make a tight squeeze. Standard: Rudder system; bow and stern hatches (16” x 9.5”/16” x 9.5”) with bulkheads; Necky touring seat with backband. Specs: L: 15’3”; W: 22”; Wt.: 49 lbs.;Cockpit: 28.25” x 16”.
With the perfect length for both hull speed and maneuvering around in tight, rocky quarters, the three Chatham 16s on out trip were the first boats to get snagged out of the line-up. Get to the beach too late, and the Chathams were gone. Designed to handle rough water, wind and waves, the Chatham 16 offers a playful, full-chined hull providing a great combination of stability and maneuverability. For us, at least, it was a great all-arounder, perfect for rock-gardening, exploration, crossing and any thing else you’d do coastal kayaking. When winds came up on a crossing, we’d simply drop its retractable skeg to better hold course. Though we never loaded it to the hilt, it comes with three water-resistant hatches for gear, making it perfect for weekend retreats. The design is also available in Advanced Composite Fiberglass at 8 pounds lighter, making it that much easier when putting in the miles. A quick confession: call me a weenie, but one morning when we went straight to a Class IV urchin- and barnacle-lined rock-gardening move, I started out in the composite but quickly returned to shore to switch to the plastic version, not wanting to scrape the hull in front of its designers. Standard: Necky touring seat; retractable skeg; bow, day and stern hatches (16” x 9”/day 7.5”/16” x 9”) with bulkheads. Specs: L: 16’5”; W: 22”; Wt.: 51 lbs.; Cockpit: 30.75” x 14.25”.
With a foot more length than the 16, the Chatham 17 is for when itineraries call for a few more miles. What it lacks in maneuverability over the 16 (if we were going rock gardening, I opted for the more nimble 16), it more than makes up for in its ability to get up to speed and stay there. A half inch narrower than the 16, it’s a bit more sleek, while enjoying a more roomy cockpit that’s nearly two inches wider. What you notice as soon as you get up to speed are bow entry and stern lines that offer the most efficient glide under the sun. When the sun doesn’t cooperate and the weather turns as sour as your cerveza’s limes, the same forgiving hull is equally adept at handling rough water. We experienced this on our following-winds paddle back from the local tuna farms, where the 17 remained both stable and surfy. Though I was tentative threading it through passages requiring claustrophobic turn-arounds, out in the open it galloped away like a horse heading back to the stables—while helping me feel stable at the same time. Another nice touch: it offers adjustable outfitting for a customized fit. Also available in Advanced Composite Fiberglass. Standard: Necky touring seat; retractable skeg (featuring kink-free Necky Wire™); bow, day and stern hatches (16” x 9”/day 7.5”/16” x 9”) with bulkheads. Specs: L: 17’5”; W: 21.5”; Wt.: 52 lbs.; Cockpit: 32” x 16”.
The Looksha 17 is at home in big swell or surf, or, as in our case, the unpredictable surges of the Pacific. Its designers made it for touring, plain and simple, which we did plenty of in Baja. Helping this cause are two water-tight hatches, with Necky’s largest openings for fitting in gear, whether it’s a lobster acquired from a passing fisherman, or a tent and sleeping bag for extended journeys. It also comes with a deck tray for additional gear. In layman’s terms, it’s designed to get you where you’re going as efficiently as possible. Get it up to its ideal cruising speed and you’ll stay there, expending the bare minimum amount of energy to keep the countryside passing by. It’s proven to be one of Necky’s most popular designs, with its stability and high volume allowing paddlers to bring the kitchen sink without compromising performance. It also comes standard with a rudder for ease of turning and tracking.
Standard: Rudder system; bow, and stern hatches (16” x 9.5”) with bulkheads; Extrasport XtraComfort seat. Outfitter: Rudder system; hatches, Extrasport Seating System, XtraComfort thigh braces. Specs: L: 17’; W: 22.5”; Wt.: 53 lbs.; Cockpit: 29.5” x 16”.
You won’t find the Spyder in Necky’s catalog. It’s designer Spike Gladwin’s private rip-machine, with 7’11” of sheer customized wave-shredding performance. After watching Spike rip the waves of San Diego’s Mission Beach is his personal craft (a designed which propelled him to the World Surf Kayak Championships podium), I humbly borrowed it for a spin. First thought? It was the fastest, sleekest surf kayak I’ve ever been in—a much better surf kayak than I deserved or could use to its full potential. Still, I felt its design attributes immediately upon catching my first wave. Pronounced rails wider than the rest of the hull (Spike calls them “aggressive railed concave sides”) led to easy carving, while three thruster fins helped build up momentum for, while not a huge bottom turn, at least the biggest one I had ever mustered. While the waves didn’t hold their form long enough for dynamic off-the-lip moves, I headed there after the turn and actually grinded a somewhat semi-floater off the lip, garnering a sense of how bigger lip moves might be accomplished. The boat’s minimal stern rocker and tri-fin configuration let me bite into waves of any size, providing–where my skill often didn’t–the speed and drive needed to make difficult sections to keep the ride alive. The design also has a forgiving flip-tip bow that provides a better margin of error for late take-offs—ideal for a surf spaz like me who often dropped in on the steeps a little late. Sure, I let the edge catch more than once and flipped in the soup; but once you tame it and understand its nuances, it’s that edginess that holds you onto a wave’s face and makes the Spyder one of the most high-performance surf machines not really on the market. Bottom turn line? If you’re serious about your kayak surfing, give Spike a call and he just might be able to fit you into the production line-up, just as his boat will help you fit into a surf line-up anywhere. Specs: L: 7’11”; W: 24.75″; D: 11.5″; Cockpit – 31″x17.5″; Wt:
Carbon Fiber–28 lbs.; Fiberglass-30 lbs.