Friday, June 6, 2014

Kayak Review - Jackson Karma update

My reviews of the Jackson Karma (Part 1 and Part 2, and the Rock Garden version) have gotten a lot of hits, so I thought I'd update my thoughts after a little more time in the boat. I still feel like I'm figuring it out, but definitely have a better handle on a few things. For those who haven't been following or don't want to bother with the links, here are the basics: I'm now paddling a medium Karma after paddling the Villain S. I generally prefer displacement hull creekers for the softer landings and solid tracking, though I've paddled all shapes and sizes in of boats in the past. I'm 6' and 175 with size 11 feet, and fit easily into the boat.

First, I got to do an overnighter in the boat, so I've now paddled a loaded Karma. It was only a two-day trip in mellow California weather, so the truth is I didn't load the boat down that much. There was a ton of extra space. The stern arrangement makes it simple to stuff lots of things in the back, and the awesome bulkhead design gives easy access to the front if you want it. The first day I kept everything in the rear, figuring I didn't need the room and it wasn't a lot of weight to affect the trim. But it did affect performance.

While I didn't think the trim was changed much, the nose became much lighter and squirrelly with the back weighted down. Small waves deflected me and I had a much harder time staying on track. I tried to keep my weight forward as much as possible, but still found myself popping wheelies when exiting holes. It was real easy to boof and get my nose up, but overall I wasn't happy with how it handled.

I thought about transferring some gear up front, but I was worried that putting weight so far forward would affect the swing weight and slow down the handling. Instead, I moved the seat forward one notch from my normal middle position. This helped immensely. The boat now carried more level out of drops and tracked better in the bouncy stuff. My friend, who's twenty pounds lighter, said he needed to move the seat forward when he paddled an empty medium Karma. Something to consider if you find the boat hard to control.

I also decided that the geometry of the outfitting just isn't working for me. I haven't been paddling the boat that often, so two days in a row was telling. And moving the seat position made some other things more obvious. In the past I always loved that I could jump in a Jackson boat, pull a few strings and be all set. But the boats no longer come standard with the Sweet Cheeks (the nicest thing you can do for your butt, in my opinion). The Karma seat is too flat for me and it's hard to keep my hips tilted forward (which is what you want for an aggressive paddling position). The backband is too high, restricting my torso rotation and not really supporting me where I need it. Both factors also lead to my knees being lose in the boat unless I hold them tight to the inner braces, which don't have as much purchase as my Villain did.

All these are personal things - outfitting depends very much on your body type and how it matches up with the boat. It's also easy to fix these things - I ordered a Sweet Cheeks for the Karma but put it in my Jive instead (so maybe I need to order another one). The backband can be lowered by drilling a couple holes in the back of the seat and tying it down with a bungie. Adding a little foam under the thigh brace padding changes the angle and increases the purchase. I didn't do these things because I was lazy and hadn't needed them in the past, but it really does make a difference how the boat paddles and feels. The only problem is that my wife uses the boat more than me and she likes it as is. We'll have to find a way to compromise.

So I think I'm getting used to the hull shape and adjusting to a planing hulled creeker. It still lands softly off boofs and the parting line is high enough so the edges don't feel grabby, but it also responds and accelerates quicker, and carves quite nicely. I like the design but I need to take a little more time to make the adjustments so I like the feel as well. Our season is mostly done, but I'd love the chance to get the Karma out on a few more good overnighters in the future.

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