Category Archives: Kayak Reviews

Kayak Review: Dagger Alchemy 14S

I’ve owned my Dagger Alchemy 14S for a few years and even though it would be unlikely for me to bring it to the coast or lake, it is still my go to river boat and I continue to use (and enjoy) it regularly.

A good metric of how much you enjoy a boat is whether you decide to keep it after upgrading to a nicer boat and this definitely meets that mark, as I have no plans on selling it.

About the Dagger Alchemy 14

The Dagger Alchemy 14.0S was available from Dagger Kayaks between 2009 and 2017. When it was released they described it in their 2009 catalog as:

Performance and versatility from lakes to slow moving inland rivers, rock gardens or surf zones.

Dagger also released a slightly larger version, the Alchemy 14.0L, which they described as having a deeper and wider cockpit, with more foot room for larger paddlers.

The Upgrade

When I got my Alchemy, I had been paddling a Necky Manitou 13 for awhile, so going to the Alchemy was a huge upgrade and just like the Manitou, which I reviewed here, when I switched to the Alchemy, it felt like I had switched to a real boat.

One of the cool things about the Alchemy 14S is that it is pretty narrow, especially for a plastic boat, while having a decent amount of rocker, making it quite maneuverable for it’s length. I have had it out surfing at the ocean twice and both times enjoyed how having such a small boat, compared to the more common 16 foot+ sea kayak, made it really easy to get onto, off of, and back on to waves.

Although, it should be noted that the first time I had the boat in surf, both foot pegs snapped off, which led me to find out that there had been a recall for the brand of foot pegs used in a number of 2015 model Dagger/Wilderness Systems/Confluence boats. A quick call with Dagger fixed this and, after letting them know the year of my Alchemy, as I have a 2015 boat, but this happened in 2016, they shipped a new pair of footpegs at no charge.

The Alchemy is long enough to track well and in general is easy to paddle longer distances with. However, paddling it on a three day kayak camping trip near Cape Lookout was what prompted me to get a longer sea kayak. It also has all the basic safety features of a sea kayak, with front/rear sealed bulkheads, 3 hatches, including a day hatch, deck rope, Grab Handles, and deck bungee, as well as a drop down skeg.

Compared to other plastic boats I’ve tried, including the Dagger Stratos and P&H Delphin, the plastic in the Alchemy seems a bit thicker and sturdier, closer to the thickness you would find in a whitewater boat.

While the Alchemy handles well and is reasonably efficient to paddle, with the rocker and short length, it gets tossed around pretty easily. So, it is more work and less efficient compared to a more traditional(longer) sea kayak, which is to be expected. When you are doing a 15 or 20 mile day(and especially in moderately rough water,) this deficiency becomes more obvious and it looses some appeal compared to a longer sea kayak in this regard.

How I use the Alchemy

As it is now, this is my go to river boat.

I love how maneuverable it is, while still being quite efficient when putting in some upstream or downstream river miles. The boat is easy and fun to roll as well. I enjoy taking it to the Dam at Falls Lake and run rapids in it. I’ve only had it on the Cape Fear once, when I went upstream from Lillington to Laneir Falls, but have had it on the Neuse quite frequently, as well as a bit of playing with it at Weldon.

I haven’t been using it as frequently and am usually more inclined to head to the lake if I want to get in a paddle, but to be fair, we’ve had a very dry summer and winter and since the rain picked up a few months ago, I’ve gotten back to using it more frequently.

The Bad

While I still use and greatly enjoy this boat, it has had a couple issues. The biggest one was, of course, when both the footpegs snapped while doing a surf launch the first time the boat was taken surfing, which is described above.

However, another issue I’ve run into is with a support beam that, from reviewing their old catalogs, appears to have been added in 2010, the year after it was released. Something similar can be seen in several of their current boats as well, like the Dagger Stratos and provides some measure of structural support/rigidity to the boat.

You can see the black bar that was added to the 2010 model, highlighted in blue, below:

Towards the rear bulkhead, the seat holds the support beam in place. However, in the front of the kayak, it is held in place by a large block of foam, which is glued to the bulkhead and cut so as to be tight against the top and bottom of the boat. Since the foam runs the full height of the boat, the foam also provides some additional support, along with a bit of extra buoyancy.

What I have found is that over time, as your feet hit the foam in the back and the plastic support, which sticks up a little bit along the length of the kayak, it works the glue holding the foam in place loose. When this happens, both the foam block and front half of the black plastic beam move freely inside the cockpit. You can jam the foam back in place and it will stay for awhile without re-gluing, but will work itself free again, especially if you end up with a boat full of water.

If the boat is not full of water and the foam works itself free, it is more of an inconvenience, but when it is full of water, you end up with two large objects(the foam and the front end of the support beam) flopping around by your feet.

This first happened to me at the pool, where, to be fair, I have put in a lot of time practicing rolls, re-entry and rolls, and other things that result in a full boat of water. So, I’m sure I’ve kicked the foam and generally put more pressure on the black bar than most. However, I would be surprised if it didn’t happen eventually to most people who use the boat more than recreationally, as your feet will inevitably hit the black support bar while paddling, slightly jarring it left or right each time.

As an aside, while playing at Falls Dam, a buddy essentially wrapped his 2009 Alchemy, which doesn’t have the extra support bar in it, around a bridge piling with a decent bit of water force. The boat took it like a champ and there didn’t appear to be any damage once he pried it off there.

My initial thought the first time it came loose was to just remove both the foam and the support, especially as my friends older model doesn’t have it and seems to be fine. If the foam were to come loose while you were at the ocean in conditions, for example, it could be dangerous(or at least result in a swim.) And since it is glued to the bulkhead, every time it comes loose there is risk of damage to the front bulkhead. However, I’m sure they added that in there for a reason and so have been hesitant to remove it.

When my friend bought a Dagger Stratos last year, I noticed that the foam was secured through the top of the boat using a screw, so it appears this is an issue that they were aware of and improved upon their design.

Dagger Alchemy 14S and 14L Stats

Both the 14S and 14L Alchemy are 14′ long, have a 35 x 18.5″ cockpit size, and are made of Rotomolded polyethylene.

Boat Width Deck Height Weight Weight Capacity
Alchemy 14.0S 23″ 13.25″ 51 Lbs 275 Lbs
Alchemy 14.0L 24″ 14.75″ 55 Lbs 300 Pounds

Final Thoughts

Despite the couple issues I’ve had with this boat, I still really like it and when the opportunity arises, like a dam release or some rain, I make a point to try to hit the river with it. When I first got it, it felt much more like a real kayak than anything I had paddled and even though it isn’t my first choice for the lake or ocean, I love it as a river boat.

I would recommended it as a good boat, especially as far as plastic boats go. However, if you were interested in distance or ocean paddling, but still wanting a plastic boat, it would not be my first choice. After my week in Baja, a P&H Delphin seems like a much better buy for that purpose.

A Few of the Places I’ve Been

Below is a gallery of a few of the places I’ve been in my Dagger Alchemy:


Necky Manitou 13 Kayak Review

Necky ManitouThe Necky Manitou 13 is classified by Necky as a day touring boat. I’ve had this boat for several years now and found it to be a fun river boat, as it is short enough to be maneuverable, while being long enough and well shaped, so as to offer reasonably good tracking. The Manitou is quite stable and due to the large cockpit, easy to get into or out of. I will always have a sweet spot for this kayak, but as my skills grew, I reached some of the limits of this boat.

The suggested retail price of these boats is around $1000, but you can typically find them a bit cheaper new, closer to the $750-$900 range. Used, I’ve seen them go from $400-$800, depending on the age/model. While Necky has both a 14 foot version and a 13R(which is a wider model,) I have only seen the 13 and Sport models when browsing used boats on Craigslist.

Kayak Features

There are a few versions of the Manitou, but the most common is the 13, which is just under 13 feet long. They also offer a 14 foot model, along with a smaller 11 foot recreational boat called the Manitou Sport. The Manitou is classified as a day touring boat and has a mix of features you would expect from a recreational and touring boat.

On the recreational side, it has a wide cockpit area, around 24 inches(up to 26.5″ on the Sport.) This makes getting into/out of it very easy and also provides a lot of primary stability. On the touring side, it is a bit longer than most recreational boats and the hull is designed so that it tracks well, although there isn’t really any rocker to the hull.

The front bulkhead includes some foam balast, along with your standard adjustable foot pegs. The seat is also adjustable in several ways and most include an indention to hold a small water bottle. There are bungees front and back, along with deck line front and back. A rear hatch provides storage, and there is also room past the footpegs to stow a dry bag when camping.

For it’s width, Rolling the Necky Manitou 13 is relatively easy, although with the wide cockpit and not much in terms of knee braces, you do need to have the foot pedals adjusted properly to keep yourself snug. The foot pegs are also rather small, so it is easy to slip off them.

Differences in Old vs New Models

If you are looking to buy a used Manitou, there are a couple ways you can tell the age of the boat.

Newer models will have a version of Necky’s active comfort seat, while older models have a foam seat that is adjustable, but made of a larger/thicker piece of foam. There have been several iterations of the active comfort seat, so you may want to consult their site for the most recent version and compare it to the boat. A picture of the 2.0 version of this seat is below.

This is Necky's current 2.0 version of their Active Comfort Seat.
This is Necky’s current 2.0 version of their Active Comfort Seat.

Another way you can tell the age of the boat is the hatch style. Older versions of Necky’s boats use a two part hatch, which has a bottom neoprene cover that goes on like a spray skirt. A plastic cover is then placed over it and secured with plastic clips.

This is the old style of the rear hatch, which uses a neoprene gasket and plastic cover.
This is the old style of the rear hatch, which uses a neoprene gasket and plastic cover.

Newer versions switched to a rubber cover, with a cross plastic buckle system. The newer version is a lot easier to get on/off, as it is just a single rubber seal. Unlike other rubber covers, like those found on Dagger kayaks and some sea kayaks, the rubber cover itself can be removed fairly easily. The buckles are what hold it in place, so it really just slides on or off. The newer version has a much higher lip than the old version.

Newer hatch, with cross buckle system.
Newer hatch, with cross buckle system.

If you have the option, the newer version of the hatch is definitely a better choice, due to how much easier it is to open/close. However, both do a good job of keeping water out, even when doing rolls or having the boat upside down for awhile.

Due to the length of the boat, you probably won’t be able to reach the hatch easily while in the boat. If you have to have someone do it for you, they will likely have trouble putting the old version on, as it takes a bit of practice. So, at least for ease of access while on the water, the new version is hands down a better design. The old version works fine once you get the hang of it, although when it is cold or your hands are tired, it can be a pain. Both are reasonably water resistant hatches.

My Uses

I used this boat extensively on the river, as well as taking it out on the lake a few times. I’ve took it down a number of rapids, including a few pretty big Class III(possibly a IV.) I’ve also scratched it up a few times doing so, but never had any major issues.

It is quite maneuverable and I had no trouble going down class 1-3 rapids. Although it is a long boat and requires some thought when approaching a line of rapids, with some practice it is quite easy to turn. I’ve found that it tracks well and preforms well when playing in small waves and ferrying across rapids. Of course, since it is a longer boat you do want to plan your route as much as possible when going down a series of rapids.

It has ample storage space and I have taken it on several longer(40 mile+) overnight kayak trips.

The Good

The Manitou tracks well, is easy to maneuver, and is very stable. I’ve not tipped it over yet, although have seen my friend do it a few times. The cockpit is quite roomy, so there is plenty of room to stow day gear inside and between the rear compartment, in the front area past the foot pegs, and in the rear hatch, so there is plenty of room for camping. When you want to stretch out or take a break from paddling, the wide cockpit gives you plenty of room to stretch your legs without getting into the boat.

Even though it is rather wide, it still feels like a proper kayak and if you adjust the seat and foot pegs properly, you can do some more advanced paddling techniques.

It is comfortable paddling long distances in and tracks well. I easily maxed out the hull speed in it, which I believe is around 5MPH.

One thing that makes it a great river boat is how easy it is to get into and out of. Here, the over all width can be nice because you really don’t have to do any work to get into it. It is also light enough to carry(although see the below section for some carrying issues.)

It also sits high enough and is wide enough, that you really don’t need a skirt for normal paddling, unless you are planning on going down some rapids.

The Bad

Some of the things that make this a great boat are also a bit of a downside when you want to start doing some advanced kayaking, primarily the overall width of the boat. The boat and cockpit are quite wide, so rolling is a bit harder than a smaller boat, as is proper edging. At least with the older models(and I believe newer ones) the thigh braces leave something to be desired, further making advanced techniques more difficult.

It is also a relatively thin boat, so the hull has a bit more give than other similar style boats, especially older models. So, it bends easily.

Due to the sharp edge of the cockpit, it can also be painful to carry on your shoulder. I usually use a folded up towel held in place with a backpack, otherwise the edge would get painful when carrying for any extended period.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed this boat and space permitting, do not plan on getting rid of it, despite having upgraded to a longer narrower boat. I think it is an excellent introductory kayak, as it offers a very good mix of touring vs rec boat properties. Primarily, the Manitou is stable enough that you don’t have to worry about tipping over, while still tracking well, allowing for a roll, and generally being a pleasure to use.

Ultimately, my reason for getting a new boat was I that as my skills grew, I wanted something that I could grow into and take in the ocean, edge, roll, and was more kayaking and less recboaty.

Despite that, I have no regrets about owning it and happily paddled it for several years. It definitely gets my recommendation as a nice hybrid day touring boat!

Perception Sport Rhythm 11 Kayak Review

Perception Sport KayakThe Perception Sport Rhythm was my first Kayak and while I quickly outgrew it, it was a great low cost kayak to learn on(read scratch up) without going out and spending a lot on something I wasn’t sure I would enjoy(or scratch up 😉 ).

I ended up putting a number of miles on this boat, including several over-night camping trips and one run long from Buck Horn Dam(Sanford, NC) to Fayetteville NC on the Cape Fear river.

New, these boats sell for around $500 – $550 when not on sale. However, you can typically find a used one for a lot less and I’ve seen them on sale at closer to the $400-$430 range.

Kayak Features

The Perception Sport Rhythm is a molded plastic recreational kayak. It includes bungee webbing on the front and a rear hatch for dry storage. The boat weighs around 45 pounds and is fairly easy to carry by a single person.

The seat is somewhat adjustable, mostly in regards to the backrest. The backrest can be moved forward and back, as well as up and down to accommodate life preservers and other gear(as well as to improve comfort.) The bottom part of the seat is fixed to the boat and is a created by a bench that is molded into the kayak as a single piece(often found in older/low cost kayaks.)

It has two carry handles front and back, as well as adjustable foot pegs. In addition to the storage in the back of the boat, there is enough room to fit a dry bag in the front of the boat if you push it past the foot pegs.

While there is some design to the hull, with a slight bit of keel/chining, it is a recreational boat, so it is very wide and flat. This provides a lot of primary stability and not terrible secondary stability, but means it doesn’t track that well. It turns very easily, is stable, and is very hard to tip over.

The cockpit area is very wide, so it will accommodate heavy set and tall people, with a weight capacity that is almost 300 pounds.

My Uses

I primarily used the Perception Sport on rivers, mostly flat water rivers with Class I or Class II rapids. Although, I did take it down the Haw near Bynum, which has Class III+ and it preformed well and didn’t let me down. I did do a bit of flat lake kayaking on Jordan Lake in Apex and Harris Lake in New Hill as well.

Most of my river runs are in the 8-18 Mile range, although I did several over-night trips the longest of which was around 50 miles or so on the Cape Fear.

The Good

For me, the Perception Sport was a great first kayak, as it is very forgiving and incredibly hard to tip over. I personally never tipped it, although it is definitely possible to tip it over. I saw two friends do it. The first was when going down a rapid and getting turned sideways without a skirt and the other was when a heavier friend lost their balance and tipped too far over to the side.

I used it to run a number of rapids and even took it down the Haw in Bynum(which probably wasn’t the smartest thing I have done) and it preformed well. Due to the flat hull, it turns incredibly easy and so after a bit of practice, you can spin it and make turns without having to think about it much. It doesn’t have the maneuverability of a play boat, but you can turn pretty much whenever you want. With a longer better tracking boat, you need to plan your moves ahead, but this is not the case with the Perception. It really is a fairly good creak boat, provided you aren’t going to be going down heavy rapids.

I went with a harmony spray skirt to prevent splashes into the boat and to provide a bit of support if you get turned sideways on a rapid. While not water tight, this is a fine skirt for recreational use and fit the boat well. The dry storage does work well enough for preventing water from getting in and no water got in either time it flipped.

While not incredibly comfortable, the seat can be adjusted and isn’t terrible. The thigh braces on the side make it very easy to carry on your shoulder without digging in and it is light enough that a single person can get it around pretty easily.

There is plenty of room to pack gear(especially if you stow a bag in the front of the boat) and so it can be used when camping. There is also room behind the seat for gear and, due to the large cockpit, a lot of space on both sides of the seat for water bottles or other gear.

The plastic is very thick and hard, so it held up very well to the abuse that a new kayaker can put on a boat as you are learning to read the river and judge what sort of rocks/rapids you can go down.

The Bad

The Perception Sport Rhythm is a recreational kayak and as such tracks incredibly poorly. The wide flat hull that makes it hard to tip over and very stable, along with the very wide cockpit area, means that it just isn’t going to go in a straight line well.

I didn’t realize quite how bad it tracked until I got my Necky Manitou, which is a day touring boat, and the difference was night and day. With the Perception you will be fighting the river, wind, and wasting a lot of effort to keep it in a straight line. This isn’t due to a defect of the Perception Sport or anything, that is just the nature of this type of boat. However, after getting a proper kayak, I quickly lost interest in the Perception and only used it once afterwards(which was enough to know I would not enjoy it.) Instead, it became relegated to my loaner boat until I sold it to make room for my new Play Boat.

It also isn’t very comfortable. Not terrible, but the seat is basically just a very thin piece of mesh/foam ontop of the hard plastic bench. So, it can get uncomfortable after an extended period of yakking.

There isn’t any rolling this boat(or at least it would be very very difficult) and while the wide cockpit can be great for a heavier set person, if you are a bit smaller it ends up being a lot of extra room. While the extra room can offer some benefits, it can make digging in with your thighs difficult. It also does not have a drain plug, so you will need a sponge and optionally a pump to get all the water out of it.

Final Thoughts

I don’t regret my purchase of the Perception Sport Rhythm at all. It was an inexpensive way to find out if I was going to enjoy kayaking and was incredibly forgiving for a novice kayaker. I put many hundreds of miles on it and enjoyed the boat a great deal.

Having said that, I did out grow it quickly and wanted to move on to a better tracking kayak…a proper kayak. As soon as I did, all the flaws of the boat became apparent(uncomfortable seat, tracking, etc.) Again, this isn’t really the fault of the boat, that is just what you get when you go with a recreational kayak. If you just want something to float down a lazy river or aren’t super into the sport, they are great. However, when you really get into it, you will want something that is designed to track or a play boat that you can have fun on rapids with, which is not something a recreational boat is designed for.