I've had my KayakPro Marlin for about six months now, so I figured I had enough mileage on it to do a review. First, the background:
I've been paddling for a little less than two years and quickly went from a 13 foot Boreal Designs Ookpik to a 16.5 foot P&H Capella, both plastic. I really like the Capella - I'm 5.10", 220 lbs, and the Capella fits well and handles very well. The vast majority (more than 90%) of my paddling is on flat water, as I only live a mile from the Rocky Gorge and Triadelphia reservoirs in Maryland. Since I paddle those so often, I got interested in going faster each time I did the same loops, which got me interested in racing. After doing several CPA races and the Broadkill and Wye races last year I finally reached the point where I was faster than the Capella - a perfect excuse to buy a new and faster boat.
Everything I experienced and read said faster meant longer, skinnier and lighter. It looked like staying just under 18' made sense for length for a number of reasons, but skinnier was an issue. I am balance challenged to start and the fact that the vast majority of my paddling is on flatwater means I just don't get a lot of time in rougher water to get better. I tried a surfski on dead calm water and immediately went into omelet-eyed survival paddling. So, I was willing to sacrifice speed for stability. I also didn't want a boat that could only be used for racing - something that at least had enough rigging and capacity (like hatches) for day touring was a must and I would take wider and heavier.
So, I quickly narrowed it down to the QCC 600, the Epic 18x and the KayakPro Marlin. They are very similar boats in many ways, as they are all designed to fit the kayak racing rules while maximizing waterline length. I managed to get short test paddles in each boat (actually I test paddled a Kayakpro Nemo, which is the girl version of the Marlin, same hull just slightly less cockpit volume). All of the test paddles were in fairly calm river water and all felt good but the Nemo just seemed to feel the most like the Capella, so that was it - I ordered a Marlin from Kayakpro.
I ordered the carbon/Kevlar 36 lb layup in October - I didn't care that much about the weight savings, but I thought the $500 extra was worth it for stiffness and durability. Delivery was first estimated to be early December, but ended up being February. If you have to miss paddling months, missing Dec/Jan/Feb is the best way to go. The boat's yellow over white finish, the interior and all the fittings looked great. It really is purty.
The first problem was that when the boat showed up, there were no hatch covers - those were being shipped separately. So, I got out some garbage bags and rubber bands and covered the hatches and put-in on Triadelphia. Boy, is the Marlin fast compared to what I had been paddling - I am back to being the limiting factor in speed, vs. the boat. Doing a loop where I would push to average 5.2 mph in the Capella became an effortless 5.8 mph average in the Marlin. In sprinting, I still haven't hit the point where the boat just won't go faster, I always give out first. Plus, what a difference carrying a 40 lb kayak instead of a 65 lb kayak!
The hatch covers came in a few days later and I ran into the next problem - the small round front hatch cover was a tight fit and when I tried to push it on, the plastic hatch rim immediately separated from the kayak shell. A gentle tug on the large rear oval hatch rim caused that one to come off, too. Phone calls to KayakPro resulted in them sending marine epoxy and me scraping off the old adhesive, scoring the hatch rims and clamping and gluing them back on - a royal pain in the neck, especially on the large, oval rear hatch. But once that was done, I was back on the reservoir having a great time.
The next problem occurred when I finally got out on some textured water, a 20 mile paddle down the Patuxent River. The paddle started out with slight following winds but we hit a section where 1-2 foot (more 1 foot than 2 foot) confused seas started hitting us broadside and I immediately felt squirrelly and bloop - had an unintended swimming event. To someone who paddles racing kayaks, the Marlin probably feels like paddling a canoe. For me (who gets very little time on rougher water and has zero native balancing skill), the stability profile of the KayakPro is very different from the Capella - much less initial stability but probably stronger secondary.
Since then I've had a little bit of time in slightly rougher water and I'm starting to feel much more confident in the Marlin. Even I can tell that for a fast boat it is very stable - in both dimensions (speed and stability) the paddler is the limiting factor. By taking advantage of the adjustable seat and footpedal positioning, I was able to move my position forward which seemed to help stability quite a bit for me.
One last problem occurred when the rudder assembly fell off during a paddle on Triadelphia Reservoir. Turns out the threaded stud that the rudder pivots on had never been fully threaded into the rudder assembly and it had wobbled and stripped the lower threads. Some help from KayakPro and multiple Nemo owner Cyndi J. helped me get it re-installed and KayakPro is sending replacement parts.
Those are the only negatives I've experienced. Paddling the Marlin is a lot of fun. It has enough sea kayak features (two hatches, decent deck rigging) to be reliable for fast day touring. It is fast enough to be competitive in the fast touring categories in races. The rudder system with the gas pedal type controls makes steering and correcting a snap, while still providing firm support for leg pushing. I really like the seat - it doesn't have any back support, but every back rest I've used in a kayak has just ended up chafing my back and I don't miss it at all. I have plenty of padding on my rear end, but others might want to add a pad.
I've now had the KayakPro Marlin for about 6 months and probably have about 250 miles in it. Summary review:
Bottom line - I'm never going to be someone who has 5 or 6 kayaks, so the Marlin turned out to be exactly what I wanted: a boat fast enough to make me be the limiting factor in fitness training and local races but also fun and usable for touring day trips. If I really wanted to go deep in either racing or multi-day touring I'd pick a different more specialized boat. However, for doing my usual training paddles, local races and local day tours like Wye Island or the Eastern Neck, the Marlin is fast and fun (and easy to carry) all at the same time.