Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Review of Feathercraft Java kayak

This comes from a review I originally posted on the Whitby Sea Anglers Forum. I've updated it and added more pictures. I no longer use this kayak, as I found a way to store a hard one. Still, for those without the space for four and half metre lump of themoplastic on the side of their house, the pack-in-a-bag kayaks remain the only option. Read on for the rest of my review...


The Feathercraft Java (FJ) is an inflatable, but perfectly serious, sit-on-top sea kayak. The kayak is long (4.7m), quick and packs into a large holdall that fits in the boot. But is it a serious fishing platform? Read on for a personal view.

Quick overview

Good points
  • it is truly portable – nothing quite like closing the boot and driving off with no visible sign that you’ve been kayak fishing for several hours!
  • it is very long, therefore it is quicker than many fishing kayaks. It is also about half the weight, so it’s easy to paddle.
  • it converts to two persons.
  • you can store it wherever in the winter months.

Bad points
  • you have to dry it (see below for my solution) before storing it away for any length of time.
  • lack of secure storage – everything has to be in dry bags.
  • it’s fiddly to assemble, with quite a few design issues (see below for more details).
  • it’s not a dedicated fishing platform – e.g. you can’t attach things like fish finders, rod holders, etc.
  • very wet ride – you can’t use it without dry pants.

Detailed Review
The FJ is made in Canada, but can be ordered from Knoydart here in the UK:

From the website, you might gather the opinion that this company isn’t interested in the fishing market, but they have just launched a backpackable fishing platform, so they perhaps they will one day launch a dedicated portable fishing kayak. Until that day, you’ll have to put up with something like the Java if you don’t have space to store a kayak.

The FJ seems aimed at city dwellers, the sorts who live in flats with no chance of storing a four and half metre kayak anywhere. If you are one of these, you might want to think carefully before buying an FJ. While it is true the kayak packs into a large bag:


If you want to stick all your stuff into the bag (your pfd, fishing rod and tackle, dry pants (yes, you need these with the FJ) and dry top, plus footwear, then the bag is no longer so portable:
 Basically, you can’t carry this with much ease up any of the Yorkshire landing sites. But, with the addition of a cheap fishing trolley, you can stick as much stuff in the bag as will fit, and ferrying it up and down North Landing or Runswick is a breeze. Putting the kayak together is a bit slower than fitting out a plastic kayak “off the roof” and onto the sea. I average about 20-30 mins to set it up. The straps can be awkward (especially when wet) and you never know if you’ve got the seat “just right”, but seeing a kayak emerge from the bag is magical and guaranteed to attract a crowd:



 The FJ has aluminium poles to stiffen the kayak. It’s not as stiff as a hardshell however, and once the swell gets around 4 feet or more, or it’s gets “lumpy” with crosswinds and so on, the kayak flexes noticeably.
 The FJ has four socks that you inflate – so don’t worry about puncturing one.
The FJ has a drop down skeg – this needs putting down before you set off from the beach. The kayak will not go in a straight line otherwise.

The kayak has a good profile, as mentioned above, it feels quick to paddle.

Design issues

Just in case someone from Feathercraft reads this – your product is not perfect, please look at the following suggestions!
  • instead of adjustable straps for the seat, how about adjustable clips? No more irritating guesswork trying to judge if the seat is good or not. Quick release clips would half the assembly time.
  • put those clips on the mesh webbing for equipment too, please!
  • you use grey and black webbing to identify different points to attach seats – ever viewed this strapping when it’s wet? It’s all black… but why put the colours on the underside of the strapping? Why not on top, in something bright (e.g. red?)
  • how about some dedicated fishing accessories? A fold-up seat with rod holders in the back would be nice, for example.

Summary

The FJ is not cheap. It has tiresomely fiddly seats, some serious design flaws (wait until you try and convert it to two persons, but then again, it least you can put two people in it) and it’s a pain to dry. I rigged up a single wheel pulley on the gable end of the house- this enables it to dry quickly and not take up the entire garden, but at four and half metres it puts it just under the eaves! Without a pulley, not sure how you would dry it quickly. Still, pulleys are cheap and easy to set up, and take up no space when not in use:
 But all that said, it’s still great to be able to pack it in a bag and head off to the coast. No one need ever know you have a kayak in the boot, so no security worries with kayaks strapped to the roof of the car. In fact, no lifting up of heavy kayaks onto roof racks at all. Of course, sometimes the pumping it up can get to be annoying, particularly in the baking sun, as can the lack of equipment space (no fishing crates on this craft – you carry it all either in your pfd, or in a dry bag).

Incidentally, if you fish with this kayak (which is not a dedicated fishing kayak), then you will need at least a dedicated fishing pfd – I use and recommend the high vis Stohlquist. And of course if you tip in the surf, you can lose stuff as the mesh bags don’t really secure things properly unless they can be wedged tight underneath them. Don’t fancy doing that with all those fish? Then you’d better tie your fish bag on tight if coming home through surf! Also remember to do it up – a bag full of water tied to your upside down kayak is trouble.

The FJ is mainly designed as a paddling kayak. Thus it is quick over open water, but feels like a sit-in, which can be a bit alarming if you are used to the rock solid stability of something like an Ocean Prowler. I only feel really secure in it when fishing with my feet over the side – so wetsuit socks and boots are needed.

To keep everything portable and simple, I put it all together with equipment that all fits in the bag – so four-piece paddles, 3 piece rod (not many options available for this – I use a 20lb Orvis spinning rod, which struggles a bit with big fish). In the 6 months I’ve had the FJ, it’s been very good. I’ve kayak’ed in Belgium, in the Scilly Isles, all up the Yorkshire coast and on Ullswater. It’s great to take camping for example – the benefits of having a portable kayak are very handy.

So despite the shortcomings, I am really enjoying this kayak, and once you get your feet over the side, and you’re bobbing about in the briny catching fish, all that expensive and effort will seem worthwhile.  :-)

The results – my first ever cod at 28 inches in length! Just over 8lb gutted (bathroom scales). Since then, there have been many dozens more!

And here was my highlight of 2009, a 7lb bass on an Xrap 100 SW:
Tight lines.

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