Potomac pathfinder kayak

-- Last Updated: Aug-12-12 9:09 PM EST --

Hi all! My wife and I recently purchased our first kayaks and just took them out on the water for the first time today. They are 10ft Potomac pathfinders from dicks sporting goods. We got them for a great deal at $199 each. The problem is I have found that it has a tendency to drift to the left or right significantly once I stop paddling. I've got my paddling technique down and it goes mostly straight while constantly paddling but it is extremely annoying when I stop to just take a drink of water and suddenly find myself sideways. My question is, is this just the way 10ft recreational wide kayaks are? Or does this potomac kayak have particularly bad tracking? We were considering also the 10ft 4in future beach fusion 124 also from dicks which seems to look more streamlined on the bottom but it's is $270 and I'd hate to go through the process of returning them and paying the extra money if they are just going to do the same thing.

We took a class from the park service in cinncinati a few weeks ago and they were using some ocean sot kayaks that were great but a bit pricey for us just starting out.

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated!

very common
It’s called weather cocking.

Most Likely Not Weathercocking

– Last Updated: Aug-13-12 11:04 AM EST –

Weathercocking is when the stern is pushed downwind and the bow drifts upwind because of the high pressure of the water in the front of the kayak and low in the back. I have never paddled one of the tubs from Dick's, but it sounds like the boat just doesn't track well. All kayaks tend to drift left or right when you stop paddling, even if they do track well.
I would suggest you go to a real kayak dealer and demo some good quality boats. Otherwise you might never enjoy the great experience most of us enjoy paddling quality kayaks and canoes.
Safety is another consideration. If you get swapped in the boat you have what is going to happen, will it sink or float? Does your boat have bulkheads or air bags?
You don't have to spend a lot of money. Do some research, find a boat you like and watch Craig's list. Stay away from Dick's.

It isn’t Weathercocking
This is a wide, short, flat bottom rec boat. You won’t track straight for long in a boat like that. The future beach may be longer, but you will end up in the same situation with that one as well.

Think of it this way, this isn’t the end all be all of tests at the store, but it will give you a general idea of what to look for.

If you can set it on the ground and it sits perfectly flat (ie: doesn’t rock from side to side) it won’t track very well. It’s meant for stability.

Zerbe is right about avoiding Dick’s if you’re looking for a boat with decent tracking (or much of anything else for that matter). There is a reason they sell those kayaks cheap. If you plan do do any serious kayaking, avoid them.

Trail a paddle blade
You can have a ton of fun in the boats you’ve purchased, don’t let some other comments get you down. It sounds as if you did some homework and made a choice with purchase price being a key factor. Know the boats’ and more importantly your own limitations as you learn and have fun.

As noted, these and most similar boats are going to quickly turn off track when not actively paddling. You can try trailing a paddle blade on one side as you take your drink. Experiment with tucking the paddle shaft under an arm. Just be careful, particularly in current, as this can exert unexpected force on the boat - combined with a mistimed lean and you can end up wet.

While I’m paddling it seems to track fine. Its a little turny but I can handle it pretty well, its just the sudden veering off to one side or the other shortly after I stop paddling that is weird.

It does come to a point at the bottom, so it doesn’t sit straight on shore, but its not very pronounced and the front and back seem pretty stubby.

When we kayaked in Cincinnati we were using Tarpon 120’s and the bottom of the fusion 124 seems much more similar to the Tarpon’s. We didn’t experience anything like this with the Tarpon so maybe the fusion would do better. The bottom of the fusion isn’t perfectly flat, but instead comes to two points, sorta like a ‘W’ when you look at the bottom head-on. And the front and back look much more significantly streamlined than on the Potomac.

We are hoping to upgrade maybe next season but we also had to get a car rack and all the other things like life jackets and paddles and straps and didn’t want to break the bank just starting off.

I know at the price range we are looking at we aren’t going to be getting particularly nice or efficient boats and there’s some drifting and such to be expected out on water, but the sudden veer-off feels less like just drifting (such as we experience canoeing on a river) and more like someone grabbed the wheel in the car and jerked it sideways.

We definitely did have fun our first time out (especially when the dogs decided to jump out of the kayak and immediately regretted the decision :))! I’ll have to try the paddle thing maybe and perhaps we will just take advantage of Dick’s return policy and try a few different ones until we come to a good balance of features.

We did see some pretty nice less expensive kayaks at the local outdoors stores (such as from old town and perception sport), but we just don’t want to spend $400+ on a kayak at the moment. Maybe next year :).

This behavior is normal for a
10 foot long kayak. You’d almost certainly notice an improvement going from 10 to just 11 or 12 feet. Tracking would be much better with an even longer boat. Of course, the details of hull design have an impact (channels along the hull, a pronounced keel or a fin towards the rear of the kayak can all make a big difference), but I’m afraid I don’t know whether the Future Beach model would be much (or any better) than your present boats.

If you are really frustrated by the performance of your kayaks you should do as you suggest, return them and try something else. Despite what some have written here, it seems that there are some quite decent recreational/fishing kayaks at Dicks (e.g., the Pescador 12 is identical to the 1st generation WS Tarpon 120), but these will cost more to buy. My advice would be to keep the Potomacs (or similar boat) for the short term (i.e. through the next season) and look for something better late next year if you still feel motivated to continue.

Some will perhaps argue that your present boats will put you off kayaking and that it would be better to buy something better (and used) now. (You might find it difficult to find better used at $200 though.) Good luck with you decision.

The Fusion
won’t do that much better, and it is very, very slow. If you want to upgrade, at least go with a Perception Sport Swifty 9.5. It is a low end rec kayak, but a lot better than a Potomac or Fusion.

I have bought three kayaks from Dick’s, and have not had a problem at all. I know a large number of the very knowledgable paddlers on this website say to stay away from it, but for your price range, Dick’s is ok.

If you want anything more than the Potomac, at least get the Swifty. If you plan to go kayaking very often, you may want something better, maybe in the $500 range. You really do get what you pay for.

The Perception Conduit 13
and the Old Town Trip/Vapor are quite good!!! You will get something better elsewhere, but these are fine for moderate rec kayaking!!

Enjoy your time on the water

– Last Updated: Aug-13-12 10:47 PM EST –

I would check out the kayak reviews on here...and then keep an eye on Craig'slist. Sometimes you can get a good used kayak very reasonable. Which would give you a better paddling experience.
Right now you are enjoying your time on the water with what you can afford.

Happy paddling

More on trailing a blade
When you take your last stroke before stopping you have force pushing the kayak away from the side you last paddled on. To keep the kayak going straight you need to apply enough force in the opposite direction to counterbalance the last stroke.

When you take your last stroke you can simply hold the paddle in one hand in a “trailing low brace” on the same side you last paddled. As suggested above you can probably even hold it trapped under your arm to keep both hands free. The trailing low brace has the paddle blade kind of floating on top of the water. If the blade is out to the side you have to be careful that the front edge of the blade is upturned slightly or it will catch on the water and dive down possibly taking you down with it. If you get the paddle almost parallel to the side of the kayak (blade farther back) then the blade angle is a little less critical. Often you can just briefly apply the trailing brace and then set the paddle back on the kayak. It will take some practice to figure out how long and how much force you need.

Another way to keep the kayak straighter when not paddling is to incorporate a half stroke as your last stroke. So if you take your last full stroke on the right and want to stop paddling make just a 1/2 or 1/4 force stroke on the left not to keep the kayak moving forward, but just enough to offset the turning force from the stroke on the right.

No matter what you do there will probably come a point where the kayak slows down and begins to turn due to current or wind despite your best efforts to have straightened to out. Sometimes if I am trying to stop and take pictures I will purposely point the kayak away from my target, but finish with a stroke or low brace that will start the kayak turning toward the target. That gives me 3 chances to get the picture: 1- as the kayak starts coming around toward my target, 2- as the kayak points at the target, and 3- as the kayak passes the target but has not moved too far away from it.

Good luck.


That is very helpful, thank you! I think maybe I’ll just hang on to these since it is unlikely that the fusion 124 would be much better and keep my eye out on craigslist and store sales.