I bought the Wilderness Systems Focus 145 this winter, sight unseen, to be used for my 12 year old daughter to paddle and for teenagers and small adults to use in the kayak lessons I teach. I now have a bit of perspective on the kayak and would be interested to hear that of others as well.
First of all, upon receiving it I was a bit dismayed to note that I, at 6'3" and 210 lbs, fit fairly easily into the kayak. I was hoping to fit small people. The cockpit volume is huge - the rear bulkhead is way behind the back of the coaming, the front bulkhead is way ahead of the footbraces and the footbraces themselves are mounted to accommodate someone with longer legs than mine. So, the kayak is bigger in terms of fit than I'd hoped but I can cope with that (and I could move the bulkheads, if I feel so inclined).
As has been noted in previous posts (http://www.paddling.net/message/showThread.html?fid=advice&tid=1647571), the kayak has very straight lines with a plumb bow and plumb stern.
I have been using the kayak for lessons since spring with smaller-stature paddlers rainging from kids to adults. Until recently all of the use was on very protected waters on small lakes and ponds. Any difficulties experienced by students were manageable and written off as just the student's lack of skill.
A couple of weeks ago I taught a lesson and put a smaller woman into the kayak for part of the afternoon. She handled OK but had some problems controlling it's direction which I attributed to her lack of skill. We finished the afternoon by heading out onto the main lake (Lac La Ronge, Saskatchewan) into a bit of light headwind and small swell. She again had troubles controlling the course of the kayak, but was OK. Coming back into the bay, with light wind and swell from the stern, she had a great deal of trouble controlling the kayak's direction. So, we practiced rescues and traded kayaks on the spot. She then had no problem controlling my Tempest 180 in the same conditions. I was now paddling the Focus 145 and could see why she was having problems. It had a strong tendency to weathercock though I was able to control it well enough with constant attention. The new student without the skills to nip the weathercocking in the bud was at the mercy of the kayak.
This past week we canoe & kayak camped in northern Saskatchewan and my 12 year old daughter paddled this kayak with weight in the hatches evenly distributed. Being 12 and not strong, she quickly tired and after a couple of kilometers, I started to tow her. Well, that was an abject failure. I've been towing the kids in kayaks since they were small and have always remarked how easy it is (their other kayaks have been a Yost Sea Flea and a WS Tsunami SP). Not this time. The Focus 145 under tow would veer to the side until it was nearly abreast of me, then the sideways forces would be too great and it would swing to the other side. It was like a pendulum swinging back and forth behind me in the canoe and I was having to do so much for correction strokes that my speed dropped way down. The sideways forces when the towed kayak was at the extent of it's swing was fairly high and the risk of capsizing the kayak sideways was significant. A long tow (55') vs short tow (15') did not help, it just swung farther out. The same thing happened to me a couple weeks earlier with this kayak with another kid in tow, but that time I blamed the kid and it was a short distance so I didn't worry too much about it. I have never experienced this pendulum effect before, not while towing kids, not while towing adults in lessons. My daughter knows how to edge and edging to control the direction was not enough.
A couple days later while on a day trip from our camping spot (no gear in the hatches), my 8 year old wanted to paddle the kayak. It was dead calm and the water was like glass. She has never had much trouble controlling a kayak before, but this time she literally could only do circles. The kayak would start to turn and nothing she could do would straighten it out or bring it back on course. After doing a few loops and making little progress down the lake, I hopped in to the kayak. I found that even in the dead calm conditions I had to CONSTANTLY work to keep the kayak on course. So, I went ashore, found some large flat rocks to stick in the stern (20+ lbs), and paddled back to camp. The kayak performed much better with the weight in the stern and I did not have to work so hard to keep it on course. I stuck the 8 year old back into the kayak and she paddled off in a straight line, turned around without trouble and paddled back to our island campsite in a straight line. So, that makes sense, weighting the stern and raising the bow helps it track and still allows it to turn without it wanting to constantly pivot around the bow.
When we paddled home again, my wife paddled the Focus 145, this time with the gear weight loaded to the stern as much as possible. She was able to manage just fine (she normally paddles a guillemot so she should be good at maintaining direction).
My conclusions: This kayak is rudder dependant and has a strong tendency not just to weathercock, but to pivot around the bow. I intend to move the seat back a couple of inches since it is currently placed well in front of the rear cockpit edge. I likely will also keep some weight in the stern. Finally, I will not be so quick to dismiss handling problems as being the student's inability. My assessment of what is going on with the towing issues (and the directional control issues in general) is that the kayak is easily pushed off course by some force, then it continues in that direction despite the efforts of the new paddler to correct it, or despite the towing forces that should be pulling it along behind. While towing it's only when the sideways force gets very large that it changes course and heads off in the new direction.
By the way, here is a link to a picture of my younger daughter in the kayak before attempting to paddle it the couple of kilometers back to camp. http://www.facebook.com/Coldspring.Paddling/photos/a.229978007043920.53121.191586540883067/744437125598003/?type=1&theater
All of the above is a long story, I know, but I wanted to give the full details of my perspective. Now, I would REALLY appreciate the perspective of others who have some time in the Focus family of kayaks.
p.s. I have been a longtime member on pnet though for the last several years I rarely do anything other than lurk. However I felt this was the best place to go to find the perspective of others on this craft.
Focus, or lack thereof
So, I’m not sure how I missed this entire thread before I posted my note, but I did. I guess when I searched the forum before posting I searched “Focus 145” and did not look for the others in the series. http://www.paddling.net/message/showThread.html?fid=advice&tid=1732301
Hogged Keel Line
A little more about my Focus 145 issues. It never occured to me to have a look at the hull, but thanks to a paddler on another board I checked it out and sure enough, there is a large indentation in the hull, effectively removing any rocker that should have been there.
I am in the process of attempting, through heat and pressure, to correct this indent. The dent was actually there when I received the kayak this winter and I attempted to remove it then with a heat gun. However, either the dent returned or I didn’t actually remove it properly.
You can see the photos of the hull and my repair attempt here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/+BryanSarauer/albums/6046956277856644881
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Just a little update about my Focus 145. I got the dent out of the bottom so that the hull is no longer hogged. However, it is still a challenge for a novice to paddle in a straight line. Once it veers off, it becomes VERY difficult for a beginner to bring it back the other way.
It seems the kayak as designed is poorly balanced. Weight in the stern greatly helps with manoeuvrability.
It’s the bow shape
That indent isn’t the problem it’s that the bow at the waterline is shaped the way the stern of a kayak normally is. If seen this shape occur in a couple of new designs and it always results in pivoting from the bow. I think it comes from designing off a computer and not experience on the water.