In early November I received a great birthday present, a Jackson Journey kayak. After spending six or seven hours on the boat spread out over three trips I have gotten the feel of it enough to share my experience. As a small aside, I’m going to call this article a “review” even though it might be closer to “first impressions”. I’ll begin with a quick recap of my kayaking experience. Knowing my background will help you understand where I’m coming from.
I’ve kayaked for most of my life and have used a variety of boats, from a small fiberglass home built kayak to a tandem sit-on-top. Most of my kayaking has been flat water on lakes, rivers and on the ocean. I’ve also done a small amount of easy white water and have been out on pretty rough waters. I’ve never taken lessons so I don’t know some of the more advanced techniques, such as rolling, though I have read books and watched videos. For the last ten years I’ve spent a lot of time on the water in a Boreal Design Ookpik Dou, a plastic tandem kayak.
The Ookpik Duo is aimed at the top end of recreational and bottom end of touring. It’s a very stable boat, particularly with the rudder, but is also faster and more maneuverable than any of the other tandems I tested. I’ve used it both with my wife and solo. Although as with any kayak it can be a very wet ride, I find the large cockpit and stable nature of the boat perfect for photography. One of the main issues with it is that it is very awkward to handle be myself when out of the water. This is the kayak I will be using the most when comparing the Jackson Journey to my previous experiences.
Jackson is best known for their whitewater kayaks, although they make a whole line of recreational and sporting boats. By “sporting boats” I mean kayaks that are used primarily for hunting or fishing. The Journey is their one boat that can be classified as a true Touring kayak (no offense to the Ibis and other recreational/touring boats). They have tried to give their 14’ Journey a mix of performance, maneuverability, durability, stability and speed with large amounts of watertight storage. It’s designed to be able to handle the toughest conditions yet glide along smoothly on flat water. On paper it seemed to be a kayak I could use and grow with.
Of course before the kayak ever hit the water I had to handle it on land. I can’t pretend that it’s light and easy. On the other hand, it’s a good 25 pounds lighter than my Ookpik Duo. It’s also two or three feet shorter, not a lot but enough to allow it to fit in my shed while the Ookpik can’t. Being a bit easier to lift, carry and handle, I will surely be more willing to throw it on the car to bring it someplace new.
I’m more used to getting into my kayak than slipping it on, but it didn’t take too long to get comfortable entering and exiting the Journey. I also quickly found that it’s much more stable on the water than I expected. I thought it would be like riding a log, but it sat in the water as easy as my tandem. Beaching it and pulling it out of the water at remote locations is also so much simpler than with the heavier Boreal.
I took the Journey out on the water on three different occasions since I’ve received it. The first day, which was a test ride before we bought it, I had it out on a shallow lake in New Hampshire, Powder Mill Pond. This paddle covers a very wide variety of terrain, from large open areas to narrow channels and marshy bays. There was only a slight breeze. The second paddle was on Swan Pond and the Swan River in Dennisport, MA. This has a large area of brackish water and a length of tidal river. There was a 15 knot sustained wind with gusts up to 20 knots. The third paddle was a round trip on the Herring River in Harwich Massachusetts. This is a tidal river which I took out to the surf. The sustained wind was around 10 knots.
I have to admit that I had a very hard time controlling the Journey when I first put it on the water. It didn’t want to go in a straight line and I had to work hard to turn. It didn’t take me very long to figure out the turning capabilities of the boat and I was soon able to put it through some very narrow squeezes I never would have been able to fit my much wider Oookpik. It took me a little longer to get it riding in a straight line, but after I found the trick it proved easy. I stopped in a few places with different types of shoreline to practice entering and exiting and lifting it out of the water. Again, it was a breeze. I ended the day impressed with the feel and maneuverability of the kayak. I thought I had the boat figured out and I liked it.
With the wind and slight current in the tidal river on my second paddle I very quickly discovered I really didn’t have the boat figured out. I soon found that I needed to use much more pressure on the thigh braces when I was turning or when I needed to work against a strong cross wind. Part of this process was becoming more comfortable with leaning the boat. My Ookpik Duo stays very flat on the water. I found with the Journey that I had to tilt it, occasionally quite a bit, to get it to respond the way I wanted, particularly when the wind was strong. I had talked to the dealer about a rudder and he thought that I most likely wouldn’t want it. When I was first hit by a 20 knot gust and had a hard time with the boat I thought I was going to have to get the rudder. By the end of the paddle, though, I had changed my mind. After getting used to it I had no problem keeping the boat under total control. The dealer had also given me a few hints on control which I was quickly able to incorporate into my paddling. This proved very helpful.
Not only was the third trip out the longest, I also encountered more varying conditions. I went a total of between eight and ten miles in about three hours (I always paddle fast, constant and consistent). The Herring River is very twisty and the current can be relatively strong. That means I hit every possible combination of wind direction versus current direction on my round trip. I also encountered some foot tall rollers as I passed between the jetties on the ocean end and briefly entered some heavy chop on Nantucket Sound before turning back. So, how did the boat behave on this third trip, a trip that was as long in time and distance as the other two combined? Very well, thank you.
When thinking of my experience with the Jackson Journey I found that there are two ways of looking at it. The first is that it is harder to paddle this kayak than my old tandem. I have to use more of my body, tilt the boat on edge a lot more, use a larger variety of strokes and, in general, get much more physical with it. On the other hand, from a different point of view it’s a lot easier. Now that I’m used to it, the kayak heads where I want it before the thought is even conscience. It’s very responsive and can easily handle conditions that are a little scary in the Ookpik Duo. I wear the boat like a shoe instead of sitting in it, so it becomes an extension of my body that responds to my thoughts, not a vehicle that I have to control.
Overall I’m very impressed with the Jackson Journey. I really like this boat. I know I haven’t even come close to pushing it to its limits. I plan on learning how to roll so I’ll be even more at ease in the rough water. This boat is made to take it. I can see having fun with it for a long time to come and I see myself growing as a kayaker in this boat. I still have my old Ookpik for when I go out with my wife or want to concentrate more on photography. But when I want to take a quick paddle, explore new terrain or kayak in more extreme conditions, the Journey will be ready. I’m very satisfied with the boat.
I recently wrote a blog that mentioned the third paddle in this review. See my post on Gulls.
See the Journey on the Jackson web site
I bought my Journey through NH Kayak Center.