Sterling Reflection or CD Karla or...

urbanwaves

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Long time reader, first time writer. I am looking to purchase a playboat for day paddles, surf, coastal exploration and the like. I have an NDK Explorer HV that I will keep for tripping. But it is not as playful as I would like for shorter outings. (It also weighs about the same as a front-end loader, and I worry I will break my back every time I put in on the car or take it off.) I have narrowed my options to a Sterling Reflection II and a Current Designs Karla. I have paddled both, but only on flat water and only for a few minutes. I really liked both boats. Each was super intuitive and seemed well-constructed. The Reflection's seat was the best. I liked the Karla's hatch arrangement better. The Karla, even in the lighter weight build, is a couple g's less money. But I am looking for the boat that will help me grow my paddling from advanced to expert, and I am willing to spend the extra money if it's the better option. So: anyone here have experience in both boats who can give me some insight? Is there another boat I should also be considering? Other than my few minutes on the lake, my exposure to both boats has been watching drool-worthy surfing videos on YouTube, so I welcome any input!

thanks,
John
 

JohnAbercrombie

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I hear the Reflection is fun for surfing and playing. A very fit acquaintance had one and he looked great in it as I paddled past him, so perhaps not the best tool for keeping up on day paddles. (I am not a fast paddler..)
A good friend has a CD Prana (same family/designer as Karla) and she really likes it. I've done a bit of work on it and I'd judge the construction quality as 'OK', but not great. Skeg box design/install was a bit flimsy and cracked at the start of a 2 week trip - normal (not rough) gear packing had put a bit of sideways force on the skeg box and it cracked at the hull join. VanIsle W. Coast for 2 weeks with the skeg box taped over was 'not fun'. Core material in the laminate which keeps things light & stiff but isn't very rugged. One of the jobs I did for my friend was to reduce the size of the 'glove box pod' which got in her way.

I've heard scuttlebutt that the Reflection and other Sterling boats keep repair guys busy, but that may be because the owners are more gung-ho than average. :)
 
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urbanwaves

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So what I really need is a boat that hasn't been made for decades, but with special modifications that are even rarer to find. Is that pretty red one on the market?
 

JohnAbercrombie

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So what I really need is a boat that hasn't been made for decades,
Coasters were last produced in 2007, but there were a lot (600+ ??) of them made. The reason you may not be familiar with them is because most owners don't want to part with them.
They are out there - I've had a few pass through my hands in the past 6-8 years. Especially if you are in Seattle/Portland/SanFrancisco you shouldn't have much trouble finding one.

but with special modifications that are even rarer to find. Is that pretty red one on the market?
If you can get your mind around using a flotation bag(s), no mods necessary.
It worked for John Lull.
mini-John Lull Rescues Cover.jpeg



Some Coasters had rear hatches - they were an option.

That red Coaster is the 'pry it from my cold dead hands' boat in my fleet. :)
I sold an almost identical one some years ago, and an un-modified Coaster in the past year.

https://westcoastpaddler.com/community/threads/sold-mariner-coaster-sea-kayak-1475.8763/#post-93473
 
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Tangler

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I think the "or..." opens up the discussion to other suggestions...
There are many references to the Coaster on the Sterling website including (referencing the Grand Illusion):
"compared to most other boats I have tried this is among the most maneuverable rivaling the Mariner Coaster."
 

AM

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Is there another boat I should also be considering?
I’ve surfed a Reflection but not a Karla, so I can’t give you the comparison you’re looking for. However, since you asked for other options, I would add a P&H Aries to the list. If you’ve tried a Delphin, the Aries is about 10% better at everything.

Cheers,
Andrew
 

CaliPaddler

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You’ve honed in on two great playboats and I’d agree with your quick assessments of both—I too like the Karla/Sisu/Prana hatch arrangement, and I too find the Sterling seats more adaptable and comfy. If you haven’t already, YouTube the Hobuck Hoedown competitions—you’ll see both kayaks performing impressively. The Reflection has a learning curve for rolling due to its unique hull profile, but it’s also insanely stable on edge. I find the Karla more “traditional” in feel and more familiar coming from other sea kayaks.

I’d give the edge to the Reflection due to its customizability. Sterling will make a boat that fits you, Current Designs will sell you a boat that you probably fit into. Can’t lose, but that’s my 0.02.
 

dermot

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cost no object, i'd also be calling Sterling...

and after a Sisu meets rock moment on Edward King last summer we are taking plastic boats when play'n, the gel coat at the bow just vaporated, and it was not a big hit atall, glad it was the last of 8 days, not day1

i'd be more confident of bounceing off a rock and comeing home with a boat in one piece in a Sterling boat, or a plastic boat... pretty confident in my Delphin's ablity to withstand a rock hit, or two, or three hundred

we took a Karla out for a day, i loved it, and i'm 6'1", 200lbs, actual room to move my size11 feet, lovely boat, but want one hatch large enough to put a tent into for weekends away, so Sisu was a better choice - and was on offer at the time far, and less costly than a Reflection or Grand Illusion

the thought was to sell the Delphin, but after paying for the repairs to the Sisu, decided to keep the Delphin
 

JohnAbercrombie

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the gel coat at the bow just vaporated, and it was not a big hit atall, glad it was the last of 8 days, not day1
That's what gel coat is for! :)
Seriously, I've seen a few well-built boats that had voids under the gelcoat 'at the sharp ends' where the cloth/roving didn't get pushed right into the 'corners'. So I wouldn't be too harsh if it was just gelcoat.
People want light boats - a 52# 16' glass boat with 4 hatches just can't be made extremely rugged, IMO.
That goes for the Reflection at 45#-50# too, IMO.
I think I read that the Tsunami Rangers glass/kevlar boats they made for rock gardening weighed a lot more than the average. (80 or 90 lbs??)
 
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CaliPaddler

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I've got a 2017 Sisu (LV) and have found a few gelcoat voids around the hatch rims. Nothing so serious I felt like I needed to re-gelcoat for; I just pushed some lexel in there and called it a day. There's also some cracking on the hatch rims but it was used as a demo boat for a year before I bought it, so no telling how/how much stress caused the little fractures. I don't worry about it when I paddle, it's just a cosmetic annoyance for now. But it does suggest a margin of error in the build.

If you do pursue the Reflection and speak to Sterling, he'll tell you all the myriad ways he keeps the weight of your boat down, from gelcoat color, to gelcoat thinness, to the choice of adhesive for joining the cockpit coaming to the deck. I haven't really stress-tested my Progression yet but I opted to keep weight as low as possible (37lbs!). I'll never take it rock gardening; it's for surfing, and only time will tell if the lightest build is also the strongest -- which Sterling does explicitly claim. Some people prize thicker, heavier gelcoat as "sacrificial" (especially when praising British kayaks for some reason? anecdotally). I think it's a combination of stresses, not one element, that makes or breaks a hull...
 

urbanwaves

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I’ve surfed a Reflection but not a Karla, so I can’t give you the comparison you’re looking for. However, since you asked for other options, I would add a P&H Aries to the list. If you’ve tried a Delphin, the Aries is about 10% better at everything.

Cheers,
Andrew
Andrew, I had not considered an Aries until your note. Does it paddle similarly to the Reflection?
 

urbanwaves

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cost no object, i'd also be calling Sterling...

and after a Sisu meets rock moment on Edward King last summer we are taking plastic boats when play'n, the gel coat at the bow just vaporated, and it was not a big hit atall, glad it was the last of 8 days, not day1

i'd be more confident of bounceing off a rock and comeing home with a boat in one piece in a Sterling boat, or a plastic boat... pretty confident in my Delphin's ablity to withstand a rock hit, or two, or three hundred

we took a Karla out for a day, i loved it, and i'm 6'1", 200lbs, actual room to move my size11 feet, lovely boat, but want one hatch large enough to put a tent into for weekends away, so Sisu was a better choice - and was on offer at the time far, and less costly than a Reflection or Grand Illusion

the thought was to sell the Delphin, but after paying for the repairs to the Sisu, decided to keep the Delphin
Dermot, How would you compare the handling of the Karla to the Delphin?
 

JohnAbercrombie

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only time will tell if the lightest build is also the strongest -- which Sterling does explicitly claim.
It all depends on what one means by 'strongest' I guess..... or it's alien engineering.
If Sterling was correct, my THINK Surfski @27 lbs would be 'stronger' than my Mariner Max @ 65 lbs? I don't think so!!

Maybe he means 'stronger for its weight'.... e.g. making it twice as heavy won't necessarily make it twice as 'strong'. And 'rugged' is more complicated yet.
 

CPS

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I've come across some kayaks that were definitely 'resin rich' layups. Older Wilderness Systems kayaks for example. Too much resin doesn't give extra strength, but does give extra weight.
Similar thinking with excessively thick gelcoat.
The idea of sacrificial gelcoat seems a bit wonky to me, but I'm not going to gather the empirical evidence to prove it one way or the other.

Vacuum infusion should reduce extra resin in a layup, and I believe both CD and Sterling are doing it.
Those I know who have Reflections speak very highly of them, but so do those with Karlas.
 

dermot

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Dermot, How would you compare the handling of the Karla to the Delphin?
i'm 6'1" and 200lbs with size11 boots.. the Karla was wonderful, playful, trustworthy - but we were in flat water (indian arm),
seems like it handles much like the SisuLV, but lighter / smaller / and more responsive to small inputs

the Delphin i have is the 155 v2, the larger one, in corelight, and the oposite side of brackets around the SisuLV, the Delphin feels heavy, needs to be pushed to respond, it was great when i weighed 275, i could toss Delphin around like a toy, now that i've lost weight the Karla is just better for anything that does not involve rocks and/or a tent in the back hatch

i've been told the Delphin 150 is diffrent boat, and today it's probbaly a better fit for me, or most likely anyone looking at a Karla

one other thought.... the Delphin is a complete PITA after a few hours, i wedge into it very snuggly, but the feet cannot move what.so.ever.
so i'm wedged into frog leg position with no wiggle room - in the Karla there's absolutly tons of leg/foot room i could paddle with knees up surfski style, super comforatble for me

i replaced both the footpegs and the seat in the Delphin, have not felt a need to do that in the Sisu, identical outfitting in the Karla

one thing the Delphin has going for it is the (near) unbreakable build. truly takes a licking and keeps on ticking
 

AM

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Andrew, I had not considered an Aries until your note. Does it paddle similarly to the Reflection?
I found the Reflection a little easier to hold on edge. The Aries feels smaller — not in the cockpit size, but in the general sense of how much boat you’re wearing.
 
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