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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited by Moderator)
I’ve been rafting now for a few years and have about 10 years of ww kayak experience - I want to purchase my first “real” raft and because the Saturn I borrow is no longer available. I’m looking at 14 foot rafts and I’m going to be using a rowing frame and rafting Colorado and Wyoming rivers (class II – IV). I would like to leave cat's out of the discussion because I want a raft. I’ve probably read all of the posts about “what raft should I buy” and found great information but I wanted to ask for specific information about raft performance. I don’t want to know about raft longevity/quality or cost but pure speed and maneuverability. Here are a couple of things I found I would like opinions on: “Avon and Vanguard have high floors and are very slow”. “Aire D and R series maneuver well but hold water in the floor”. “RMR have blocky corners and are a bit slow”. I would love to here from all of the oarsmen who have rowed many rafts and know about performance in all types of technical water. I’ve looked at: Aire, RMR, NRS, Hyside, Sotar, Maravia…… Hope to get good info to help with my purchase. Thanks,
 

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I'm a long time catarafter who just made the switch to a raft. I got a Sotar 14SL. Diminishing tubes. Supposed to be very maneuverable. I'll be running it for the first time over Memorial weekend. Just a class I-II float, but it should give me an idea on handling as compared to my cats. I'll give some feedback after the trip. I rowed a 12 ft. Hyside last year. Lots of fun, but a small boat, so hard to compare to a 14 footer.
 

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Hi,
I am a fan of AIRE, for what it is worth. My Super Duper Puma is a narrow and very maneuverable 13'9" raft. I just wanted to point out that you can get an AIRE floor that does not hold water. They are designed to hold water to help with stability, but you can also get the sealed pocket floor which does not hold water. A sealed pocket floor is likely to be more maneuverable and less stable. Mine lets water into the floor, but it is still very maneuverable.
 

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I think speed and maneuverability may come from design or shape more so than brand or material. Hypalon may be slower over a rock but in the water I can't imagine it matters much. I also think Aire offers options on there floors that doesn't hold water. It seems to me though that you should stay away from the standard round boat style found in NRS or Avon. Aire , Sotar and Maravia have boats that I would consider fast (if there is such a thing) and nimble. I have a Spider wade by Maravia and it is very maneuverable as was my Aire Puma. If I am doing 8 days on the Salmon though my Avon feels fast and maneuverable. The others would feel like toads loaded very heavy. So do consider the amount of gear or people you may carry as this should factor into boat design.


Jim
 

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I started on Hypalon Rikens and have a 14' Sotar ST now. For paddling, I really like PVC/ urethane boats, they are very rigid compared to Hypalon rafts. When you add a frame, there isn't much difference. With no thwarts installed and my raft fully inflated, I can put it over my head like a canoe carry position in the yard. It is much lighter that the Rikens I've hoisted when I was younger. Two people can R2 it pretty easy, and I find it pretty easy to row with me and my small family in it. If you are looking for speed, the tapered tube design boats have an edge. Your statement about performance can mean a lot of things to different people.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
This is great information... thanks everyone. I did not know about the Aire floor options and I want to find a few of the designs with tapered tubes to look at and compare. If I take my time I'll find a boat that fits my needs. Another note... I was in Denver today and looked at some Aire boats and was impressed. I was also impressed with a new RMR I looked at. I'm not in the market for a round boat but I thought the quality and stiffness of that boat was great. IMO if RMR added one tube section to round out the boat a bit along with the drop stitch or I-beam floor option they will be selling lots of boats!
Thanks Again.
 

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I just went from an 18' GC dory to a 16' Sotar SL and took my first trip last week. What an eye opener. The raft was a pig compared to the dory and I was rowing it empty. I'll have to give myself memory loss to forget how sweet the dory was.
 

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Other factors that might play into the performance of the boat:

1. Where and how many drain holes? I won't claim to know the science of it, but the less holes seems to help with speed. Perhaps a lesser resistance to the water is what makes it faster? But then less holes would mean slower draining when you get pounded in big water.

2. CataraftGirl sorta hit on it, but tube shape(both on the bottom and top). The diminishing tubes are supposed be less wind resistant on the top half and therefore "faster", but I have a more traditional/sectional shaped boat and don't notice a major wind drag. On the water side, some would say the rockered boat is slower because at lighter weights it has less surface ares in contact with the moving water versus the traditional/sectional type boat. But I'm sure there's arguments saying the rocker is faster and more maneuverable with that continuous curve.

3. How much shit do you plan to carry? It's a legitimate question even within the ranks of only comparing 14 footers. If you're a "bring everything you might need, 5 friends, and many many beers" type, then a smaller tubed or narrower I would expect to perform like shitola versus a bigger tubed boat with a wider stance. If you're a minimalist "me, my tent, and my one bottle of whiskey" type, the narrower and smaller tubed boat would probably be a smidge better in performance.
Example: NRS's Patriot 142 has 21" tubes and a 6'8" width which is more beefy but slightly more cumbersome. AIRE's Super Duper Puma has 19" tubes and a 6' width which I would say is less beefy and more nimble.

4. And lastly, how do you plan to store and transport the boat? This factors in when you compare boat materials. If you have the space and will be keeping stored inflated and trailering, then no problem with getting the most rigid or thickest material-ed boat you want. If you're rolling it up after every trip or storing rolled up, you might consider the more malleable materials. Example: My 13 foot PVC boat sucks terribly at rolling up, and takes up massive amounts of space. Whereas several of my buddies with 14 and 15 foot hypalon boats can roll there's up in what seem like almost half the size of mine. But I have the space so I try NOT to roll mine if I don't have to when playing the game of "musical garage".
 

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Avons do not have high floors and handle completely differently than Vanguards.

All rafts are really "round boats." Cats are not. Most AIREs hold water in the floor, but that doesn't matter as long as the floor is in the water. When the floor is out of the water.... well, you know.

Of all the boats I've paddled and rowed Vanguards were the weirdest because they do have that really high floor. During a high-water season down the Lower Kern a few years back, trips driving Avons were in control; trips driving Vanguards were a shit show.

You've come to the right place to discuss the nuance of raft performance. But in reality, unless you're doing laps on the same section at the same flow with the same load it is nearly impossible to accumulate any truly useful data. Good luck doing that unless you're a commercial guide.

Ultimately you won't go wrong with a major manufacturer like Hyside, Avon, SOTAR, AIRE, Maravia, and you can sell it if you want to try something new. If you want to save a few bucks on a Vanguard, RMR, or (cough) Saturn, you could join the party of guinea pigs waiting to see if their boats will delam or explode.

Unless I had access to wholesale pricing, if I was in your shoes I'd just look for a good deal on a used Hypalon boat and get on the water without perseverating for years on 1/2" difference in the published specs between boats that you really can't get any experience with. Good luck in the hunt.
 

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We've rented the Super, Super Duper and regular Pumas for years. And love them.

But we just bought our first boat over the winter and it's a 13'6" SOTAR SL. And we love it.

We've only paddled (never rowed) any Aires, so I'll stick strictly to paddle performance.

Initial impression after paddling the SL last weekend is that it is very nimble and responsive.

The side tubes on the Aires are more straight than the SL's. With a rounder overall shape (not talking about "round" in the traditional sense), and more rocker, the SL pivots more easily. (check out the wireframe diagrams on the Aire and SOTAR websites) When paddling (or rowing), this is advantageous. When relaxing, chugging beer and generally being inattentive, it's disadvantageous. You have to be a little more attentive in the SL to keep it where you want it. But, conversely, you can move it where you want to more quickly than any other boat we've paddled.

The Aire seems to stay in the current a little more easily, while the SL seems to slip across the surface more easily. This, in my estimation, is due to a variety of factors including material, waterline shape (footprint), floor design and amount of rocker.

If you don't mind being a little more attentive/vigilant about staying in the current, the SL has a slight advantage. If you'd rather be a little less attentive and swill more beer, the Aire might be advantageous.

I feel that with one or two more paddle trips, I'll already be used to the SL's performance/handling and will be transitioning out of my Puma captaining tendencies/habits without even thinking about it.

We hit some good size waves/holes last weekend and the SL rode up and over them like a champ. If you prefer this kind of excitement, vs punching straight through a wave, the SL is a great boat.

It may sound like the SL is our overwhelming favorite. This is not necessarily the case. It just happened to be the best boat for our needs (factoring interior width, cargo capacity, custom length, etc) . It is, however, IMO a slightly more nimble and higher performance design than the Puma series. Which is saying a lot because we love the Pumas.

If money were not a factor, we'd probably have a Super Puma for R-2ing and a 15' Aire D or 15' SOTAR SL for family multi-days. But money is a factor, so the 13' 6" SL was the best boat to allow for my wife and I to R-2 to R-7 but also take a group of 4 on a multi-day.

Good luck!
 

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I've pushed mostly maravia, nrs, vanguard, aire, and hyside. By far the most "tunable" is the maravia. The tubes of a maravia can function in the widest air pressure ranges. I've ran 1 to 3 lbs in the tubes depending on water conditions and how I want the boat to function. Low pressure and it performs like a hypalon boat but slithers over rocks better that any other boat on the market. If you want fast you jack up the pressure. Same goes for the floor. If you want a floatie boat that spins on a dime pump it up to 2.5 lbs. If you want to track better drop it to 1lbs and it rides like a bucket boat and punches holes like no other!. You can also change up the lacing of the floor and get different performance. I-Beam floors are not a tunable as drop stick and hypalon will never get a stiff and maravia class 5 fabric. Most hypalon and pvc boats work in a narrower pressure range and you don't get as much adjustment. That's my .02 in performance.
 

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You're basically asking a ford vs chevy question here. Most folks are going to vote for what they like which is likely different than what you would like. That said I went through this same isssue last fall. Started looking at NRS, then Aire, then Maravia and finally Sotar. I decided on an SL for 2 primary reasons - 1-The material was touted to be stiff and slippery and 2- the constant curve/rockered hull shape. I was wanting to duplicate driftboat mobility when lightly loaded while preserving the cargo capacity of a raft. I'm very happy with the result and I don't think I would have gotten it with any of the other designs (mostly due to hull shape). The other boats similarly designed all had much longer straight sections and really no true rocker, just turned up bow and stern. The rocker is what fits my needs. I've rowed all but the RMR and Maravia's (recently) so I had some personal experience to fall back on, but realistically my decision was based almost solely on theory.

The other thing you bring up is speed, which I've found on this forum to mean different things to different folks. If speed is grabbing the current and making miles the SL wouldn't be for you. If speed is how fast you can row it across the water (up, down stream, ferry, etc) than it's the fastest boat I've ever been in. Most WW guys think of speed like the first example (as far as I can tell). I think of it as the second example, how much effort to move in any direction. You'll have to decide for you what it means and make sure you understand how other posters are treating it.

I reality you'll love what ever you get once you get used to it. They all have their advantages. I agonized over every little detail for months and definitely over analyzed the concept.

The only thing Idon't agree with from above is that Aire's "holy" floor was designed for stability. I firmly believe that is a side effect of the bladder system and marketing ploy to address a shortcoming of the pocketed floor. The sealed floor pocket is expensive, complicated and ultimately a complicated fix to a simple problem. It would seem so much simpler if they'd sell a normal I-beam or drop stitched alternative to their floor with no bladder. It would be cheaper and way simpler than the sealed floor pocket and they could certainly keep the holy floor for those that like it. I think they are too stuck on bladders and are forcing the issue where it makes sense to go traditional. This concept is a huge reason why I moved away from Aire in my search (along with the rocker issue).

Anyways, good luck in your search and happy floating with whatever you find.
 

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The sotar SL sure looks like a slick design. I love to try one out! If I were in the market I'd demo one before I bought a new boat for sure.
 

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He's wanting opinions not data. Here's mine: I love my Maravia. I will never give it up and will get another one if I ever wear this one out. For many of the reasons dirtbag touched on. High water I pump it up stiff and blast through the big waves. Low water run it soft as hell and slime over everything better than any other boat out there.

High water performace may be matched by other manufacturers and I haven't run a Sotar to compare, but nothing comes close in running over rocks in low water like a Maravia.

I will also add that I got to use an RMR quite a bit last summer and the one before and I really liked it. They will only get better with the drop stitch floor too. I thought the RMR handled a lot like an Avon. Which is good. And comfortable.
 

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I've Run Aires, Avons and Maravias. Hands down (for me) the Maravias are the most nimble and adaptable boats I've experienced. Currently I am married to a 14' Diablo, diminishing tubes with lots of kick and drop stitch floor. It has never given me cause for complaint. Cant Imagine I'll own anything else but gotta admit that the Sotars look real good.
 

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I have paddled and owned both the Sotar SL and Maravia Willy and my favorite is the Willy by a long shot. The continuous rocker of the SL just sets too deep compared to the Willy and the SL feels slow to get to speed and catches way to much current and gets pushed around more than the Willy. The Willy definitely has the edge on sliding over rocks too. I don't have the SL any more and the old Willy is priceless to me.
 

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I agree with the above sentiment....unless you are rowing more laps then most of us ever will their differences we may hear about hear aren't likely to play a major factor in your rowing experience. I have rowed AIRE, NRS, Avon and Maravia rafts and have never found much of difference in the experience beyond how the boat is rigged. I tend to think carrying an amount of gear/passengers appropriate to size, how you load and how you inflate the beast is often more important than the marketing associated with design features. I have only been rowing for 11 years but the only thing I have experienced that may me pause about a raft was when the owners didn't match oar size to raft properly or overinflated their floors.

I would also agree....given the chance and funds go with one of the major names: they have higher resale value if you decide you want something different and they have been proven to have durability.

Phillip
 

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The last post nailed it. I have the fore mentioned Aire 156D with sealed pocket floor. If you were a paddler, this boat would truly excel in maneuverability and speed. But, if you are rowing with even decent gear load and passenger, all the design advantage becomes a moot point. How much weight, distribution of the load, oar length and geometry will have far more effect on the speed and nimbleness of the boat before you begin to cash in on the design advantage. I just rowed a bunch of Sotars on the Rogue, and to be honest, I didn't feel much difference from my Aire in any discernible sense.

Before you consider boat performance, I would pay more attention to type of materials, how you plan to store and haul the boat, etc. if this is your first raft,I would highly recommend getting a used boat in the size you will want, build a frame, gear and Ora's, and eventually upgrade the rubber. Tinkering and customizing is a big part of the fun in this sport, but don't over analyze. Just get a boat that will get you on the water and have fun.
 
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