Last fall, we bought a Small and a Large Dagger Alchemy for our instructional fleet and have been using them for classes and lessons (and other fun adventures)
Of course, I had to indulge my “Goldilocks” tendencies and take the small one out for a test paddle – which actually ended up being more than one since I really enjoyed paddling it.
If I had one word to describe the Dagger Alchemy, it would be FUN!!!
Here is my review of the Dagger Alchemy – S (small).
Overview: The Dagger Alchemy is a 14 foot touring kayak designed for touring on both for flat and moving water. It is designed to be stable and maneuverable and suitable for paddlers of all skill levels. It has become a popular rock gardening boat among the Bay Area Sea Kayakers and can be seen in action in several of the Neptune’s Rangers’ videos.
Fit and ergonomics: The Alchemy is 14 feet long. I didn’t weigh it, but it felt much lighter than most plastic sea kayaks. Its lighter weight and shorter length really made it nice to transport, store, and carry when compared to our other plastic sea kayaks which are in the 16 foot range.
The first thing that I liked about the small Alchemy is that Jeff felt it was too tight of a fit for him (5′ 11″ and 150 pounds). He rarely feels that way about a boat and often gravitates toward smaller sized or low volume boats. On the other hand, most small sized boats are too big for me (5′ 4″ and 120 pounds).
The outfitting was quite comfortable and fairly adjustable. This is important for an instructional kayak and also for me as a petite paddler with short legs. I was able to get good thigh contact with the adjustable thigh hooks and was happy that the foot braces had shorter adjustments than what I needed (meaning we could use this boat for very small paddlers and kids). As I moved the boat around and sat in it, I was starting to really like it. I liked the low deck and was starting to feel that this was a boat truly designed for a smaller paddler.
My opinion changed when I went to put the spray deck on. The Alchemy has a large cockpit (similar in size to many whitewater kayaks). Putting the spray deck on was extremely difficult. There is a lot of space between the rear of the seat and the back of the cockpit combing making it very difficult to stretch and get the back of the spray deck on the combing. I have very good shoulder flexibility and putting this spray deck on was definitely tested it. After I got the spray deck on the back, I had a very long stretch to get it over the front of the cockpit combing. My fingertips don’t reach that far so I had to scrunch up in my seat to get the deck on. It was very frustrating to have to do a contortion act to get ones spray deck on. This photo shows the large cockpit.
Also when I sat in the boat, I realized that the day hatch was inaccessible due to the amount of space behind the seat and the day hatch. (I speculate that this isn’t an issue for those that are taller and have longer arms.)
Performance: I paddled the Alchemy last fall on our typical Mendocino ocean kayaking adventures – rock gardening, surfing, and crabbing.
My initial reaction was “Gee this is FUN!!!” It is a lively boat in the swells and surf zone. It was very stable and wanted to be upright which is a good quality for beginning paddlers and those gaining confidence in moving water. This is particularly nice in the surf zone where many sea kayaks are a bit twitchy.
When surfing it, I really had to work to get it to edge and felt that I needed to weigh another 20-30 pounds get it to carve. Of course, Jeff hopped in it in the surf and got it to edge and carve (Jeff weighs more but is also a VERY skilled paddler). I worked at it and eventually carved a few nice turns.
When capsized, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the Alchemy was to roll up. I could effortlessly hand roll it. I also discovered that the Alchemy is a great kayak for kayak crabbing. I was especially pleased that I could carry two of our non-collapsing pots on it due to the flat front deck.
Hull speed is an issue that I had with the Alchemy. I expected that it would be slower than a 16 foot sea kayak, but it was a lot slower. I found myself paddling harder than usual to keep up on flat water stretches and was dismayed at my lack of speed and ineffectiveness in a towing situation.
It didn’t have the speed that I was looking for when paddling out through the surf nor the speed that I needed to catch waves. I adapted and positioned myself on the waves and pour-overs like I would in my whitewater kayak.
For playing, the speed issue is something that I would adapt to. However when guiding or doing more extreme paddling when speed is necessary and others are depending upon me, this could be an issue.
Bottomline: The Dagger Alchemy is a fun kayak! I would recommend it to beginning and intermediate paddlers who are looking for a playful plastic sea kayak. It’s lightweight and shorter length make it convenient for transport and storage. It is comfortable with adjustable outfitting, and its stability is confidence inspiring for surf zone and rock garden play. I also think that the Alchemy would be a good choice for beginners who are leaning toward purchasing a recreational kayak but want a boat that is seaworthy.
For me – We have one, and I will play with it as it is lightweight, easy to transport, comfortable and fun. However, it won’t be my primary sea kayak for rock gardening due to its lack of speed and difficulty of the spray deck. I have to be able to put a spray deck on quickly and easily unassisted in all conditions (perhaps I should have Jeff video me contorting to put the spray deck on to demonstrate my point). If Dagger fixes the cockpit issue, I would probably revisit it as my sea kayak rock gardening boat.
If you’ve paddled the Alchemy or have questions or thoughts on it, feel free to comment on my Woman on Water Blog. If you are considering buying one, take one out for a test paddle.