First the demographics:
I’m 43 years old, 5’10” male, married, engage in regular strength-training and aerobic exercise activities, ingest vitamins daily, don’t smoke, don’t drink (anymore), weigh about 178 to 182 sans vestments, have been paddling regularly since May 2005, have only owned and regularly paddled commercially manufactured folding, skin on frame kayaks. I would describe my skill level, in the folding kayak realm, as that of an experienced beginner.
Time in the Boat:
The conditions in which I’ve paddled the RZ have ranged from brain-baking hot with a 10-15 mph headwind, to warm and rainy, to cold, clear, and calm. The most miles I’ve put under the RZ’s keel in one day has been about 17, the most hours I’ve spent paddling the kayak in one day was about five and a half. I’ve had it in the water probably no more than 10 or 11 times, or for something between 30 and 40 hours. Furthermore, I may have a specific learning disability in the area of calculation and math-fluency, so if the hours don’t add up, that’s why.
Buying the RZ96:
I purchased my Pouch RZ96 about one year ago from importer Ralph Hoehn (www.pouchboats.com). A blue 2003 expedition model with hatches fore and aft, keelstrips, perimeter deck-or-grabline, and Pouch branded combination spraydeck/sprayskirts, and a couple of Zoelzer flotation bags, Ralph said he’d shown it at the ’03 West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium (if I’ve got the event’s name right), and that it’d been used in total over a period of about four weeks, IIRC. I’d like to buy new boats, but pay cash for everything, and therefore wish typically to expend as little of it at a time as possible. This boat was exactly what I wanted, anyway, and shipped in near new condition with hardly a scuff on its shiny black PVC hull, and the deck a full, rich blue canvas. Additionally, the kayak came with a mast bracket at Rib #2, and a corresponding mast-step on the forward keelson half. This Pouch tandem replaced a Pakboats Puffin II, in part because I prefer the relative ease of fitting wood parts together.
Pouch provides two bags for the boat, the smaller of which is the size of a large suitcase, and holds skin, ribs, seat backs, seats, and rudder pedal/heel-plate. The larger bag contains bow and stern assemblies, gunwales, longeron/stringers, keelson halves, coaming, and coaming stiffeners (that fit inside sleeves in the deck/cockpit. Pouch, for some reason, chose to add backpack straps and belt to this longer bag which also has a more useful internal drawstring-and-sleeve arrangement that holds the contents compact. The bag has a long zipper with a drawstring closure at the top covered by a Velcro tabbed flap. The current (2007), Austrian-born governor of California might have been able to carry this bag as a backpack in his younger days, but I doubt that even Jack LaLane could now carry it on his back for more than a few yards. I’ve never even attempted it – my insurance plan isn’t that good. My guess is the total assembled boat with seats weighs about 100-110 pounds. I can carry the suitcase-shaped bag with one hand, awkwardly. The long bag requires two hands, but may balance under the arm once it’s been got horizontal.
The RZ96 assembles with intuitive ease, and my concerns regarding assembly were unfounded. The front gunwales are sometimes difficult to insert into the slot cut for that purpose in the rear-facing part of the bow-piece, and may tend to push the bow forward and sort of flat. If I proceed carefully and without haste, it is not usually a problem.
It may be a good idea to add the two fore, and the two aft stringers (they are identical, and it doesn’t matter which go where) to fore and aft halves of the boat before inserting them into the skin. On the other hand, I never do this. I attach them to the frame halves once they and the keelson halves have been inserted into the skin and locked in place. But that makes for tight work getting the stringers attached correctly to the stringers pre-assembled with the bow and stern pieces. I’ve lost some skin from my knuckles, but not enough to make me behave differently. The important thing to remember is to add the stringers or longerons before fitting ribs #3, #4, and #5. The stringers are square in cross-section, as opposed to those found on the Klepper boats, which are round. Overall, assembly, float bags, and rigging the rudder consistently take me about 45 minutes.
Once assembled, the hull’s shape makes it easy for two people to carry snugged up under their right or left arms.
The deck/skirt arrangement works very well, fastened at the top of the tunnel with bungie and tensioners, and opens down the tunnel fronts with a water-proof metal zipper that runs from chest to knees. Water does pool between the skirts, and tenting one’s knees does not suffice to make it run off. I have used the skirts by fastening them over my pfd. I think it would be difficult, and hamper mobility, to have the pfd on over the sprayskirt. If my cold blue corpse is recovered in an inverted, decked and skirted RZ96, you may surmise that that mine wasn’t the best practice in this matter.
The thing I don’t like about the spraydeck/sprayskirt is that one must commit to using it at the time one assembles the coaming. Calling it a tight fit would be like calling a 7-series BMW a nice car, an understatement of sorts. It is held in place by the star-knobs that hold the coaming and seatbacks in place (there are 14 of them), as well, I think, four relatively delicate steel-twist-tabs attached to the coaming solely for the purpose of holding the spraydeck in place.
As stated by the previous reviewer, this boat tracks exceedingly well. And it turns well with the rudder. Because the cockpit is vast when the boat isn’t filled with gear for long trip, there’s not really anything against which to brace knees in order to initiate a turn by leaning or edging. The bow seat position is a lot better for locking the knees beneath the deck. So, without the rudder, the RZ is difficult to turn, but it can be done.
The boat is deceptively fast. On the Normandy Reservoir impoundment of the Duck River in Tennessee, I paddled from the rear position, not making much effort, and thought we were traveling at about 1.5 mph, but my friend in the bow consulted his GPS, which indicated we were making about 3.5 mph. I regularly paddle this boat from both bow and stern with 220 cm Aqua-Bound Expedition AMT, only occasionally barking my knuckles or crushing the nailbed of my ring-finger against the coaming. A 230 cm paddle is probably a better choice (and I’ve used one in the past to good effect), but my wife wishes to limit my gear expenditures. The RZ96 is very stable, one is unlikely to tip the boat without making an intentional effort to do so. Although I have only paddled this boat on lakes and flatwater, slow moving or impounded rivers, I trust implicitly its sturdiness and predictability in wind from all quarters chop and boat wake.
The RZ’s worst feature is its seatbacks. They provide no meaningful back support, and, if relied upon for back support, force the paddler to address the water from a semi-reclined position that quickly results in bulging discs of the lower back, and the sort of pain you would imagine is associated with that disabling condition. To the good, they can be rotated and used as canoe-type seating to relieve the pain they’ve caused as kayak seatbacks. One RZ owner has adapted backbands to her kayak, and reported finding the arrangement satisfactory. Another RZ owner has reported success in alleviating back pain by making use of children’s “water wings” as sleeves through which he slid the seatbacks before fastening them to the coaming. I bought some water wings, but have consistently forgotten to make use of them.
The seats themselves are, in my experience, more comfortable with float-cushions set on top of them. I am most comfortable paddling this boat with the float cushion on the seat, and leaning forward with a fairly straight back ignoring the seatback. I have paddled seated thus for an hour or two into a headwind with minimal discomfort.
In spite of all that I’ve said about seatback discomfort, I enjoy paddling this kayak
Rating: 7/10 & Justification
I’ve rated this boat a seven out of a possible 10 because I hate the seatbacks, because of the poorly thought-out seating arrangements generally, because the metal twist tabs used to help secure the spraydeck/sprayskirts are relatively flimsy (one has partially broken loose after only three uses since I’ve owned the boat), and because what in blazes was Poucher Boote GmbH thinking when they made that long bag a backpack? But I’ve given this boat seven good points because it is well-made, has a good hull-shape-speed- unknown-word, fits in the back of my Volvo 850 sedan, is very easy to assemble, has hatches, makes a great umbrella sailboat, withstands my inexpert care or its lack, should last a very long time, and makes my wife feel safe enough to accompany me on explorations of local inland waterways.
Also a seven out of 10 because I have little in the way of tandem folders with which to compare this boat, and am overall a relatively inexperienced paddler. Certainly I have no regrets about having purchased this boat, and would only have considered something else if my wife had been willing to paddle a single-seater.