Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dagger Alchemy S

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!!!
Cate tests the Dagger Alchemy in the rock gardens.

Here is my review of the Dagger Alchemy - S (small).

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.)

: 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 below. If you are considering buying one, take one out for a test paddle.


  1. Great Review but how long are your arms? I tried the Alchemy L and had no problems with the kayak at all. I think the speed is about the same as a Romany, which is not very fast either.

    5' 10", 230 pounds, size 12, feet, 33 inch sleeve

    1. Frank, Thanks for checking out my blog. We are considerably different in size so I would expect the boats to perform differently for us based on our size differences. I don't know my sleeve size but my arm length is within the average range. C

  2. So there was this guy named Patrick Julian..he is the P of P&H Sea Kayaks...he made a kayak that i wish was more prevalent over here in the states (as far as I know I have the only one in the states-there is a rumor of two in upstate NY though).
    Check out:
    The RH340 Rockhopper....If you google the name you will find my reviews of this shorter super playful hull....i have used it while teaching classes...and love playing around in it.....

    I think that the shorter boats are a better bet for a lot of paddlers...they just do not know it yet...

    1. Corgimas, Thanks for reading my blog and sharing the link to the Rockhopper. It sure looks like a fun boat.

      Regarding shorter boats - I am sold unless I need to go far/fast. Are you familiar with Bryan Shultz's Cape Falcon Skin on Frame. This is a super maneuverable boat that is fast too. It is based on the Mariner Coaster. Valley has a new play sea kayak - the Gemini. I hope to demo it soon and will write up a review.

      Best, Cate

  3. Hi, I liked your review! Pictures are a blast. I am also a small-framed woman, but tall at 5'9", and I really love my Alchemy S for touring in the mangroves here in S. Florida. The shorter length is great for tight spaces and I find that I keep up just fine with the longer sea kayaks. I've done 20 mile days in this boat easily. I use a greenland paddle, which works well with the low deck...better efficiency. I totally agree about the cockpit being too large though and also had some problems with the skeg box leaking..fixed with lots of silicon. Wish we had some rock gardens to hop out here but have to settle for gators:)

    1. Thanks for reading my blog and sharing your experiences and thoughts on the Alchemy. I really like the low deck too. Gators! Yikes! Have fun out there.

  4. Cate - have you done a comparison of the S versus L? There is some talk going on down here about the L better a more maneuverable boat than the S, even for small people. On specs, the S is right for Sylvia, but yesterday at the Aquan demo she paddled both and found she could do a 360 with less sweep strokes in the L than the S. Getting confused about which to get her.

    1. Hmm . . . As a smaller paddler, I really prefer a low deck for edging and rolling. The large Alchemy is definitely deeper and wider. We have both so I can do a head to head test. Stay tuned.

    2. If you do get a chance to side by side, love to hear.

      Steve Scherrer (boat designer for Confluence) says they have the same hull shape, so he doesn't think there would be a difference and was surprised I was even asking.

      Gregg Berman (Neptunes Ranger) tried both before settling ion the L. He said at first he couldn't make the L work for him, as he is a smaller guy and was swimming in the large cockpit, but once he properly outfitted it, he likes the larger volume up front for surf.

  5. FYI - Our lightly used Dagger Alchemy S is for sale. Contact us for more information.

    1. Hi Carol, We have sold this boat. I might have a Small Stratos for sale. If you are interested, please contact me through We find the Stratos to be a better performing boat than the Alchemy - faster hull speed and more maneuverable, yet very stable and user friendly. Cheers, Cate

  6. Hi Cate, Dagger have a new kayak , similar to Alchemy called Stratos, it seems a little larger. they say it´s got more rocker....have you tried it ? like to hear a comparison with Alchemy 14.0S. regards. Ruskin.

    1. Hi Ruskin, I will definitely post if I get a chance to try it. Right now my plastic play sea kayak of choice is the Valley Gemini SP. It is lightweight and playful. Best, Cate

  7. Replies
    1. Hi Ruskin, I just got my first go in the Stratos. Are you still interested in how it compares to the Alchemy? Best, Cate

    2. I would be very interested to hear about the Alchemy vs. Stratos. Especially if the Stratos seems faster and tracks better than what I hear about the Alchemy. Thanks. Mike.

    3. Stratos is definitely faster. Tracking is probably about the same. It is a more performance oriented hull. For more on the Stratos check out my review of it.

  8. I am interested please!