Test Driving the Sterling Progression
So I’m not a particularly large guy. I am 5’ 8” tall and weigh 150 lb. geared up. I was told that the new Sterling Progression was built for smaller paddlers like myself. I was given the opportunity to test a Progression and jumped at the chance.
I typically paddle either a Sterling Reflection with a 1” cut (low volume) or a Wilderness Systems Zephyr 155 poly boat. Both of these kayaks have very wide cockpits and gobs of room. They are also ocean play boats and sacrifice speed for maneuverability. The Progression is supposed to be a fast kayak that still wants to go out and play. I consider myself a solid intermediate kayaker and hold a BCU and ACA 3 star rating. I’m not a crazy paddler but I know my way around rock gardens and 3’ to 4’ surf. In order to test the boat, I took it to three different venues, a pool, the ocean and a lake. The only conditions I did not get to the test the boat in were surf conditions.
The pool was the first time I got in the boat. This one has a standard fiberglass layup. A label indicated that it weighed 48 pounds fitted out. Not bad, 7 pounds lighter than my Reflection. The Progression is also a highly rocker’d boat and obviously built for play. Another plus. When placed side-by-side with the Reflection, the real differences become evident. It is around 6 inches longer than the Reflection and around +- 2 inches narrower. None-the-less, I slipped into the boat easily and felt there was ample room below deck.
On my first roll with a Euro paddle, I noticed that the boat didn’t sit flat on the water when I was upside down. I’ve rolled a Sterling Grand Illusion and the experience was very similar. While in the pool I did a number of onside and offside rolls and later switched to a Greenland paddle. I tried a balance brace and noticed one significant difference between the Progression and my Reflection. The back deck is higher on the Progression making it a little difficult for me to lay back. In fairness, my Reflection is a lower volume 1” cut that may explain the difference. I struggled attempting balance braces but I was fine with Greenland and Butterfly rolls. I was also had no problems trying a few reentry and roll self rescues. So far, so good.
The plan for the ocean session was for a “simple” paddle leaving from Horseshoe Cove near the Golden Gate Bridge, paddling around Alcatraz Island, stopping for lunch on Angel Island and finally paddling back. The current was fairly mild at 2 knots and winds were supposed to be 5 to 15 knots. Of course Mother Nature lives by her own rules. It started out at around 10 knots and grew to around 15 sustained with gusts to 20+. I warned everyone in the group that I had only had the boat in a pool and that I might be screaming like a little girl crossing Raccoon Straights. With that said, we shoved off. The winds were pretty much a beam during the first two legs of the paddle.
We were with a group of strong paddlers so I was curious as to how hard I would have to work to keep up. The Reflections are not the fastest boats on the water and it takes a bit of an effort to maintain 4 MPH. Going 4.5 MPH is an aerobic workout. I actually had the camera for the first part of the journey and I was super happy that I could stop, take a few shots and catch up without killing myself. I wouldn’t have even tried with the Reflection. When we stopped to take pictures on the other side of Alcatraz, my GPS showed that we had made the trip at a speed of 3.75 MPH. Not bad.
We had an encounter with a tanker while we were going from Alcatraz across to Angel Island. The group had to stop and determine which way it would go. We all knew it would probably turn right at the Green channel marker off the island but you don’t want to guess wrong when that much size and speed is involved. As soon as we could see the tanker initiate the turn we sprinted to the other side. The Progression has incredible acceleration and I never felt sluggish dodging the tanker or the other two boats we encountered that day.
After lunch is when the real fun began. We decided to leave from Ayala Cove and paddle directly across to the green waste treatment plant better know as the sh*t factory. We went dead into a 15 knot wind. Wind waves were 2 to 3 feet and whitecaps were everywhere. This is also where the Progression really shined. It was a rock solid platform that didn’t get pushed around by the lumpy water. It responded excellently to edge and was easy to make course corrections. This thing just loves rough water! My GPS showed that our speed for the entire trip was 3.23 MPH and that we covered 12.5 miles. Considering the conditions and several slowdowns, that wasn’t too bad.
As a final set of tests, we took the boat to Rancho Seco park to test the speed on flat water. Kathi, my wife, got the honors and she took it for a spin. In 10 MPH winds, she managed a 4.5 MPH speed with a normal paddle effort using a wing paddle. When she “goosed it” she could easily get it up to 5.5 MPH. She also thought that it was very quick to accelerate when compared to her Reflection.
So in conclusion I can certainly say that the Progression is not a small Reflection. It seems to be a play boat that thinks it is a touring boat. It can be paddled fast for distances or it can carve turns tighter than the Reflection. I never felt cramped or uncomfortable in the boat so its smaller size was not a problem for me. The Progression would be a great all around boat for someone who likes long coastal paddles at a good clip but also wants to surf or play in rough water.