Kayak Tests and Novice Reviews

The good folks at Karitek organised an open day at Fairlie today. Being in the market for new fibre glass boats, we leapt upon the opportunity to test some out. An open day like this serves as a “first pass” where we can quickly determine/confirm the boats that we’d like to test more extensively at a later date before narrowing it down even further.

It was quite a kid-in-a-candy-store moment when we arrived at the beach to an impressive display of top brand kayaks. We were particularly interested in the Rockpool Alaw Bach and the P&H Quest LV, but we also tested a Sea Kayaking UK (Nigel Dennis) Explorer, a P&H Cetus, Rockpool Alaw and P&H Capella 161. Here are the impressions of a couple of novices. Bear in mind that we have been accustomed to paddling P&H Capella RM (166 and 160) kayaks over the past year, so that is essentially our benchmark. The conditions started out quite rough, becoming calm later. I am 51 kg in weight and 166 cm in height. Alan is 76 kg in weight and 180 cm in height.

Kayak Model Pam’s Thoughts Alan’s Thoughts
P&H Quest LV Initial impression was one of instability. Very lively boat! Felt nervous about edging, especially in rougher conditions. Good fit and comfortable – a little extra hip padding would make it a perfect fit. Responded well. Looked small in comparison to my Capella. Think I could get used to it and that it would improve my skill levels. Managed to capsize upon edging. Felt a bit unstable. Fit well though. Attractive boat. Footrests difficult to adjust once covered in sand! Took a long time to free them up.
Rockpool Alaw Bach Another “lively” boat – but more primary stability than the Quest LV. Felt like I was in my comfort zone, but pushing it a little in the right direction. Didn’t fit quite as well, even with footplate as close as possible to me, but later found out that seat can be moved forward. That and some hip padding would make perfect. Also felt fine out in the swell/chop. Very flat stern with strange contours on front deck. Cockpit slightly tight to get into. Footplate was most comfortable foot rest (and easiest to adjust) experienced so far. Felt knee braces were a bit “grippy”. Edged comfortably. Responsive and handled swell easily.
P&H Cetus Felt like my Capella RM 160! Didn’t feel overly capacious, even although it’s a sizeable boat. Very stable. Totally in my comfort zone – but is that a good thing?! This is spec’d for load of 65 kg and up. Conditions had calmed by the time I tested it. Super comfy. Great fit all round. Handled well, turned well, edged well – no problem with windy conditions. Didn’t feel too big. Reminded me of Capella RM. Handy front deck day hatch.
Rockpool Alaw Didn’t try. “Bulgy” front deck – felt like there was more windage. Despite being spec’d for someone above 5′ 8″, it felt very roomy. Preferred snugger fit of Alaw Bach. Other than that, as per Alaw Bach.
Sea Kayaking UK Explorer Too big! Should have tried the LV. Found it a dog to turn, although edging stability not bad. Didn’t try.
P&H Capella 161 Very snug. The first time I’ve had footrests at maximum position. Rear seat edge felt like it was digging in a bit, but would like to revisit. Didn’t try.

Conclusion

We are realising that making the right choice of kayak is coming down to 2 considerations:

  1. We can stay in our comfort zone and enjoy paddling a kayak that feels familiar and safe, or
  2. We can push ourselves to learn new skills by buying a boat that challenges us.

I’m leaning towards 2. Having come this far, I don’t want to duck out of improving my skills. Forced to make a choice today, I’d probably go for an Alaw Bach, but I’d really like to spend more time in one. I felt “safe” yet, not too safe. The boat was lively enough to keep me on my toes. Alan agrees – it feels like a step up, but not beyond our grasp.

Addendum: During a subsequent test of the Quest LV, it became apparent that the positioning of the skeg compartment was interfering with my right knee. This is something that would certainly deter me from pursuing this kayak as I’m pretty sure a long day’s paddle would result in discomfort.

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