Articles - UK Sea Kayaks Test - A Touch of Glass

Sea kayak being tested - Anglesey
Sea kayak being tested - Anglesey
Canoe Kayak Test Team - Posted on 18 Mar 2009

British style sea kayaks are sought after, the world over, by paddlers serious about their sea kayaking. No surprise really, we are a country of island dwellers and for many the urge to explore the oceans is in the blood. We decided to see just why us Brits are so good at designing and making sea boats and hit the briny with a fleet of British built sea kayaks from two of the leading UK manufacturers, P&H and Valley Sea Kayaks. Don’t look at this as a head to head test though, as sea kayaks come in all sorts of guises and what’s great for one type of paddler isn’t going to work for another, it’s a sea horses for sea courses type deal. The following is designed to give you the flavour of each individual boat we paddled and to see just why Britannia rules the waves…

 

 

 

 

Valley Avocet

The Avocet was a lively, but easy boat to paddle. For a boat of its length it had a very pleasing turn of forward speed and it cut through the water nicely. It’s size also means that it appeals to smaller paddlers but it will also suit a wide range of abilities, giving it a broad appeal.
    It’s got great manoeuvrability and secondary stability; we found that you could really crank it on to its edge for crisp turns. This meant that it was loads of fun to play in and we definitely found it adept for playing in the waves and for rock hopping exploits. It tracks well but it definitely benefits from its skeg. Because of it’s size it has less storage capacity than some other models, which may put off expedition paddlers with an eye for long multi-day trips, but you can still get more than enough gear in there for day trips or lightweight weekend overnighters. This is a good compromise design that balances speed with manoeuvrability in one playful package.
Specs:
Length: 488cm
Width: 56cm
Weight: 22kg
Starting Price: £1649

Valley Nordkapp LV

The LV at the end of its name stands for lower volume and this is a smaller version of the classic Nordkapp design. It’s a boat that will suit sea kayakers looking to push their personal skills and who want a boat that can provide performance, in fact it’s a boat that will tick a lot of boxes with a lot of paddlers. From a development point of view this boat would be a great investment for those looking to learn new skills as it’s going to match your skills with performance and so will be a boat you’ll keep for a long time. Its pretty fast and has reasonable primary stability and it reacts to positive paddling. If you up the level of performance you put in to your paddling the Nordkapp LV will return the favour by rewarding you with a positive, responsive ride. It picks up speed quickly and reacts well to dynamic edging.
    Valley have taken a classic design and made it accessible to smaller paddlers. If we had to sum up the Nordkapp LV in one sentence it would be, ‘a sporty performance kayak.’
 Specs:
Length: 533cm
Width: 53cm
Weight: 22.5kg
Starting Price: £1649

Valley Rapier 20

The Rapier is a new kind of boat and we were excited at getting it out on the water. It’s aimed at those paddlers who want to go fast. Primarily designed with sea kayak or adventure racers in mind, or for paddlers who view their paddling as an endurance/training sport. Indeed the Rapier has already set a world record for the fastest crossing from England to France, by kayak, and won Britain’s toughest adventure race in the Hebridean islands off the coast of Scotland.
    For such a narrow boat it’s surprisingly comfortable and the seating position is similar to that of a racing boat, which may take a bit of getting used to. Less experienced paddlers may feel a little on the wobbly side to start with.
    The thigh grips are really aggressive, but you’ll bed glad they are there as they work well. The Rapier’s all about forward speed and with a good positive stroke will happily cruise along at 10km an hour plus. As you’d expect from a narrow, semi-circular hull shape primary stability is low, but we found the secondary stability excellent, which we put down to the slabby sides. We were blessed with great conditions for our test paddle, and we suspect that the Rapier would be a bit of a handful, unless it had a very capable paddler on board, in bad conditions. Still, that’s just a feeling and the more experienced paddlers amongst us were itching to get it out in the rough stuff. Because of its length the Rapier comes fitted with an over-stern rudder, which worked well and we liked the well-designed steering system, which involves toe steering above a solid plate footrest. A speed demon, but, on the sea, its racing pedigree may suggest it’s for experienced paddlers only.
Specs:
Length: 609cm
Width: 45cm
Weight: 22kg
Starting Price: £1649

Valley Aquanaut

The Aquanaut is ideal for paddlers requiring a fast, comfortable, all-round sea kayak and with LV (lower volume) and HV (higher volume) versions also available there’s an Aquanaut to suit pretty much everyone. It’s a boat that’s designed to look after you and it’s a comfortable, stable boat that’s going to appeal to the paddler who doesn’t want to have to deal with too much performance. We found its primary stability excellent with a wide flat hull under the seat, and it was surprisingly stable in the secondary stability stakes too. It was noticeably slower than the other Valley boats, but its skills in the stability stakes give you a safe predictable paddle in all kinds of conditions, which means an enjoyable time on the water, for less confident or experienced paddlers, without feeling compromised. We found it to be a good, solid boat that did exactly what it said on the tin
Specs:
Length: 536cm
Width: 55cm
Weight: 23kg
Starting Price: £1649

P&H Bahiya

The Bahia is an uncompromising boat aimed at the experienced sea kayaker who wants to go places. It’s a fast boat and it feels sleek through the water. We found it was easy to get the Bahiya up and running quickly and it gave us a real sense of speed across the water. It’s a very comfortable boat and it felt snug and positive, with no slopping around, just what you need from a performance orientated craft. It feels a little unstable when stationary, and you need to commit to the edges, but get it up and running and it feels fine. The boat’s secondary stability is really positive, as there’s a flat section to sit on when you edge it over hard. The overall handling is very manoeuvrable, especially when it’s up to running speed. The Bahia is definitely going to appeal to experienced sea kayakers, but it’s a great boat to grow in to too, allowing the paddler to develop confidence in edging and manoeuvring.
Specs:
Length: 534cm
Width: 52cm
Weight: 23.5kg
Starting Price: £1729

P&H Quest LV

The Quest is an expedition boat, ideal for week trips etc and this is the lower volume version, which delivers the same expedition performance to smaller paddlers. The scaled down sizing provides a comfortable fit and allows smaller paddlers to edge easily, something that’s not always so easy in full sized boats. It’s fairly fast and shares a similar hull shape to the Capella series. The primary stability is good, but it likes to be flat in the water. Secondary stability is great and it’s able to hold an aggressive edge. We found this a really good transitional boat, great for intermediate paddlers looking to improve their edging skills and, as we’ve mentioned it’s great for smaller paddlers looking for a boat for multi-day trips.
Specs:
Length: 536cm
Width: 54.5cm
Weight: 25.9kg
Starting Price: £1729

P&H Capella 161

This is the smallest of the Capella range and is ideal for smaller intermediate sea kayakers. It was very comfortable and the provided a snug fit for our smaller paddlers. Compared to some of the other models around the 161 has relatively slow forward speed, but then it’s a smaller/shorter boat designed with manoeuvrability in mind, not speed. Primary stability is good and it’s easy to paddle it flat. It has fairly soft chines so it doesn’t have the most positive edge, but this does make it great for paddlers exploring edging and as a first time composite boat. Its short length does make it very manoeuvrable and it was lively when rock hopping but it definitely benefits from its skeg and it weathercocks easily in windy conditions without it. All in all this is a fun little sea kayak and a great weekender for smaller paddlers looking for a boat that will look after them as they learn and develop their skills and experience.
Specs:
Length: 492cm
Width: 54.7cm
Weight: 25.9kg
Starting Price: £1729

P&H Capella 163

This sits in the middle of the Capella range and as such fits a fairly broad size range. The 163, along with the rest of the Capella range, is an ideal entry in to the world of composite kayaks, as it’s superbly stable and forgiving and wont spring any nasty surprises on you while you’re learning and gaining experience. But don’t think the 163 is just for those learning, we don’t all crave super-high performance and the Capellas, comfy feel, softer chines and easy going nature provides a mellow experience for those looking to kick back, relax and rack up a few sea miles. There’s plenty of storage room and it’s ideal for long day trips or even overnight adventures.
Specs:
Length: 500cm
Width: 56cm
Weight: 22.5kg
Starting Price: £1729

Try Before You Buy

We’ve tried to give you an overview of the boats, so you can get an idea of which models may suit your paddling needs. But, there’s still nothing like actually getting afloat and paddling a boat to see if it’s the one for you. Check out the manufacturers websites to find the nearest demo centre to you, or head along to one of the sea kayak symposiums that take place all over the country. As well as being ideal places to try out a variety of different sea kayaks you’ll find there’s top flight coaching, both on and off the water, lectures and slide shows and loads and loads of people who are just as mad about paddling on the ocean as you are.

Weather Conditions

Conditions on the day we paddled the boats were as follows: We launched the boats from Trearddur Bay, Anglesey, North Wales, with light conditions on an easy day to be on the water, with the remains of a westerly sea. Wind was N/W 2-3 and the tide was ebbing. We paddled the boats in the bay area, out in the remaining swell and rock hopping around the coast.

Manufacturers Info:

 

Valley Sea Kayaks

Founded in 1970 by Frank Goodman, Valley’s history very quickly became entwined with the infant sport of sea kayaking. Although kayaking on the sea can be traced back several thousand years through various indigenous populations, it was the introduction of the fibre-glass sea kayak that led to the activity gaining popularity as a recreational pastime. Valley became one of the very first companies to commercially produce a specialist sea kayak when it launched the Anas Acuta in 1972. This kayak was developed from a native Greenland kayak brought back from the Western region. So successful was this kayak that it is still in production today.
More info: Visit www.valleyseakayaks or call 0115 961 4995

P&H Sea Kayaks

P&H Sea Kayaks were amongst the early pioneers of modern sea kayaking. The first kayak that P&H manufactured for the sea was as far back as the early 1970s. It was a called the ‘Swift’, a short river kayak adapted via the addition of a skeg and watertight hatches and subsequently used to cross between the UK and Ireland.
Their first true modern sea kayak was manufactured during 1979. Working closely with designer Derek Hutchinson, a legendary UK sea paddler, they launched the Umnak, a 15' expedition sea kayak with full deck rigging, waterproof hatches and retractable skeg. Other models were soon to follow, Icefloe, Baidarka, Fjord, Iona, Dawn Treader, Odin and Orion. Most of these British sea kayaks are now regarded as classics of their day and are etched into the history of modern sea kayak design.
More Info: Visit: www.phseakayaks.com or call 0115 9320165 / 01928 716666

Surfing it up at Surf-lines 

Nick Cunliffe and Phil Heason run Surf-Lines in Llanberis in Snowdonia, North Wales. Both accomplished sea kayakers, coaches and all-round outdoor adventurers they were instrumental in helping us to organise, both paddlers and kayaks for our session in the waves. They even managed to somehow part the fog and clouds, quell the wind and bring out some sunshine for the photos! If you want to experience the thrills of sea kayaking on the stunning coast lines of North Wales, or want to find out more about the right composite boat for you drop them a line on 01286 879001 or take a surf to their website

 

If you liked this article check out here for more great sea kayaking features

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