General canoeing - Mini Reviews

Some info and mini reviews of the canoes/kayaks we have had in the family.  These reviews are purely my own personal opinion/experience of using these craft in mainly a slow moving river/lake flat water environment.
Speeds quoted below are those I have actually measured via GPS said to be accurate to 0.10 mph

Average speed has been measured over a two way return trip (therefore with and against any wind/current to try to average it out) of usually at least two hours duration. Comfortable cruise means a relatively easily maintained speed which I could probably keep up all day.  Sprint speed is fastest speed attained (with touring paddles) during  a few seconds flat out burst and will be pretty near the max hull speed of the boat.
Obviously paddlers of different skill levels with different paddles may get different results (I guess I'm just average) but it gives you some idea of relative speeds.  Paddle used in kayaks  220cm Originz Hauraki Gulf.  Paddle used in canoes 60" Carlisle wooden beaver tail. Paddler weight c. 84kg.

It is easy to get carried away with always searching for the perfect canoe or kayak, always looking for extra speed or features and agonising over whether to get model A or Model B (I have been as guilty as anyone, probably more so!).  The truth is that the most important thing is to actually get out on the water and try them out - All canoes and kayaks are are compromise, no single one will do everything well, you can't have ultimate speed, manoeuvrability, stability, load carrying capability and comfort all in the same model.  Most reviews are very subjective - What suits or appeals to one paddler may not suit another paddler and body size/weight, and how much gear you want to carry, can also make a significant difference to the way a particular boat feels. Likewise the area you paddle in and the type of paddling you want to do will influence which is the best boat for you.

It is only once you have paddled for a while that you will know and appreciate the features that are most important to you and the best compromise for the conditions you paddle in (or, as many paddlers do, end up with more than one boat - which may explain why there are 7 boats in my garage at the moment!!).  Even a test paddle of a boat isn't the same as living with one for a while.  While a great canoe or kayak can be a joy to behold or paddle it is a fact that, in the spirit of "Swallows and Amazons",  even the cheapest most basic tub can give a great deal of enjoyment and adventure - and it's better than looking at a computer screen and just dreaming about it.  With today's manufacturing techniques and materials there are very few truly awful craft and you can't go too far wrong if you buy any of the well known brands.  Most of our ancestors would have been amazed at what we have available. It is surprising how much you can get out of a canoe or kayak if you just go out and practice your paddling technique and skills rather than always worrying about searching for that ultimate boat.  When I bought my Bob Special it was a revelation as it was so responsive and so obviously highlighted bad paddling technique and rewarded good technique.  However, once I had refined my technique in the Bob Special and then I went back and applied this to canoes I had previously paddled, which I had thought of as unresponsive (in truth more forgiving of a less talented paddler), I was amazed at how well they could be made to perform.  The challenge of making a basic boat perform well can be a source of pleasure in itself and improving your technique can be a lot cheaper than buying a new boat!  Buying your first canoe/kayak second hand can make sense as you can save yourself a fair amount of money and if you subsequently find you have made the wrong choice, or more likely just get the urge to trade up to another model, you can usually get a large proportion of your money back when you sell it on. 


The Ocean Kayak Pro SI 149 - Touring Kayak
Length 4.5m (14' 9" hence the name) Beam 66cm Weight 28.6kg Capacity 182kg
Avg continuous comfortable cruise 3.6/3.8mph - sprint 5.9mph
I really liked this kayak for flat water day touring.  Comfortable (probably the most comfortable kayak seat cushion ever), large easy to enter cockpit, very, very stable, reasonably fast , tough.  Lots of storage space, tracks well.  One look and it's obvious that it's from the same family as the famous OK Scupper Pro Sit On Top (The reason I bought it as I like my Scupper Pro so much)  but a smooth, not tri-formed hull like the Scupper, means it is faster in a straight line (but slightly less easy to turn) . Can be fitted with a rudder although mine isn't.  Notice the fish body like form, wider at the front tapering to stern which is said to be better at preventing nose diving (pearling)  in waves and promoting surfing. I used to have an Orca 16 which was a very nice (and more expensive) kayak but it always felt a little too tippy to me so I never felt truly at ease although probably a better kayak in expert hands - so I changed it for this which I am much more comfortable with and so use more often.
Things I would ideally change:  Add thigh grips, Make it a little lighter (but not if at the expense of toughness).  

All in all the Si Pro 149 loses out a little on speed to narrower but similar length rivals but is very much more stable (if that is important to you) and has a greater load carrying capacity. If you want a great value, tough, versatile, very stable, comfortable, capacious and reasonably fast kayak or if you are of a nervous disposition and value rock solid stability then this is a great choice.  If you want a narrower, tippier (more responsive) kayak to practice edge turns and rolls, and don't need as much storage capacity or as large a cockpit,  then in this length range something like the Easky 15 may suit you better. For me, for the purposes I originally bought it for, the Pro SI 149 was a great choice.

pro si149 afloat

Pro SI 149 at speed

Pro SI 149 at speed - 5.9mph clocked on GPS

The OK Scupper Pro TW Sit On Top Kayak -  Touring Sit On Top
Length 4.54m Beam 66.5cm Weight 27kg Capacity 159kg
Avg continuous comfortable cruise 3.4mph - sprint 5.5mph
An all time classic Sit on Top, relatively fast, sleek, stable, good storage, comfortable -  one of the best, most supportive moulded seats available.  Often used by kayak anglers where it achieved something of a cult following. You feel like you sit in this kayak not on top of it.  In my opinion still one of the best touring Sit On Tops available - I specifically chose it over some of the newer models (e.g Ocean Kayak Prowler) for it's balance of qualities and got my local dealer to specially order it in for me.  Mine was a New Zealand moulded model which is rumoured to be of a better build spec than some moulded elsewhere. Enough rocker to turn fairly easily (unlike many of the newer designs) but still tracks well.  Narrower beam than many Sit On Tops but still very stable. Can be fitted with rudder if required, also various padded seats and thigh straps.  Scupper plugs/bungs can be fitted on flat water to reduce "wet bottom syndrome"  but you are still going to need waterproof trousers.  There is even a Youtube video of someone rolling one of these (with thigh straps). Similar performance to the Si Pro 149 Sit In kayak just a little slower because of the tri-form hull and scupper holes but a little more rocker and less pronounced keel at the stern means it turns a little quicker.  Unusual amongst Sit On Tops it has a large front storage hatch, secured with straps to prevent it coming off at sea and much easier and quicker to fit than the flexible rubber covers often fitted to kayaks, allowing camping gear etc to be carried out of the way inside the kayak (I'd still put gear in dry bags inside it though).  There is also an open rear storage well (Tank Well hence the TW in the name  originally for carrying Scuba tanks). I think I may have seen some versions with a second hatch at the back rather than a well, Scupper Classic?  If you can't find an Ocean Kayaks Scupper Pro then the RTM Tempo is effectively the same kayak, may even have a couple of new features, like carrying handles moulded in, added.
Things I would change:  For a touring Sit On Top, not a lot.  Lighter would always be nicer but not if it's at the expense of the current solid non flexing hull.
OK Scupper Pro TW Sit On Top Kayak
Dagger/Islander Cayman -  Touring Sit On Top
Approx sizes:  Length: 3.75m, Width: 72.5 cm, Depth: 25 cm, Weight: 24 kg
Avg continuous comfortable cruise 3.4mph - sprint 5.6mph
I bought this sit on top for my son as we both liked the look of it's sleek lines with a fine bow entry and cleanly moulded hull very reminiscent of a sea kayak.    The performance turned out to be a real surprise as despite giving away over 75cm in length to the Scupper Pro it was able to match it in cruising speed and even best it by a fraction in a flat out sprint - thanks no doubt to the fine entry and exit lines which ultimately produced a smaller bow wave than the Scupper Pro.  I later found out that Dagger/Islander advertised the Cayman as the fastest sit on top they made - a claim I have no reason to disagree with.  Despite the performance it is a very stable boat so a beginner would have no qualms paddling it. Unusually for a sit on top the Cayman has proper adjustable footrests as well as the moulded in heel rests allowing power from the paddle to be efficiently transferred through the hull.  The Cayman can also be fitted with a rudder (although our isn't - haven't felt the need).  "D" rings fitted to the hull allow optional thigh straps or a padded eat to be fitted (although I find the seat moulding itself is very comfortable with needing an additional seat.  A large rear tank well with straps provides storage for scuba tanks or a dry bag (my two sons have paddled this tandem with one sitting in the tank well) .  Although no front  hatch is fitted to ours a raised moulding is provided in the bow which could easily be fitted with a hatch cover to provide additional internal storage if required. There is just one large scupper hole in the main cockpit (not under the seat itself so easier to keep your bottom dry) and one in the tank well.  These scuppers are just the right size for a piece of foam swimming noodle to compress into making a cheap and effective scupper plug.  All in all an excellent, fast, touring sit on top.  
Dagger Island Cayman
Perception Scooter - My Surf and general purpose Sit On Top Kayak
Length  2.95m  Beam  75cm Weight 20kg  Capacity150kg
Speed - GPS test yet to be carried out but est. circa 2.8mph comfortable cruise

This a great little versatile Sit On Top Kayak.  Very, very stable, turns on a sixpence, fairly light.  You won't break any speed records with it on the flat due to the short length (after about 2.5 mph  you start putting a lot of effort into building up a big bow wave rather than gaining much more speed) but if you can only have one Sit On Top and want a general purpose one that will do practically anything then this is the one, river, mild white water, lake, touring (albeit relatively leisurely), playing in the surf (fit thigh straps to give you more control) - I tend to leave thigh straps fitted to all my Sit On Tops as you don't have to actually use them if you don't want to but they do connect you better to the kayak even on flat water.

Perception Scooter


Venture Kayaks Easky 15 - Our Touring/Sea Kayak
Length 4.58m (15') Beam 60cm Weight 23kg Capacity 135kg
Avg continuous comfortable cruise 3.9/4.0mph - sprint 6.3mph

Our latest acquisition, bought as a final attempt to try to tempt my sons back afloat but while I was  awaiting delivery of my P&H Capella 166 RM I have been putting it through it's paces myself instead and so far have been very favourably impressed.

The seat does not offer the comfort of my old Pro SI 149 (which had the most comfortable seat cushion I have ever used in a kayak) and, being a much slimmer kayak, the cockpit does not have the same volume or the foot space so I had a few aches and a little stiffness at the end of a couple of hours trip (probably a little tailoring and padding of the cockpit will alleviate this).  I also found the inside front edge of the cockpit has quite a sharp edge resulting in me, despite wearing trousers, managing to scrape the skin off my shin (twice),  badly enough to draw blood, when getting out of the kayak (this has now been cured by a little judicious use of wet & dry sandpaper). The storage space inside the hatches is also much smaller than the Pro SI 149 but this goes hand in hand with the narrower, sleeker, hull.  Other than that however I am very impressed with the Easky 15.  It is easy to drive along and has a nice glide, has comfortable thigh braces and responds very nicely to edging.  It is usefully faster both in sprint and in cruise speed than thePro SI 149.  It does feel slightly more tippy than the Pro Si 149,   this is what makes it more responsive, but not alarmingly so and most novices would probably feel quite comfortable with the initial stability and the hard chine design gives it good secondary stability.  Haven't needed to try the built in skeg yet as it tracked well without it and what little wind I have encountered was easily corrected by edging or a slight sweep stroke.   All in all it is a step up in speed and responsiveness from the Pro SI 149 but possibly a step down in outright comfort (although by no means uncomfortable), cockpit size and hatch space/carrying capacity. If the Pro SI 149 is a capacious comfortable Rover Coupe then the Easky 15 is the  MGB Roadster sportscar. with a more sporting, but not extreme, nature.  Overall a very nice kayak to paddle and one which will enable you to grow your skills further than the typical recreational style kayaks.





P&H Capella 166 RM Sea/Touring kayak- My new pride & joy
Length 5.05 (16'7") Beam 56cm Weight 24.5kg Capacity 120kg
Avg continuous comfortable cruise 4.1/4.3mph - sprint 6.5mph
More photos coming soon - Contrary to my fears, despite it's narrower beam within minutes I felt comfortably stable and confident in it (big relief!).  It has great secondary stability.  Also managed a sprint speed of 6.5mph equalling the fastest speed I have so far managed in any kayak (although initially I had only been able to equal the speeds achieved in the Easky 15).  On my standard test cruise average speeds were slightly higher than the Easky 15 and quite a lot faster than the Pro SI 149.  It edges easily and responds to an edge well.  It doesn't track quite as well as the Easky 15 (or the Pro SI), and has a tendency to weathercock, but that is the price you pay for a little more manoueverability and the increased rocker.  This can be easily corrected though by judicious use of the skeg. The seat is slighty more comfortable than the Easky 15 ( a little more padding) but doesn't have the option of the flip up additional back support on the seat (which I never use anyway) and the cockpit is not quite as roomy, foot space is a bit tighter.  Experienced sea kayakers will quote this as an advantage, being more in contact with the kayak, but recreational kayakers may appreciate the slightly larger cockpit space of the Easky 15.  Personally, as my experience has grown, I have begun to appreciate the control advantages of a snug fitting boat and have added strategic padding so subtle movements of hip and knees are more directly transmitted to the hull.  The triple skin hull is nice and stiff.  The additional day hatch behind the cockpit, accessible while on the water, is useful.  The large rear hatch comfortably swallowed my, dismantled, C-Tug trolley.  Having encountered a stiff breeze and a short, steep, confused chop the theory of a narrower slightly more tippy (less initial stability) hull being better than a wider more stable hull in waves was proved correct.  The kayak tended to stay upright with the waves passing beneath it rather than heeling following the surface of the waves and I felt nicely in control and in no danger of a capsize.  All in all I am delighted with this kayak and it probably does as much as I will ever need (Now I just need to test the P&H Scorpio/Cetus MV/Tiderace Xcite and Xplore, SKUK Explorer!!  Kayak/Canoe Acquisiton Syndrome seems to be a comon problem with paddlers!!!).
Capella 166 RM




Seabird Scott MV Composite Sea Kayak (Fibreglass/Diolen)

 Length 5.18 (17'0") Beam 55.9cm Weight 27kg Capacity 160kg Paddler Weight 70-90kg

Avg continuous comfortable cruise 4.2/4.5mph - sprint 6.7mph
Seabird Scott MV

The Seabird Scott was designed especially for typical British sea conditions by Rob Feloy, the Devon based naval architect internationally renowned for his record breaking (transocean) kayak and yacht designs and the innovative Inuk ultra fast kayaks - A man knows a thing or two about kayak design!  It is designed to handle rough water and be manoeuvrable and nimble with good stability, comfort and seaworthiness. The hull has a deep rocker curvature, shallow V form with flat bottomed mid section (for surfing) and hard chines, allowing the kayak to edge and carve well in turns. The Seabird Scott LV is theoretically too small for me as , at 82kg, I am above it's recommended weight limit but I was surprised at how stable it was for a relatively narrow kayak and you could really feel the secondary stability kick in.  Within a minute of getting in I felt really at home in it and totally secure.  It cut through the water like butter and was very responsive on edge but so far I have only tried it on flat water.  The Seabird Scott HV is really too big for me as I am right at the bottom of it's recommended weight limit, and it felt big when sitting in the cockpit, but I was surprised at how well I got on with it and it out performed my Capella 166 RM in every aspect (On the sea this time).  Rock solid stability, picked up waves more easily to surf, turned faster despite being a bigger boat and surprisingly, even though it was theoretically too high a volume for me and was unloaded so floating high I had no problems with weathercocking in conditions when my Capella was noticeably weathercocking. 

The Seabird Scott MV is theoretically the ideal size for me but I wasn't able to try a demonstrator for the MV so I bought it untested (I know, something you should never do!)  on the basis of just how good the LV and HV had been. The Seabird Scott is being sold in the UK at a remarkably low price for a composite kayak so for little more than the cost of a top of the range plastic boat I have a proper Diolen and Fibreglass sea kayak which looks to have been really well made and finished.   So far I have only been able to test it inland on flattish water, although in a very stiff breeze and with a bit of a chop building on Barton Broad.  Initial impressions are that I have made the right choice and I came back from the maiden trip with a big smile on my face!  It sits a little bow up at the moment so performance may improve even more once I trim it correctly (The seat is in it's rearmost position at the moment so I have plenty of scope to move it forwards to trim it correctly).  It glides nicely, tracks well and cruises slightly faster and has a faster sprint speed than my Capella (I reached 6.7mph but my friend who normally paddles a Seabird Scott LV and is much lighter and fitter than me and uses a more sophisticated Werner Corryvreckan  paddle, managed 7.2mph). It is very easy and quick to turn but does not seem to suffer any problems with weather cocking even without using the skeg.  The skeg itself is super effective, very smooth to operate, and absolutely locks the boat on track when fully deployed.  With the slight bow up trim that I have currently I found that I could adjust the boat from the mildest of weather cocking to neutral to actually lee cocking simply by altering how much skeg I deployed.  It is easier to get onto an edge than the Capella but has rock solid secondary stability.  The one criticism I have is of the standard thigh braces as they are quite uncomfortable.  They can be removed quickly though by removing two screws so I shall be making/fitting new braces and/or adding some foampadding for a custom fit.  Once that is done I will be taking the Seabird Scott out on the sea to see how she performs in the element she was really designed for.

Coming Soon - Review of the Dagger Katana 9.7 with River Outfitting
(Yes, Kayak Acquisition Syndrome strikes again!)
Old Town Allagash 174 Canoe  - Our original Family Canoe
(I believe also known as the Penobscot 174 and Discovery 174)
Length 17' 4" / 5.3 m   Beam 36" / 91.4 cm  Weight 83 lbs / 37.6 kg   Capacity 1,500lbs/ 680kg
Solo Avg continuous comfortable cruise 2.5/2.7mph - sprint 4.0mph (no wind)
Tandem/family Speed - GPS test yet to be carried out but est. circa 3.5mph comfortable family cruise
Big, tough triple layer polyethylene hull, stable, capacious, and quite fast family cruiser or expedition canoe with good straight line tracking - but quite heavy.  Getting one off the car roof on your own needs a bit of technique (using a bar tied across the roof rack bars as a fulcrum point helps considerably). The additional weight over it's more expensive sister the Royalex Penobscot 17RX is only really noticeable when lifting it.  Once on the water the extra weight isn't really noticed as it only adds a small percentage to the overall weight when compared to the overall canoe/crew/gear weight.  Very good value for money and an excellent choice as a family canoe.  Can be fitted with either webbing or plastic  (bottom shaped) seats.  My wife preferred the practicality (wipe clean/dry) and the support of the plastic seats so we went for those.  We also fitted two of the additional clip in seats (4 seats total) so it comfortably takes 4 of us - when the children were younger a single clip in seat sufficed as they sat side by side on it.  As with any 17 footer can be a bit of a handful solo if the wind gets up - tends to blow about without any load in it - but probably no more so than a Prospector type hull which has more rocker and higher bows.  However as my paddling skills have improved I can now manage it solo pretty well and it is surprisingly manoeuverable (although obviously nowhere near as agile as the Bob Special) and I have managed some quite convincing canoe ballet in it!  Due to it's longer length it is, faster in a straight line than the Bob Special (as long as there is no wind) so I have new found respect for this canoe.  Can be prone to oil canning (which actually seems to make the canoe more stable) as the PolyLink3 is quite flexible over the large unsupported area in the middle of the bottom of the boat.  If you are using it for tripping, loaded with packs in the centre, then the oil canning would probably not occur as the weight of the gear/packs would hold the hull down into shape in any case (and the same applies if you are paddling solo kneeling in the centre of the canoe).  The Penobscot 17 RX is basically the same hull but built in Royalex which reduces the weight and increases stiffness but is considerably more expensive to buy. Had I not obtained a Penobscot 17RX in exchange for my Bob Special when I had to reduce my fleet to one canoe then I would have been quite happy to keep the Allagash 174 as my only canoe.
Old Town Allagash 174
Allagash Penobscot 174
Old Town Penobscot 17 RX Touring/expedition Canoe  - Our new Family/tandem/solo Canoe
(Essentially the Royalex version of the Allagash/Penobscot 174)
Length 17' 1" / 5.2 m   Beam 35" / 88.9 cm  Weight (Royalex) 69 lbs / 29.4 kg   Capacity 1,200lbs/ 554kg
Solo Avg continuous comfortable cruise 2.6/2.8mph - sprint 4.3mph (no wind)
Fast solo cruise using Otter Tail paddle 3.0mph
Tandem/family Speed - GPS test yet to be carried out but est. circa 3.5mph comfortable family cruise
Thanks to the Royalex construction, aluminium gunnels and additional bracing thwarts this is essentially a lighter, slightly sleeker, stiffer version of the Allagash/Penobscot 174 but with a little less load capacity/family space and it is unfortunately considerably more expensive.  The additional bracing thwarts restrict additional seating space positions more than the Allagash but contribute to the overall hull stiffness.  The additional clip in plastic seats available for the Allagash will only drop in loosely over the narrower aluminium gunnels so do not clip in securely like they do in the Allagash - I've added a combined central webbed seat/kneeling thwart for solo use (plus a clip in plastic seat allowing separate seating for when we paddle as a family of 4). While the aluminium gunnels are stiffer, lighter and narrower than the plastic gunnels on the Allagash I don't find them quite so user friendly being colder and harder (easier to mark/dent  a paddle if levering against the gunnel).  The Royalex material allows a slighty finer bow and stern than the Allagash (more streamlined) which may contribute to the fact that I was able to achieve a higher solo top speed and cruising speed is also fractionally faster than the Allagash.  Canoeing isn't all about speed though and is often more about a nice relaxed paddle.  Interestingly I have noted that when just lazily dawdling down the river the Allagash, the Penobscot and even the Bob Special (despite being much shorter than the other two)  all returned a very similar speed somewhere around the 2.2/2.3 mph range.  When solo, paddling kneeling in the centre, my otter tail paddle seemed to  suit this canoe particularly well allowing a slightly higher stroke rate (at less effort) than my Beaver tail paddle and an easy low strain, low drag, correction at the end of the stroke.  Pushing on a little I found it quite easy to maintain a higher cruise speed of 3.0/3.2 mph.  Overall the Penobscot RX 17 is  very nice and since I have had to reduce my fleet to just one canoe is now my do everything solo/tandem/full family canoe.  Load wise two of my friends and I have been cruising the Norfolk Broads extensively in this canoe with no problems - That's 3 adults with an all up combined weight of around 274kg plus enough gear (obligatory stove, bacon, etc) and a trolley for full day tripping on flat water.   Some consider this the best plastic canoe that Old Town have ever produced and if you can afford the price premium (typically £1249 against £779 in Dec 2009) over the Allagash/Penobscot 174 and want the best then go for it.  If you paddle solo a lot and need to carry the canoe on your own then you will appreciate the lighter weight compared to the Allagash 174.  If you are on a tighter budget and want value for money then the Allagash/Penobscot 174 makes great sense and once on the water most families will not notice much performance difference between the two but may appreciate the slightly greater capacity, flexibility in seating positions and possibly a little more stability.
Penobscot 17 RX Canoe


Penobscot 17 RX Top
 Spot the difference  -Penobscot 17 Rx on the Left - Allagash 174 on the right
Nova Craft Bob Special - Was my Solo Canoe
Length 15' (457cm)  Beam 35'' (90cm)  Weight (Royalex Lite) 26kg  Capacity: 360kg
Solo Avg continuous comfortable cruise 2.3mph - sprint 4mph.  Tandem - yet to be tested, but will be faster
Light, stiff Royalex Lite hull with black anodized aluminium gunwales.  Solo or Tandem, reasonably fast and straight tracking but turns quickly and easily (I can perform a reasonably stylish looking canoe ballet in this one and actually look like I know what I am doing!).  Symmetrical, shallow arch hull (slightly v'eed) with slight rocker.  Responsive to trim, lower windage than some designs with higher ends. Manufacturers state best suited to flat or gentle white water (others have reported success in up to Grade 3 White Water).  The laced seats are both pretty and comfortable and stand out from the crowd of normal webbing seats giving it a very stylish look.  An absolute joy to paddle and my paddling technique has hugely improved since I started using this canoe as it is so responsive to every nuance of the paddle.  Due to it's light weight also the first boat I have been able to comfortably carry solo on my shoulders using the yoke (which has a thoughtfully placed little notch in it to avoid pressing on the bones in the back of your neck). If it wasn't for the fact that I also need to carry a family of four at times then this would probably be the only canoe I need.
 Bob special Canoe
Bob Special Canoe
Bob Special