What makes a good sea kayak?
I’ve been playing around with an idea about sea kayaks for a while now. About what makes a good one. In the last 25 years I’ve paddled a lot of kayaks. Some good ones. Some not so good.
Now, with any kayak, there are always a few things that you might like to change. We all have our opinions and a kayak design can never be all things to all people.
There’s a funny thing about good kayaks though. Even though there might be something you would like to change about them, changing it wouldn’t make them better.
It would make them different.
Different. Not better. If you made a change it would detract from something you already like about the boat. Shift the performance profile in a different direction.
I call kayaks like this 90 Percent Boats.
A few come to mind. The P&H Cetus is one. The NDK Explorer is another. These are boats that are good enough that you can tell someone “buy it, you’ll like it.”
With a 90 Percent Boat you might have a few quibbles about features or outfitting or something similar. Fair enough. That’s the 10 percent. There’s no way to around that. Life isn’t perfect. Paddling is a deeply subjective experience.
But a 90 Percent Boat is a boat you buy.
The Current Designs Sisu is a 90 Percent Boat.
My Biased View
Let me get something out of the way before we go too much further. I haven’t always been a fan of Current Designs sea kayaks. My first exposure to the brand was in 1996 when I went to work for Rutabaga as a kayak instructor. We had a bunch of CD Solstices in our instructional fleet and they weren’t my cup of tea.
The Solstice is a great boat for piling on miles and camping. It’s stable, holds plenty of gear, tracks like a train and comes standard with a rudder. All good things if your objective is going from Point A to Point B. Problem was, I was trying to learn to surf sea kayaks and paddle rough water. The Solstice isn’t a great fit for that kind of paddling.
[Also, truth be told, I was deep in the cult of British sea kayaking at the time. The kayakers I wanted to be when I grew up all paddled British boats.]
For a long time, most of the CD boats were variants on the Solstice theme. Some longer and skinnier, others shorter or wider.
There were a few models in the lineup that spiced things up a bit. CD partnered with Derek Hutchinson to produce three sea kayaks that were reminiscent of the Orion and Baidarka Explorer kayaks that Hutchinson first designed for the P&H Company. They also produced the hard-chined Caribou and a Nigel Foster design called the Rumour.
Most of these models have dropped from the CD range, but Current Designs hasn’t stopped searching for talented designers to partner with. The most recent of these is Jesper Kromen-Anderson, who designed three kayaks in what Current Designs calls the Danish Style: The Prana, Sisu and Karla.
I haven’t paddled the Prana or Karla. They certainly look good. But I haven’t spent any time in them.
I spent a lot of time in the Sisu this winter and spring.
With the Sisu they’ve really nailed it.
The Sisu is 16 feet long and about 22.5 inches wide. The boat has a strongly asymmetric (Swede form) plan view with a fine entry. There is a fair amount of volume in the bow and stern above the waterline. Bow and stern have a gentle curve.
Cross sectional shape is boxy with steep sidewalls above a rounded turn of the bilge. Back from the bow, a slight V eases into some flatter sections at closer to the cockpit. The hull softens to a rounded arch under the seat. The rocker profile of the Sisu is minimal along most of the keel line with a distinct increase toward the ends. There’s a little more bow rocker than stern. Depending on how you measure it you’re looking at maybe 4 inches up front and 3 at the back. A fair bit of rocker.
The combination of asymmetric hull and pronounced stern rocker is something that I’ve disliked in other designs including the Valley Selkie, Dagger Meridian and P&H Capella 169. In those boats it tended to create a design that was quick to weathercock and distinctly squirrelly in a quartering following sea.
I had considered this combination of design elements to be the kiss of death in a sea kayak design.
The Sisu changed my mind.
More on that later.
The Sisu has a clean deck with a four hatch layout. The front dayhatch is large enough to swallow a bike bottle (bigger than the deck hatch on my Delphin). The rear dayhatch is on the centerline of the boat, which is visually appealing. A 10-inch round front hatch at the bow and small oval at the rear access the main storage compartments. Hatches are Kajaksport click-on throughout.
[My initial take on the center dayhatch was that it was silly to do it that way. It would be easier to get into if it was mounted off to one side. In practice I’ve found that it’s no problem to access the dayhatch. It just isn’t an issue. What’s more is that you can actually get at the contents of the compartment more easily with the hatch mounted on center. Pulling a dry bag out of the middle makes it easy to get your hands on anything else in the hatch. There’s nothing buried deep on the off-side of the boat.]
There’s a recess for a 70P compass forward and deck elastics to hold a spare paddle either on the bow or the stern. Cockpit elastics are three separate bungees (which I prefer to an X pattern). Full perimeter deck lines. Drilled-through end toggles.
Recessed deck fitting are round and bolted through the hull rather than screwed to inserts. There’s some argument as to which method is better. Bolted-through fittings can leak, but I’ve seen plenty of inserts torn out of boats in rough water towing. I’ll say six in one hand; half dozen the other.
The Sisu has a low aspect ratio skeg controlled by a wire. The slider forward is a stainless steel tube that prevents kinking at the cockpit. You can still kink the cable at the skeg box if you aren’t careful, and if you do you’ll need to replace the cable and the skeg, because they come as one unit. Remember to slide the skeg up when you land.
Hardware on the Sisu is stainless steel but I am seeing some light corrosion after a few months of use on the Georgia coast. This, despite rinsing the boat inside and out with fresh water after each paddle. It’s really salty down here. Most stainless steel stains less, but isn’t rustproof in the Lowcountry. Grade 316 is the most corrosion resistant. Grade 304 is more common. I don’t know which grade the hardware in the Sisu is.
[When I was at P&H we had a terrible time sourcing seat ratchets that wouldn’t corrode in coastal Georgia. We eventually did find a higher grade of stainless, but up until then we were replacing ratchets left and right. They always rusted worse in Savannah than they did anywhere in the world.]
The Sisu is available in an LV version which is the same hull cut down about an inch to accommodate shorter paddlers.
Last fall when Cristi and I arrived in Savannah I was lucky to land a spot at Savannah Canoe and Kayak, one of the coolest paddlesport shops in the country. Nigel and Kristin have created something really special here and I hope anyone who reads this review makes a mental note to stop in at the shop if you’re ever in Savannah.
I’d been working at the SC&K for a month when I ended up on the phone with Mike Looman at Current Designs asking some questions about a repair on a CD Vision. Mike and I have known one another for years and he offered to send down a Sisu for me to paddle while I was working at the shop.
That sounded good to me. We stocked the new CD boats in the shop and I’d never been in one. It made sense for me to get to know what they would do.
That phone call was back in the fall, and we didn’t have anything scheduled to come down from Winona until February. So I was surprised to find out that they had finished a couple special order boats ahead of time and had them on the way for late December. There was a demo on the trailer for my to try.
Like I said, Mike and I go back a ways, so when he did send a Sisu my way, he made sure it was built in the Heavy Water layup rather than the standard, lighter CD construction.
He knows I break things.
The Heavy Water Construction was designed for abusive paddlers like myself and folks who find themselves playing in the rocks more than they should.
The only rocks here on the Georgia Coast are the ones in the jetties, and I’ve managed to steer clear of those so far. That’s not to say I haven’t pounded the boat a bit. I’ve launched off the backside of some steep 8 footers and come down with a punch that could easily have flattened the hull and popped the gelcoat on a flexy boat. No problem. Whatever they put in this thing seems to do the trick.
Whatever it is is a combination of Tuf-Weave (polyester/fiberglass) cloth and woven roving with a big patch of Coremat down the inside center of the hull to give it plenty of stiffness. The deck is a mix of cloth, glass mat and Coremat. Mike says there are 3-4 different types of glass and reinforcing materials in the deck to keep the weight down while providing superior durability in high stress areas. So far, so good.
The Heavy Water Sisu has a fiberglass outside seam (glass tape under gelcoat) and a full end pour. There’s a glass inside seam. Bulkheads are composite and glassed in place. It’s the kind of build you like to see in a boat you’re going to use hard.
Not everybody hits rocks on purpose, so the standard CD layup puts a bit more emphasis on weight savings than maximum durability. A standard Sisu comes in at 52 pounds, which is plenty light for a boat like this. Aramid layups are 48 pounds. I haven’t put the Heavy Water on a scale but I would guess it hits in the upper 50s.
I really like the fit of the cockpit on the Sisu. Especially the knee position, which is higher and narrower than you find in many sea kayaks.
This cuts against sea kayak conventional wisdom a bit. A lot of sea kayaks have flat decks and a low knee position.
In fact, there’s something a little weird in the sea kayak world about boat fit. Maybe it comes from traditional Greenland kayaks. Maybe it’s some kind of bizarre vanity thing. But for some reason, some folks try to cram themselves in the shallowest, tightest, smallest sea kayak they can manage.
This is a mistake.
A higher knee position is much better for comfort and efficient paddling.
Let’s take comfort first. If you have tight hamstrings, which many people do, a flatter cockpit will force your legs and lower back into a position that it distinctly uncomfortable. There’s a constant stretching effect when you sit in a boat like this that leads to fatigue and discomfort. That discomfort disappears if you can raise your knees and inch or two higher.
As far as performance goes, a flatter leg position makes it more difficult to sit up straight, rotate your torso effectively and separate your lower body from your upper body while paddling.
If you see me at Canoecopia or a symposium I’ll run you through a few dry land drills to prove it to you. Until then, I hope you’ll take my word for it. Lower knees make it hard to paddle efficiently.
The knee height in the Sisu is perfect for me. I can sit comfortably upright in the boat with no tension on my hamstrings and a full range of motion. Even better, the Sisu manages to achieve this high knee position without making you feel like you’re sitting deep in the boat. The deck is low and cut away at the edges, so you never feel like you’re swimming in the thing.
The rest of the cockpit is solid. The coaming itself is long enough that a guy with a 32″ inseam and size 11.5 feet can easily sit in the seat and pull his legs into the cockpit.
The seat is a plastic pan riveted to the fiberglass coaming stanchions. It has a fabric covered pad and removable hip pads that can be shimmed-out to narrow the fit of the seat. It is fitted with a nicely padded Immersion Research backband that tightens with ratchets.
The footrests are aluminum Yakima footpegs. My favorite. These are mounted to a plastic riser and hardware glassed into the inside of the hull, eliminating the need to bolt through the hull to mount footrests.
Between the footrests is a small deck pod that is accessed through a hatch just forward of the cockpit. The pod doesn’t get in your way during entry and exit. It’s just the right size.
The Ten Percent
This is probably as good a place as any to talk about what I would change about the Sisu, because it’s all pretty close to the cockpit.
Remember I said you’ll always have quibbles about features or outfitting? Even in a 90 Percent Boat?
Here are my quibbles. They’re mostly about the seat.
The seat isn’t great for me. It’s a little flat. Not much paddling. After a couple hours in the boat I start to feel some pressure on my sit bones. It’s not unbearable. Not at all a deal breaker. But it would be nice if the seat had a little more contour to it. I’ll likely slide a some 1/4″ minicell under the seat pad to see if I can soften it up a little more without impacting the stability. I may shim up the front edge a bit more than the rear. Sometimes you gotta customize your gear.
The seat is a vac-formed plastic part that rivets to the coaming supports. I assume CD does this because it’s a lightweight, simple way to mount the seat and it allows for fitting both the standard and low volume versions of the Sisu with the same seat pan. Good solution.
Problem is that the cockpit coaming supports and front outside edge of the seat pan dig into the back of your thighs a bit, especially if you have bigger legs. The hip pads fix this for folks with narrower backsides. But if you need to remove the hip pads for a looser fit (as I did a couple months back) you might feel the edge of the seat in the back of your legs.
How your butt fits in a seat, of course, is very subjective. That’s why people put time and effort into customizing their kayaks. We spend a lot of time sitting in these cockpits. Its worth a little trouble to dial them in so they fit just right. Straight out of the box isn’t always the right solution.
On to the backband.
The IR backband is nice. It’s padded, supportive and easy to adjust while you’re seated in the boat. You do have to pull your sprayskirt off the rear of the coaming to get at the ratchets, but that isn’t a big deal. I like it.
However, the mounting points for the backband are behind the coaming supports, which means that if you over-tighten the ratchets you can actually crack the supports where they meet the coaming. This is especially true if you tighten them up hard and then really kick on the foot pegs. Or plop down on the backband getting into the cockpit. Doing so effectively doubles the force on the seat stanchions. I’ve seen a couple boats crack in this spot over the past six months.
If you break your boat like this I’m going to say it’s operator error. Don’t tighten the danged ratchets up so much! But, since I’m hard on things I’m going to try to attach the backband a little differently.
My plan is to pull the backband out of the boat and mount it on the inside of the seat behind the hip pads. I’ll back it up with a couple big stainless steel washers to spread the stress over a larger area. This should eliminate the inward pull on the stanchions and reduce the chance I’ll crack them. The hip pads should cushion the ratchet straps enough that they won’t be uncomfortable. Hopefully this does the trick.
Those are the quibbles.
Back to the 90 Percent.
The Sisu is stable, but not TOO stable.
What do I mean by that?
Well, I’m not going to talk about initial stability and secondary stability because I think that’s a bunch of BS. A kayak is either stable or it isn’t. I wrote a long piece explaining why I feel this way. If you’re interested you can find it here.
Instead, I’ll try to describe what the boat feels like on the water for somebody my size and skill level.
Unloaded, sitting on calm water, the Sisu has a slightly soft feeling of stability. There’s a sensation of being perched just a little bit above the water, as if you were sitting on top a of a ball. Maybe one of those big, squishy exercise balls.
It doesn’t feel tippy like an old school Nordkapp or P&H Bahiya. Not at all twitchy.
Instead, it feels like the hull wouldn’t mind easing over onto one edge or the other. It takes very little pressure to put the Sisu on edge and less to hold it there. All you have to do is shift your weight in the seat.
Once you’ve shifted your weight, the boat starts to resist the edging moment. It firms up. To go farther onto edge takes more effort. Maybe a little knee.
You don’t have to use the knee though. Like my favorite P&H designs, with the Sisu you can “sit” the edge and hold it without engaging your knee. Then you can counter rotate your upper body and sit the edge a little farther. It’s a great feeling, especially goofing around on flatwater. In rough conditions it’s confidence inspiring.
The ability to hold an edge without engaging your knee opens up a lot of technique that you just can’t pull off if you’re locked into the boat and hanging off a knee. You can rotate more effectively. Stay in balance. Drive the boat with your body.
The Sisu’s rough water stability is excellent. The boat is rock solid in confused reflecting waves and clapotis. Predictable in quartering following seas and surf. There is no feeling of twitchiness in lumpy water and you don’t feel like you have to work to stay on top of the hull. You can forget about the kayak and focus on where you want to go and what you want to do.
If the hull were a little flatter under the seat the Sisu would probably lose some of it’s quickness edge-to-edge, but like any change you might make to a 90 Percent Boat, flattening the hull would have some negative consequences.
We’ll talk more about that a little later on.
The Sisu is quick for it’s length. The asymmetric plan view gives it a fine entry that slices through the water. In a sprint it doesn’t pile up on it’s bow wave like some short, rockered boats do. It doesn’t hit a wall.
The boat is nimble on edge. Fun to paddle through twisting channels in the salt marsh. Sit the edge and look where you want to go. Sit it a little farther and you turn faster.
Not as fast as you would in a P&H Delphin, but plenty fast.
Rough Water Performance
How ’bout in the rough stuff?
I’ve had the Sisu out in ugly surf, strange reflecting waves, small tidal features and bumpy clapotis. It eats it up. There’s plenty of stability to feel confident in messy conditions, and the boat likes to pick up and surf a wave, regardless of which direction it’s coming from. Running with a confused following seat you can surf one wave from the left and then catch the next from the right. Lots of fun.
The Sisu gets a little cranky in weird moving water and standing waves like those that form on a strong tidal current near the south end of Tybee. I haven’t paddled many boats that don’t. That kind of water grabs a boat and yanks it around. You just have to grunt through it until you hit smoother water on the other side or find a standing wave you can catch to surf through.
Up at the top of this review I mentioned how I’ve historically been skeptical of designs that are both Swede form and have a fair bit of stern rocker. Every boat that I’ve paddled with those characteristics did two things I didn’t like: weathercocked like a beast and got weird in a following sea.
By weird I mean a kind of feeling like the boat is yawing around behind the seat. Slewing back and forth and around as the wave passes under the hull. As if somebody had bolted a Sit and Spin under the dayhatch. The whole tail end of the boat feels like it’s come loose and is waggling around.
The Sisu doesn’t feel like this at all.
Instead, it has a predictable tendency to broach in a following sea. You can work it back and forth on quartering waves. Let it come up a little, then sit the edge and take it down wave. It’s an active paddler’s boat, like a Cetus. It doesn’t drag down wave with every passing crest like a strongly fish form boat will. Instead it lets you control your direction by catching and working the tempo of the waves.
In a quartering sea the Sisu likes a little bit of skeg. The skeg also does a good job of trimming the boat in the wind and eliminating weathercocking. Which is my second historic gripe about boats with a lot of stern rocker. Man, do they weathercock.
Not the Sisu.
The Sisu is very neutral in the wind. Neutral like a P&H Cetus or NDK Explorer. In a strong cross wind and minimal sea state it will weathercock. But almost any kayak will. It doesn’t take much skeg to counteract this tendency. Despite the stern rocker.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I think I’ve figured out why. I think they have the seat in just the right place.
Years ago I traded an NDK Romany for a Valley Pintail. I had ordered the Romany without a skeg and really didn’t like it that way. The Pintail had a skeg.
And it need it.
That boat weathercocked like nobody’s business. Broached pretty hard in a following sea too, especially for a fish form hull. I couldn’t get the hang of it.
Then, one day, I moved the seat.
This particular Pintail had a custom bulkhead that was just a little too short for my legs. Instead of moving the bulkhead, I removed the seat and replaced it with a foam seat. This let me shift the seating position rearward by about an inch. I now had a perfect fit in the boat.
Something else happened. The Pintail stopped weathercocking. It became perfectly neutral in the wind. Performance in a following sea improved dramatically. It held an edge and came back from a broach much more easily. It was a completely different boat.
All from moving the seat an inch to the rear.
This experiment, along with what I’ve learned paddling P&H boats over the past decade, has convinced me that rocker isn’t necessarily as much a factor in weathercocking and following sea performance as I had once thought. It looks like fore-aft trim is every bit as critical, maybe even more so. Where you put the seat makes a huge difference.
I also think a bit of bow rocker helps. A sharp forefoot digs in and accentuates both weathercocking and broaching. It accentuates the tendency of fore-aft trim to exaggerate both. The bow rocker in the Sisu certainly is a factor as well.
I’m sure the bow rocker helps, but if I had to guess I would say that the seat position is probably the biggest factor. The Sisu is neutral in the wind despite the stern rocker and well behaved in a following sea despite the Swede form hull. The only way this can happen is if they have the fore-aft trim dialed in just right.
The Sisu is a fun boat in the surf. It feels quick. Bright. Snappy. The stiffness of the hull makes you feel like every bit of energy you’re putting into the kayak is being transferred to the wave.
The boat is quick to catch small waves and fun to carve back and forth ahead of the foam pile. It also has a sweet tendency to pivot from a side surf on a breaking wave into a front surf. I’ve paddled a couple other boats that do this (the Romany and Delphin). It’s a fun feeling.
On bigger waves the Sisu will take off and charge down to the bottom of a wave if you give it the gas. You can usually bottom turn and escape out the side on a low brace before you get hammered in the break. Or you can fly on out straight ahead of the foam pile and carve back and forth on a long ride. Depends on where you’re surfing. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of runway.
One thing I’ve been trying to play with is taking off with as little acceleration as possible and trying to hold the boat up higher on the wave near the foam pile. Matt Barnes from the shop has been telling me that the Sisu does this well. I’m starting to get the hang of it.
The benefit of staying higher on the wave is it gives you more options for maneuvering. The waves down here are steep, like those in the Great Lakes. When I catch those waves with my Delphin the boat wants to race down to the bottom of the face as fast as possible. That steep wave gravity pours on the speed in a hurry.
Once the Delphin is down the wave, it’s difficult to break the stern loose to pivot in a different direction. Even a big inside lean won’t snap it loose. The stern locks into the foam pile and hangs on tight. I started trying to hold the Delphin a little higher on the wave to counteract this, but no matter how I drag the brakes, the Delphin really likes to take off. It feels like you are either going to catch the wave and charge it or miss it altogether.
The Sisu feels a little more nuanced. Not only is it a touch easier to take off without fully committing, it also seems that the higher volume stern of the Sisu and softer edges near the stern release more easily that the Delphin’s harder lines.
For a while this winter I went back and forth trying to decide whether I liked the Sisu or the Delphin better in the surf. I’ve given up. It depends on the day. And the wave. They’re both a ton of fun.
What I can say is that the surf performance of the Sisu is outstanding. Truly impressive. Especially considering how versatile the hull is. These days I find myself paddling the Sisu in the surf more often than not.
The Sisu is easy to roll. If you can roll a kayak, you won’t have any trouble rolling the Sisu. If you’re learning to roll, the Sisu won’t hold you back.
I’ve rolled the Sisu a few times in the surf and always had it come up sharply and in control. Sometimes rolling in the foam pile and coming out into a front surf down the face of the wave. Exciting stuff on a big face.
The higher knee position or slightly looser fit of the Sisu has not been an issue whatsoever.
Not much more to say.
I haven’t had the Sisu out on an overnight trip yet. But experience tells me a lot about what to expect.
Back in 2001 Stand Chladek and I did a month-long expedition on Unalaska Island in the Aleutians. We paddled Nordkapp Jubilee HM sectionals. And we crammed a LOT of year into those small, fish-form kayaks.
In the Aleutians we didn’t have to carry water. We did pack in four weeks of food, a tent, cooking gear and spare clothes. The fish-form shape of the Nordkapp meant that the largest storage area in the boat was around the footbraces in the cockpit. Mostly wasted.
Since the Sissu is Swede form, it has more volume of dry storage for its size. The dayhatch is huge. The rear compartment is pretty big. I’m going to guess the boat has about 70 percent or more of the capacity of the Jubilee even though the Sisu is almost 2 feet shorter.
It may not do the job for a month in the Aleutians, but it should get you through a long weekend without any trouble. You should be able to stretch things a bit more if you pack carefully and share some team gear with your paddling friends.
How big is it? Here’s a guess.
I’m pretty confident that the Sisu is big enough to swallow my 80 Percent Kit and Possibles Pouch, a drybag of spare clothes, sea kayak safety kit, a storm cag, a couple 10L MSR Dromedary bags, a case of canned beer, and 4-5 days of freeze dried food and some hard salami. If you didn’t have to carry water you could probably stretch a long week out of the boat without too much trouble. You might even squeeze in a few luxuries like a camp chair.
Once you have all that crap packed in the boat, how will it paddle?
Well, there are some 16-foot boats that paddle like a brick when you load them down. The NDK Romany comes to mind. You can pack heavy in a Romany but the boat is a grind to paddle. It has a boxy shape and full entry that’s fun on a wave but a drag when you’re fully loaded.
The Sisu won’t be like that. Its asymmetric hull has a narrow entry that doesn’t throw a big wave through the water. It should be fine under a load. No as fast as a longer boat of course, but a decent compromise.
Stability will improve too. Remember when I said a flatter hull would probably be more stable? True. But it would also create a boxier shape that would slow the boat down under a load. And, loaded, the hull would be more difficult to hold on edge. You can’t change something without creating a downside somewhere. That’s why it’s a 90 Percent Boat.
One last thought about Swede form boats and gear. I think they’re a little easier to load correctly for fore-aft trim. With my old Jubilee, if I loaded too much weight in the bow it really threw things out of whack. Same thing for my Romany. I had a jar of peanut butter spoil a downhill run in the Romany once.
With a Swede form boat, the paddler is sitting in the widest part of the hull. Most of the weight comes from the paddler and that’s firmly situated over the center of buoyancy. In a symmetric or fish form hull the paddler is sitting a little behind the center of buoyancy. I think this makes these designs a little more sensitive to trim.
If you load your heaviest gear in the dayhatch (say a layer of beers and a Drom bag or two) in a Swede form boat, there isn’t too much you can do from there on out to spoil the trim. It should ride about the same as it does without any gear on board.
[One more tip. If for some reason you find yourself out on a multi-day trip with a boat that just won’t behave in a following sea, make sure you check the front compartment for that jar of peanut butter. You’ll probably find it right under the front hatch.]
As I’ve worked on this review I’ve been thinking about a boat I’ve spent a lot of time in. The P&H Capella 163.
I paddled a 163 for a couple seasons as a P&H team paddler in the Great Lakes. This was before I went to work for Pyranha/P&H in the late 2000’s. I really liked the boat. It was my favorite of the Capella series. Playful. Stable. Fast enough and big enough for shorter trips. A nicely balanced kayak.
[I used the 163 for a quick weekend trip to Rock Island that’s written up here.]
The 163 was different from the original Capella (Which came, later, to be called the Capella 169). It lacked the sharp V hull and heavy stern rocker of the 169 and was much better behaved in rough conditions. In fact, the 163 was different enough from the 169 it was as if they were completely different kayaks, not members of the same design family.
Which makes sense, because they were.
As far as I can tell, the Capella 163 is a re-decked and re-badged P&H Outlander. A 16-foot Peter Orton design. If you look at pics of the two models they are close to identical. I haven’t had anyone tell me as much, but my money is on the 163 being an Outlander variant lumped in with the Capellas to simplify the catalog.
The 163 was the jumping off point for the Capella 161, which was the #1 favorite team boat until the Aries came along. The 161 led to the 167, which eventually replaced the 169. Now there were two new boats that were similar to the Capella 163 but had a touch less rocker in the stern and paddled a little sweeter. The 161 and 167 were faster than the 163, tracked better, behaved better in a following sea and weren’t as skeg dependent. They were better boats.
Of course, I didn’t fit really well in either one. The 161 was a better boat for a smaller person. The 167 just didn’t surf like the 163. I always figured we should update the 163 to bring it in line with the rest of the family.
Instead, things went in a new direction. The Cetus was an outgrowth of the newer Capella designs. A huge jump forward in expedition touring sea kayaks. The Cetus was so versatile that it pushed the Capella into the shadows. When a new model came out it needed to be more playful than the Capella. The Aries and Delphin were born. The Capella series was phased out.
So the Capella 163 never was redone. Which is too bad. It was a fun boat, but it could have been improved. The 163 was just a little skeg dependent in a following sea. Had just a little too much tendency to weathercock. There were changes that would have made it better. Not just different.
Shifting the cockpit back an inch likely would have perfected the boat. That, and lengthening the coaming a touch so I could get in and out without banging my shins. Maybe just a little more rocker in the forefoot…
If those changes had been made, I think the Capella 163 would have ended up a whole lot like a Sisu.
A 90 Percent Boat.
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