I am a fairly experienced sea kayaker. I've been sea kayaking for 14 years, and am an ACA Level 4 Open Water Coastal Kayaking Instructor. While I do really enjoy instructing, at heart I'm a sea kayaker who enjoys the ocean waters - swells, waves, and surf. And there's nothing I love more than getting together with a group of skilled sea kayakers. I own a small collection of well-respected sea kayaks, and I enjoy paddling different sea kayaks for the different nuances that each one offers.
The Boreal Design Ellesmere entered my world after I already had a pretty good collection of sea kayaks. The main thing that first attracted me was the rounded/arched hull between hard chines. The kayak that I own that shared that characteristic is the Nigel Foster Legend. What I learned from that design in the Legend is that it makes for a pretty fast kayak, while still maintaining maneuverability. Yes, all kayaks advertise this, and we all know that it's generally a compromise between stability/maneuverability/speed. And many can't get comfortable with the Legend's primary stability, but it does have quite solid secondary stability. But that rounded arch between hard chines is one of those designs that pushes the speed/maneuverability boundaries in both directions, and leaves you surprised. A unique feature the Ellesmere advertises is a "reverse hard chine". Now I'm not sure what effects that does or doesn't have, but I can tell you that it really is an impressive-performing hull, and I cannot be a naysayer regarding this. I think it proves itself to be a good thing. The first thing I found was that the primary stability is comfortable, and the secondary stability is comfortable as well. A beginner may feel a little twitchy at first, but an intermediate or advanced paddler should be perfectly comfortable right off. The second thing that I found is that it feels fairly low-volume compared to something like the Legend. The third thing was that it tracks well in the wind, and feels settled in and not too effected by wind. The next thing I found was that it really does have a good turn of speed for a 17' kayak. It's not a racing kayak, but it's not pushing up a bow wake prior to a fast cadence like more play-oriented kayaks. Next, I found that it is crazy-maneuverable for a kayak that tracks so easily and is that quick. A lot of times strong-tracking kayaks need just a little more skill and patience to spin around, but the Ellesmere truly rewards good technique, and is quite simply surprisingly maneuverable. The other big area where you will definitely notice a kayak's volume, besides strong wind, is in broken waves. Whether it's in a surf zone, where you can get pushed long distances towards shore, or in open water with whitecaps, where the broken tops can give you a good push, lower volume contributes to being pushed around less. This behaves like a lower volume kayak in such conditions. Another really cool thing that I discovered, and this may be helped by the reverse hard chine pattern, is that when whitecaps or crumbling waves hit the side of the kayak, the kayak will want to lean a bit into the wave, which is just what you want to counteract the force normally pushing you over the other direction- but will automatically happen without thinking about it. I find that a very cool and useful little nuance. Now this isn't a kayak where you can sit in the steepest part of a 4-5' break zone and expect a hugely-rockered, voluminous bow to keep itself above water. But those kind of bows come at a wave-slapping sluggish price at all other times on the water. The Ellesmere has plenty of speed to catch waves early, and already be riding along when the wave gets steep. So it's quite fun and easily manageable in moderate surf. It's open water characteristics are quite impressive, and as above, it's just very impressive how well it maneuvers. The Ellesmere is definitely a stand-out winning all-around sea kayak design in my book.
The Ellesmere is 17' long, 22" wide. As you can see from the tennis balls in the video, it has a good amount of rocker evenly distributed along the length of the hull. I don't know how noticeable it is, but the Ellesmere and Capella were the only 2 hulls in that group that a tennis ball could fit under the normal keel line underneath the kayak. The rest, the tennis ball had to sit against the end of the raking portion of the stern curving up to the deck. I figured anyone could go home, sit their kayak on a flat surface, level it, and see what room there was under their own kayak using a standard sized tennis ball, compare to these pictures, and get something of an idea of the rocker profile. Odd approach perhaps, but it's something I always want to get a glimpse of when looking at kayaks, it’s really hard to get a feel for in photographs, and I hoped this might help.
It is a solid build. This kayak is 15 years old, kevlar, and going up and down the kayak pressing on it, I found no soft spots. It is very stiff. None of the 3 KajakSport hatch covers have leaked at all. This may be my most solidly built kayak. I didn't weigh it, but lifting it and all the others, the published specs are probably pretty good. It felt lighter than the fiberglass Legend and Greenlander, as you would expect. The Greenlander is noticeably a bit less stiff. The Legend was a little less stiff on the side sections from the deck to the chine. The rounded arched bottom of the Legend is very solid and stiff in line with the Ellesmere. You can see from the inside that both have more layers built up along the bottom. On the Legend, it's the entire bottom between the chines. On the Ellesmere, it's a very wide strip running the length of the keel line. Both the Greenlander and the Caribou have a little more give in the flat sections of the bottom, which I think in part points to the arched configuration being more solid in general than a flat section. In part, I suspect the Legend and Ellesmere add additional layers of composite cloth to the bottom to beef it up.
I'm 6'0", 190 lbs., size 11 shoes, 33" waist, 32" inseam. This one has an ocean cockpit. I found the sweet spot for me is to sit so one side sits centered over the day hatch. From there I can bring my feet in, and scoot my way into the kayak without having to squeeze my way in at all. It is somehow a secure feeling in the boat with the ocean cockpit, but the Ellesmere is sold with the popular keyhole cockpit as well. There is plenty of room for my feet, and the footpegs have a ways to go to get to the furthest back adjustment. There's a little space beside each hip for me. I'd probably go another 1/2 inch wider for perfection for me, but that's a very subjective matter. I like room to rotate. The next guy might like a snugger fit vs. more room.
The deck has just enough room for me for comfortable movement. It's fairly low, the lowest of those presented in the video. A nice minimized fit without extra volume for someone my size.
It was the rounded between the chines, or arched between the chines, hull that attracted me to this kayak. This was based upon my experience with my Nigel Foster Legend. It's fast and maneuverable, and I've always felt that it's the rounded vs. more V'd with flat sections that helps this along. We all know that overall round is fastest, but also lacks stability. So trying to keep things rounded as possible for efficiency, between hard chines for solid secondary stability, is my take on this type design.
I love it. This thing feels playful and maneuverable, and doesn't feel sluggish under my 190 lbs. One of the things I found with the Valley Gemini SP is that its max recommended weight is 190 lbs., and with gear and all, it felt like I overweighed it, and negated a lot of its playfulness. The ever-popular Romany always feels somewhat sluggish when I'm needing to get going. The Ellesmere allows me to get more out of that extra effort. I was instantly at ease with the stability profile. Most feel very uneasy in the Legend, and I'm comfortable in the Legend. But the Ellesmere doesn't feel so loose in the primary stability without primary stability being overdone, and has solid secondary stability. There is no nervousness for me out in waves regarding the stability.
15 knots is the most wind I've been out in so far with the Ellesmere, and she tracked fine for me without the skeg, and remained maneuverable in all directions. She has a light tendency to weathercock into the wind, as any kayak should. And there's a built in skeg to take care of any directional control issues should a person find it necessary.
Out in the waves, it feels very settled in – it doesn't feel twitchy at all to me. The footage I have is from 2 separate days. You can tell from the green top and the grey top that I’m wearing. The day in the green top, I don't think I pearled at all. The day in the grey top, I managed to dive the bow a few times, but it resurfaced without issue, continuing through the ride. Part of me thinks I would like to put a peak on the front section of the bow, because I think that helps the bow surface quicker after a dive. Part of me knows that adds a little volume and would be an experiment with overall behavior. Overall, I took some fairly steep drops dropping in on a few waves that would have bow-dived and stalled out some of my other kayaks. And part of any surfing is timing, and not dropping in too late so that you drop into a thrashing. The Ellesmere manages the whole process very well, and I'm not worried at all about having her out on bigger days. I will actually be looking to the Ellesmere for this.
Directional control riding in front of a wave is very good. My Capella 169, my go-to sea kayak playboat for years, requires a little more control. The chine profile seems to help direct the Ellesmere in a line out front. It resists broaching better. And yet I can still straighten her out and manage directional control to avoid a broach quite easily.
She proved forgiving in the waves. The low volume feels settled and not bounced around much. An interesting thing regarding the angle of the chine profile shown in the video, as I sat with my back to the broken waves, when a wave would hit me at any quartering angle from behind, the kayak would edge itself in towards the wave. I'm not talking about getting clobberblasted by an intense wall of wave that's just gone critical. I'm referring to broken whitewater washing over. The kayak automatically guided itself to exactly where a person would want it. It leaned inward towards the wave without input on my part. Now that’s a forgiving nature. It’s the first I've noticed it in a sea kayak, so at the very least, it feels more pronounced in the Ellesmere. Sometimes you can have the wrong reaction when you're not expecting broken water, such as a whitecap, so it's nice to have a kayak that guides you into the proper reaction.
You'll notice when I got back-surfed in the surfing video, all I did was try to anticipate which direction my kayak might broach. It just felt to me like she has a very forgiving nature overall. No quick broach, stern dive and stall, twist and turn. Given the evenly distributed rocker, this kayak might actually surf as well backwards as forward. I have a feeling my stronger direction will always decidedly be surfing forward, so I'll probably never really know the answer to that.
I felt I could paddle out in a hurry when I needed to, I could catch waves in plenty of time to settle in before they went critical and started breaking. It's just a real nice surfing kayak, remaining predictable and easy to control. It's not attempting to be an Aries or Delphin. Just a kayak built to travel through conditions – built to travel efficiently – and still be very playful and fun for park-and-play days.
I personally never looked to the Capella 169 (this is the older version – more rocker, less stable, more squirrelly than the updated versions) for travelling distances. It weathercocks a bit more than others, and a bit less efficiency – although pretty good efficiency among playful sea kayaks, which is probably where it lined up well with me. The Ellesmere is maneuverable, good efficiency, less squirrelly and less weathercocking, seems to have good rocker and profile for waves, settled, predictable, and forgiving in broken waves. I find it to be an exceptionally well built and great performing sea kayak.
I've been paddling my Kevlar Ellesmere with clear coat hull for 5 weeks now but I've had it out for 8 trips, some of them in fairly rough water and strong winds. I don't think that you can separate the boats characteristics from the paddler in its cockpit. I'm 170 lbs, at least an intermediate skilled paddler of 7 years experience and a septuagenarian.
The Elle is light 44 lbs. and fast. It is also a most aggressive turning boat in all conditions. Many times in a strong beam sea when we try to correct the boats course we limit the amount of edge due to caution in a rough sea. Not so with the Elle. The hard chines dig in providing a feeling of security. The Elle is an active boat, perhaps too active for some tastes. It is not a relaxing feeling in rough water but fun and playful. The primary is tender and the secondary quite strong. Unless you're heading directly into the wind, the Elle wants a bit of skeg. I use 20% almost all the time and it still turns strongly on edge with 20% down. Following seas are thrilling and while I haven't yet surfed with her I suspect she's quick and unforgiving. Just a little angle off the vertical and you may be in trouble. This is clearly a boat for the skilled paddler or one who wants to build those skills.
Seat and back band are fine and perhaps a matter of personal taste. The cockpit needed to be seriously foamed out for my slim hips and thighs. The Elle looks svelte and dynamic but has actually more volume than an Explorer. Should be a great camping kayak. Full disclosure: I also own a Romany which is my rocks and surf boat. I love the Elle as a second more exciting boat but would be uncomfortable if it was my only boat.
One last thing: The seat is positioned a little too far back which allows the lower back to contact the rear coming during layback rolls. Also the boat needs to be weighted a little in the bow to compensate and provide better performance. Build quality is excellent but a little light for the Maine coast with its rocky put-ins and beaches.
The boat handles very well in all weather conditions and is excellent for touring because of its predictability, high speed, and high volume hatches that accommodate a lot of gear. It has good primary and secondary stability, and the unique reversed chine design allows for easy edging. At 51 lbs and 17' long it maintains good balance between weight, length, and speed. The low back deck minimizes weathercocking.
There are a couple of downsides. It doesn't track well without the skeg, which is easily fixed by keeping the skeg slightly dropped. The front hatch is recessed but doesn't have channels to let the water drain. This is not a problem with the rear hatches, because the whole back deck is flush, therefore there is no place for the water to gather.
Overall a great boat that I would highly recommend.
The boat does feel a bit tippy standing still but it's very easy to get comfortable within minutes. I am able to get in and out seat first and then feet right from the water, no part of the boat touching the beach. So it must be stable enough. The secondary stability is just amazing, the boat is so easy to control with just leans from one side to the other. I find it weathercocks a bit. The skeg does correct this with some drag I suppose. However, the boat still maneuvers well will leans even with the skeg down all the way. I was out on confused seas yesterday. It handles that very well. Not too bouncy. I like the way the bow takes the waves. Not completely out but not completely in as well. Just right, feels secure but not a totally dry ride.
All in all a great boat. I prefer it over the Impex Currituck and QCC 700. I have owned both. I give it a 9 because a boat is always some kind of compromise and its weathercocking is a proof of that.
Unfortunately, my boat was damaged in an accident a couple of seasons ago, and has been in storage since. I've replaced it with an Azul "Sultan" (mistake as Azul is one of the worst companies I've ever dealt with!!!!) Luckily, I never got rid of the boat.
Last week I decided to stick it back together with duct tape and get into a pool for the evening to see what it was like. Glad I did. It still turns on a dime, carves wonderfully, and has the most amazing secondary stability I've ever experienced in a kayak! This is a boat I'd heartily recommend to anyone wishing to be an intermediate level or better paddler.
It rolls easily, and while a bit big for real Greenland skills, it's still easily worked. If you need a great looking kayak that is small enough for day tripping, and can handle tripping as well; you'd be hard pressed to choose a better boat.
An 8, since there's still nothing perfect.
The bad thing about this kayak is the skeg system. Launching and landing in 3-6 foot surf is the norm here in So Cal, and in the surf, sand is driven into the skeg box, which causes the skeg to jam frequently. To make matters worse, the hull has a sudden amount of rocker from the skeg box to the stern, which makes the kayak skeg dependent for good tracking and to avoid weather cocking. As a result, I threw the skeg away, cut out the skeg box, and modified the hull with fiberglass and epoxy to get rid of the excessive rocker in the aft few feet and follow the natural keel line. Now the kayak tracks well and doesn't weathercock without the skeg.
The seat was pretty good, but that bulge in the front and center of the seat was more than I cared for , so I threw the seat away and made a custom foam one that is more comfortable for me.