The Wisper is a dream to paddle. It easily keeps up with her hard-shelled cousins, and is extremely easy to track and steer, even without deploying the rudder. A slight weight shift, and the Wisper glides readily into a turn. Initial stability is a bit less than the Kahuna, but I find that the secondary stability is more than comfortable for my ability level. The lower rear deck makes for an easy entry and I feel like I am sitting in a position of greater command over the kayak. The standard seat comes with a padded, molded seat bottom and an inflatable, adjustable lumbar support that is high enough to provide good comfort, and low enough to not impede my Kokatat MsFit PFD.
Wisper's price tag is steep, and I considered fiberglass or Kevlar boats of similar weight. However, I have found paddling in Alaska that the Feathercraft hull takes a real beating without failure. I also love the very organic feel of the Wisper on the water, as the hull absorbs waves rather than reflecting them. It is an extremely comfortable craft to sit in and to paddle.
I have only one complaint, and it is a minor one. Feathercraft has redesigned its rudder pedals. The new system employs a "gas pedal" arrangement, with a horizontal brace behind the pedals, joining to the chine bars. With the sea sock in place, I find it difficult to feel the pedals and to operate them well. I may elect to order the older style pedals which each move back and forth on a rail installed o n each chine bar.
In sum, I recommend the Wisper XP for light touring, and day cruising in a wide range of water and weather conditions. It is a tough but nimble craft, comfortable, and elegant all at the same time.
My Wisper XP includes bow and stern hatches, the famous FC rudder, and double-coated sea sock and hatch material, and comes in at just about 40# dry weight. As a 5'6" female, the weight is a big consideration; I can manage the kayak very well on land, but of course it is in the water where it really shines.
On long paddles in Alaska's Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords, I was able to readily keep up with friends in sporty hard-shell boats, something that has been difficult in the much slower Kahuna. The fabric hull absorbs a good deal of energy from waves and keeps the boat very quiet even in confused waters. I am loving the way the Wisper performs.
The hull material is tough, and really takes a beating on our rocky Alaskan shorelines. It helps that Feathercraft adds a reinforcement strip over the keel and chines.
It takes about 30 minutes to assemble the kayak, after some practice. The supplied backpack includes room for a PFD and a four-part paddle; much more and you'd be really pushing up against the 50-lb airline weight limit. That said, I usually keep my Feathercraft assembled and car-top it to the put-in.
Each kayak is made to order in Feathercraft's shop on Granville Island in Vancouver. It took about 2 1/2 weeks from the time I ordered the kayak until it arrived at my front door. They take great pride in their workmanship, and offer unparalleled customer service.
A couple of small drawbacks - Wisper does not have any hand loops for carrying, so you must carry the boat by cradling it against your hip. Since it is narrower than the Kahuna this is not so difficult, but grab loops would be helpful. Second, Feathercraft has gone to a new "gas pedal" style rudder pedal system, where your feet remain stationary and control the pedals by flexing your foot forward from the ankle. Personally, I preferred the older track-mounted pedal system and plan to swap out the pedals from my Kahuna into the Wisper.
Overall, Wisper is a comfortable, nimble boat that is perfect for a smaller paddler who enjoys a luxurious, organic ride.
You got to be careful how you assemble the boat - if the bow and stern (especially the stern) chines do not align straight with the protected strips on the hull when tightening the extension bars, then the kayak will tend to favor a side and pull in that direction. Used the skeg but found it pulled the boat to starboard and took it off. The boat isn't very fast and with 50lbs of gear it takes some effort to keep a fast pace, especially if your buddies are in glass boats. Got into some reflective wave chop and the boat performed as it should, no bracing or leaning needed, just kept paddling along with no worries.
For those that are looking for a great kayak with expedition potential and safety, this is your ticket! Am going to purchase the calf plates, hip braces and rolling rib (the standard #3 rib really bites into the lower back) for a more snug fit - still feel like I'm swimming inside the cockpit. All-in-all, a good boat to have for traveling.
Feathercraft doesn't recommend this of course but realize that for rolling we were less than 30 feet off shore with Dubside standing in the water critiquing my every move. After the session was over I examined his Wisper which has a custom rib behind the cockpit, a rib Dubside fashioned to render his own rolling machine (this must be said tongue-in-cheek because on this same day I witnessed him rolling my QCC700 via elbow and hand rolls)... The custom rib was fascinating because it is a 'floating' rib. Picture the typical Feathercraft rib more as a rectangle and then remove the sides leaving the top and the bottom. The top and bottom of the ribs are where the longerons and chine bars connect. This keeps the longerons and chine bars in place (with a little help from velcro straps)but allows the rear deck to flex as you roll up and onto it AND removes the knife in the lower back of the OEM rib.
The only caution I can see in this setup for rolling practice is in entering the kayak, just go slow and dont place your entire body weight on the rear deck which at this point is not truly supported via the rib. Just as obvious is the need for the OEM rib in place when doing serious paddles. I plan on making my own custom rib, maybe not a floating rib, preferring to keep the four sides of the square, but a rib that is 2 inches lower than the OEM. This would yeild about an inch of freeboard on the back deck. I've noticed that cutting boards can be had for cheap, are made of the same HDPE, and can be found thick enough. I will experiment with them.
Some more thoughts on the Wisper. After assembling/disassembling many times now I would recommend all who get the Wisper to get the optional bow hatch...it makes it so much easier to get the longerons in place and if you get the float bags it makes them easier to install too.
Back to the 'rolling machine'. After Dubside removed the offending rib, 2 minutes later I had a balanced brace that felt wonderful. Almost as good as the feeling I got in Hoffmeister's Qaajaaq SS.
One more thing at this juncture. At my height---6'1"----I need the calf plates offered by Feathercraft, when rolling my shins are in line with the forward cockpit rib and get a wee bit too much pressure....which reminds me of why I think the Wisper is so easy to roll, my knees and Dubsides knees actually push into the fabric (skin), with your knees jammed this weigh your legs form a diamond which allows much more torquing of the kayak compred to when your legs are straighter. I think it allows a larger movement from the hips when you begin to turn the boat right side up.
The seating is fasciating...FC has a hammock style arrangement that is comfortable on its own, but couple that with a dual chambered inflatable seat and you have gluteal bliss....I did experience operator failure here-when entering the cockpit (with seasock in place) I inadvertantly pulled the seat back down to far, began paddling and felt back discomfort, eventually pulled over and got out to discover that I had not strapped the back of the seat down..my bad and easily fixed.
The cockpit is snug for me- 6'1", 189 pounds, and I have to sit on the deck and slide my feet in straight legged at one time, so I would fear for anyone taller or with longer legs having easy access.....the seasock is just smart for SOF, obviously keeping out crud and providing for quicker water removal in the event of a wet exit...but know that with wet feet you will stick a bit sliding in. Note that the seasocck nor the spraydeck are options, they are included but you can and I did upgrade the spraydeck to a nylon-neoprene model, both of which again show that Feathercraft invests in quality control.
The foot rest works, just establish proper placement before a long paddle, once the distance is established it is easy to reproduce.
As far as storage the Wisper has plenty, being an ultralightweight backpacker I could easily store enough for a week long paddle, but do consider the optional forward hatch, it also makes it easier to install the longerons and chine bars. You should also pay attention to the weight rating of this boat, at my weight I have 60 pounds of gear I can add-if you have to pack a lot of water this may be an issue.
The assembly of the Wisper is no biggie....my first attempt took over and hour and a half but that was watching a movie and playing with the kids. I've put it together 4 times now and can do in under 30 minutes at this point and that includes the optional hatch installaion, the seasock, and inflating the float bags (get these, cheap insurance). I have not rolled the kayak yet, but if I can roll an Eggemoggin or a QCC700 the Wisper should be no big deal, and some established champions in the rolling sports have used the Wisper in Greenland.
Stability and sponsons....another distinct advantage over hardshells is the existance and use of sponsons in SOF kayaks...with the inflation tube you can essentialy dial in however much stability you desire. The sponsons also effect the final tensioning of the skin and with them you can achieve a hardshell look that has decieved onlookers. I could not recommend the Wisper to anyone without knowing their intended use, shouldnt do that with any kayak but I can now fully recommend Feathercraft...I've just never seen attention to detail, and that is EVERY detail, from any other company that matches what they put out. If you have any questions about this boat dont hesitate to ask.
Packaging: The kayak is shipped inside its backpack, which is then placed inside a cardboard box. Inside the backpack the frame components are wrapped in a thin lightweight sheet of packaging material.
Materials included with the kayak: The Wisper doesn’t have a lot of options; it comes standard with a stern hatch and a skeg which is strapped onto the kayak when you wish to use it. It also comes with a lightweight backpack for storing and transporting the kayak, a spray skirt and a lightweight sea sock. Note that you can upgrade to a neoprene and nylon spray skirt or a heavier duty sea sock if you are surfing or doing lots of rolls. My materials included a video showing assembly of a Kahuna with a note attached indicating they haven’t yet finished the Wisper assembly video and that the assembly procedures were very similar. There is also an assembly manual, owners manual, and a repair kit in a dry sack which included patches and epoxy for the hull and deck as well as a small container of Bo-Shield T9 which is used to lightly coat the frame pieces where they join together allowing for easier disassembly if you leave the boat assembled for months at a time.
Assembly: I watched the included video prior to putting the boat together the first time and believe that’s it worth your time so you have an overall feel of how this all goes together. Feathercraft states it takes 20 mins to assembly the kayak, which certainly seems possible after some practice. Overall it’s pretty straightforward, I don’t consider myself very skilled with mechanical things but this really wasn’t very hard. The first time there are only a couple of items that I felt were difficult, the one area I had the most difficulty with was getting the skin centered on the bow and stern frame. I’m guessing this is because the skin in new and pretty tight and it will get easier as the skin stretches a bit and forms to the frame after being assembled for a while. The second area that took a bit of playing around was using the levers to extend the keel, chine, and gunwale extension tubes. It’s a bit tricky figuring out how to keep everything aligned while you are applying pressure to extend the tubes, the second time was much easier so don’t worry about taking a while the first time you build the boat. I think the foot brace is also worth a quick mention, as I didn’t think I would like it at first but now think it’s a great design. Basically it’s a single piece of high density polyethylene which is attached via webbing to the gunwale bars and the bow cockpit crossrib. The beauty of this is that you can easily adjust the length of the brace as well as the angle of the brace. I initially thought it wouldn’t be very stable but was happily surprised to find it both stable and very comfortable allowing for a lot of different foot positions when paddling.
Paddling: Now for the fun part! I’ve had the kayak out twice now, once on a day when there were a lot of ski boats on the lake creating quite a confused state on the water and today when there was a light breeze and pretty calm conditions. The first day I left the skeg off and today I had the skeg on. The boat tracked significantly better today but I’m not sure if it was the conditions or the skeg. I’ll add an update after I’ve spent another month with the boat in different conditions, at the moment I’m planning on leaving the skeg on since it’s pretty small and very lightweight. The boat is very comfortable; I really love the suspended seat and the ability to blow up the backrest for lumbar support. I also like the sea sock although it takes a bit of pulling when I first settle into the kayak to give my feet enough room to move but once adjusted I think it’s very comfortable and I like the fact that it is easy to pull out and clean while keeping dirt and sand out of the actual interior of the boat. As I mentioned earlier I’m a novice paddler but have found this boat very easy to put on an edge for turns, I have yet to feel as if the boat is going to roll out from under me. She is very easy to paddle, gets up to speed quickly and if you want to get some fitness she will really respond to aggressive paddling. I hit 5.1 knots with her today and cruised at just over 3.5 knots. I will be taking a class the end of this month to learn how to roll her so I’ll provide an update after that class
Summary: Very well made, reasonably easy to assembly, very lightweight (app 37lbs at 15’7”) and lots of fun on the water. She wasn’t cheap but at this point I’d say she is absolutely worth the money.