About me: I've been paddling ocean kayaks for about 35 years. Mostly expedition paddling of two weeks or more. I've paddled a lot on the west coast of Canada, less in Nova Scotia, Maine and the Great Lakes. I have paddled a lot of boats a lot of miles: Mariner, Nimbus, Nordkap, Necky, Current Designs. I currently own the Force 5, a North Shore Ocean 17 ( another great boat ), and a Nimbus Telkwa. The Force 5 is my latest acquisition, purchased as a very fast expedition kayak with a nod to all the years that I paddled a Grand Mariner. I wanted a fast, rudderless expedition kayak that didn't take as much effort and body language to paddle and correct as my old Grand Mariner did.
I spent 4 days in early November 2016, trialing my K-lite layup Force 5 in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. The place where I launch is on Hale Passage, a small straight between the mainland and Lummi Island. It is known for strong tidal currents and verying bottom geography which creates strong rips and upwellings. The first two days, there were both strong tides running and winds from 25 to 30 knots. On the first day, the wind was gusting against a 3 knot ebb tide creating white capping waves of over one metre in the main channel.
So how did this boat perform? She is 18 feet long and less than 21 inches wide, with a flat bottom and virtually no rocker. I was paddling her empty for my sea trials.
What can I say/ I LOVE this boat! On calm flat water, she feels stable and docile. As soon as you get on living water though, she begins to show her Thoroughbred lines and personality. Each day, it took me ten to fifteen minutes to get accustomed to her liveliness in moving tidal currents and waves, but once my own skitishness settled, she showed her true capabilities. The boat is fast, very fast! She tracks like an arrow on a flat keel, but turns easily on edge. She handles rough water and breaking waves with ease, a simple lean or a quick brace and carry on. She fits like a glove and I felt wholly at one with this boat. She tracks and handles extremely well without deploying the skeg. The only exception is a bit of moderate weather cocking with strong following winds, which deploying a bit of skeg quickly corrects.
On my third day of trials, the wind moderated to light and I took her out for a power paddle around the South end of Lummi Island. Did I mention this boat is fast? On my return up Island again in Hale Passage, I paddled her against another strong ebb. She cut throught the ebb current and paddled into it with little decrease in speed or increase in effort.
The Force 5 is a fast expedition boat par excellence. The useable packing volume is rated at 181 litres. The total volume is listed a 380 litres which is excellent for a British style design. I can get an extra 10 or15 litres of storage with a dry bag in front of the foot braces, so she will definitely handle enough gear for extended expeditions. I plan to use that capability for two trips this spring and summer on the Salish Sea and the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
This is definitely a boat for an experienced paddler, however, I think she would also reward a keen novice who is careful, takes some time and instruction and is keen to learn. With the three versions, Category 3, 4 and 5, there is a size of this design to fit most paddlers.
The Impex line is now manufactured by Abatibi & Co. located in Northwestern Quebec. They apparently have the same quality control manager as did Mid-Canada Fibreglass who previously manufactured these boats. I am very happy, no "stoked" that Impex line of kayaks will still be built to the highest of North American standards. So many North American kayak manufacturers have gone out of business, or been bought out by multi-national corporations that decrease quality and eliminate models that are not huge sellers in the low end recreational market. Cudo's to Abitibi and Co., may you have success and continue to produce and sell performance ocean kayaks that are built for adventure and to last.
That being said, there a couple of things that could be improved. The bulk heads are a little flimsy and the one behind the seat could have been a backward sloping one like my Legend, This makes for much easier emptying in a water rescue and a bit more usable space in the day hatch. The skeg has a habit of rattling in the down position and in marginal conditions this bugs me a little. However when you really need it, then the wind and sea noise makes the rattling inaudible. Impex has some excellent design features like the hand grips at the ends of the boat and a great seat.
No matter what kayak you read about-do yourself a favor and paddle the boat before buying. The Impex Force 5 was not on my short list. I tried a Point 65N, an Epic 18 and an Explorer and did not like the way any of them paddled. I jumped into the Impex because it was sitting on the beach and was very impressed. Just find the boat which suits you and if it is the Impex, then try to find Force 3,4 and a 5 to paddle.
I like the boat so much that I am going to buy my wife a Force 3 and maybe even buy the Impex Tandem.
I'm sorry I waited so long. It's a pleasure to paddle a boat, heavy or light with gear that doesn't disobey in strong winds or quartering seas. My compliments to Impex for producing the best boat I've ever paddled. Previously on the pure British line boats I've paddled, I've never realized how much effort went into fighting the boat. Again, thanks Impex for your great boat and your insight into a design fit for the 21st century.
PROS: VERY good tracking and resistance to wind, yet lean-turns easily. Fast and quiet cruiser. Nice Valley hatches, far better QA than older Impex hulls. 52lbs in C/K. Portage grips wonderful.
CONS: Horribly narrow FB seat layup...must be replaced. Skeg box somewhat intrusive. Deck is FB, not like C/K hull. Long waterline a bit sluggish off the line, so not a playboat.
I picked it over the Explorers, Aquanauts, Tempests and Chathams (of course) for ocean conditions. I'm 5'11", 190, 11.5 feet. If you're smaller try the lower Force4 first (same hull).
It'll be very interesting to see if I keep BOTH this F5 and the Cetus, as they have different personalities. The Cetus is VERY disobedient in wind without a lot of skeg, but is wildly fun, but so far I trust the Force more....
I was not sure on my first rides, this is why I hesitated before rating it. I found it tippy compared to my previous carbon that was 24" wide. Now after a few rides in various conditions, I really really love it. It's quite fast, very stable for its wideness, and tracks very well. You edge it a little and it really manages tight turns. No weathercocking noticed to date, and needed a little skeg only on following seas and backwinds.
The only negative point will be for me its weight. I already think for a new one in K-Lite or carbon cause this is the best kayak I ever paddled. I was too looking at the Explorer at the moment of buying but I saw two of them that were so badly manufactured, I didn't wanted to even try them.
That boat (Force5) according to me is a dream come true. Really great boat and anybody should consider it on the top five kayaks for all around conditions.
As for the Force series - yes it has very little rocker but it's highly maneuverable, and solid on a lean. If you want a quick boat, go for this kayak. The wind was noticeable and gave me enough confidence that it would handle any challenges with weather-cocking. Couldn't assess it on a following sea, but I expect it should handle as well as my glass Valley Skerray as the hull felt very similar. The cockpit has a nice fit, and the rachet backband is secure with stainless steel locking mechanism. The foot pegs were adjustable using my opposite foot quite easily. The skeg worked fine and was not needed with the wind I experienced so tracking is not an issue. I went with the Force 5 only to give me a little more foot room as I am 5'11 and approx. 185 lbs.
I'm a believer that we have to try many boats to find the one that suits us and I definitely found mine.
The Force paddles like a dream. It turns on a dime....the best edging kayak I've ever owned. It's fairly fast and handles wind and chop extremely well. In a big blow, a little skeg makes it track straight and true.
If you want a great expedition kayak...the Force Cat 3-4-5 should be on your short list!
This boat is fast, it is a great surfer, it feels good and stable on edge, the outfitting is excellent with a smooth skeg action, comfy seat and those 3 wonderful Valley (VCP) hatches. Despite the perceived lack of rocker, the boat turns surprisingly easy on edge.
The thigh hook location in conjunction with the skeg control box caused pain and slight bruising when performing a hip snap when rolling. This may be resolved with adjustments in the foot pegs and back band, but for sure, some extra foam padding would be in order. I had to stop paddling it because of the pain. The foot pegs are rock solid but are hard to adjust. The spring loaded release is located behind the foot peg. I have the same ones on my boat but mine slid easier, maybe these needed lubrication. I would much prefer adjusters that can be reached by hand, from the cockpit.
The cockpit did not seem cramped but my spray skirt seemed a little loose. Although the cockpit was only an inch shorter, the deck was slack. This did allow a little water to enter, but may have been through the tunnel as I was only wearing a t-shirt. When sculling, I am used to my head being close to the water. With the chine on this boat, sculling is higher and to get closer to the water, the boat seems beyond 90 degrees and seems to be laying on top of you.
Overall this is a good looking, good handling fast cruiser. Could I love this boat? Sure, with some padding in the cockpit and a few changes in technique. I am going to try a slightly lower Impex Force 4 next and then compare them with a few other popular boats before I commit to a new boat purchase.
By the way, I would like to thank Barb and George at the Kayak Academy for making this boat available to me.
I first saw IMPEX boats at the Garden State Exhibit Center, during Jersey Paddler's Paddlesport event in 2005. IMPEX had a Currituck and Montauk on the floor, and I was impressed with the fit and finish, and the enthusiasm of the IMPEX staff. The Force line had not come out yet, and so I thought a Currituck was in my future.
At the time, I was paddling an Old Town Adventure XL. I had lots of lake miles under my belt, but no bracing skills. I should mention that I started paddling in 2002 with a Leisure Life WalMart special, then caught the paddling bug and almost immediately bought the Old Town.
I eventually bought a Wilderness Systems Tempest Pro 170 in FG. Up until Saturday, the WS Tempest had been my constant paddling companion, and I must say--I love that boat! I developed some bracing skills, learned to roll at a local community college, and went to a seminar, where I finally got professional coaching.
I still paddle 90% of the time in lakes and rivers and bays, though as my skills improve (and I find buddies to go with!) I hope to venture into surf and get some BCU stars working.
Back to the Force Cat 5! I was going to buy a Force 4 actually, but the only one available was found to have a starburst on the gelcoat near the skeg control. As I was foaming at the mouth in anticipation of buying the Force 4, and Lake Mohawk is 90 some-odd miles from Jersey Paddler, I would not be deterred and instead of leaving with no boat, opted for the Force Cat 5 and the extra inch of depth that came with it.
I launched from one of the beaches and struck out into the wind. I knew after a few minutes that my first adjustment would be to let a few teeth out on either side of the comfortable Immersion Research back band. After I did that, the boat fit like a glove and I was off to get acquainted. I found she tracked very well into the wind and responded nicely to a leaned turn, even though I was tentative since I didn't want to capsize and thus test my less than bombproof roll. I came across the wind and took some "waves" (hey, the fetch was at least 2 miles! :) on a low brace. I turned downwind and found she still didn't need skeg. It was only later, with a quartering tailwind did I drop the skeg, and the kayak tracked like a laser guided torpedo.
Once into a protected area, I tried some rudders and more aggressively leaned sweep strokes. I am in love with this boat already! At this juncture, I popped the headphones on and cranked up some paddling tunes for a fast cruise. A mile later, I passed the boardwalk at the NE end of the lake wearing a stupid grin. As I turned to the southwest, my reverie was broken by a capsize. Not sure how it happened, but there I was, upside down. I thought "please let me roll up on the first try!" Of all places to go over, right in front of folks sitting on the benches on a Spring day in January! I didn't relish the thought of a wet exit and subsequent paddle float re-entry in front of gawking ( and possibly guffawing) board walkers! Not to mention that one of them would probably panic, and call the rescue squad to add to my embarrassment!
I worried needlessly as I rolled up effortlessly, aided no doubt by the excellent design of this wonderful kayak! The backband not only didn't hinder my layback, it supported it. I was up and dripping water out of the headphones in a few seconds. The water chilled my noggin a little, but "The Shins" didn't miss a beat in the headphones, and I paddled on dude!
I can't say how much I am pleased with my first outing. I would have rated this kayak a "10", but I think the deck rigging could be improved somewhat. Specifically, I would have liked some bungees near the day hatch to stick my pump, and a pattern of bungees on the forward deck to slip a paddle blade under.
I am 5'6" and about 190lbs. Much larger reviewers have found this boat to be comfortable and of course, so do I. I am going to take advantage of the extra room under the deck to glass in a tube to hold flares or whatever. I will add the additional deck rigging myself as well.
I typically paddle alone, and I try to be consistent with the gear I take. Most of it is safety related: flares, smoke, water, mini-stove, tubular webbing, extra clothing in drybags, etc. etc. I spent 20 years in law enforcement and rescue not to be prepared. The extra room will be nice on extended trips as well.
Bottom Line: I give the Force Cat 5 **** 1/2 Highly recommended!