I tried a number of boats before buying and ended up purchasing a used 2010 Capella 173 from a local paddler. Based on the specs on the P&H website, I was worried that the boat might be too big for me (I am 5'9" and 185 lbs.). While a larger paddler might be better suited to the boat, I felt that I had enough contact with the boat to properly control it.
I find it has great initial stability and I can put it up on edge for turns with little difficulty so the secondary stability is solid too. The speed and tracking seem fine, although I do not have a GPS to measure my speed. There was a moderate quartering breeze blowing on the day I tested it and the boat wanted to weathercock slightly, but partially deploying the skeg kept it right on track. The seat was very comfortable and the backband gave me better lower back support than any other boat I test paddled. This is an important criterion for me since I am only a few months away from being 60 and the ol' back ain't what it used to be.
There are two minor negatives for me. One is that my right knee contacts the inside of the skeg slider housing. This can be easily remedied by installing some padding. Secondly, there is no day hatch in front of the cockpit. The day hatch (third hatch) for the Capella 173 is behind the cockpit and offset to the side. I may be able to access it while underway, but I have not tested that yet. I realize that the Capella series is an all-around design and that many manufacturers do not include a fourth hatch with this style of boat.
I think this is a great sea kayak for the novice paddler, especially one of my size or larger. Eventually I'll want to move up to a narrower kayak, but I believe my Capella 173 will serve me well as a learning platform to develop my skills. I plan to take lessons and hopefully learn how to roll. At that point, I will take some expedition-style trips. The Capella 173 can certainly carry enough gear to support me for several days.
I feel that many of the reviewers on this forum rate their boats too high. I am giving this one a nine based on its suitability and performance for me personally at my proficiency level. P&H makes great boats and their workmanship is first rate. I'm sure there is a boat in their lineup to suit every paddler regardless of skill level.
This Capella 173 is hands down the best kayak I have ever paddled for my needs. Though the cockpit is huge, it fits snug and is very easy to get in and out of while still giving you great contact with the boat. I do not have big legs and the thigh brace connection was great out of the box. I found the boat very easy to maneuver and quite fast with a nice glide. Plenty of primary stability and the secondary for me was just perfect. Very confidence inspiring and SOLID.
I have been paddling a fiberglass Valley Skerray for a couple years. Other than the cockpit and high back deck I have nothing negative to say about the Skerray. That said the Capella 173 for me is a much better choice.
Why? It`s faster and tracks much better without the skeg, the cockpit is a lot lower on the back deck which allows you to layback much easier and the 34 inch front to back dimension is awesome for raising a knee on the water and for quick exits during surf landings.
Cons for me were the backband setup (it doesn`t swing out of the way via bungees) and the seat was mounted cocked to the right side and a bit off center. Both easy fixes. If you are in the over 200 lb. club definitely try this one. Other companies have tried to make one model fit the varying skill levels, needs and sizes of paddlers but P&H has hit a home run with the revamped Capella line as far as I`m concerned.