The next effort by P/H is noted in the footpeg controls - ingenious because unlike Wilderness Systems (which are far better than most on the market)the P/H controls will not release (and allow the footpegs to slide) when the kayak is upside down. The footpeg effort doesn't stop here, the actual footpegs are larger than normal and are 'tacky'. It's the first off the shelf kayak I've added that I don't feel inclined to add a custom bulkhead mounted foam block.
Next on the effort list is the pressure valves in the bulkheads... if you've ever lost a hatch cover maybe it was due to pressure build up and the hatch blowing off with force. The pressure values will help reduce this. Of course P/H tethers the hatch covers for you - not all manufactures do.
Next sign of effort is discovered in the process of sitting. You will find that P/H has advanced the art of the seat in a Brit style kayak and to a high level. Compared to a Wilderness Systems seat it is still a year behind, but compared to Valley (who has also made significant advances in cockpit outfitting)it is ahead.
Another nicety and maybe missed upon cursory inspection of the Cetus are the cutouts on the deck proper. This 'scallops' of removed material will allow the high strokers to count less strikes against the deck with the paddle.
The next show of great effort in the design of the Cetus shows up later in the day when you begin to play around with the skeg. If you play enough you'll realize that it is easily removable and replaceable. The skeg adjustment control is another matter and will be discussed below.
Fit and finish of the kayak delivered to me by Team P/H was flawless. In comparing it to a Valley Q received last fall, I can say that both P/H and Valley are to be commended for excellent Q/A for products that leave their facilities.
Weight: this is a heavy kayak in my opinion. P/H states 57 pounds for a FG version like mine but you know this up front before ordering so it cannot be considered a detractor.
Handling: I've only paddled in 'real' conditions in a Nordkapp Jubilee and a Q-boat, both Valley products. I have paddled the Cetus in some varying conditions that range in perfectly flat water to constant winds of 15-17mph.
In all my paddles in the Cetus I was mentally comparing it to the Valley Q-boat. When I first saw the Cetus pictured on various websites I thought it might be a large Tempest 165 - wrong! but the similarities to the Q-boat are remarkable. The differences are in the cockpit sizing with the Q-boat having a much tighter fit (I bet the Cetus LV will be even more comparable to the Q-boat).
Initial stability- medium to high (this compared to all kayaks I've paddled). Same compared to a Q-boat.
Secondary stability- high, slightly higher than the Q-boat and with a def. feel for the locking point (or broaching point).
Speed- comparing the Q-boat and the Cetus, and this is after hopping out of one and into the other, the Q-boat wins by ever so slight a hair. I think it would take a machine to discern the difference here.
Rollability- Q-boat wins here but the Cetus is an easy roller. The Q wins because of the lower rear deck and easier layback rolls.
Turning/Handling- such commonality between the Cetus and the Q in turning ability. If you've read the reviews on the Q in regard to turning you'll discover than some paddlers don't like the fact that once the Q-boat is leaned and a strong sweep stroke applied that the Q will continue to turn even after the kayak is righted. The Cetus will respond in like fashion though slightly less but you will still have to sweep on the opposite side even after righting to stop the continued turn. How to deal with this? Same as in the Q, both kayaks have the ability to turn even with some skeg deployed. Having some skeg will prevent some of the oversteer. Having said this, know that both kayaks will turn even with the skeg fully deployed if a good lean is initiated prior. Just like the Q-boat, with no skeg, strong sweep, and a nice lean, the Cetus will almost do a 180 degree turn. Also like the Q-boat, with full skeg on the Cetus will track straight.
Paddle camping- here the Cetus gets the nod. Obviously with its higher rear deck it simply has more capacity than a Q-boat for more food (your kit for 3 days will probably be the same for 3 months).
OK, if you are struck between choosing the Q or the Cetus the division line will be whether you prefer easier layback rolls or the ability to carry more cargo. Both kayaks are extremely maneuverable, both (since they handle with such great similarity I'm transferring my rough water experience in the Q to the Cetus) move along quite well for kayaks that aren't really designed for speed (if you have a need for speed in a sea kayak look for a true racing kayak), both are almost assured of being placed in your hands in perfect condition.
Cetus weaknesses- debatable at best... but the skeg control requires that you grip and pinch a release before the skeg will travel. Nice in that it stays put but maybe an irritant if your fingers are cold/tired or so heavily gloved you can't quite pinch the release.
How to improve the Cetus? If I were P/H I would add an integral rudder, copy as much of the Mirage design as patents would allow!!! and KEEP the skeg. This would end the endless debate of rudder versus skeg. It would also allow on the long long paddles the use of a rudder to avoid the constant corrective strokes and tiring leans during turns. The beauty of the Mirage rudder is that it is integral to the hull shape-if the feet are no pushing the control pedals the rudder returns to a neutral position and you effectively don't have a rudder or its drag.
All in all a wonderful kayak. It's also a nice kayak to day paddle in so don't let the 'expedition ready' title push you away from it.
OK, maybe you are thinking that the 580 will make a good cruiser for day paddling. You'd be very correct. Using a standard European touring blade I sprinted to 6.4 mph in the 580-surely nothing close to what an athlete could mete out of this kayak but for 24 miles and in conditions ranging from pea soup to the above mentioned wind and chop I easily maintained a 4.5-4.7 mph average according to Mr. Garmin (and reaffirmed via Mr. Suunto). For an hour I easily cruised at 3.7mph into a 12-15mph headwind intentionally not wanting to work too hard knowing I still had 8 miles to the landing. Bottom line from this experience is that the hull is efficient, but you know that already because in your research you've found that the 580 is the predominant kayak chosen and listed as winning the most races in Australia.
Particulars of the kayak:
In north America a Mirage 580 will instantly stick out of the crowd due to its unique integral rudder. At one time Dagger offered a kayak with such but currently the only manufacturer offering such in the USA is Epic. I'll discuss the rudder in detail later, now I want to go over the obvious features of this kayak.
What about the cockpit (and that interesting shape)? If you like 'cowboy' entry you will love the 580. If you don't know what a 'cowboy' entry is you need to contact your BCU coach (humor me OK). The cockpit size is of course relative, huge if you're coming from a Strand SOF, large indeed if coming from a Lincoln Eggemoggin, a wee bit bigger if coming from a Nordkapp Jubilee, but the sweet part of the 580 cockpit is the fact that it can feel tight if you want it to be or loose and that's without outfitting!
As mentioned in the beginning you cannot look at a Mirage kayak and not notice the rudder. Here's a pic of the rudder from the rear. Like bilge pumps, there are endless debates over rudder versus skeg versus no rudder and nowadays having rudder and skeg. The Mirage system takes care of all arguments! How can this be you ask. It's simply really, when in the neutral position (and do note that if the kayak is moving the rudder with self neutralize) you have no rudder-but you can have a skeg! So how can that be? Well that depends on which rudder you have installed at the time. Mirage offers three different length rudders. One that is flush with the keel line, one that extends a bit, and one that is really long. Mine came supplied with the one that extends almost 3.5 inches below the keel (an extra rudder is $100 AUS). So if you have an extended rudder you always have a skeg. If you have the flush with keel rudder you only have a rudder when it's being used-how simple is that!
This boat does not weathercock in winds between 12 and 15mph--with or without rudder deployment. It suffers from no windage. It will turn on a lean and it will turn dramatically when leaned and rudder thrusted. It is rock solid in stability primary and secondary (that's what you get for 22.5 inches). It will tract like the proverbial train yet it is not rudder dependent to do so (versus a Looksha II which is rudder dependent, and a QCC700 which some say it is very desirous to have a skeg or rudder). If you want a Mirage 580 because it is a work of art then know I agree but remember I've never seen a kayak that didn't catch my eye... how long it holds my attention is another matter. If you want a very fast day cruise you won't go wrong here and if you want a kayak for paddle camping you will find the voluminous rear hatch your best friend ever. If you want a kayak for BCU training I have no idea in which direction they will turn their nose after looking at the rudder....I did have to specify bow and stern toggles when ordering, something not normally found on a 580!
Would I order a Mirage again? 100% certain that I would. The kayak is a joy to paddle. It is simply less work to accomplish what you would in other designs. Is this saying that less skill is needed? No, you can still work on and progress on all the skill sets but then again if you just want to paddle you can. Remember the question of intended use, well for me its distance paddling and kayak camping. The Mirage suits either with many positive features and benefits. Is it perfect, well no, it didn't have tethers on the Valley hatches and there is no perfect kayak without a 4th hatch.
(note: this review has been edited for length with permission of the author)
If you've followed any of my posts here at p.net you might know that we (my daughters and I) have a few kayaks on the rack, the Q makes number 17... the Q-boat will sit beside Necky boats, Perception boats, another Valley boat, and boats from Lincoln, Folbot, Feathercraft, Wilderness Systems and others that range from Swifties to Brit boats and folders to skin-on-frame.... how the Q will compare only time will tell. What I know now is a good first impression after spending 6-8 hours a day in the boat for 5 days.
Most importanly for someone reading this and thinking of purchasing a Valley boat know that their QA is top notch. In the QA department I think Valley and Feathercraft are the creme of the crop. The boat was delivered not only in pristine condition but exactly as I ordered it....and of special note is that I ordered specific bulkhead placement and it was as specified! I'm not a fan of footpegs, know that this boat is for me and me alone, and the specific bulkhead placement allows me to forego footpegs in lieu of mini-cell foam against the bulkhead. For those interested in the specifics of my order it specified white over white with blue strip between and blue seat/coming, a knee tube and reinforced keel strip. I ordered the kayak in the 'ultra kevlar' layup to save every once, and ordered the drop down skeg.
OK some impressions:
Seating- Valley has come a long way in this department. In my Nordkapp the first thing I did was rip out the back rest and replace it...that won't be necessary with the Q, the back rest is fine as is. The seat pan itself is another improvement and it will remain as is too. both were comfortable after hours in the kayak.
Volume- much has been said about the volume of the foreboat, i.e. the cockpit. In comparing it to many other boats at the symposium I was not overwhelmed with thoughts that the foredeck towers above any other, granted it might be higher but its not something that jumps out at me...what does jump out is the very very low afterdeck and for me that is a very good thing because a low back deck was one of the things I sought in a composite touring kayak.
Tracking/Turning- take a look at the 'clipper' bow and you'll know this boat tracks well but as so many have noticed, it turns (I should say edges) with an ease that is incredible for an 18 foot long kayak and I can say it out turns the QCC700, the Nordkapp Jubilee, the Arctic Hawk Pro...in fact when comparing with these boats there is no comparison in turning ability. The only boats we have that will out turn this kayak are much shorter with the exception of the venerable Sea Lion (which tracts poorly). If you edge this boat to a 1 or 2, apply a moderate sweep, the Q will almost do 270, never have I seen/paddled a boat at any length excepting my Jackson Rocker that turns with such ease.
Weathercocking- it does, drop the skeg, end of story.
Rolling- OK its not a cheater skin-on-frame but this boats rolls, not effortlessly but probably as close as you can get in a composite..the key is the low backdeck and that was a key feature that I was looking for. Sculling and bracing are also a given for this boat. If you are considering a composite boat but dont want to limit your Greenland rolling then this is def. a boat to consider (along with an OI I am told). I hit 3 different rolls in this boat after having been in it only 30mins.....
Orpheus phenomenon- that's when people say wow or when something has 'star' potential...at the symposium too many came up to ask about the Q, some said it would be their next kayak.
The knee tube- I have installed a knee tube in the QCC and installed a small kajaksport hatch on the foredeck to access it without opening the spraydeck....I dont plan on doing that with the Q but do plan on installing a hatch on the knee tube as Valley supplied it (and Valley supplied the tube with an opening that faces you when seating in the cockpit)..the knee tube again as supplied might force some (including me) to alter their entry into the kayak to an almost straigh legged entry...if this is a problem the knee tube can be shortened with a dremel tool-one inch should do it and with the size of the tube you will still have plenty of storage space.
Hatches- gone is the ability to 'double' seal the hatch as in the Nordkapp but after 5 days of rescues,rolling,etc. all were bone dry, as expected from Valley.
Car topping- as mentioned above, I ordered this boat in 'ultra kevlar' to save every ounce, this knowing that humping boats to and fro is a reality..I have not weighed the boat but best guess is 42-44 pounds (yes I realized a weight penalty with the knee tube and the reinforced keel strip). Overall impression- I wanted a cruiser that would foment rolls, at the same time I wanted a boat that would be fast and capable of extended paddle trips. Granted this boat will never hold what a Sea Lion will or even a Nordkapp for that matter, it will still easily carry a weeks supply of food/gear. Speed- in the jaunts required/requested in the 3 star this boat was always first but there were no QCC 700s to compete with, that said I'm sure it will be fast enough for me...though 18 feet long the actual water line length is probably closer to 17 feet so you know it will compare if not beat a Nordkapp....obviously speed is paddler/condition/motivation dependent.
Challenge- I'm a big believer in the Rapid Runner electric Bilge Pump (and yes you should still carry a hand pump)..in three boats I've installed this system in there as room between the bulkhead behind the cockpit and the coming rim for the ejection port...not so in the Q-boat (this is a good thing when emptying water from the boat)..so where to install the ejection port?
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.
I bought this kayak after searching high and low for a 'swamper'. I've got a couple of 17+ boats and wanted something to do the tight and twisty stuff in, plus I wanted one that was less than 40 pounds. What I have obtained is now my most frequently used boat simply because of its weight.
Last month I traveled to Ontario to explore. I took 2 kayaks, a QCC 700 and the CD Kestrel. Both kayaks enjoyed Canadian waters but the Kestrel saw more miles because of the two it was the easiest to portage by far, not counting car topping.
I've collected kayaks over the years and have 15 now. The closest in the group to the Kestrel is another rec boat, the Acadia by Perception. It really is unfair to compare those two, in fact because of the layup and all the attentive details CD poured into the Kestrel it probably shines above all other rec boats with one obvious and glaring exception- that same layup that gives it the incredible lightness will not do well when dragged across a parking lot or ground into oyster beds.
Saying this, it should be obvious to any would be buyer that the Kestrel hybrid has an intended use and that use precludes punishment of the abrasive kind, but as far as paddling into a stump I have no fear that the kevlar will happily bounce back.
If you're looking for a fishing platform or a photography platform in a boat that you can grab and heft with one hand then this is a boat to consider. Fishing simply because of the integral fishing rod holders-one on each side, and they make good paddle parks too. Photography because this boat is stable, at 26inches wide it should be. Another niche is, believe it or not, those who paddle for exercise, and when I took it out for an exercise paddle I took along a GPS and was shocked to discover that it cruised at 4.3 mph!! I didn’t believe it so before paddling the Kestrel the next time I changed batteries in the GPS and compared the GPS used with the GPS in the vehicle...guess what? The little Kestrel cruises at 4.3 mph.
Storage? if you are an ultralightweight backpacker and can do 3 days on the trail with 28-32 pounds (and that’s with winter gear) then you can enjoy the Kestrel for a 2-3 day trip...differing from a Nordkapp or a QCC700 you will have to leave some items at home.
Some complained somewhere that CD didn’t include a forward hatch...well for the intended use and any honest person would admit that is day paddles, the one waterproof hatch rear is more than enough, but if you just have to do a multi-nighter remember that dry bags will fit forward of your feet on either side of the integral foam pillar CD provides.
The hatch....make note of it. I'm sure CD designers considered VCP or Kajaksport hatches but have you ever weighed one? To keep this kayak sub 30 pounds CD had to engineer their own, and since this boat (intended use again) is probably not on the top contender list for rolling, the hatch cover is just fine and its already tethered, another little plus.
The Kestrel Hybrids begs an interesting question...do you truly love to paddle for paddling's sake or do you have to have the large sea kayak loaded for an expedition to have fun and excitement. The reason I ask is because for many of us there are little bodies of water we pass daily, maybe too small to warrant the effort required to get an 18 foot long boat to, but maybe not when its only 30 pounds you have to get from the rooftop to the water.
OK, so given the intended use why only a 9 for the Kestrel? there is a design flaw, the second time I sat in the seat it cracked where the seat back meets the bottom (its all one formed piece, and unfortunately formed into the cockpit coming as well), maybe it happened when I leaned back to stretch. When I looked closely at the seat design I noticed that there is no structure of the seat in its rear most aspect carrying the force of my weight to the hull so a fulcrum was created and the seat lost.
My solution was simply to place a 'carved to fit' piece of closed cell foam under that rear most aspect of the seat thus carrying the weight of the paddler to the hull where it can be dispersed.
Other than that this boat is ever so sweet.
Also, I purchased the boat from Old Orchard Canoe and Kayak, they had it to me in three days via air freight.