Most Recent Reviews
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.
Perhaps I can comment on one of the reasons I bought this boat and why I'm charmed by it: The Force 4 nestles in the waves like a fish; like it belongs there. Other boats perhaps more active tend to get busy in light chop or confused water, making for a nervous ride.
The Force 4 is the Lincoln Town car of seakayaks; smooth and steady, unperturbed by the ruts and potholes on the roads it travels. And yet the primary is light enough so that a gentle lean or shift in weight is all that's needed for course correction. The secondary is fairly strong allowing edge turns like bow rudders performing 180's. Somehow awesome for a rocker less over 18' boat. Beam or quartering seas are just taken in stride, no bracing and if a big one hits, you have time to brace. Maybe I'm getting older but this quiet smooth boat makes me want to stay on the rougher water longer and more often. Following seas are so much fun, yes it needs a little attention, stern rudders on occasion or leans, but slow and predictable when she moves off the perpendicular. Surfing in to the beach in three footers suggests that the Force 4 is just as sensible but may tend to broach left to right with the lightest correction from the low brace position, quite exciting. Launching back off the same beach however is a bit tougher than with rockered boats. Monkey walking into the surf, if the force isn't absolutely perpendicular to the incoming surf, the bow is easily pushed sideways. I also don't recommend grabbing the bow and dragging this boat up the beach when you land. The absence of rocker means that the skeg opening is vulnerable to gel coat breaks and chips.
Cockpits are a personal thing but I found this one to be close to perfect right out of the box. The seat hangers are only 15" wide so you must have reasonably narrow hips and thighs. Finally some thoughts on rolling: I do a sweep roll and occasionally the Pawlata as back up. The Force 4 is easy to roll if your technique is good, and difficult to roll if not. Don't raise your head and expect to come up like you can with the Nordkapp or even an Explorer. Not such a bad tradeoff, a boat that forces you to learn good technique! Lastly, I love those bow and stern handholds!
Performance - Head on seas very mild mannered thin bow will just nose a hair under the wave and pop right up, quietly and smoothly. Following seas and some surf, dead on no hint of broaching, perhaps the most stable boat in these conditions that I’ve ever encountered. Beam and or confused seas - because of the fairly active primary the Explorer is happy to be on one cheek or the other in these conditions. For the novice the feeling is that you might capsize and there is the tendency to brace, however the firm secondary will not let you capsize. This is an area to get more comfortable with the boat over time and learn to trust it.
Speed - a steady cruiser, does not give a feeling of speed but neither does it feel stodgy. I’m able to stay with my companion paddlers comfortably. The Explorer tracks very well and even in beam wind or sea needs only the shifting from one cheek to the other to keep your bearing. On a long crossing under those conditions dropping the skeg maybe 20 percent is all that’s needed. The hull is so well designed to be neutral that a large amount of skeg results in moving the bow downwind. Turning is particularly good for a long boat; a sweep and and falling on the opposite inside edge will bring the boat around nicely. My Elite is published to be 8-10 lbs lighter than the standard lay-up and so may require my ballasting the boat with same weight to achieve optimum performance. I weigh 178 lbs.
The carbon NDK seat that looks like it was designed to torture its sitter has been surprisingly comfortable over long hours. The back band was replaced by the original owner with an NSI anatomical band, which works as advertised. I do a lot of rolling practice and the sloping bulkhead behind the seat is a marvelous idea when all else fails and you need to dump the water out of the cockpit. Speaking of rolling, my initial attempts were frustrating. With it’s low rear deck the Explorer was supposed to be an easy roller. Well, for a long boat it is, just took a little bit of time to get used to it. Speaking of the low rear deck and sloping low rear combing, this cockpit is wonderful for a low torso paddler who is happy to keep the bottom of his rib cage from whacking into the combing when rolling or low bracing or any moderate torso twists. Build quality is acceptable-hull shows some ripples under the right light, the above mentioned water leakage, hatch covers not tethered, combing hole in deck roughly cut as well as the internal bulkheads. Bungees are loose and deck lines are tight.
I've had the 17 in the ocean about six times now and while this summer has not produced some of the rougher waters I'm used to in the fall, impressions can be nevertheless made: Encountering large forward swell, the 17 keeps more boat in the water and plops rather than crashes into the troughs. Side swells or even wakes or chop are hardly even noticed by this paddler, no nervous twitching and leaning and anticipatory bracing. Following seas require a little bit of skeg to avoid needing to correct the boat as it surges down the waves. I haven't actually beach surfed this boat yet, but that is perhaps another area where the 16 is superior. The 16 perhaps because of its large amount of rocker was always neutral in following seas. Lastly, while the skeg had its use during following or a combination of following and quartering seas, it was totally unnecessary for wind. Simply put the 17 does not weathercock.
Oh yes, typical excellent Necky finish and fit, hatches were dry. While I loved the 16, it was definitely a playboat. The 17 is closer to answering the perennial question, "If I could only own one boat, which would it be? The Chatham 17 comes perilously close.
While the Chatham was my second choice, its extremely restrictive cockpit width ruled it out; only 15". Gravity allowed me to get in but was almost impossible to get out. Contrast this with the Tempest's very generous sized combing and outfitting that permits you to firm out your personal contact with the boat anyway you want. The Chatham also had superior outfitting but only if you first passed through a very (for me) tight threshold: the cockpit combing. The Orion was too wide for me and the Quest a little big and longer than I wanted as well. Since the Currituck is considered a Greenland style boat, it was no surprise that I also liked the Tempest and Chatham as well.