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Name: bnystrom

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I had a chance to demo the new Outer Island recently. The best thing I can say about it is that it handles just like the original, which is to say, very well. It exhibits moderately strong tracking, good speed and strong secondary stability. It's built with Impex's typical high quality. I felt that the seat was a bit high, but that's a personal preference.

One thing that I definitely didn't like was the cockpit size. It's best described as a "small keyhole". It's not as easy to enter as many keyhole cockpits, but doesn't offer the security of the "ocean" (small) cockpit, which the original design calls for. I found that this "neither fish nor foul" size wanting, but paddlers with shorter legs may find it ideal. When the O.I. becomes available with an ocean cockpit (it's in the works), I'll be interested.

I recently had a lengthy discussion with Al Anderson, owner of Betsie Bay Kayaks. He explained that since my boat was built (it was the 7th Aral), there have been numerous changes to the construction process that have addressed the issues I pointed out in the review, plus others. For example:

- They're using a new mold that improves the lines of the hull.
- The coamings are now fiberglass and more consistent than before.
- The hatches are bedded in a stronger compound using a different process that eliminates leaks.
- The bulkheads are vented and the hatch covers have unobstrusive pulls instead of large vent plugs.

There are probably other improvements that I'm not aware of, but I haven't seen one of the new boats yet. I would encourage prospective customers to seek one out and judge for themselves. If you have any questions or comments, contact Al. He's a very friendly and helpful guy.

I will reiterate that the on-water performance of the Aral is outstanding. It's always been a pleasure to paddle.

I'll keep the rating on MY boat as it is with an 8 (see below), but with the footnote that newer boats may be significantly improved.

The Aral fits midway between the Valkyrie and Recluse in the BBK lineup and shares their 20.5" beam. Fortunately, it also shares many of their handling characteristics. I've also owned a Recluse and the Aral is much like it. It's very stable for a narrow boat. It's nearly neutral in the wind and responds beatifully to leans, making a skeg or rudder completely unnecessary. It's quite maneuverable for it's length, but tracks well enough that you won't find yourself constantly correcting it. In this regard, it's about the best boat I've paddled. It's also pretty quick, which is to be expected in an 18' boat.

BBK emphasizes light weight over durability and the construction reflects that. The deck is thin (3mm) and much of the boat is only fiberglassed on the outside. This is not a boat for rock gardens or surf play, but it IS light.

The downsides of BBK boats are small hatches that tend to leak if not fully seated, no day hatch option, sparse deck rigging (optional full deck rigging is available) and finish quality that's not comensurate with the price. They're structurally sound, but there are numerous unfair areas in the hulls and I have yet to see one with a coaming that wasn't noticeably crooked.

I guess one could say that BBK is the NDK of wood boats. Outstanding design and handling qualities, with so-so build quality and a few annoyances. I'd rate it a 9.5 for handling and a 6.5 for construction and finish work, so I'll call it an 8 overall.

It's funny how you forget all about the flaws when you're out on the water...

Peter K. is correct; Keepers are lousy footrests. I've had the exact same problems with bending rails and pegs popping off. If you want something durable, replace them with Yakimas or pad your forward bulkhead and use that. I will not use Keepers in any boat.

I recently purchased a Dutch-built Silhouette. Though it differs in a few details and in the cockpit size, the hull and deck configuration is the same as the boats Walden was having made in Canada, so the handling should be the same.

The Silhouette has low initial stability, due to the rounded bottom configuration. Essentially, it easily rocks from one chine to the other. Once you've rolled it onto a chine, you encounter reasuringly strong secondary stability. As long as you are used to narrow, high performance boats, you'll find it comfortably stable. For someone buying their first high performance sea kayak, it would probably be a bit intimidating at first, but you would get used to it.

The boat exhibits minimal weathercocking, which is easily neutralized by edging or by partial deployment of the skeg. It carves turns when edged, though not sharply. Overall, I would rate the tracking as moderately strong. It's reasonably fast (comparable to a Nordkapp, perhaps a bit faster) and readily catches rides on even the smallest of swells. The high volume bow provides a reasonbly dry ride without excessive pounding over waves.

It's quite comfortable in rolling seas and surf. While it will broach on a breaking wave taken off-center (like any sea kayak), it does so in a controlled manner, allowing ample time for bracing into the wave. One very interesting quality is that as the wave crest passes under the boat, the bow will turn back downwave. This characteristic makes it much easier to correct your line in quartering seas or to turn to catch the next breaker when surfing. Very nice! Nigel Foster is big into surfing and it shows in the handling of this boat.

I'm quite pleased with the Silhouette so far and look forward to exploring it's capabilities further, but since no boat is perfect, I rate it a 9.

The MsFit Tour is designed as a serious touring vest for people with short torsos who want more pocket capacity than most recreational PFD's. Prior to buying one, I had been using a Lotus Lola, but was frustrated by the lack of pockets and attachment points for safety gear. Additionally, I found that the high front pad of the Lola would hit my chin when I needed to look down. I had looked at "rescue" PFD's, but was put off by the high prices and unnecessary features ("strong swimmer" harness and built-in tow belt).

The MsFit Tour solved all of these problems and then some. It has two side pockets with good capacity, but that are out of the way when paddling. It has an additional pocket in the center pocket that is perfectly sized for a VHF radio or GPS. It has a forth mesh pocket under the zippered front flap, which is ideal for keys, knife, etc. There are also the requisite key rings, attachment patches and reflective tape.

One additional feature bears mentioning. The front closure is a combination of buckles and a zippered flap. According to the Kokatat rep I spoke with, the vest is Coast Guard compliant with just the buckles fastened. This means the zipper can be left open for ventilation, which has proven to be very nice on warm days.

The arm openings are large and there is zero rubbing or chafing. The front padding is low enough to provide ample chin clearance. Perhaps the best indication the comfort of this PFD is that I forgot that I was wearing it after the first few minutes.

At $121 suggested retail, it's priced between the better recreational vests and the "rescue" vests. I find it has everything I need with nothing I don't. My gear fits in the pockets and it's exceedingly comfortable. If you're looking for a full-featured touring vest, this is one to check out.

I had heard from a local paddler that the Isle au Haut was a nice boat, but I was skeptical due to Lincoln's somewhat stodgy reputation. While working at a boat demo recently, I had the chance to jump into one and it was a real revelation. This is a NICE boat! It's stable, yet feels good on edge. It tracks well, but carves leaned turns nicely. It's roomy, comfortable and the thigh braces are well placed. It's also lighter than most comparably priced boats, due to its glass/Kevlar layup.

After bouncing around in it in 1-3' chop and 15-20 knot winds, I was left with the impression that this is a very capable sea kayak. Since my time in the boat was limited, I cannot speak to it's durability but I haven't heard of any problems with Lincoln boats. If I were in the market for a new boat, I would definitely give the Isle au Haut serious consideration. I'd say that it compares very favorably with the CD Gulfstream, which is a similar design. The only reason I'm only rating it an 8 is that I haven't spent enough time in it to give it a thorough test.

BTW, I also paddled the Eggimoggin briefly and it felt quite similar, but it has much higher volume.

For reference, I paddle a Nordkapp HM and also own a Walden Passage and a CD Slipstream (my girlfriend's boat). I've paddled at least 30 other models of sea kayak, mainly glass and wood designs.