Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kayak review: Delta Seventeen Long term test

If you have been reading this blog you will already know that my Delta was purchased specifically for the Inside passage trip I just completed. I realized while paddling in Alaska, that I have never written an actual review of the kayak - though it is probably pretty clear from my writings here just how much I love the boat. That said she is not without her faults, and spending 18 days paddling a long way in kayak you really have a lot of time to think about what your paddling, and so here are those thoughts.

My kayak is the Delta Seventeen Sport. There is an expedition model which is the same kayak with the deck raised 1 inch providing a little more leg space and dry storage. They Also make an 18.5 which fit my 6 foot 6 friend perfectly. And for something a little smaller they make an amazing 16 foot kayak.

My partner on the IP was paddling a beautiful - though older - Necky Looksha made of kevlar. (When I was boat shopping the Looksha was my first choice until I paddled the Delta. She met all the requirements of an expedition kayak that would do 30 days unsupported and fit a smaller hipped paddler like myself) It had very sexy elongated lines with a  flat deck. She is a beautiful boat. And while it was made for long paddling trips  those elongated shapes - long narrow pointy bow, and stern. Low decks - made the boat harder to pack. In contrast the Delta is thermoformed plastic and weighed a bit more. Had slightly harder chines. Its less elongated bow gave her a longer waterline which means slightly more speed, and easier packing. The Delta is made to be packed. The word 'roomy' doesn't do it justice.

The kayak paddles beautifully, carving a beautiful edge turn, she is stable, holds an edge well and is easy to roll. The kayak has that shiny finish of much more expensive fiberglass kayaks. In fact I would say it 'feels' like a fiberglass kayak when paddling her but at a third less expensive and in my opinion a bit more durably. The boat is treated with a coating called solarkote to protect the color of the kayak from fading, and it works. My kayak is three years old and as vibrant a red as the day I got it. Unfortunately the inside of the cockpit isn't treated with solarkote, and it has faded to a sort of light green/yellow. I may paint it.

In my experience Glass boats tend to be a bit more brittle whereas the thermoformed Delta tends to have a bit more flex. When departing a rocky beach in a hurry - say after a bear visits your campsite - I was able to  slide my Delta over the rocks with ease while the Looksha had to be carried. I am sure I put some scratches in the bottom of the kayak, but I wasn't worried about scraping off gel coat or worse.

The cockpit is roomy and very comfortable on long days. The comfortable seat - which adjusts forward and back - is simple, with a thin foam pad on it, and the seat back - which is adjustable as well moving both up and down, and hinging forward and back - is very comfortable, though a bit big. I have it lowered all the way, and reclined all the way back, so essentially I am not using it. I only contact it at the very base of my back. But when I rotate at my core - as we all should when we paddle! - it tends to rub against the cockpit coaming which is causing some wear and tear. I have been told that you can remove the seat back and put in the Immersion Research Back band which I will do, and should have done before this trip.

The bow and stern hatches use a wonderful seal that doesn't use a neoprene cover which makes them very fast in terms of getting into a hatch easily. Historically they have been very dry. In fact when I paddle here in North Carolina in the spring, when the water is cold and the air is warm, the hatches seal so well that the cool water has cooled the warm air in the stern, causing it to contract, sucking the stern hatch down so much that I couldn't get it open very easily. In fact there was so much suction that the hull was slightly 'oil canned' in. But when the hatch cover was released the hull immediately popped back out. I have actually had this happen twice. The seal is that good. However, in Alaska where so many of the beaches were gravel, small bits of gravel would get in the seal of the hatch prevent a good seal. I routinely had more water in the compartments than I would have liked to see. It was just very hard in that environment to keep the seals free of debris. I would still call it user error.

My kayak has a rudder - though it is available with a skeg - I chose the rudder so as not to give up the storage space in the stern. The rudder is beautifully made with 'Gas pedal' style controls. They are easily adjustable, by flipping a tab sideways you can adjust the placement of the pedals which works well. Though I would like to be able to move the pedals with the same tab that locks and unlocks them (with my hand) instead of having to use my foot to slide the pedal back and forward. I have written about the difference between rudder and skeg so I won't go into them here, but I am starting to think of a rudder as a skeg on steroids, that post is coming soon.

A few complaints. The boat scratches very easily. I wouldn't mind so much if she wasn't so damn pretty. I have bought the Novus polish/scratch repair system which works well, but doesn't amaze me with its results. I am sure this is just the nature of the plastic used, and there probably isn't much that can be done about it. The first real scratch occurred while assisting someone with a rescue, I slid my paddle under a bungie and left a long scratch in the deck. I would like it to be a bit more scratch resistant.

When the kayak is empty it handles beautifully. It tracks well without the rudder down, and with the rudder down the kayak is unbelievably solid in wind coming from all points of the compass. She is a very impressive kayak in this regard. But, when fully loaded in a following sea she wants very much to Lee cock. (turn flat to the waves). I am sure this is because with more weight she is sitting lower in the water and the waves pushing the stern have more to push against. Even with the rudder all the way over and correcting with paddle strokes she was hard work in a following sea (when fully loaded).  I don't know enough about designing kayaks to know if this is something that could be corrected through design changes. I say over and over again that everything in a kayak is a trade off and I am sure this is a trade off of some sort. That is my only performance short coming in this highly versatile kayak.

I would, and have recommended this kayak to others. The few times that I have let others paddle her they have all cursed me afterwards because she is such an impressive paddle. I would buy this kayak again in a heartbeat. She is as comfortable on a day trip with no gear as she is for a month in Alaska. She is beautifully designed, and finished with a great deal of thought going into so many aspects of the finished product. She is as fast, as stable and easy to roll as any high end kayak on the market, but as I said above at a less expensive price than any composite boat. I will be paddling her - happily - for many years to come.