Submitted: 05-21-2010 by tvcrider
I had actually expected to submit a write-up of an entirely different kayak, so coming here to post a review on the North Shore Polar came as a bit of a surprise! Recently the regional Tri-State P&H, Impex, and now North Shore dealer, The River Connection in Hyde Park was making a boat delivery to Upstate NY. Since the delivery was occurring on 'home waters' in Broome County (between Ithaca and Binghamton) the co-owner of The River Connection, Marshall Seddon dropped me a line and asked if I would like to demo the new P&H Cetus LV while he was in the area. Well of course! The Cetus LV was on my short list of boats to try and the demo would be in my own back-yard. When Marshall showed up at our local paddling venue I was so focused on checking-out the Cetus LV, I totally ignored the third kayak that he had brought along with him (in addition to the boat being delivered). The mystery boat was the North Shore Polar. I had heard of the North Shore kayak line and I was aware that they were owned by Valley, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I quickly got out onto the water to give the Cetus LV a try and to work-off some of the heavy rust that had collected due to my long absence from paddling.
Regrettably, for those looking for a review of the Cetus LV, you are going to be disappointed. "Move along now, there is nothing for you to see here." Perhaps someone else will review the smallest Cetus, or maybe I'll write it up at a later date, but only after I get some additional butt time in the boat. Meanwhile, back to the demo...
After I padded the new P&H for about 30 minutes Marshall politely suggested that I also try the North Shore Polar. In all honesty I really did not want to give up the Cetus LV. It is currently "The Hot Boat" and what I was really there to paddle. The Polar hadn't even garnered a second look from me. It was a lesson learned: Don't always go for the 'prom queen' when the cute, shy girl in the corner may be a better bet. Part of this was my own bias. The Polar has noticeable hard chimes, and I had previously owned another hard-chimed boat, the NF Silhouette. Over time I grew to really dislike many characteristics of the Silhouette. The Silhouette has rounded bottom to go with its hard chimes. It tends to rock from chime-to-chime and it is far more stable being underway and locked on one chime than it is sitting at rest. The Silhouette has a twitchy feel and rather vague secondary stability. I expected similar characteristics out of the North Shore Polar, but I had not looked at the boat closely. I would be quite wrong in my preconceptions. I grudgingly gave up the Cetus and gave the Polar a try.
I immediately noticed a number of positive things that I often take for granted in a sea kayak. The Polar has quite a comfortable seating arrangement, which included Valley's latest seat pan and backband; aggressive knee hooks (more aggressive than on my Aquanaut LV); and easy to adjust Yakima footpegs. The Polar is also equipped with 'bone-dry' VCP hatches (two ovals and the round day hatch). The build quality of this boat was very high with fully glassed-in RDFs; quality perimeter lines and elastics; a clean, even gelcoat; and no sharp edges in the lay-up. It's a nice looking boat. It may not be the 'prom queen', but it's very well done.
Paddling the Polar was another eye-opener. It inspired confidence, even when testing my very rusty balancing abilities. Yes, the Polar sports hard chimes, but instead of a rounded hull, it has a shallow 'V' shape. Its personality is substantially different than that of the NF Silhouette.
The Polar has very good initial stability and secondary stability that just did not seem to end. Boy can one really heel this boat over! Fully committed sculling for support was easily. Even with my long unused rolling skills this boat almost rolled itself. The Polar has a low back deck, so lay-backs were a non-issue. The Polar's hull is an interesting design and is better seen in-person than having me try to describe it. It is unique in the boats I have paddled, but it works quite well. The Polar does not have a lot of deck overhang in either the bow or stern as found on most British-style sea kayaks. The bow is not plumb, but neither is it needle-nosed. This helps reduces its windage (susceptibility to wind) and it also increases the Polar's wetted waterline. This makes the Polar as efficient to paddle as many boats that have a longer overall length. In short, the Polar could easily match the pace of the 8" longer Cetus LV (Hey we had a gps and checked-it out).
There was some wind during this flat water demo (10-15 knots) and with no paddler input the Polar had slight tendency to weathercock. That was easily corrected with just a touch of skeg. The Polar's cable controlled skeg was easy to deploy and adjust. It appeared to be identical to the skegs found on my personal Valley boats. The Polar has a bit of rocker, so it is also no slouch in the turning department, particularly when heeled. The Polar also had a surprising amount of cargo capacity even though it has the look-and-feel of a 'low' volume kayak. According to each manufacturer's specs the Polar actually has 60 liters more carrying capacity than the Cetus LV. One would certainly not realize that by looking at the two boats side-by-side!
I'm roughly 5'8", 153 pounds and I have size 10 shoes. Although I could not find any sizing guidance on the North Shore website I suspect that I fall right in the middle of the Polar's intended paddler weight range. I will hazard a guess that the Polar would best fit someone from 120 to 180 pounds. It would not be the boat for a truly petite person or the Johnny Beefcakes of the the world.
Summary: The entire North Shore kayak line is sort of being stealth marketed here in the US, so you may not have heard of them. However, North Shore has been around since 1982. I was so intrigued by the Polar's on-water performance that the Cetus LV received the short-end of the stick at the demo. Ah, an excuse to give the Cetus another spin in the future! I think it can be generally agreed that for many small to medium sized paddlers, who are looking for one, good 'all-round' sea kayak a 17 foot boat, give or take, is often a great choice. That is why there are so many roughly 17 foot boats out there. If that is what you are shopping for don't make the initial mistake I did, and overlook the 16'9" Polar. The Polar's maneuverability, efficiency (speed) and low windage are a real nice blend of characteristics. This is one fine sea kayak.
Finally the icing on the cake is the Polar's MSRP. It runs about 10% less than comparable composite British-style kayaks. I should note that the Polar is only available in a fiberglass/diolene lay-up, but with hatches it only trips the scales at about 53 pounds.