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Submitted: 09-22-2011 by Kocho
This is a quick (but long) take on the P&H Delphin 155 kayak, based on just over an hour paddling in swift white water (class II, II+).
I have been paddling the Wilderness Systems Zephyr 15.5 (plastic) for the better part of a year now. And having paddled it many times on the rapids of the Potomac below Great Falls (at levels ranging from 2 to 8 feet at the little falls gauge), having learned my first hand-rolls in it, and being generally quite comfortable in it, I thought it was time to see if the P&H Delphin can offer something different in the same conditions.
Me: 185lb male at 6'4" with US size 15 shoe and 36" inseam (hard to measure, but it seems a bit longer than most folks my height), waist 35-36" but apparently my hip bones are a bit wider than my waist line suggests. I'd say I'm an intermediate in that I feel comfortable in WW and surf and wind and waves and have taken a few classes along the way to show me that my technique needs work -;)
The Delphin is supposed to be a lot of things if we are to believe P&H's marketing. On paper (or rather on-line), it is supposed to offer some unique handling characteristics. And if true, this can potentially make it a preferred choice for my kind of paddling: mainly moving water paddling (class II/III) on a wide and relatively easy to navigate section of the Potomac river, some windy days on the Chesapeake Bay with nice sized wind chop, and the occasional short day trip on open or protected flat water with a group of local kayakers at a slow to moderate pace.
So what did I find after a little over an hour at my favorite play spots? The short answer: in my opinion, the design seems to live-up to its stated goals, for the most part. And, if there ever was a mass-produced sea kayak that can claim it can surf, this has got to be it.
Below is a summary comparing the P&H Delphin 155 (the "D") to my WS Zephyr 15.5 (the "Z").
The D has higher and unmoving primary stability compared to the Z. It starts solid and grows into a good secondary stability. The Z seems to have light primary, which immediately begins to progressively and smoothly grows into solid secondary (higher final stability than the D). I can lay-back on the deck of the D and (even though I have to lift my butt to do it), it would sit square on the water with no effort needed to balance it (e.g., using only its primary stability), where with the Z if I shift a little, it tilts sideways and the secondary stability kicks-in. So, a rather different feeling.
Speaking of layback, the Z is one of the nicest boats for this – very low rear deck and the seat is far away from it. The D feels like it has a slightly higher deck but mainly the seat is closer to the rear edge of the cockpit rim, thus interfering with a full layback. I can’t lay-back flat on the D without lifting my butt off the seat a bit, where it is no problem at all in the Z. Regardless, the D is not difficult to roll but the Z I find is marginally easier for me (especially for laybacks).
The bow of the D is easier to move side to side with a bow draw/rudder (due to the relatively flat bottom and that the sharp front edge is out of the water on flat water). The stern is harder to slide (without edging). In contrast, the stern on the Z is easier to slide in turns, where its bow is harder to shuffle left or right with a bow rudder (still easier than most other kayaks of similar or longer water line, due to a decent amount of rocker and full ends that reduce lateral resistance).
Speaking of the D's bow, it is noticeably less affected by cross-currents compared to the Z, which in turn is quite civilized in that regards. I did not expect it (due to the more vertical sides) but in fact, the D is more reassuring and stable in moving water than the Z. Both the bow and the stern are less affected by currents and eddy lines. So much so that a peel-out does not result in the expected sweeping action and hull rotation downriver and thus requires less attention and less speed to clear an eddy line.
The cockpit is longer and I can paddle with knees together even better than in the Z. There is a bit more foot room (the deck at my feet is narrower but taller than the Z) – I can wear shoes! Still a bit lower than ideal for my size 15 shoes, it should be plenty big for most "normal" sized feet. For me the D is a tighter fit (seat feels narrower), with a more connected feeling (less room on the outside of the knees). The width also feels narrower at the catch (where the paddle enters the water).
The D is faster by a little bit compared to the Z (confirmed by my GPS). Not a whole lot in terms of maintaining a speed over a distance, but may be 0.2 mph or so for the same effort that would allow me to paddle for miles on end. However, it seems to have a bit higher top speed due to full ends and longer waterline and more pronounced swede form of the hull. Bringing it up over 6mph with my short white water paddle was not a problem and I could go faster (did not try since I did not really care – it is not meant to go fast for long).
Flat water speed is not the D's strength. For me it is a 4.5mph cruiser, may be a bit faster if you put the power down. However, I found that I could attain against currents on lumpy rapids much easier in the D than I can in the Z. On the first try I managed to climb over one particular section of a rapid that I have never before been able to do in the Z at the same water levels. I tried it an hour later with the Z and could not do it by a long shot. So no question, the D is capable of higher bursts of speed. The D can do that and the Z can't due to a difference in the hull shape – on the D the rear is wide and buoyant with a flat bottom and does not sink down nearly as much as the rear of the Z when climbing over a pourover for instance. The bow does not lift as much either (unlike the D, the Z feels like it is climbing up-hill on the same water and stalls – the rear sinks down and the bow lifts up).
The D also planes easier so less of the hull goes through waves rather than over them. It has cleaner and faster release of the stern when surfing/submerged, which seems to make it more nimble and more eager to jump on a wave.
The D surfs better: catches waves easier and is faster down the face. In fact, it feels so fast that it can be more difficult to keep on top of the foam pile because as it wants to slides down the wave face.
The stern is well planted so stern rudders on steep short period waves felt ineffective. But bow rudders worked better than in the Z and were in fact effective in changing direction even when surfing small standing waves (about 1-2 feet high), as long as the bow was not cutting into the front wave.
The nose is harder to submerge underwater compared to the Z, but in steep waves suitable more for short WW playboats, it was not a problem to bury it all the way to my waist and it would have gone deeper was it not for hitting the river bottom. The Z gains volume faster from the bow back and has more dynamic lift at a steeper angle (the D has more vertical sides), so while it submerges easier and goes deep, it does not seem to have much problem coming out of the water nicely either.
The D has the famous P&H 4th hatch b/w knees. On some other models it has been in my way but in the D if is not in the way of knees together paddling. Still, my legs need to be positioned just so or my shins will make contact in a rather unpleasant way. But the convenience of a front hatch is undeniable.
The hull is stiff. But it is heavy! The tight braces do not appear to be adjustable, but maybe mine were just stuck (I did undo the pair of bolts and the braces wobbled, but they would not slide fore and aft – maybe I just don't know how to do it, maybe they are not movable). They were mostly in the right place for me anyway.
The Kajaksport hatch cover (large) I thought was harder to close than the current WS design with the hard plastic center. I also felt like the D's hatch covers were softer and yielded more easily in the center. Still, neither kayak had leaks in the hatches at all after an hour and a half each in the rapids with several rolls each. The D seems to have more storage room in the stern area due to more square profile and the smaller skeg box.
Speaking of the skeg, I found it hard to operate (depending on position). Very difficult to rise back up from fully deployed position (even with "proper" push action/no pinching). Worked fine from mid-way (maybe tension maybe friction prevents if to work smoothly from all the way down). Because the bow is so lose, dropping the skeg did not feel like stiffening the tracking as much as expected on flat water (but I could tell it works and makes the stern even less willing to release)
Without the skeg I thought the D tracked just fine. It felt balanced and would go in a straight line if I stopped paddling.
My WW-style full neoprene sprayskirt with a sticky rubbery layer at the rim, and that is watertight on the Z, leaked quite a bit on the D. That was from the two front sides (due to cockpit rim angle against gushing green water when the bow was submerged or I was deep in a foam pile on a wave).
There are fewer elastics on the front deck. They also start farther forward by several inches, which some may find too far (just fine for me - I still could hit my fingers on the sides, the only difference being that on the Z I hit the second set of fittings and on the D I do it on the first).
So did I like it enough to replace my Z with a D? Hard to tell. For the kind of paddling I described above, the D is slightly better in almost all respects: surfs better (I can imagine it will be even better on longer smoother faster waves), it attains better, is more reassuring/less affected by currents. The leaky skirt can probably be remedied with a different skirt design/manufacturer. And if the D was 10lb lighter, $500 cheaper, and the rear deck as comfy as the Z's, I'd say yes, I'd buy one on the spot. As it is though, I won't do it immediately but am still thinking about it. However, I more and more begin to question if I should transition off paddling WW in a sea kayak and increase the use of my dedicated WW boat for this. It just makes sense – the WW boat is more enjoyable and easy to carry to the put-in. So I am beginning to question if I even need a heavy plastic sea kayak to play in. But that's another topic…
As for the rating, it is mostly influenced by the relatively high price, heavy weight, and inability to do a full layback (especially for a shorter person).