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Submitted: 12-02-2011 by Kocho
This is a follow-up on my previous review. You may see some differences -;)
The first review was based on a quick rental of a somewhat beat-up student's boat. This review here is based on paddling my own Delphin -;)
It has been a few weeks since I sold my WS Zephyr 15.5 (the Z) and bought the P&H Delphin 155 (the D). During this time I paddled the D half a dozen times: open water in strong winds and steep short-period waves, open water with longer period waves, pool-session rolling, and Class II white water a couple of times. Below are some notes as my first impressions, in case someone else cares -;)
My first outing was at the Chesapeake Bay in about 30mph winds and 3 foot steep breaking waves. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the D in this environment compared to the Z: the D was more affected by winds when on top of steep waves (to a point it feels it lee-cocks) and it was pushed a bit more by the "surf" making it harder to maintain my heading. The D felt faster downwind on waves, making use of wide planning bottom and good volume distribution so it does not pitch up or down needlessly.
My second "outing" was actually indoors ("ining"???), during a 2 hour pool session for rolling. While the D is easy to roll, I felt the Z clearly had an edge over the D for me in terms of easy rolling: especially easier to hand-roll, easier to lay-back. After seeing my video of that session I noticed that the Z had allowed me to use sloppy hand roll technique, where the D objected to it -;)
My main use of the D is on the Potomac river in Class II and III rapids. There the D performs very well. In rapids the D is giving me a bit of edge compared to the Z. The D surfs better (catches waves more easily and is more controllable), attains better, has higher initial stability, and is less affected by currents.
Mind you, the above differences b/w the D and Z are not huge, but I feel are enough to choose one or the other kayak, depending on the primary use for it.
Below are some additional notes of what I have found so far...
The Delphin 155 is first and foremost a sea kayak created for playing in rough and moving water. It can be used just fine to get you to the play spot and back in comfort. With its great stability and maneuverability it can be used for teaching and learning. The WW-style outfitting provides good contact with the paddler and is somewhat adjustable for fit. It will also work as a day boat or for short (a few days) touring. But it is heavy and feels a little boring: it is relatively slow and not "lively" on flat water and probably should not be your top choice if you only play in moving/rough water occasionally. For just paddling in waves and wind (as opposed to playing in surf or moving water) I feel there are better boats out there with less hull slap and windage that track better in demanding conditions and that are faster. The bow has some yaw at each stroke even with the skeg down. Cruising speeds are relatively low compared to some more slender and round-bottomed craft, however top speed (short sprints) feels higher than the chubby design would suggest at first glance. The heavy weight makes the kayak feel sluggish to accelerate or change direction, but it catches waves well and is fast once on the wave. The 3-layer plastic construction offers decent scratch-resistance but does not feel any sturdier and is heavier than the single-layer on the Zephyr for instance. The high-volume bow catches wind gusts when on top of waves and demands a bit of extra effort compared to lower volume and better-tracking kayaks to keep pointed where you want it. Workmanship and overall quality can be good or not so good (my first D had serious defects, enough to get a replacement, and my second one is nearly flawless) – check yours when taking delivery.
About me: 6'4", 185-190lb, size 15 feet, 35-36" waist.
(+) Positives in more detail ===============:
Flat planning hull makes catching and staying on waves easy. Side-surfing in a WW hole feels like doing it in a planning-hull WW boat – the hull actually planes over the water and maintains maneuverability and ability to spin around while in the foam and being pushed over the fast moving green water sideways. I was able to control the D to maintain position on top of the wave or to zig-zag left to right on a relatively steep pour-over play wave where several WW playboat folks (in 6 foot boats) also front-surfed.
The strong rocker and flat-ish hull profile make the D very maneuverable.
Turning into eddy lines requires less attention to perfect edging (fewer instances of upper edges of the rear deck catching the still water in the eddy as you exit the main current). In fact, compared to a WS Tempest or a Zephyr, I almost miss the "catch" of the bow when exiting or entering an eddy – instead of the familiar bow-pull downstream when exiting an eddy or stern-push while entering an eddy, the D almost needs an extra stroke to make it turn since the bow and stern do not catch the currents much -;)
Strong initial and secondary stability – important when things get squirrely. It comes from the wide flat hull section and decent above-water volume. Interestingly, the hull edges are rounded near the seat, so when on the top of a wave this gives a reassuring feel, while the edgier bow and stern give some bite when on edge while surfing.
Long cockpit – room to paddle with knees together and to enter seat-first (carefully, one leg at a time for someone with extra-long legs that only wears XXL size garments). Of course, the foot pegs do not allow good positioning of the feet in the center, so knees together paddling is not the same as in a boat with a full-width foot bar (the surf-spec Delphin that is being released now, will cure that with its full foot plate!)
Backband ratchet system offers secure grip on the backband straps and they stay put after adjustment (see also negatives). The thigh braces feel solid and P&H has glued (but not very well) soft cushions on the hull for comfort.
Good volume – does not submarine easy and when on edge surfing, water does not wash over the side of the cockpit or rear deck too much.
Good foot and leg room for even tall paddlers. Comfortable seat. The seat width may not accommodate extra wide-hipped paddlers (the hip supports may need to be removed). When barefooted my 36" inseam and size 15 feet have plenty of room, but with shoes I could use another inch of length on the rails.
Front center hatch compartment is very convenient and can hold a 16oz water bottle plus some other small items.
Watertight front and rear hatches (small hatch leaks a bit), large size rear hatch makes loading easy. On this version of the D – easy to close and open.
Very neutral in currents (does not catch edges easy). Bow/stern can slide over currents due to flat bottom (softens the abrupt grab by the current when peeling-out from an eddy).
Easy to balance brace and roll for me. Full rear deck layback is possible without lifting my rear end off the seat, but only barely so and only with a PFD that sits high-up and the move requires good flexibility in the lower back to do it (shorter folks may not be able to layback flat on the rear deck). Sweep and screw rolls work effortlessly.
Outer plastic appears to be a bit more scratch-proof than the single layer boats I've had (WS Zephyr, Wave Sport Fuse). Where I would see a deep gauge on my single layer boats from sliding over a submerged rock, I got small scratches or scuff marks on the 3-layer. The bumpy surface hides scratches better than a smooth one (can see that on my own scratches that span both areas on the D) but creates lots of friction when sliding the boat over my Mako saddles on the roof rack.
The skeg is easy to use and effective in planting the stern (except as noted below).
(-) Negatives in more detail =============:
Cockpit rim has sections with only little curve on the sides and on the rear. My guess is that there is not enough smooth curvature to tension the spray skirt evenly or probably it needs a slightly smaller skirt than my 1.7 seals sized skirts. I have two neoprene skirts that don't let any water in on my two other plastic boats with similarly sized cockpits: the D is not as water-tight as it could be and I get small leaks when green water rushes over to my waist or during rolling. Not juge quantities, but a bit of water tends to get there, especially when the weather is warmer and the neo skirt stretches more easy – my guess is that a slightly smaller skirt may be all that is needed.
Foot pedals mounted too low for large feet. The actual pedals are good size but the rails are mounted lower than optimal for me (again, take it in prospective - size 15 feet). Still more room than in the Z - I can wear my white water shoes in the D where I can't in the Z even with rails moved forward on it. The foot rails on the D are bolted 1" closer to the seat from where they could be (there is a 1"inch area where they could be screwed and they are screwed in the rear of this area instead of the front).
Non-vertical rudder holder hole on my particular Delphin (luckily, not many would put a rudder on a Delphin).
The thigh braces are a bit too forward - with long legs I feel they are about where they should be for me, but I imagine for shorter-legged folks they may fall too far forward and over the knee instead over the thigh. While they are adjustable fore and aft, the range is relatively small and they are not adjustable sideways or for angle (as are the ones on the Z), thus giving relatively limited options to adjust to your liking.
To retract the skeg into the hull completely requires attention, at least initially, until you get used to the skeg. It is relatively easy to miss the last notch on the slider and then the skeg would hang about an inch below the hull instead of being fully retracted. This is an annoying issue if your skeg is not perfectly adjusted as one notch off is all it takes for it to drag instead of retract. The skeg is non-kinking so dragging is not a big deal, unless you are being slid sideways or backing-up against something underwater, that is. Adjusting the skeg rope off the water is somewhat of a pain in the neck (but luckily, this is a one-time task, I hope – mine seems to hold well for the past month or so). The knots have to be tied very precisely in just the right place for the skeg to retract/drop down as desired and I don't see this being an easy task with cold hands on a remote beach somewhere.
Flat front bottom causes slap against steep wind waves. While P&H would like you to believe their 3-layer plastic is stiff, I find the single layer plastic on the Zephyr both lighter and about as stiff if not stiffer. The stuff in the middle layer is actually somewhat squishy and flexible compared to the outer layer (there was a large shaving in my D from manufacturing so I could see what's in the middle layer). Perhaps a function of hull shape and size to some extent, but the Z in plastic is at least 6-8lb lighter while it feels at least as solid if not more so in terms of overall hull stiffness on the water and when handling it off the water.
Front center hatch leaks a small amount of water (not much, but enough to get things wet inside).
Very stable when upside-down. Hand rolls are more difficult in this for me for this reason but also due to slightly more volume above water. Rear of cockpit rim is also a bit closer to the seat back than compared to the Z and thus makes laybacks more demanding (you need a low profile PFD, a flexible lower back, and a tall torso to do it well).
Tall bow with flat bottom is affected by strong winds (30+ mph with steep waves on relatively small bodies of water). The result is that the entire kayak is being pushed downwind, creating a feeling for lee-cocking in waves and wind that requires extra effort to counter (even with skeg fully retracted). To be honest, such winds and choppy seas will blow around most kayaks and I did not really struggle much with the D, so this is not a huge thing and should not be taken out of proportion. But in the Z, with a skeg fully retracted, I would end-up with slight weathercocking and with some skeg I would go downwind, or I could balance b/w the two; where in the D I felt I had to work extra to keep it pointed at an upwind angle with the skeg fully up. Not a problem in flat water and strong wind – it will weathercock then, but in waves and strong wind it tends to leecock a bit.
Backband ratchet straps can slip out during adjustment and are hard to put back in place without looking carefully (effectively, no backband while out of the ratchet mechanism).
Heavy hull (close to 60lb). Susceptible to deformations from its own weight when stored on stands or on the floor. I had to work with heat at home to bring my D back to shape, after it was displayed over some padded kayak racks in the store.
Does not track particularly well (zig-zag/yaw), so somewhat inefficient to paddle in a straight line for a long time. Takes effort to maintain high speeds (even though top speed is good for short sprints). But the D is not intended for such use, so not really a huge thing here.
No day hatch behind the seat, so items that do not fit in the small front day hatch that I would typically like to have at hand during day paddling but protected from water in the cockpit (more water, food, cellphone in case etc.), will need to be placed either directly behind the seat (where they could possibly get lost) or in one of the large compartments (so they are hard to access on the water).