Submitted: 12-20-2012 by DanD
All reviews are subjective based on a reviewer's personal experience and expectations, so here is the perspective from which I write this review:
I'm a man in my late twenties, fairly fit, about 170lbs and 5'9". I bought this kayak in good used condition two years ago. It is the first, and so far only, kayak that I've owned or used extensively so I can not compare it well to other boats. I can only tell you my experiences as a beginner who's grown into an intermediate paddler with the Boreal Design Fjell.
This is a plastic kayak that seems well built with a quality feel to the materials, fit, and finish. It has rubber hatch covers that require no straps to hold them down and durable foam bulkheads inside. The deck hardware and lines are holding up well. I store the boat outside and there's a bit of color fading that is noticeable only when I compare the current color to the original color under the bungee lines where sunlight rarely shines. So far I've been very happy with the quality.
My first trip was on the ocean. That was a mistake! I felt very tipsy with moderate ocean swell and small wind waves. So tipsy in fact that I was uneasy and remember thinking "what have I gotten myself into... thankfully I bought used so I can sell without taking a loss".
Instead of giving up I decided to practice on a calm lake to see if I was the problem or the kayak, and I'm glad I did. It took some time but eventually I learned to paddle better, and like learning to ride a bike, it soon became second nature to keep the boat balanced in a wide variety of conditions. This comfort and control eventually lead to pushing the boundaries of what the boat could do.
I would say that this boat has fair initial stability and very high secondary stability. It rocks easily while upright but I can lean the boat far onto its side without flipping. I can lean it so far to the side that water will be over the edge of the cockpit but the boat still hasn't reached its tipping point. I have not tried but I suspect this won't be an easy boat to do rolls in.
After two years I would say that it's a responsive boat that leans easily while turning and for control but to a beginner these characteristics can feel like instability. I consider it a safe and forgiving boat that can be leaned really far without tipping. There seems to be a wide safety margin which is nice when the waves get big. I was once caught broadside by a steep 7 foot wave that was on the brink of breaking. The Fjell rode parallel up the steep wave face and down the other side without missing a stride. On other occasions the boat has performed well in confused seas with fairly big waves coming from multiple directions. On a few occasions the sea was calm at the beginning of a trip but became quite choppy by the end and I had no trouble getting home safe.
My boat is equipped with a skeg but the Fjell has a rudder option as well. The skeg is deployed by turning a knob next to the cockpit which lowers the skeg into the water to any desired "amount". Without wind or current the Fjell naturally tracks quite straight and doesn't need skeg or rugger help. Just a tiny amount of skeg takes you from straight to arrow straight. Add in wind and current and I find I'm usually using a moderate amount of skeg to track straight. There's a tendency for the boat to want to weathercock a certain amount but usually the skeg can correct this without additional action. Strong wind and large waves moving contrary to my direction of travel will occasionally require additional corrective paddling techniques to compensate.
On the other hand, maneuverability and turning seem decent and the boat is easily controllable with proper paddle strokes. It probably won't win turning contests but for me the good tracking characteristics are more important. In terms of speed, I've never really accurately measured myself, but I seem to be able to average about 7km/h over long distances in moderately calm conditions. I can sprint faster over shorter distances in calm water but I feel like I can out-paddle the boat, as though I reach hull speed limitations before I max out my paddling power. Without comparison to other boats I would say the Fjell is fast but not the fastest out there.
The Fjell seems to have a higher profile than some other kayaks. This is good when waves break across the deck and clear before getting to you, and translates into spacious cockpit and storage spaces, but it's also bad because wind can catch the hull easier.
As I mentioned my boat has a skeg but I've used boats with rudders as well. My preference is definitely the skeg. I prefer the solid footrests that allow me to transfer power better instead of the "soft" feeling of the rudder peddles that move. Having said that, I find my main problem with the boat is pebbles sometimes getting lodged in the skeg slot when I launch. This becomes a problem when it later prevents the skeg from deploying once I'm out on the water and run into conditions that call for skeg. I recommend always checking the function of the skeg after launching from pebbly beaches and have found that a paddling partner can sometimes reach under the stern to dislodge pebbles.
Overall my experience with the Fjell has been extremely positive. It's a great boat that I love to paddle. I've even added fishing accessories so I can wet a hook with ease. In my limited experience I can confidently recommend this kayak.