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Submitted: 05-15-2013 by Marc

This is a review for the Brittany 16.5 and the Brittany 16.5 Thermo. I have both and paddled them for he past 6 months in different conditions.

1. Differences between the two:

  • weight:
    The Thermo is some 9 kg lighter than the standard, which makes a very notable difference in handling it out of the water. It is also a bit faster
  • Material:
    The Thermo is made of a different and thinner material. It seems less robust and for white water (with rocks) conditions I take the standard Brittany. Having said that the Thermo is not flimsy, if you want to do sea kayaking (and this is a sea kayak after all) you will find both strong enough for what an ocean can throw at them.
  • Seat:
    The Thermo has a different more comfortable back rest (see details further down). The standard's seat however can be pushed back further that that of the thermo.
  • Rudder mounting:
    The Thermo uses an aluminium bracket
My recommendation:
Why did I buy the two versions? I kayak with my girl friend and also on my own or with friends. I am faster than my girlfriend, so she gets the thermo and I the standard (and she gets light carbon paddle, while I take the cheaper aluminum one). This equalizes our speeds nicely.
When I am out without her I take the thermo.

If you're after one kayak only then I would go for the thermo. It's more expensive but you'll love the lower weight and the higher speed.

2. The pros:

I found them good value. They are fast and offer more than enough space for an average size man like myself (71kg, 177cm). They keep a straight line very well and the retractable skeg (goes up and down with a flick of a slider next to the cockpit) makes them track even better (which slightly increases speed).
They both handle very nicely in the ocean; itís a joy manoeuvring them through the waves.
3. The problems:
  • The rudder paddles:
    As others have commented before the bungees that act as the rudder paddlesí return spring make a u-turn through a hole in the sliders. This is a completely unacceptable design. It creates so much friction that you have no feeling at all for the rudder pressure. When I inspected the hole I found that (after 3 hours of use) it had already elongated to twice the size. The bungee chord was also chafed. That bungee should be looped back through a pulley or at least an elbow.

    But there is a simple solution: Remove the bungees. A rudder on a kayak does not need a return spring mechanism, just as the tiller on a boat does not need one. The only problem is that the paddles can slide backward when your feet are not on them. So before you enter the kayak make sure they are pushed forward (thatís easier that doing it when you are in already). Once youíre in the kayak itís not a problem because your feet are against the paddles anyway.

  • The rudder:
    The rudder is about 80% to 90% out of the water. It simply is mounted too high. In calm water that is not a problem. But with the waves up you find that the rudder is often not effective enough (and often it is not touching the water at all). I once had the whole boat going sideways while surfing down a wave. No rudder action at all.

    I will try to make a modified bracket for the thermo to lower the rudder and to adjust its angle. Problem is that I can't access its bolts inside the hull.

    I found some new solutions.

    To tighten the bolts on the rudder bracket I use a 10mm extended socket (for a standard 1/2" socket spanner/ratchet) with a couple of layers to duct tape around to make it bigger. This I jammed into a paddle half shaft I had left from a broken split paddle. This makes a perfect tool to reach the number 10 nuts in the hull.
    To make the rudder more effective I made a modified bracket. The rudder is now about 20mm deeper into the water and the axis around which it pivots is more vertical.
    The good thing is that the new bracket looks almost exactly like the stock one, no "home-made" look to it at all; boat's still pretty. I am using the same type of flat 25mm wide aluminum bar (found it at my local hardware shop for A$7). This I shaped into the same C shape but with a somewhat longer top section. Then I drilled the four holes in slightly different positions, resulting in the improved geometry.
    With an extra 2cm in the water the rudder should be about 50% more effective for an average weight person (70kg). I had a first test paddle and the impression confirms that. Especially in large waves I can now keep the kayak better pointed in the direction I want it.

  • The rudder mounting on the Brittany 16.5 Thermo:
    The bracket holding the rudder is fixed to the stern with two bolts. The nuts are inside the hull. They are practically inaccessible and they turn with the bolts. This means you can not tighten the bolts properly.
  • The seats
    The standard has an uncomfortable back rest if the seat is in the far back position. But most people will fit in well with the seat in a more forward position (and the back rest pulled forward also).

    The Thermo has what Riot calls a floating back rest. It doesn't work. I guess "floating" means it can move up to the point where an adjustable strap limits it (and prevents it from popping out of the seat altogether). In reality, gravity keeps it down all the time. I prefer to have it higher. So to keep it up I drilled two holes in the lower part of the backrest (the part that slots into the seat), and put two plastic bolts through them. So now the back can not slot all the way down any more. Works great, I am comfortable now.

  • The hatches:
    Some water enters them when plunging into waves.
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