Submitted: 07-15-2002 by Joe G.
I have to agree with everything SS states in her review, below. I have owned my Vela for almost years now. I would consider myself a strong intermediate paddler. I came from a flatwater C-2 racing background so I wanted an efficient and fast boat (e.g "Need for Speed"). I originally thought my selection would fall in the 17 - 18' range. I had been paddling off-and-on in rental or borrowed boats for several years. I attended several shop sponsored paddle days on Cape Cod and upstate NY, but I could not find a boat I was really pleased with. When I did not have any luck in my regional shopping I purchased a QCC 600 on-line without a test paddle. The 600 is beautiful boat with a high quality composite lay-up. The folks at QCC are some of the finest you will ever deal with. Regrettably, the 600 was not a good fit for me, or my personal paddling style. I have to echo the sentiment often repeated in other reviews, "Try Before you Buy", particularly when it comes to sea kayaks.
After finally purchasing a boat I hated to part with it, but the 600 went back. The QCC people were good to their word and accepted the return without any hassle. My search continued. I heard of a kayak dealer north of Boston called New England Small Craft (NESC). They came highly recommend by several paddlers I met on-line. I made a few calls to NESC and spoke to Joel the owner. Initially he came across as a "gruff" New Englander, but I soon warmed up to him. He knew his stuff and carefully queried me on my preferences and needs. I eventually took a long weekend and made 6 hour drive to NESC from home. Based on my research I fully expected to take home a P&H Capella, Sirius or possibly a Current Designs Caribou. These boats all run 16.5' or longer. When I arrived at NESC Joel and his assistant were putting a bunch of boats on their trailer. They then taxi you to a local lake to test paddle. Joel had put the Capella and Sirius on the trailer specifically for me, but added one more boat, a P&H Vela. I immediately dismissed the Vela because of it;'s length. Heck it wasn't even 16 feet long (15' 9" to be exact), it couldn't be that efficient. At first I told him not to bother. He gave me a wily look, and proceeded to load it anyway. He commented "Let's bring it along. Why don't you give it a try after you test paddle the other boats?". OK, let him waste his time and effort I thought. We traveled to the lake and I test paddled the Capella, Sirius, Current Designs Gulfstream and several unmemorable composite boats. Heeding Joel's advice I left the Vela to last. I'm 5' 9" and 150 lbs. All the boats I had previously tried just did not seem to fit. I was very disappointed with the Capella after reading all the positive reviews. I didn't feel it tracked or handled that well, and the cockpit was not a great fit for me. Too much hip room. I enjoyed the Sirius and I probably could have been happy with it. As Joel requested I paddled the Vela last. To my pleasant surprise the Vela came up an easy winner! Joel did indeed know his stuff. Up to this point, I had to make fitting accommodations with most of the boats I tried. The Vela fit me, not the other way around. It handled beautifully, tracked better than the Capella, and turned when I wanted it to. The Sirius was faster, but not by much. As with all P&H boats the construction and trim are very nice. Not quite as fine as QCC or Current Designs, but the boys at P&H in England do a very fine job laying up their kayaks. The Kajaksport/VCP hatches fit snugly and do not leak. The day hatch was a big plus for me. The boat is only slightly prone to windcocking. It comes equipped with a retractable skeg, which I have only had to use in strong quartering winds. The Vela has all the deck rigging I'll ever need, and the lines behind the cockpit worked well in self-rescue attempts without modification. I'm fairly new to rolling, but after some practice I found the boat easy to roll. The seat is one of the most comfortable I tried. I have only had to do minimum outfitting to the boat. I added padding at the knee braces and an under-the-deck foam/Velcro holder for my bilge pump. The boat has paddled well at Cape Cod, large lakes and a slow local river (Susquehanna). Storage volume is on the small side compared to the QCC 600, but my camping gear fits inside with careful packing. More importantly the volume is much greater than that of my backpack. Lastly, I did not experience the deck flexing mentioned below.
If you are a "smaller" paddler (e.g. under 5' 11" and 170 lbs.) or are considering the Current Designs Slipstream (another nice boat) please give the P&H Vela a try. A final note - I wrote the above review several months ago. Up until now I have solo paddled. I had a opportunity to take two day trips with a friend paddling a 18' Eddlyline Falcon. I found that on calm waters or if the waves were constantly from one direction I could nearly match my partner's speed. However, in confused seas (e.g. waves from many directions) I lost ground. The Vela is still and excellent boat, but you may not alway be able to kept pace with your paddling buddies. Thanks.