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For starters, I am the less-than-happy former owner of an NDK Explorer HV, having paddled one for a little over 4 years. Like many other paddlers during the late 2000's, when these kayaks were first introduced on the American market, I was taken in by all of the drummed-up "hype" on the "incredible" rough water handling characteristics of these British-style sea kayaks and - no doubt - their handling attributes CAN be pretty incredible – in the hands of someone in the rough "ballpark" of the kayak designer's intended height, weight, and approximate center-of-gravity targeted range, as-well-as the requisite skill level. And judging from most of the "on line" reviews for the Explorer - which, for the most part, have been HIGHLY FAVORABLE - paddlers typically gave their height and weight measurements at not much over 6 foot and under 200 pounds – WELL out of my range.
Just prior to purchasing my Explorer HV, I briefly test-paddled a "demo" and, at the time, the craft felt EXTREMELY "tippy" and capsize-prone to me, but I was informed by well-meaning sales people that this "twitchiness" – which was "hyped" as simply part of this kayak's rough-water handling profile - is a typical experience for a "newbie" and would pass in time with paddling experience in the kayak. To make a long story short, this incredible "tippiness" stayed with me over the 4+ years I owned the kayak, and I have had it out in some fairly rough conditions – including confused 2 to 4 foot chop combined with ocean-going cargo ship wakes.
Getting back to reviewing my new Current Designs 2013 Solstice GT, after a year of paddling this kayak I am TRULY AMAZED at the EASE with which this craft handles conditions of crazy, confused, 2 to 3 foot chop mixed with wind-driven swell of the same height, and 3 to 4 foot ocean-going cargo-ship wakes – conditions I often encounter while out on the Columbia River near Astoria Oregon. Large broadside waves taken by this kayak seem to roll almost effortlessly beneath its round-bottomed-cross-section hull – a VERY REASSURING FEELING when out in this kind of TURBULENCE! By comparison, when I paddled my former shallow-"v" trapezoidal cross-section Explorer in similar conditions, I would find myself bracing as if my VERY LIFE depended on it! And speedwise, my Solstice is most definitely faster than the Explorer, owing in part to the fact that nearly ALL of my paddle strokes deliver power while underway – especially in heavy chop - whereas paddling the Explorer in similar conditions necessitated so many bracing and rudder strokes - just to avoid capsize - and the need for constant course correction due to the Explorer's increased hull rocker over that of the Solstice! And need I mention that the Solstice's tracking is TRULY EXEMPLARY by comparison, as is its "glide" through the water when not executing paddle strokes - and OH HOW BEAUTIFULLY THIS KAYAK MANEUVERS with just a simple stern-rudder paddle-stroke for course correction! The ONLY time I EVER use my rudder is to perform a skeg-like function during long, open-water crossings or in strong cross-wind/wave/current conditions. For me, the Solstice GT is TRULY a MAGNIFICENTLY-HANDLING kayak and a SHEER JOY to PADDLE!
As regards workmanship and physical design, the overall quality of the fiberglass layup and workmanship seems, to me, to be pretty near flawless, as is the overall design and hatch configuration. And PLEASE leave the hatch layout just the way it is – plenty big enough for loading up camping supplies and, thank heavens, without the silly little "day hatch" which I've never been able to access anyway while out on the water! Regarding the keyhole cockpit design, as I wear size 34" trousers, it's plenty big enough for me to sit down butt first and draw in one leg at a time, and exiting the cockpit after several hours of paddling is similarly doable. The kayak seat, while not the "lap of luxury," is still adequately comfortable for this 70-year-old man's hip bones even after several hours of paddling. I would make no future changes here either. And the rudder-skeg works like a charm for me - can't think of any needed changes here, either.
Current Designs has turned out one fine kayak with the Solstice GT and truly, this will probably be the very last kayak I'll ever own to the end of my kayaking days.
Extremely stable even in semi rough conditions. I am confident and comfortable in this boat. Since I now know they are like shoes the Solstice may not be for everyone but for this 6 foot, 225 lbs guy with lots of skeletal injuries this baby is the 1!!!!
Thanks Current Designs, this is one boat that definitely lives up to the write-ups! Love it!!
I don't think there is a "10" out there so I have to give it a "9". Mine was fiberglass. Maybe a kevlar one would be a 10?
First, the new cockpit design does not work for me. It is too big. With the old design, I could use the same sprayskirt on multiple boats. For the new design, I had to go from a 1.4 seal to a 1.7 seal. Second, the new rudder system is a real trade-off. On one hand, the pegs don't move. On the other hand, I have difficulty in centering the rudder when I retract it. Finally, for some reason, the boat feels big. It has become large, stable, and not as easy to move around.
In short, the boat, for me, became boring to paddle.
For many paddlers, this will be a great boat; for me, it no longer works. As I said previously, it has been sold.
It's easy to cruise the High Volume at 4.5 MPH all day long, with a couple of stops to get out and stretch. It tracks straight, but that means it does not turn easily. Since most of my paddling is day cruising on protected bays and bayous this is just what I want my boat to do. Very rarely do I put the rudder down, only using it to stay straight in a cross wind.
The hatches are not 100% watertight and the bungee thing that holds the bow carrying handle broke, but neither of these are a problem. What WAS a problem was the rudder pedals. The Current Designs foot pegs/rudder pedals just did NOT work, so I had them replaced with Wilderness Systems pedals where the whole pedal slides forward and back instead of just steering by pointing your toes. Much better!
Overall, a great boat for this big, arthritic old guy. It's completely stable, fast and comfortable. I tried out dozens of boats before I found this sweetie and I have never regretted buying it. A superb kayak!
First off as most mentioned this baby is tuff to turn, which is no issue for long trips, but no quick turns here, it is not meant for that. I have been on the ocean with strong winds and it will tend to want to track broadside to the wind, which means upwind turns are almost impossible into heavy wind without rudder, but once you get it pointed upwind it is fine... There is a lot of wind affect due to high freeboard of foredeck, but this same foredeck also keeps you very dry.
This boat is sleek, effortless, super stable and confidence inspiring for a beginner. Within hours of buying it I was 8 miles out on the open ocean just sitting back floating on 2-3 foot swells and no instability issues at all... I did a few more similar such trips in various conditions from fair to what might scare some rec boaters, but this boat handled anything that I could and no scary moments at all.
Within 2 days I had completed about 35 miles of Open Ocean/coastal paddling and decided to paddle the 44 mile round trip to Catalina Island to camp that weekend. It was pretty much effortless in this boat, caught 10-15 knot headwind about 8 miles from the island with 4-5 foot confused swell/wind swell mix with very light white caps and never any worries and almost no spray except on angled broaching wind caps that hit "just right" and only then it was minimal. Due to the wind the trip took over 8, but the trip back in tail wind and following seas only took a bit over 6 hours. The boat handled following seas pretty well and I could surf them pretty well (maybe my heavy surfing background helped me there) Of course on my trip to the island I had the Murphy’s law of owning an expensive new boat, all the beach landing on that trip were pebble/rocky. I heard much scrapping each landing, but later checks revealed almost NO damage (very small micro scratches only).
The high foredeck keep you dry and the storage hatches were bone dry & leaked NO water at all and the bow rides waves beautifully. On my trip I had about 20 Lbs of equipment stowed and it did seem to provide a more calm stable ride than when empty, which makes sense, the boat is designed for long tour cargo weights. I cannot roll, so I use wet exit reentry and this boat is great for that. In the conditions I go out in I can easily climb back onto the back deck and crawl back into the cockpit, just like a big paddleboard.
The fit and finish are superb in what I have viewed and seen. The foot pedal bolts are glassed in rather than the "thru hull" screws that some use and the gelcoat/ glass job is perfect and beautiful. The only issue I had with the finish is normal wear on the rear deck where I keep my spare paddle, it has some scuffing from my long trips and light scratches around the scuffs, but that is to be expected.
The cockpit interior glass is smooth in most any spot I could feel and see and all bolts are cut off at the nut so no protruding sharp screws. All deck lines are high quality and bungees are strong.
The bulk heads are glass and in far reaches of the inside storage areas I could see a bit of rough glass, but it is in deep corners and did not seem to snag my gear at all during loading/unloading . Like most good ocean boats the back bulkhead is behind the seat and I could easily bow lift the overturned boat and drain the full cockpit down to a few ounces. The front bulkhead is about 3-4 inches in front of the last section of the footpeg slide, so you get max front storage and less cockpit volume to have to drain out.
I found the seat comfortable, but that can be very objective so that is all I will add on that. The foot pedals are the gas pedal style rather than the sliding type some kayaks have. That is nice because you always have a secure foot brace since you only use your toes to move the rudder, rather than sliding your feet.
The rudder is sturdy and simple to operate, though I did modify one thing. There is a retaining bungee that holds the rudder up for transport. This has a plastic hook that goes over the rudder. I often forgot to remove the restraining bungee before launching and once in a heavy wind situation I needed to deploy my still bungeed-up rudder. I could not reach it with my paddle and jerked on the deployment cord for several minutes before the plastic hook broke allowing the rudder to deploy. Not wanting a repeat of this I put a section of mid- gauge wire on the bungee and shaped it into a hook. The wire will hold the rudder for transport, yet with a jerk on the deployment cord it will bend out of the way allowing the rudder to deploy...
I found very slight flexing right below the H-Joint of deck and hull, but that is probably a low stress area anyway and you can see that has light glassing (to be expected on a “light” boat), but the hull itself is rock stiff, the deck has minimal flex and with a flashlight you can actually see where there are reinforcement patches on fore and aft sections. The area around the cockpit where you shoulder carry are also thickly glassed up.
I shoulder carry the boat and go out a lot since I live down the street from the ocean. I have noticed from all the shoulder transporting that I have caused some of the thigh stick-on cushion foam to come un-stuck, but I put a bit of adhesive on these areas and they are back to normal.
Overall I am very, very happy with my purchase and don’t need or want (and can’t afford) anything else. I do not regret my purchase at all and just enjoy the high quality build and finish and seeing the beauty of the boat each time I look at it. The stable, confidence inspiring, dry ride of the boat is a major benefit for beginners.
Better than my opinion, would be the opinion of a very experienced guide in the mid Vancouver Island area... that I had on a five day trip (Discovery Islands). He said it was his favorite touring kayak. Period. I had the fastest boat with the least paddling of anyone around, and it swallows lots of gear. I do find the cockpit a little tight getting in and out for my long legs. I just picked up the Titan regular, although it seems huge, I do believe it is a better fit for my frame. What do you need touring?: capacity and comfort, why sweat the tighter fit...I think the Titan will work out better for beach landings..I tightened up the wider seat with hip brace pads and other than having to reach farther forward (6 inches) for items under the deck straps, foot room, and knees braces seem better positioned.
First, I bought this boat after enduring ten days in my Romany Explorer with gear loaded in front of the pegs. At 5’9 and 170 lbs the Explorer was simply too small to carry a bear canister, tarp bag and me in the same cockpit. I gave it to my wife. We are touring kayakers who live and paddle in Southeast Alaska, taking at least three long(er) trips each summer of from 150 to 400 nautical miles.
The Solstice is everything I want in a sea kayak. It has more than enough room for our longer trips – we assume 400 miles will take us 21 days, but it never has taken more than 17. It tracks straight; I’ll use the rudder only in a strong following sea. It doesn’t weathercock. It rides tolerably dry even in large seas. It sits comfortably during our two sets of five-hour marches; I can still feel my legs and wiggle my toes! And, it is easy to turn. This last point is something I’ve been pondering since it seems to be the negative point of a number of reviewers.
We paddle the coast-line in head winds or when catching eddies in opposing tides. Our coasts are not straight, nor are they particularly forgiving. There is an abundance of rocks covered in barnacles. The kind that make awful scraping sounds when a paddler is unable to adjust position as the rocks become exposed. If by turn, others are referring to maneuvering the boat around objects, then this boat turns well. I young friend who paddled with us this summer commented that, as I entered a small It is as responsive as the Explorer and my wife’s Ellesmere when edged and with the correct stroke. The other definition of turn, could be simply turning the kayak around in a circle. Here too, the Solstice does just fine. I can do a 360 degree turn in a combination of four or five bow and stern sweeps, with the boat on edge and loaded. That is tolerable.
Does it roll? I don’t know. My objective is to stay in my kayak and that’s worked well for the last 25 years. It is very responsive to a brace in seas that break over my shoulders and a low sculling brace when I want to show off.
This summer we have decided to reduce the number of kayaks in our garage. The Explorer is gone, the ultralight kayak has found a good home with a former Olympian, and my wife bought back the Solstice SS she sold six years ago. It, along with my GT and a Seward Passat are what we will use to paddle our long trips and on weekends.
The beauty of the Solstice GT HV for me is that it has more primary stability than any touring kayak I have tested. I like to take pictures. Mind you, at 24.25 inches wide, the secondary stability is also very strong, such that a person with a high center of gravity (me) feels quite secure. And the secondary stability kicks in with just a slight lean due to the very shallow V hull shape.
For a boat of this width, my Solstice has a nice, easy cruising speed. A friend and I recently paddled 52 miles in 13.25 hours (total elapsed time). We beached our boats for fifteen minutes every two hours. In other words, about 4.5 mph is an easy paddling speed for the Solstice. 5 mph is very doable if you're breathing a bit, but I couldn't keep it up all day without wearing out. Two hours at 5mph is okay.
The only negative about the Solstice is that of course it won't turn. Add a little wind, and it pretty much takes an Act of Congress to bring it around. The tracking is spectacular though. I ordered my boat without a rudder since I can't use my feet, and in the vast majority of paddling situations, in my opinion, the boat does not need a rudder.
If you edge the boat heavily, it does turn slightly better, but nobody will ever accuse it of being maneuverable if they've paddled something that truly turns well.
I've recently learned an extended-paddle high-bracing sweep that enables me to lean the boat 90 degrees. The stability still feels predictable. Likewise, I can heel the boat over with a low-bracing turn, and it feels good. Of course, it does help that I've epoxied some brackets on the bottom of my rear hatch and I bungee a 20-pound leaden bar in there. The boat is stable without the ballast, but with it, it's rock solid for a person with a high center of gravity. It makes up for my lack of leg weight.
Overall, if you're looking for a more nimble, easily leaned boat, then the Solstice is not for you. But, if you want a very stable, efficient touring kayak, you can't go wrong with the Solstice. And my hatches are cavernous.
The only reason I give the boat a 9 rather than a 10 is that it won't turn.
Well I am happy to report that after taking a few pool rolling lessons in a WW boat this past winter I am now able to roll not only my WW boat but also my Solstice - VERY EASILY!!! Yes, the back of the combing on the Solstice is a bit high but it does not interfere with rolling at all. I'm 60 years old and overweight, if I can lay back and roll it EASILY, anyone can.
I don't know what planet the Sea Kayaker reviewers were from but their review was off the mark on this issue. Perhaps it is a relative thing, the Gulfstream/Sorroco would be easier to lay back on the deck. Agreed. But these boats aren't any easier to roll in my estimation (I did try the Sorroco). Unless my Kevlar version is much lighter and more buoyant than the boat they tested which might explain their review. In any event, if you haven't already guessed it I LOVE MY SOLSTICE even more today than when I purchased it.
PS - this is a super great boat if you are top heavy (big chest/broad shoulders/etc). Unbelievable stability on edge for high center of gravity people like me.
I inspected this new kayak very carefully and found it to be in perfect shape and one to be very proud of. I am looking forward to paddling this kayak in my favorite waters. With this new boat I have to readjust my rating of the kayak. I am familiar with it's handling, and now have a new kayak that I am proud of and I can't help but give the Solstice a "10". :)
Then when on nice spring day I decided to wash my new kayak and found a small area where the gelcoat was cracked. This was located just under the chine area under the seat. Other than the show room, I hadn't even sat in it yet. Now I am beginning to wonder just what I got myself into. I contacted Rutabaga again with my concern and desire to exchange this boat. To my surprise I received an e-mail from them saying to bring the boat down and that they would take a look at it, and they would try to find a boat to my liking. Which was nice, because I thought I was up the creek with out a paddle. However, I must admit and despite this I still believe that CD has a nice boat design. I still would like to own a Solstice. I'll be taking my kayak down this weekend and afterward will let everyone know how much CD stands behind their warranty.
Regardless of this, I felt the boat did a super job in the water. I paddled it for about 15 minutes, and it tracked as straight as anyone could ask (without using the rudder), but if I leaned properly, and used sweep strokes, it turned very nicely. If I also use the rudder along with the lean and sweep, it turned tighter than I would have thought.
I then e-mailed the factory, and received a very timely and nice reply. They told me that all 3 current versions of the Solstice have the same hull, so it didn't matter what version I got (Standard, HV, or XL), the hull would sit the same in the water.
BUT.... They sent to me a 2005 Catalog, and for next year they are coming out with a new version of the Solstice named the Solstice "Titan" for bigger guys. It will be the same hull, just deeper to haul more weight. The deck will be the same height as the XL version, but the cockpit opening will be wider and longer, with a bigger seat. It looks very much like by next spring the "perfect big guy boat" will be available to us big guys. I have already told them to send one to my local shop for their Demo Days in the spring! :) It will be a LONG winter waiting for Spring Demo Days!
PS/PS If you are big -try the GT before opting for the GT High Volume or even the XT. I'm not sure why it is but the GT handles like a completely different boat, much more satisfying in my opinion.
For an intermediate to advance touring paddler, I would recommend any of the boats in the Solstice series. I wouldn't be afraid to put a rank beginner in a GT either. The boat has a good balance of initial and secondary stability and is easy to master. The Solstice series is a pleasant combination of workmanship and eye appeal.
Yet, this is a great boat. Isn't it strange how my two favorite boats are Current Designs (the Solstice and the Gulfstream)? This speaks volumes about the quality here. A good boat -- consider it seriously.
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