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Quality is first class. Finish and all components are as good as any, better than most. The seat and backband are quite comfortable. Quite light of course it is well-balanced for a shoulder carry.
Conditions for the evaluation were: South wind at 15-20mph, confused chop and clapotis apx.2-3ft., current at 1.5 knots. The Capella 163 has only moderate speed. It seems ideal for sightseeing, fishing, and photography. By far more stable than a Legend or Outer Island; thought slower.
The skeg worked well, convenient actuator, but was unnecessary. No weather-cocking. I had to work hard to catch wind waves to surf. Slight broaching was slow and easily controlled by lean and paddle stroke. The boat turned easily with only slight lean.
All together a great kayak for a beginner or intermediate paddler. Only its lack of speed kept me from rating it more highly.
I'm 5'11", 200lbs, and the fit in the 163 is excellent. I'm neither lost in the cockpit, nor am I cramped (like in my Dagger RX playboat). Have tried several foot rest positions, and have found the sweet spot allowing me to stretch my legs a bit while feeling in control, and there's still room at the bottom. The seat/backband is also very comfortable, and no numbness or soreness after hours of paddling. Nice ratchet adjustment on the backband too instead of some cheaper buckle/clasp arrangement.
Having a Pungo 120 (love that boat) for a frame of reference for flatwater, the Capella is like a Ferrari. Easy to paddle and quick. Initial stability is good, and I had no problem getting used to it, but whitewater skills definitely came into play as I hit rougher water. Secondary stability is also good, and edging it over didn't give me any feeling of accidentally going all the way over.
I really like paddling it directly into the waves, and she takes them in stride, slicing through. I had some issues with a following sea, but I assume I just need to work on that a little. With the waves coming from behind me, I felt unstable every time one passed. And with wind abeam, all bets were off. I had to turn downwind (or upwind) quickly or swimming seemed inevitable. I definitely need to figure that part out.
The boat tracks well without the skeg, and with it down, like an arrow. I found a spot with the skeg about 1/3 down that feels like a good spot for tracking that also allows easy turning.
I confess: I wimped out on the test roll due to water temperature and having no one to spot me, but have no worries about rolling it. Seems like it's going to be easy since I have a good combat roll in whitewater, and initially learned to roll with the extended paddle method.
I loaded everything but the kitchen sink in all the hatches, with room to spare. Didn't see a drop of water in any compartments either after days of paddling and splashing around with waves coming over the deck.
The finish and quality of the P&H Capella 163 is just excellent. I can't find anything at all to comment negatively on. I looked at a lot of boats before buying, and this one is simply way above anything I've seen. The boat gets loads of complements at the river and people sure look it over. Heck, just yesterday, some cute girl on the Potomac paddled alongside to complement me on the boat. If I'd known that was going to happen, I'd have bought one years ago!
Will write a follow-up as I get used to it, but I've gotta tell ya, this is one finely made kayak and I'm very happy with it. This, by the way, is the opinion of an aerospace engineer who spent years in Quality Assurance. The boat was worth the extra money, proving again that you get what you pay for.
120,000+ people can't be wrong!
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