I owned and paddled a NF Silhouette in Kevlar for a year and a half. It was my third composite kayak. As many readers realize no composite kayak is perfect, either in design or construction. Also NO kayak deserves a "10". If you think it does, then you have not paddled enough! ; - )
My Silhouette from Seaward was no exception.
Manufacturing issues: Roughly finished interior on the underside of the cockpit and a leaky skeg box. Seaward provided materials for me to fix the rough finish and I leaned a lot in the process of making these repairs. The work on the cockpit came out very nice, but these problems should have been caught at the factory. As for the leaky skeg box, it stayed a minor annoyance. I located the leak at the point where the skeg cable housing enters the compression fitting above the skeg box, however, after repeated tries I was never able to eliminate the leak completely.
Note that my rating of this boat is based mainly on its handling characteristics and not several small QC issues. Most new composite boats seem to have one bug or another. Heck, they are not put together by CNC robots.
What did I like about the Silhouette? It is a beauty. The design has clean sharp lines, and strong hard chimes. The Silhouette handles heavy "chop" very well and usually manages winds nicely, but more about that below. In Kevlar the boat weighed 53 pounds including hatches and skeg, so it made for a easy lift on to my roof rack and carry to the launch site. At 5' 9" and 150 lbs., I fit in the cockpit very well.
The Silhouette is equipped with two oval and one round VCP hatch covers. These are water tight if installed correctly (i.e. double sealed). Be sure to use 303 Protectant on them occasionally for UV protection. Nigel Foster designed boats are unique in that the day hatch is mounted behind your left arm. To my knowledge, all other boats from major kayak manufacturers are equipped with the day hatch the right side. I actually prefer Foster's set up. It allows me to brace with my right hand and open the hatch with my left. In the Silhouette it is easy to store a hand pump along the side of the seat pinned between the hull and seat hanger.
The Silhouette is a quick boat, but it is not the fastest 18 footer on the water (OK, you caught me. It's actually 17' 10"). The low rear deck, cockpit coaming and back band allow for easy lay-back rolls. Some have complained about Seawards paddled polyethylene backband, but I had no problems with it.
Edging up on a hard chime allows fairly easy turning for such a long boat and you can really lock it up on edge when sculling for support. The Seaward version of the Silhouette is equipped with a much larger diameter skeg cable than the Walden or Dutch version. The skeg itself is a nice thin alloy foil and is easy to deploy or adjust from the cockpit via a large slider.
Now, what didn't I like? The Silhouette does not have full perimeter deck lines. I am not sure why, you will have to ask Nigel Foster about this omission. Not a major issue you say? Well, if you miss your roll and someone has to perform an assisted rescue on your boat the problem will become evident. There is no adequate place for a rescuer to quickly grab on to your boat during a T-rescue. Don't believe me? Give it a try. My paddling partners hated to pair-up with me for rescue practice.
The hard plastic seat pan is not overly comfortable compared to let's say P&H's fanny pans. I managed to crack mine doing hard practice rolls, but the seat was still serviceable and easy to fix with a bit of epoxy.
The Silhouette has light initial stability and moderate secondary stability. Some call it "twitchy". It is not a boat I ever fully relaxed in, even when I became accustom to it. The Silhouette is most stable underway, not rocking in place from chime to chime. I mentioned that the Silhouette takes on chop well, however, I found it to be a load to handle in heavy beam or following seas. If the wind is also blowing from the beam the boat's handing characteristics further deteriorate as it does weathercock a bit. Deploying the skeg will help, but if the sea is rough and the wind is strong you will be in for an interesting ride. Due to these handling characteristics I decided that the Silhouette was not for me and I have moved on to another kayak.
I am sure there are more capable paddlers out there that would have no trouble using the Silhouette in "conditions" (Mr. Foster comes to mind), but I prefer a less nervous boats for going out in "lumpy" seas. Your miles may vary ; - )
Thanks for listening.I purchased a Walden Silhouette in Red this year. The layup and overall appearance of this kayak is very good. The inside and outside seams are excellent. The hatches are watertight, but with the way they are recessed extra care must be taken to ensure they are sealed properly. The deck layout needs some work, there are no recessed deck fittings, (RDF's) ahead pf the compass recess for storing a spare paddle, or for simply parking your paddle. There are no rescue lines along the cockpit, or ahead of the cockpit. The deck bungies aft of the cockpit are not helpful.
The seat in this kayak is ok, but not great, the same goes for the backband, ok, but I will be replacing them. I have demoed the seaward version and their seat and backband are no better. The skeg slide is the thin wire with the knob that slides up and down, with no steel bar. No problems to report yet. The footbraces are a little rickety and need adjustment, or perhaps replacement.
All this said, the kayak handles marvelously. I love the low volume fore and aft decks, the clearance for a traditional paddle is amazing, it is pure joy to just go forward in this kayak. It moves effortlessly along the water. Turning the kayak with a variety of edging and leaning techniques provides surprising results. I am still learning the secondary stability in this kayak, but I have started learning to balance brace in it, which is something that eluded me in my other boats.
Packing a boat for trips with so little volume is only possible due to the large oval vcp hatches. I practiced packing it several times before buying it, and I got all my gear to fit with room to spare, but I did have to chuck a few extras. There was plenty of freeboard aft after loading about 80-90 lbs of gear. (I weigh around 175) Looking forward to tripping with this kayak. I also like having my dayhatch fitted to the left rather than the right.
Handling this boat in waves and rough water is alot of fun, edging the boat while on a wave steers this kayak better than any other boat I've paddled. The angled bulkhead is great for dumping water after rolling, or during rescues. The listed weight is accurate and the boat is easy for me to cartop, (I'm only 5'8").I recently purchased a Dutch-built Silhouette. Though it differs in a few details and in the cockpit size, the hull and deck configuration is the same as the boats Walden was having made in Canada, so the handling should be the same.
The Silhouette has low initial stability, due to the rounded bottom configuration. Essentially, it easily rocks from one chine to the other. Once you've rolled it onto a chine, you encounter reasuringly strong secondary stability. As long as you are used to narrow, high performance boats, you'll find it comfortably stable. For someone buying their first high performance sea kayak, it would probably be a bit intimidating at first, but you would get used to it.
The boat exhibits minimal weathercocking, which is easily neutralized by edging or by partial deployment of the skeg. It carves turns when edged, though not sharply. Overall, I would rate the tracking as moderately strong. It's reasonably fast (comparable to a Nordkapp, perhaps a bit faster) and readily catches rides on even the smallest of swells. The high volume bow provides a reasonbly dry ride without excessive pounding over waves.
It's quite comfortable in rolling seas and surf. While it will broach on a breaking wave taken off-center (like any sea kayak), it does so in a controlled manner, allowing ample time for bracing into the wave. One very interesting quality is that as the wave crest passes under the boat, the bow will turn back downwave. This characteristic makes it much easier to correct your line in quartering seas or to turn to catch the next breaker when surfing. Very nice! Nigel Foster is big into surfing and it shows in the handling of this boat.
I'm quite pleased with the Silhouette so far and look forward to exploring it's capabilities further, but since no boat is perfect, I rate it a 9.