Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the ebb spring tide had now built up against the force 4 wind. Short, steep head height waves were now breaking in the tide race streaming round the end of the island. We both set off into the race. At first we surfed down the smaller waves together but as the waves became bigger, my new friend in black began to have difficulties. As his Anas Acuta surfed down the waves his bow repeatedly dug into the waves in front and slowed down allowing the stern to broach. He started to hang back but in the Delphin I found I could surf ahead confidently. I was already sold on the surfing performance of the Delphin but there was much more to discover over the following year...
About the test: paddling conditions and paddlers.
P&H Delphin 155 is based on experience of paddling it for over 850km during the last 16 months. Trips varied from 41km to only 2km. Most were day trips but one was an overnight trip with camping gear. It was paddled by a variety of paddlers who weighed from 65kg to 110kg. Their experience ranged from complete beginners to 5* paddlers. The testing took place at a variety of locations in South West Scotland and included rocky coasts, headlands with tide races, surf beaches and more sheltered waters. It was paddled in all wind conditions between calm to force 6, gusting 7.
This new P&H Delphin 155 turns traditional sea kayak design on its head and challenges many preconceived ideas of how a sea kayak should look and behave. The cockpit has been moved backwards and the stern squared off so the bow just kisses the water, but when paddling the stern engages and aids tracking. This combination is unique to the Delphin creating a kayak that is long enough to paddle like a traditional sea kayak on flat water with enough speed to keep up with the pack but will transform into a new genre of free-ride sea kayak when it hits moving water, coming alive in tide races, over falls and surging water.
Construction, finish, fittings, ergonomics and wear and tear.
The Delphin 155 is made of Corelite, a triple layer polyethylene construction. This gives a relatively light but stiff hull, which is reasonably abrasion resistant and withstands hard knocks. The fore deck is also stiff enough to take a mast foot for a kayak sailing rig with no reinforcement. I have never seen such high quality moulding and definition on a roto-moulded polyethylene sea kayak. It was faultless.
The lack of day hatch might put off some, who might otherwise consider the Delphin as a general purpose day kayak. A forward mini hatch compensates though it is too small to stuff a cag into. It holds a VHF radio, a phone, a pair of gloves, a hat, a small bottle of water, a grain bar but not much else. It won't take a full size rocket flare. Note that the mini hatch is not waterproof from below, if the cockpit gets flooded during a rescue (practice). Paddlers with shorter legs will not be able to get their toes in front of the pod but the hull design still leaves plenty of room to stretch out.
This kayak was fitted with the Mark 1 P&H cable skeg slider. The action on this one was initially incredibly light but the knot in the adjustment cord had been tied too short and this only allowed the slider to move in the back third of the ratchet track and the skeg only came down to 25 degrees. This was not enough to prevent weather cocking with a force 4 wind on the rear quarter. It was easy enough to fit a longer cord. The skeg now comes down to about 70 degrees and this fixed the weather cocking. After about 6 months use the slider action became increasingly stiff until two female paddlers could no longer operate it. P&H replaced the slider under warranty. They offered to take the kayak back to the factory to fit it but I fitted the Mk2 slider myself. This job requires using a mini blow lamp to weld polyethylene so perhaps it is not for everyone. The Mk2 slider fitted to 2012 and later kayaks has worked faultlessly except when wearing pogies for winter paddling, when it is possible to brush against the locking lever and release it accidentally.
The deck fittings, deck lines, deck elastics and end toggles were all standard P&H items and mounted in sensible places.
Stability and rolling.
Speed and acceleration.
Any doubts about keeping up with conventional sea kayaks were quickly dispelled. All paddlers using the Delphin were happy to keep paddling at 6 to 7.5 km per hour, which is the speed at which our group normally tour.
Manoeuvrability and tracking.
The Delphin is more manoeuvrable than any other sea kayak I have tried. Only my Rockhopper RH340 is more manoeuvrable but it is not a proper sea kayak as it lacks a forward sealed compartment and deck lines, which limit its sea worthiness and safety. Also, I seldom paddle it more than 10km due to its limited cruising speed.
When turning, it is easy to sink the Delphin's outside edge to such an extent that you feel the stern rise and loosen its grip on the water. Then the kayak almost spins round on the spot. It also responds well to sinking the inside edge in a low brace turn. On flat water it is easy to paddle in a straight line by correcting with a little edge now and then but novices and the lazy (like me) can keep it straight with a little skeg. In rough water you will be edging anyway so there is less need for the skeg. Even with the skeg deployed, the Delphin does not glide in a straight line when you stop paddling. It tends to drift off one side or the other. This can be annoying when taking photographs but otherwise is of little concern. When loaded with camping gear, the Delphin loses manoeuvrability but is still able to turn tighter than a loaded Avocet or Alaw Bach.
Use for learning and occasional paddling.
In the light winds that novices are likely to be out in, the Delphin is relatively unaffected by the wind and is remarkably stable in the small waves they may encounter. Several coaches I have spoken to think that the Delphin is not suited to beginners and early intermediates who would be better off learning in a "proper sea kayak". I beg to differ. I recently introduced two keen teenagers to sea kayaking using the Delphin and the Avocet RM. Both preferred the stability and manoeuvrability of the Delphin. The Delphin also proved to be easier than the Avocet RM for them to catch their first waves.
Other kayaks to consider.
If you are in the market for a robust, versatile day kayak like the Delphin you should also try the Valley Avocet RM, the Rockpool Alaw Bach TCC and the SKUK Romany Surf RM (which I have also paddled but not alongside the Delphin). The Delphin 150 is also available for smaller paddlers and both Delphins are available in a heavier stronger surf specification for extreme conditions.
Length: 485cm, width:57cm, internal cockpit length:81cm, total volume 267litres, weight 27.2kg, load range 65 to 125kg, price: £1349.
I believe the P&H Delphin is the most versatile day kayak currently available. At the time of writing, the Delphin is unique. It is not a development of an existing kayak but is a bold new design from the ground up. It has several novel features to allow it to perform but be forgiving and fun in difficult conditions. Don't be put off by its different looks. Far from being a niche kayak and only suitable for experts in big conditions, it has a great deal to offer as a day kayak for paddlers of all abilities. Beginners will make rapid progress and its forgiving nature, with no "nasty handling surprises", will help paddlers advance their skills and push their comfort zones, whatever their level. However, as it is also so good for spending time just having fun and mucking about on the water, I have yet to learn to surf a wave as big as Sean Morley!