Wednesday, March 31, 2010

P&H Cetus long term test

Manufacturer’s summary
“The 'Cetus' is a fast cruiser designed as a load carrier. It has become the natural choice for paddlers looking for a stable expedition platform or a fast, easy to paddle kayak for long distance paddles. However it's not just a kayak for long trips though, it's equally as capable being used as a fast day cruiser.”

About the test: paddling conditions and paddlers.
This test took place during the period May 2009 till March 2010. It is based on paddling the P&H for over 650km in a wide variety of waters off the west coast of Scotland: the Solway, the North Channel, the Clyde, Arran, Skye, Coll, Tiree, Mull, Jura, Islay, Colonsay, tide races such as the Mulls of Galloway, Logan and Oa, the Corryvreckan, the Grey Dogs and Dorus Mor. It has been tested in winds from force 0 to 7 and in flat water, open ocean swell, wind blown chop, tide races moving at 15km/hour and in surf on exposed Atlantic beaches. It has been paddled by four paddlers weighing from 60 to 92kg. It was paddled and compared with a Cetus LV, Islander Explorer, two Alaw Bachs, Alaw, Rockpool GT, Menai 18, Nordkapp LV, Quest LV and several Quests.

Despite its name suggesting whale like proportions, this is a beautiful, low, sleek kayak, which hides its size well.

Although it is of similar overall volume to the Menai 18 and the GT it looks much more slender. The Menai 18 looks bigger all-round and the GT looks much bigger in front of the cockpit. It even looks smaller than the Quest, which is actually 14l smaller.

The Cetus is of swede form, with the wide point behind the cockpit. This is a design which promotes speed through the water (despite allowing a broad beam) The Cetus has the greatest maximum width of the kayaks here but the Menai 18 probably has a greater average width, as it carries its beam well forward and back.

Like the Rockpools, the rear of the Cetus hull forms a drawn out inbuilt skeg. This gives a long waterline length for speed when the kayak is upright but disengages from the water for manoeuvrability when the kayak is edged. Moving forward, a wide, flattish bottom with a slight V at the keel under the cockpit runs into a rounder section towards the bow, with no hard chines between the sides and the bottom.

Construction, finish, fittings and ergonomics
I have used five separate 2009/2010 P&H Cetus/LV kayaks and all, have shown a superb quality of finish in respect of lamination and assembly of the hull, deck and bulkheads. The GRP bulkheads are fitted with a rubber bung with a relief valve to prevent implosion/explosion of hatch covers in extreme temperature conditions. There were no faults in the fitting of components and accessories.

The two Cetus kayaks I had on long term were most attractively finished in dark blue metallic decks, white hulls and keel strips with sky blue seams and cockpit rims. I thought it a most harmonious combination and the whole looked stunning. If I was nitpicking, I would say that they were not quite as glittery as a Rockpool, but then no one out-glitters Mike Webb!

The long keyhole cockpit makes this one of the easiest kayaks to get in and out of, especially if you suffer from hip or knee problems like me. For 2010 P&H are now fitting the plastic seat lower in the cockpit and this allowed me (at 92kg) to fit snugly without removing the padded seat cover and cutting over an inch of foam from the seat base, (which I had to do in the first test Cetus, built in May 2009). For those that like to paddle using full hip rotation and do not like seat covers, the seat base is comfortable and supportive with just the right amount of rise at the front. The seat back was also supportive, not too high for layback rolls and resistant to folding forward under your bum during wet re-entries. Its tension adjusts effectively using a belt and two corrosion resistant D buckles. Smaller paddlers should stick some foam hip pads to the sides of the seat to ensure good contact for edge control. The thigh braces were not so aggressive and supportive as the Rockpools’ but were more pronounced than a Nordkapp LV’s, and about the same as the Expedition and Quest. They allowed a comfortable range of thigh positions from relaxed cruising to full “brace in a tide race” mode! They come fitted with a 3mm layer of closed cell foam. The Quest, Menai 18 and GT allowed a higher position of the knees, which some prefer. I also used to prefer a high knee position but since my knee injury, I have come to appreciate the comfort offered by the Cetus’s more straight legged position.

The footrests fitted are P&H’s own adjustable models that have exceptionally large and comfortable pedals. They slide on twist/lock “paddles” which come back to just behind your knees. A 90 degree twist (while you are still seated) allows the footrest to be slid forward or back with the paddles for a perfect fit. They remained firmly in place in all four kayaks I tried with them despite many rolls and wet exits.

I paddle in size 10 boots and despite the kayak’s low profile; there was enough room for day long comfort. However, the pod of the fore deck hatch extends past my toes (74 cm inside leg) and prevents me moving them into the midline for a change of position. While I found this restricting at first, I soon forgot all about it, given the overall comfort offered by the Cetus. Also, the fore deck hatch is so very convenient for such things as flares, sun tan oil, head torch, energy bars etc. A safety feature is that the pod also reduces the volume of the cockpit meaning less water will be scooped in during recovery from a capsize.

End toggles (secured by elastics), deck lines and elastics, Silva 70p compass recess and security/tow line bar were of the usual high P&H standard fitting and function. Behind the cockpit there is a transverse recess designed to take a paddle shaft while launching and landing. Personally, I like to keep my nice carbon fibre paddles well out of the way of my bum and the shore. However, there is no doubt that the moulding adds to deck rigidity and I do like to sit on the rear deck while getting my legs in and out of the cockpit. In comparison, the flat rear deck of the GT was very flexible and I did not like to put my weight on it.

A large rubber oval rear deck hatch was partnered by a smaller round one towards the bow. Little moulded drainage channels in the deck extended out from the hatch rims reducing pooling of water. The day hatch and fore hatch were lighter covers with plastic centres. All covers were tethered. Tent poles need to be removed from a tent bag to bend it through the round forward hatch. The oval front hatches in the Menai 18 and Nordkapp LV make it easier to load long objects. In five P&H Cetus and Cetus LV kayaks I tried, all compartments remained dry, despite some extended wet work. In terms of carrying capacity, the Cetus is very commodious. However, if I was to order one, I would still seriously consider getting one with a strengthened custom bulkhead (£90) positioned to maximise front hatch volume and minimise cockpit volume, this would necessitate fitting the shorter 4th hatch pod from the Cetus LV.

The relatively narrow bow, together with the shape of the foredeck means it is easy to get the paddle entry well forward and close to the hull for efficient paddling. The decals are quality items and not cheap transfers. They are 3D items and I particularly liked the bow logo, which looks like an eye.

The new P&H skeg system has run into development problems in some kayaks. It is an ingenious skeg slider with a ratchet that pulls the skeg up, and holds it up, against a shock cord that pulls the skeg down. When it works, the system results in an extremely light and effective skeg control and it does not have the risk of kinking a wire cable as in many other systems. Over the last year, I have paddled five P&H kayaks with this system. Two worked perfectly, one was a bit stiff and two became so stiff that the skegs were unusable. P&H have recognised the problem and have put a great deal of effort into developing components of the system to find a solution and to supporting those customers who were affected. The P&H website has a skeg system help link from its homepage. This link will guide you through a couple of self diagnostic tests before giving you contact details. I tried following this and was contacted by P&H the same day. A day later I found myself talking to their chief development engineer and also the boss of the parent company, Pyranha. I am impressed by how P&H are committed to supporting their affected customers and I would have every confidence in buying a further P&H kayak. The most recent (2010) P&H kayak I have seen has a skeg which works faultlessly. The skeg blade is a high aspect design, which is rather flexible.


It only takes a few paddle strokes to realize how much you are going to enjoy paddling this kayak. The slightest lift of a knee and you feel the kayak instantly respond to edge by turning. The Cetus feels alive. On the same afternoon as I tried the Cetus for the first time, I also tried the Rockpool GT (also for the first time). This is an excellent, fast, capacious, expedition kayak, with an incomparable finish, but in comparison with the Cetus, it felt directional and unwilling to turn as tightly. In the Cetus, even in windy (but flat water) conditions I was nearly doing 360's with a sweep and single bow rudder. It is more manoeuvrable than the Quest and Rockpool GT and considerably more so than the Menai 18.

When used as a day kayak, I had no difficulty exploring caves and threading through rocky channels following an Alaw Bach. Of the other expedition style kayaks, only the Islander Expedition came close to the manoeuvrability of the Cetus.

Having been surprised by the manoeuvrability of the full size Cetus on edge, I was expecting a great deal from the Cetus LV (which I also had on test). However, I found that with my 92 kg weight, it was not much more manoeuvrable than its full size sibling. Investigating this, I found that when I edge the Cetus LV, the long built in skeg does not fully disengage, and shorten waterline length as happens on the Cetus. Lighter paddlers of the Cetus LV experience greater manoeuvrability, because the skeg disengages. The Cetus LV is really for smaller paddlers who want a decent fit and handling, rather than for big paddlers, wanting more manoeuvrability. What P&H have done with the Cetus/LV/MV is to create a series of kayaks that allow people of different weights to experience the same handling characteristics. You should make sure that when you demo a Cetus/LV/MV, you choose the smallest size that still allows the waterline to shorten as you edge. A satisfying gurgle from the stern during an edged turn should be a clue that you are in the right kayak. Even when fully loaded for camping, the 60kg paddler found the Cetus a bit big but very much liked the Cetus LV. The other test paddlers, weighing 75 to 92kg, all found the size of the Cetus ideal.


Despite it having the greatest maximum beam in this group, the Cetus proved to be very quick to accelerate up to top speed. The Cetus, Cetus LV and Nordkapp LV all required fewer strokes to hit their maximum and pulled ahead of the other kayaks we paddled. Swede form kayaks are known for their paddling efficiency and the Cetus and Menai 18, also proved to have equal maximum sprint speed. The Nordkapp LV, Cetus LV and the Quest ranked next. The Alaw Bach (and to a lesser extent the GT) had a slower maximum as it tended to squat on its tail producing more drag when paddled hard. We didn’t measure the Expedition’s maximum speed (using an EGNOS enabled GPS) but it appeared to sit between the Quest and the Alaw Bach. Despite its potential maximum speed, the Menai 18 proved rather disappointing when trying to maintain speed when paddled unloaded in a wind. However, it redeemed itself when loaded and or paddled by a large paddler.

I found the primary stability of the Cetus on flat water to be comparable with the Menai 18 and both were significantly more stable at rest than the other expedition kayaks. Where the stability of the Cetus really shone was when at rest in bouncy conditions, for example when taking a photograph. It also scored highly for camera work because it is so quick to turn and change viewpoints. It is quite simply the best kayak I have ever been in for photography. The Cetus, Menai 18 and GT were all very stable on extreme edging, more so than either the Quest, or the Expedition (but none of the others turned so sharply in response to edge as the Cetus). We all felt that this characteristic would make the Cetus ideal for relative newcomers to learn about edge control.

Behaviour in wind, waves, surf and tide races
Having such a low profile means that this is a wetter kayak in waves than the, Menai 18 and GT and even than the Quest, which is not a particularly dry kayak. However, the Cetus bow rises less over short steep waves than the Menai 18 and GT and it does not slam down into the trough like the Menai 18 (and to a lesser extent, the GT). Unloaded in force 6-7 winds the Cetus could be comfortably paddled into wind and short steep waves at 45 degrees. In these conditions both the Menai 18 and GT tended to have their bows blown down wind. The Cetus was also the easiest kayak to turn, bow through the wind.

The Cetus can be used without a skeg, as it is so responsive to edging. However, on a long crossing, I still much prefer to use the skeg. On one of the Ceti on test, the skeg was too stiff and had an “on or off” feel, so we were not able to finely titrate the amount of skeg to the wind strength and direction as the paddlers in Quests were doing.

On a fully loaded 15km open crossing from Colonsay to Jura, with an ocean swell and force 4 wind from the rear quarter, the Cetus skeg stuck up. Despite edging, I found it a real effort to keep on track compared with the others in a Quest LV and Quests (which excel in these conditions). The Cetus tended to broach. The Expedition skeg also got stuck during testing and this kayak proved a real effort to paddle without a skeg in any wind. In another Cetus (with a functioning skeg) the tendency to broach was much reduced but the Cetus still required more paddler input than the Quest, when paddling down wind and swell. Like the Cetus, I found that the Menai 18 also had a tendency to broach downwind, particularly in smaller, close spaced swell. The Menai 18 had a very small skeg and this made it less easy to keep on track downwind. Rockpool have since increased the size of skeg fitted to this kayak. The GT (even with a large Kari-tek Hydro skeg) was another kayak with a tendency to broach in these conditions whereas, the Quest/Quest LV ran straighter.

In small to medium following seas and in surf, the Alaw Bach picked the waves up with much less paddler input than any of the other kayaks in this group. However, an experienced paddler could use the acceleration of the Cetus, Cetus LV and Nordkapp LV to catch even the most unpromising swell. Once on the wave, the Cetus was steerable by edging, especially if you stayed well up on the wave. If you allowed it to slip into the trough, the Cetus was likely to broach, even with the skeg deployed.

On a 3’ surf landing (on the west coast of Colonsay) I broached but three less experienced kayakers in 2 Quests and a Quest LV ran straight into the beach. In these conditions, the Cetus skeg definitely increases the resistance to broaching but then the stern goes very quickly. I wonder if the high aspect skeg’s flexibility contributed to the stern suddenly breaking away under the forces of coming in through surf. The Cetus was very stable when braced in the broached position. It was also very controllable coming in through the surf zone on the approach. A great deal of this controllability was due to its quick acceleration, allowing you to slow down, let a big, threatening swell through, then accelerate to catch a more manageable wave, to carry you into the shore.

Just looking at its fine bow sections, we all felt that the Cetus might be at risk of pearling in steep following seas. However, there is a distinct upward curve in the sheer line from the front hatch forward. On test, pearling was not a problem, loaded or unloaded, even in steep 1m surf on the exposed Atlantic coasts of the Hebrides.

We also gave the Cetus a good testing in a variety of tidal conditions. Not only did the Cetus handle the unpredictable waves in the races in a secure manner but it seemed to be remarkably unaffected when crossing sharp eddy lines. Overall, the Cetus inspired confidence, giving a very smooth passage through difficult, rough water conditions.

The Cetus proved predictable and easy to both roll, and to renter and roll. For an expedition kayak, its relatively low back rest and rear deck made lay back rolls easy (though this is not a Greenland style roller!) Once up, it tended to settle in a very stable manner, quite unlike the Nordkapp LV, which usually required a quick brace to stop it going over on the other side again. I rolled the unloaded Cetus and GT, back to back multiple times. There was not a lot between them but when I got tired, I failed to roll the Cetus first. I think the very positive Rockpool thigh braces helped roll the GT. After a re-entry roll with a flooded cockpit, the Cetus proved to be more stable than the Quest, Menai 18 and GT.

Standard construction, weight: 28kg (the test kayak had the optional keel strip fitted), length: 543cm, breadth: 56.5cm, cockpit length: 80cm, breadth: 41cm, height at front: 31.5cm, rear of seat base to front of cockpit: 72cm. Price £2149 (keel strip extra).


After a thorough test, in a variety of challenging Scottish conditions, we found that the P&H Cetus is another significant step forward for British form sea kayaks. It is part of an outstanding family of kayaks that allow paddlers (of a wide range of sizes and abilities) to experience a versatile kayak that is stable, fast, manoeuvrable, comfortable and well built. The beauty of the Cetus family is that this performance applies to both loaded and unloaded use. I, like many of my enthusiastic sea kayaking friends, have ended up buying two kayaks; one for expeditions and one for day use. With the introduction of the Cetus family, this is now looking like an unnecessary luxury. Some 2009 kayaks have developed skeg problems but the way that P&H have responded and are supporting affected customers must give a great deal of confidence to potential buyers. Two of the four main testers in this report are now considering buying an appropriately sized Cetus and another would like to buy the Cetus LV, if she had enough money!

Conflict of interest statement
I had free use of a P&H Cetus while on long term loan from the factory. As I already own four very nice composite sea kayaks, P&H Quest, P&H Quest LV, Rockpool Alaw Bach and Nordkapp LV, I was not dependent on the loan Cetus to go sea kayaking. The loan Cetus has now been returned to the factory.

Tony, one of the seakayak testers, has just sold his Quest and ordered a Cetus with dark blue metallic deck, white hull, black trim and custom bulkhead!!

The Loch Spelve welcoming committee.

After our refreshments, we paddled the short distance to the narrow entrance to Loch Spelve. It was 11.18 and slack water was at 11.45. There was hardly a ripple in the channel and we proceeded unhindered by the tide.

Tidal streams at Loch Spelve entrance run at 3.5-4 knots springs with strong eddies and overfalls.
Ingoing -0530 HW Oban
Outgoing +0015 HW Oban

As we proceeded through the confines of the entrance, a fantastic vista of sky, mountain and loch opened beyond.

We passed evidence of abandoned settlements everywhere. The view was dominated by the steep slopes of Creach Beinn, 698m, behind which, we had watched the sun setting only 3 days before.

No sooner had we entered Loch Spelve than the welcoming committee swam out to greet us. Although the human inhabitants had long gone...

...this fine fellow of an otter swam right up to us, bold as brass! Jim was ever so pleased, he had not seen an otter before.