Tuesday, June 22, 2010

P&H Cetus LV test and long term review

About the test: paddling conditions and paddlers.Having paddled and enjoyed the P&H Cetus for over a year now I was really looking forward to paddling its lower volume sibling, the Cetus LV. This test took place during the period May 2009 till March 2010. It is based on paddling it for over 330km in a wide variety of waters off the west coast of Scotland: the Solway, the North Channel, the Clyde, the Firth of Lorn, Loch Creran, Skye and finally round the Mull of Oa on Islay. It has been tested in winds from force 0 to 7 and in flat water, wind blown chop, tide races moving at 15km/hour and in surf on exposed Atlantic beaches. It has also been paddled by three other paddlers weighing from 60 to 92kg.

It was paddled alongside a Cetus, two Alaw Bachs, Nordkapp LV and several Quests.

Manufacturer’s summary

“If you are a smaller or lighter paddler then you really require a sea kayak that has been designed with your stature in mind. With the Cetus LV we began hand-shaping a body that would ensure you have the same experience with full control of the boat out there on the water as everybody else. The Cetus LV is a sleek and elegant performer that really utilises the available space to balance the volume creating a highly manoeuvrable and versatile British sea kayak.”


This is a low, sleek kayak of a similar overall form to the Cetus and like it, the Cetus LV is of swede form, with the wide point behind the cockpit. The rear of the hull forms a drawn out inbuilt skeg. This gives a long waterline length for speed when the boat 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, including this one, 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 Cetus LV on test was very smart with a white hull, yellow deck and orange seam and cockpit rim.

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. 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, (which I previously had to do in May 2009). For those that like to paddle without a seat cover, the seat base is comfortable and supportive with just the right amount of rise at the front. The seat back was 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 Alaw Bach’s but were more pronounced than a Nordkapp LV’s. 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 footrests fitted to this particular kayak were the long serving Yakima models with alloy tracks and small plastic pedals. Several paddlers paddling the Cetus LV back to back with the Alaw Bach commented that the pedals felt less comfortable than the Rockpool’s footplate. However, the Cetus LV normally comes supplied with P&H’s own adjustable footrests 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 daylong comfort. The pod of the fore deck hatch is shorter than on the full size Cetus and that allowed my toes more room, as they extended beyond the pod and could be swung into the midline for a change of position. The fore deck hatch is so very convenient for such things as small flares, sun tan oil, head torch, energy bars etc.

End toggles (secured by elastics), deck lines and elastics, 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. 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. A large rubber oval rear deck hatch was partnered by a smaller round one towards the bow.

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.

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 LV is significantly smaller than the Alaw Bach, which is in turn smaller than the Nordkapp LV. Extended expedition space will be at a premium in this kayak but with a lightweight tent and compact down sleeping bag, there should be no problem for week long trips. 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 2009 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 kayaks I have seen have skeg which works faultlessly. The skeg blade is a high aspect design, which is rather flexible.


Having been surprised by the manoeuvrability of the full size Cetus on edge, I was expecting a great deal from the Cetus LV. However, I found that with my 92 kg weight, it was not much more manoeuvrable than the Cetus. Investigating this, I found that when I edge the Cetus LV, the long built in skeg does not 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 boats that allow people of different weights to experience the same handling characteristics, as long as they choose the appropriate kayak for their size. You should make sure that when you demo a Cetus/LV/MV, you choose the size that 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.

Threading through rock gardens on the Mull of Logan and the Mull of Oa, the Cetus LV proved at least as manoeuvrable as the Alaw Bach with heavier paddlers and with a lightweight paddler, was probably more manoeuvrable. It was also more manoeuvrable than the Nordkapp LV.

My experience of the Cetus LV will be what a light paddler might experience when loaded for an expedition, albeit I will have lighter ends! Lighter paddlers thought the stability at rest was superb though I found its primary stability to be less than the Cetus, a little less than the Alaw Bach and more than the Nordkapp LV. It is superbly stable on edge and Jim, an experienced paddler, commented that he couldn’t think of a finer kayak to learn about edge control and turning. My daughter’s first day in the Cetus LV included a nonstop, 24km winter night crossing of the mouth of the Firth of Lorn, from Loch Buie in Mull to Seil. There was a force 4 wind from 45 degrees to the bow, with an adverse 1 knot tide. We couldn’t see the waves, we could only feel and taste them! Her comment was that the Cetus LV behaved so well that it inspired great confidence during this challenging crossing.

Having such a low profile means that this is a wetter boat than the Alaw Bach or the Nordkapp LV. However, the trade off is that in force 6-7 winds, the Cetus LV is able to be turned, bow through the wind, more easily than the Alaw Bach. The kayak can be used without a skeg, as it is so responsive to edging. However, on a long crossing, I much prefer to use the skeg. On the model on test, the skeg was too stiff for my daughter to operate. I found the Cetus LV skeg more sensitive to small adjustments than that of the Cetus. The Cetus skeg has 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.

Tony, who is an Alaw Bach paddler, commented that the Cetus LV accelerated faster and had a higher top speed than the Alaw Bach, which tended to dig its stern into the water, increasing drag as it approached its top speed. In small to medium following seas, the Alaw Bach picked the waves up with much less paddler input than the Cetus LV. However, the acceleration of the Cetus LV helped a determined kayaker catch even the most unpromising swell. Once on the swell, the Cetus LV was steerable by edging, especially if you stayed well up on the wave. It was much less likely to broach than the full sized Cetus but was more likely to broach than either the Alaw Bach or Nordkapp LV. The broaching could be controlled by deploying the skeg, except in steep following seas. It was effective until a certain point and I wonder if the skeg’s flexibility contributed to the stern suddenly giving way.

We did not test the Cetus LV on full sized surf landings but it proved very easy to control when landing in 3’ surf on the west of Islay. Ultimately, like all sea kayaks in surf, it broached but was very stable when braced in the broached position. It was also very controllable 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 for a more manageable wave, to carry you into the shore.

Just looking at its fine bow sections, we all felt there was a risk that the Cetus LV 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, even in a tide race with a 92kg paddler and steep 1m waves. The bow of the Alaw Bach was more buoyant in these conditions but this kayak tended to slam more when the bow dropped into a trough. The Cetus LV also stays remarkably flat when paddling into waves. The Alaw Bach and Nordkapp LV threw their bows higher and the Quest tended to dip its bow lower. Overall, the Cetus LV inspired confidence, giving a very smooth passage through difficult, rough water conditions.

We gave the Cetus LV a good test in spring tidal conditions on the Solway, the Mull of Logan in the North Channel and the Mull of Oa on Islay. Not only did the Cetus LV handle the unpredictable waves in the races in a secure manner but it seemed to be remarkably unaffected when crossing sharp eddy lines. Due to the conditions and lack of landing opportunities it was not possible to swap kayaks over and paddle the same sections in different kayaks. However, all who paddled the Cetus LV felt its performance in tide races and eddy lines matched and probably exceeded the best of the other kayaks.

The Cetus LV proved easy to both roll, and to renter and roll. For an all round 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 upright unlike the Nordkapp LV, which usually required a quick brace to stop it going over on the other side again.

DimensionsStandard construction, weight: 24.4kg (the test kayak did not have the optional keel strip fitted), length: 531cm, breadth: 53cm, cockpit length: 80cm, breadth: 41.5cm, height at front: 29.5cm, rear of seat base to front of cockpit: 69cm. Price £2149.

After a thorough test, in a variety of challenging Scottish conditions, we found that the P&H Cetus LV is another significant step forward for British form sea kayaks. It is part of an outstanding family of boats 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. One of the four main testers in this report has now bought a full size Cetus and another is considering the Cetus LV. Another would like to buy the Cetus LV, if she had enough money!