About the test: paddling conditions and paddlers.
This test took place during the period November 2011 until June 2013. It is based on paddling the P&H Cetus MV for over 1250km in a wide variety of waters off the west coast of Scotland: the Solway, the North Channel, the Clyde, north and south of Ardnamurchan, the Small Isles and the Southern Hebrides. It has been used on open crossings to:
Arran and round major tidal headlands such as...
Mull of Galloway,...
Mull of Kintyre...
Ardnamurchan. It has been tested in winds from force 0 to 6 and on sea conditions including flat water, wind blown chop, tide races moving at up to 22km/hour and...
Machrihanish. It has been paddled by about 10 other paddlers weighing from 60 to 104kg, varying between novice to 5* level. The main tester is 1.73m tall, weighs 85kg and has paddled about 19,500 km since 2002. The Cetus MV was paddled alongside and compared with a number of other popular "all round" sea kayaks including P&H Cetus LV, Cetus HV/original, Quest, Quest LV, Rockpool Alaw Bach, GT, Valley Nordkapp LV and Etain 175, Tiderace Xcite and Xplore M and Malin Gometra. We also compared it with the Taran 18 and Taran 16, which are both proving to be more versatile than being just the "record breakers" which some perceive. The majority of paddling was day paddling but the Cetus MV was also used for 21 days of self supporting expeditions:...
Fast paced and responsive and really easy to carve and turn, this is the middle ground for those who want a bit of extra volume but are too light for the original Cetus. Perfect for new comers and experts to launch their adventures, the Cetus MV has superb stability in all conditions and the ability to inspire confidence is remarkable and truly unrivalled by any other sea kayak out there.
P&H's handcrafted quality is on show here in its finest form. The MV has all the load carrying capabilities of the original Cetus with its two main hatches plus spacious day hatch and deck pod there is plenty of room for all your kit for an overnight stay or longer.
Length and 'shallow V-hull'
A fast and efficient kayak that will get you where you want to go in no time at all.
The Swede form design
Widest section is behind the seat creating a very stable and confidence inspiring platform.
Like its siblings, the Cetus HV and LV, this is a low, sleek kayak which hides its size. The Cetus MV is of Swede form (wide point behind the cockpit) with marked taper and rocker towards the ends. As a result from the cockpit the sculpted foredeck seems narrower than other kayaks. This is a design which promotes speed through the water (despite allowing a broad beam for stability).
Construction, finish, fittings and ergonomics.
I have used eight separate 2009/2011 P&H Cetus HV/MV/LV kayaks and my friends have bought four. All have shown a superb quality of finish in respect of lamination and assembly of the hull, deck and bulkheads. The test Cetus MV arrived blemish free but about 4 weeks after it was delivered in November 2011 it developed some slight rippling of the hull sides on either side of the skeg box. This was noticeable only in some angles of light but P&H offered to take it back. However, as I was enjoying it so much (and as it had no impact on performance) I hung on to it. 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.
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 those in the Rockpools and Tideraces but were more pronounced than those in the Nordkapp LV and a bit less so than the Etain. The Quest, Gometra, GT and Xplore M allowed a higher position of the knees, which some may prefer. The Cetus MV thigh braces come fitted with a 3mm layer of closed cell foam. One of the eight Cetus kayaks I have used, lost one of these pads after a few outings. Overall, I found the Cetus MV braces to be a very happy compromise, they allowed a very comfortable range of thigh positions from relaxed cruising to full “brace in a tide race” mode.
The test Cetus MV came with a custom bulkhead and a block of closed cell foam shaped to the bulkhead's profile. I found that the custom bulkhead was suitably reinforced to take the pressure of the toes and I used just a little of the foam to create toe pads. I paddle in UK size 10 boots and despite the fore deck's low profile; there was enough room for daylong comfort. The Cetus MV was fitted with a shorter fore deck pod than the Cetus HV and so my toes could get into the midline in front of it when I wanted to stretch my legs (29"/74 cm inside leg) or have a rest. I think if I was ordering a Cetus HV, I would ask for a short pod as fitted to this MV. I would be happy to trade the increased freedom and comfort for the loss of pod space. The short pod is still capable of holding a small VHF radio, sun tan lotion, head torch, energy bar etc. One of the test paddler's with 76cm inside leg and UK size 14 boots found the MV too restrictive to use all day and went on to buy the HV version.
The footrests fitted as standard are adjustable with large and comfortable plastic pedals. They slide on a track and are locked by twisting “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 your toes for a perfect fit. Some people have reported that a previous version (in which the paddle rod is attached to the footrest and pushes it back and forward) can give way under pressure. I found this version remained firmly in place in all seven Cetus kayaks I tried with them.
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. Behind the cockpit there is a transverse deck 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 beach. However, there is no doubt that the moulding adds to deck rigidity and due to joint problems I do like to sit on the rear deck before 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 fully on it.
A large rubber Kayak-Sport 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 Valley Etain 175 and Nordkapp LV made it easier to load long objects. In five previous P&H Cetus kayaks I tried, all compartments remained dry. In terms of carrying capacity, the Cetus MV with standard bulkheads carries gear and supplies for a week's self supported expedition. (It is about the same volume as a Nordkapp LV.) The relatively narrow fore deck together with its sculpted shape 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.
Because some previous skeg sliders were stiff , P&H have been supplying their recent sea kayaks with a very lightweight 2mm downhaul elastic in the skeg box. They also recommend setting the skeg up so that there is almost zero tension in the elastic when the skeg is fully down. I have discovered that even with the new slider, the Cetus MV skeg sometimes does not go fully down when you start paddling downwind in force 4 to 5 conditions (or when kayak sailing at speed, it retracts). After you pull the slider back, you end up with a loop of blue cord sticking out behind it. It does not seem that the downhaul elastic is strong enough when there is sideways water pressure on the skeg. When at sea you can relieve the pressure on the skeg and get it to go fully down by rocking your pelvis from side to side. Since the Mark 2 skeg slider moves so easily with little friction, I have fixed this problem by replacing the downhaul elastic with a heavier grade of 3mm shock cord. The slider still has a light action but the skeg now goes fully down every time. P&H now recommend storing the kayak with the skeg down to avoid stretching the elastic they also advise replacing the elastic each year. This is easy to do.
Stability and rolling.
I found the primary stability of the Cetus MV on flat water to be exceptional, only slightly less than that of the Cetus HV. It is significantly more stable at rest than the Nordkapp LV and Taran 16 and a little more stable than the Alaw Bach and Xcite. In practical terms, I can do a cowboy re-entry into the Cetus MV but not into the Nordkapp LV.
Once moving in the confused waters round a headland the Cetus MV and Nordkapp LV both gave a significantly easier ride than the others, especially the Quest, Etain 175, Xplore M and GT, which are all bigger volume kayaks. I think that this is because the volume in the Cetus MV and Nordkapp LV is concentrated towards the cockpit. In comparison the Etain 175, Alaw Bach, GT and Xcite are more parallel sided with more volume towards the ends. However, the wonderful rough water stability of the Nordkapp LV works only while you are actively paddling.
The Cetus MV is easy to roll and the rear cockpit rim and relatively low rear deck allow back deck rolls. Once back up it settles in the upright position very securely. However there is a definite "notch" felt when you apply turning pressure to get the hull turning the right way up. In contrast, the Nordkapp LV rolls up very smoothly (and with less effort) but is much more likely to carry on rolling once you are up and then capsize on the other side After a re-entry roll, with a flooded cockpit, the Cetus MV proved to be more stable than the Quest, Alaw Bach and Nordkapp LV.
Manoeuvrability and tracking.
In moderate wind and water conditions it is easy to maintain a course in the Cetus MV using a little edge or skeg but it does not track so straight as the Quest LV, Etain 175, GT, or Xplore M, without edging or the skeg. In rougher conditions The Cetus MV and the Nordkapp LV are both easier than the other four to paddle into waves at about 45 degrees as their increased manoeuvrability means they are easier to steer round broken water.
The Cetus MV proved to be very quick to accelerate up to top speed. The Cetus MV, Cetus LV and Nordkapp LV all required fewer strokes to hit their maximum and pulled ahead of most of the other kayaks we paddled. On the same day I found that the Cetus MV, Nordkapp LV, Etain 175 and Xplore M all had a similar maximum sprint speed, which was greater than the Alaw Bach and Xcite. Both of these tended to squat on their tails, increasing drag when paddling hard. However, none of the above kayaks could match the acceleration or top speed of the Taran 16. After paddling the Taran 16, the others all seemed slow. However, at the speed we normally cruise at (6-7km/hr) none of these kayaks would have difficulty keeping up with the others.
Behaviour in wind, waves, surf and tide races
In small to medium following seas and in surf, the Alaw Bach and Xcite 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 MV, Nordkapp LV and Taran 16 to catch even the most unpromising swells on open water, which the Alaw Bach and Xcite were too slow to catch. Once on the wave, the Cetus MV was steerable by edging, especially if you stayed well up near the crest. It was more manoeuvrable than the Alaw Bach and Xcite on the wave but required more paddler input than these to avoid broaching in surf. However, on one difficult open crossing, with a fast swell from one rear quarter and a gusty force 4 wind from the other rear quarter, the Cetus MV proved much easier to keep on line than the Xcite. The Cetus MV was also very controllable coming in through the surf zone on the approach to a landing. A great deal of this controllability was due to its quick acceleration, allowing you to slow down, let a threatening wave through, then accelerate to catch a more manageable wave, to carry you into the shore. After a broach in surf, the Cetus MV was very stable when braced into the wave, the lack of chines reduced the likelihood of a shoreward flip. The Cetus MV was also one of the easier kayaks to straighten up from a broach. Although not as fast downwind as others in this group, the Malin Gometra was very easy and reassuring to paddle downwind in confused and breaking seas. The Cetus MV was faster as it was easier to catch more waves than the Gometra but it also required more paddler input.
Just looking at its fine bow sections, we wondered whether the Cetus MV might be at risk of pearling (burying its bow) when paddling before steep following seas. However, there is a distinct upward curve in the sheer line from the front hatch forward and on test, pearling was not an issue, loaded or unloaded and with or without a sail. Overall, the Cetus inspired confidence, giving a very smooth passage through difficult, rough water conditions.
Paddling when loaded.
Mountain and Sea Scotland
With an 85kg paddler and 35kg gear aboard (see photo above), the Cetus MV is ridiculously stable, both at rest and on edge. It is also much more directional as the built in skeg no longer disengages and shortens the waterline when edged. It and the loaded Nordkapp LV are much less affected by strong winds than any of the other kayaks in this review. For my weight I found the Cetus MV to be the ideal compromise size for day and short expedition paddling. Loading a traditional British style kayak like the Norkapp LV, I tend put an equal weight of gear in the fore and aft compartments, then put my water bag behind the seat. In the Cetus MV I find it paddles better down wind and swell with the gear weight distributed about 60% to the rear.
Performance comparative table.
Long term wear and tear.
The orange test Cetus MV has survived the test and come out gleaming despite hard use and being used by a considerable number of different paddlers. Apart from some light scuffing on the deck and superficial scratching on the underhull there are no signs for concern. There is no evidence of delamination, gel coat cracking or voids under cracked gel coat. The gland where the skeg cable enters the top of the skeg box began to leak after 6 months. P&H offered to take it back to the factory to fix it but I was happy to fix it myself with some Sikaflex sealant. The Mark 2 skeg has remained light and easy to use but I replaced the elastic at 12 months as I noticed the skeg began to lift when planing while paddle sailing.
Flat Earth kayak sails from Australia.
Other kayaks to consider.
If you are considering buying a Cetus MV, you should also try the other day/short expedition kayaks, which we paddled alongside it. The Alaw Bach and Xcite are equally playful on rough water but are more affected by strong winds. The Alaw Bach cockpit is smaller and at my weight I find it just a bit tight for day long comfort. The Quest LV is great downwind but is not as manoeuvrable or stable. The Nordkapp LV is not as comfortable but is an outstanding kayak with a similar range of strengths. It is probably the best kayak of this size in very strong winds and rough water, except it does require more concentration and skill to exploit it. The Xplore M is very comfortable with a good turn of speed but is less playful, being more directional and expedition orientated. A wild card to consider is the Taran 16. Despite being bigger volume and of a very different design to the Cetus MV, it is also surprisingly versatile. It excels downwind in waves but it can still carry a great load. The Etain 175, Quest, GT and Taran 18 are all much bigger than the Cetus MV and should more appropriately be compared with a Cetus HV. The Malin Gometra is a smaller kayak than the Cetus MV but has a similar waterline length. It is not as fast as the Cetus MV downwind but gives a very predictable and safe ride.
Conflict of interest statement.
During the period of testing of the Cetus MV, I have had free loans of P&H, Valley, Rockpool and Malin sea kayaks.
An earlier and edited version of this test appeared in Ocean Paddler magazine issue 34. This is the response from P&H sea kayaks (who I have found to be very attentive to any issues I have identified since I started testing their kayaks in the spring of 2009):
"Thank you for such a thorough and measured review; we really appreciate the time and effort you take to fairly test our products. We are pleased that you have been able to use the Cetus MV in such a broad range of conditions and have managed to spend some quality expedition time in it. With regard to the rippling mentioned, without actually seeing the boat it is hard to determine what has caused this. We are looking into it however and, as always, are more than happy to assess any P&H boat that a customer has concerns over. We are really pleased with the new second-generation skeg system and thank Douglas as well as P&H Team Paddlers for their part in testing this; we have addressed and resolved all the issues around the spring, cord and elastic. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our boats, the fittings, construction and our service, so we appreciate all customer feedback. If you have comments you would like to share with us please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org".