Sunday, April 03, 2022

P&H Virgo MV long term test and review

P&H Virgo MV CLX


Introduction.

The beginning of August 2019 was rather sad. I had to return the P&H Valkyrie kayak and in its place I was loaned a P&H Virgo. Both boats were new models in 2019. I found the Valkyrie to be a unique and sublime blend of fun and performance in a hull that owes more to surfski design than other FSTs (fast touring kayaks). I reviewed the Valkyrie in Ocean Paddler magazine #71. I was very sorry to see it go.

After the excitement of the Valkyrie, it is fair to say that I was not expecting too much of the Virgo. How wrong I was to be! The Virgo very quickly became a big part of my paddling life!

It was designed as an all round day/weekend touring kayak to replace the ageing Easky, which I have paddled and found to be heavy and on the numb side of boring. Although the Easky has now been discontinued, a budget version of the Virgo is available in single skin PE construction at the same price point as the Easky.

These thoughts about the Easky were going through my mind as I first took the roof rack straps off and started to unload the Virgo. My goodness it was light! This one was in the Corelite X  (CLX) triple layer construction and once I got all the wrapping off I discovered it was 3kg lighter than an early P&H Aries 155 in performance kevlar construction! Mostly I was able to carry the unloaded Virgo on my own but carrying it to the beach with two people, one at the bow and one at the stern, revealed absolutely no bounce or flex. This boat in CLX is very stiff.

Test conditions and paddlers.










The test period was August 2019 to October 2020, this included restricted access to the sea during Covid lockdown. From the beginning of August 2019 until the beginning of March 2020 the Virgo was paddled extensively in exposed tidal waters (up to 4 knots) of the outer Solway Firth and the Firth of Clyde in SW Scotland and the Sound of Arisaig and Wester Ross coast in NW Scotland. Limited access to the sea from late March to July 2020 restricted paddling to local reservoirs and canals. The Virgo was then paddled on the Solway Firth until October 2020. Winds varied from F0 up to F5 and swell up to 1.5m with one 2m day. It was paddled alongside a P&H Delphin 155, a P&H Aries 155, a P&H Hammer, a P&H Scorpio Mk1, a Scorpio MV Mk2 CLX, a P&H Quest LV, a P&H Cetus MV and an Evolution Nomad 17. If I thought the  Virgo was light compared with the Aries, it was like a feather compared with the surf specification Hammer!  The main tester was 172cm tall and 73kg. The Virgo was also paddled by a range of people from 164cm to 188cm tall and 62kg to 90kg. Paddler experience ranged from complete beginner to 5*. It was padded with GP, Euro and wing paddles.

Fittings and design features




There is no hiding the Virgo's short 4.43m length in the profile view but do not think this is a dumpy recreational kayak only suitable for beginners. The end on view above, hows the fine entry lines of a kayak designed for some serious seakayaking!

The Virgo has all the fittings including towline/security attachment, compass recess and deck lines you would expect on a full size touring kayak. There is even a nice elastic paddle park on the starboard side of the cockpit which doubles as a retainer for a folded sail. There is no rear day hatch. This helps keep the weight down and because of the short length of the kayak it is easy to reach up to the cockpit bulkhead through the oval rear hatch. I have heard several people criticise the lack of a rear day hatch. In practice the only thing I have ever taken from a day hatch on the water was a cag, when it turned chilly. I would be quite happy keeping a cag rolled up under a deck elastic, if I thought the weather might change while I was on the water and I did not want to land. However, I know people who carry items for every conceivable on the water emergency in their day hatches, so maybe the Virgo is not for them. As I also surfski, I am enjoying transferring the lightness and simplicity of that activity into my sea kayaking so I did not miss the day hatch at all. The Virgo has an optional mini day hatch in front of the cockpit, which is a good size. It was not fitted to the test boat. However, on the Valkyrie I tested, the same mini hatch was a useful size and much more waterproof than most such hatches on other RM boats.

The footrests adjust easily while seated using easy to reach wands. There was plenty room for a a 1.88m tall paddler's size 45 boots. The Connect seat is very comfortable. Initially the back rest in the Virgo did not seem as comfortable as the higher backrest in the Hammer we paddled alongside (also Connect specification). However, the various testers managed to find a comfortable tension after a few easy adjustments between paddlers. The skeg/skudder control is mounted on the left fore deck rather than on the side of the kayak. It is out of the way of your paddling hand here but on the beach it does gather and hold sand, which you need to be sure to wash out before you set off.  Both skeg and skudder use the same blade. The skeg leading edge comes down to about 45 degree  while the skudder leading edge is not far off vertical. 

The deck elastics are a different colour to the deck lines so if you are assisting someone to get back into their boat you can say "reach across and grab my blue deck line" P&H have really been listening to the needs of paddle sailors. The fore deck is stiff enough to support the mast foot without requiring extra reinforcement. Two brass inserts are moulded into the foredeck to screw the mast base plate into. Two deckline RDFs are positioned at right angles on either side of the baseplate position to give maximum support to the mast. The only drilling of the hull would be to fit the uphaul and sheet cleats in the foredeck in front of the cockpit. If you really don’t like drilling a kayak, the cleats can be fitted on top of the lateral deck line RDF fittings in front of the cockpit by using longer bolts.

The Virgo has a long waterline length at the keel for its length, which boded well for its cruising speed.  Looking at the keel rocker it was apparent that this was designed for a very different role than the highly rockered and ultra manoeuvrable Aries and Delphin designs. However, as soon as the Virgo is edged, the waterline shortens considerably giving the Virgo great manoeuvrability. I also noticed the lovely lines of the chines, these add stiffness to the hull and also serve as water release edges (more of that later). The overall finish of the Corelite X boats in very good with a nice mixture of gloss and matt finish on the exterior. There is even a subtle P&H logo embossed on the underside of the hull. There was an older Easky on the beach and, in comparison, the moulding of this boat was rather basic.

Paddling the Virgo. 

After adjusting the Smart Track Toe Pilot footrests for comfortable fit on the beach, I wasted no time (and little energy, it was so light) getting the Virgo to the water. This was when I was really surprised. Despite my preconceptions that this was a basic beginner’s boat, I took to the Virgo straight away. It is a perfect blend of stability and responsiveness (in a way that my much loved Nordkapp LV is not!) This is not just a boat for beginners, it is a boat that could be enjoyed by everyone. The Virgo had no trouble cruising with the Scorpios, Quest LV Cetus MVs and Nomad at 6km/hr. It is easy to keep on a straight track and if you stop paddling in a wind, it does not lee cock, like an Aries or a Delphin. Along a rocky coast it was unsurprisingly more manoeuvrable on edge than the longer Scorpios but less so than the Aries 155. The Virgo was impressively stable when holding an edge in a hard turn.

The test boat has the skudder, which I have used on various Scorpios and it works very well, especially with a sail. However, the Virgo is so manoeuvrable on edge I would say that unless you really like rudders or intend to paddle sail, th skeg version would do just fine. We paddled the Virgo with the skudder fully up in situations where we would have used a skeg in both the Delphin and the Aries. The first half of the adjustment track lowers the skudder blade to about 45 degrees which is the maximum deployment for use in skeg mode. The rear half of the track lowers the blade fully clear of the slot in the hull and in this position the foot pedals can turn it. There is no self-centering mechanism so to raise the blade from the rudder position you need to centre the blade using the foot pedals while gently moving the adsjustment slider forward. I have also paddled Virgos and Scorpios with the skeg option. The blade is the same but there is no turning mechanism.  One thing to note is that only the front half of the adjustment track is used and the blade only comes down to 45 degrees. This is normal and is not a fault! (There are several posts on the internet where owners think the control line is too short and that the blade should come the whole way down.)

Paddling out through steep, wind over tide waves I found the Virgo to be noticeably dry compared with the Valkyrie (with its wave piercing bow). The Virgo has a V in the forward hull which flares out as the chines approach the deck towards the bow. This design effectively deflects the water. Dryness  is something I value in a touring kayak, especially on a bitterly cold, winter day paddling out through the shore break in Gruinard Bay, Wester Ross. The trade off is that the bow rises and falls quite noticeably in waves and this does slow the rate of progress compared with the fast wet ride of the Valkyrie.

The Virgo feels remarkably stable when the water gets rough. When you turn downwind it is also a lot of fun. It does not catch fast, deep water waves as easily as the Aries, Delphin or Valkyrie but if you get your timing right and  paddle hard as you feel the stern begin to lift, the Virgo accelerates and surfs with some style. In Wester Ross we enjoyed a 1.5m swell with a period of 11 seconds. The Virgo was a blast and certainly did not fall behind the Quest LV or Nomad, which are both fast in following seas. What I was not expecting, on an all round boat, was that when it starts to plane on a wave (of about 1m) you can carve a turn by lowering the inside edge. That is the benefit of those well defined chines acting as water release edges to encourage planing! The only problem I noticed with the Virgo (compared with the Aries and Delphin) is that in certain short steep seas such as you get as the depth shoals towards the shore, the Virgo is more inclined to stuff its bow into a wave and not resurface. This rather puts an end to forward upright motion and you will be glad the Virgo rolls easily. The Virgo's lack of rocker especially at the bow and the flatter foredeck especially compared to the Delphin contribute to this characteristic. However on flatter water the lack of rocker and long waterline length for such a short boat allows it to keep up with longer kayaks when touring.


The Virgo is an easy boat to roll as the rear deck and cockpit are low for layback rolls. The low, wide rear deck also facilitates cowboy re-entries. In an assisted rescue of the Virgo, the rescue kayaker found it easier to empty the upturned Virgo than the Delphin and Aries due to their greater degree of bow rocker. Both fore and aft hatches in the Virgo remained bone dry. It is also an easy boat to instruct from and perform assisted reentries for others. This is due to the speed with which it can be turned and also due to its  stability. I used it to tutor my 6 year old grandson’s first attempts at assisted re-entries in his Jersey Junior kayak. My Nordkapp LV was available but I chose the Virgo for this responsible task.

Camping from the Virgo

The Virgo took all my weekend camping gear with space to spare. Mind you I  can pack small, having gone on a 6 day / 5 night self supporting camping trip in winter in my Aries! A compact down sleeping back and small tent would help maximise the storage space for other essentials. With a full load, the Virgo lost some of its feeling of liveliness and agility but it was still able to maintain a good pace alongside a Scorpio MV Mk 2 CLX. It also felt wonderful compared with a loaded Easky. Even a 90kg paddler did not swamp the Virgo packed full of gear.

Paddle sailing the Virgo





As soon as I launched the sail, for the first time, I knew the Virgo was going to be extra special. A broad reach in 0.5m swell and a F4 wind soon had the spray flying off the chines (and not into my face) as I caught and planed on wave after wave. Due to the Virgo’s short length, It could not point as high as the Scorpio MV Mk 2 with the same sail. It seemed to be pointing as high as the longer boat but in reality it was making more leeway. However, most of the fun in paddle sailing is down wind and then the short Virgo excels as you can manoeuvre so easily to stay on a wave or catch the next wave to either side. It paddle sails in a very balanced way and the skudder will help those new to paddle sailing hold a straight course. I also used the skudder in skeg only mode and it was  easy to adjust until the desired course could be held, without having to paddle more on one side than the other. The Virgo’s stability also encouraged a newcomer to paddle sailing to launch the sail in a F3/F4 wind on their first session with a sail.

Any snags?

This was a pre-production boat and there were a few niggles, which have already been fixed for production models. However, I can only report what I found in the boat tested. P&H have an excellent track record of taking paddler feedback and using it to fine tune their kayaks.

One of the sandy beaches on the Solway has a grain size that jams in the jaws that hold the skudder blade. The jaws are just inside the skeg box. It does not happen on any of the other beaches. Because I know about this, I do not drag the stern of the kayak on the sand on this beach. I also operate the skudder several times in the water before I leave the beach. Of course skegs on other boats also jam, usually with bigger gravel or small pebbles.

The deck elastics on this early production model ran over the skeg/skudder slider. This has been fixed on subsequent production boats with realigned elastics. The elastic (which is a continuous extension of the foredeck deck elastics) that can be used to secure a paddle by stretching it over a clip was just too tight to secure the folded sail. Again this has been fixed. The brass inserts to screw an optional mast base to the deck were mounted a few centimetres too far forward of the deckline RDFs the side stays would attach to. This is now also fixed. The seat in the test boat was mounted on a huge thick wedge of foam. (In contrast the seat in the Valkyrie was mounted as low as possible). There is case for having a high seat in a performance kayak but this is clearly a recreational touring kayak. To me the Virgo was stable in rough water even with a high seat but increasing seat height reduces stability (seat pad raisers are often used to train surfskiers who are wanting to move to a faster, narrower, less stable ski). However, I am only 172cm tall and 72kg and have been paddling for some time. The 188cm tall 90kg paddler (who had a higher centre of gravity) commented that the Virgo was a bit livelier than he expected as we paddled through one of the local tide races off the islands. This has now fixed with a lower seat.


Lastly, the CLX sticker on the foredeck came off!

Conclusions:


What a wonderful surprise paddling the Virgo has proved to be. It has proved to be a versatile sea kayak that can be enjoyed by paddlers of all levels of experience. The Virgo is a lively day/weekend all round touring kayak that will handle pretty much any conditions you are likely to meet. It is very accessible to newcomers but experienced paddlers will still find it rewarding and responsive to paddle. It is lighter than many composite kayaks of this size but seems to be just as stiff. It makes a great boat for paddle sailing. It is easy to handle and store when ashore. Finally, I have not paddled my Aries in the time I have had the Virgo, I have enjoyed the Virgo so much. 

The Virgo is truly a kayak for everyone. It will put a smile on your face!

Specifications:


Length: 443cm

Breadth: 59cm

Weight: 24.7kg

Volume: 313l (quoted)

Max paddler weight: 100kg (quoted)

Price as of 1/4/2022 

MZ3 Skeg (Rope & Cleat): RRP £1,149.00
CoreLite X Skeg (MKII Skeg Slider): RRP £1,399.00
CoreLite X Skudder (MKII Skeg Slider): RRP £1,499.00

Conflict of interest:

I am grateful to P&H and Sea Kayak Oban for the long term loan of the Virgo. I have had a long standing, unpaid, relationship with Pyranha/P&H in which I have access to new products/prototypes in exchange for feedback. I own several personal kayaks from Dagger, Evolution, Pyranha, P&H, Rockpool, Think and Valley so I am not dependent on Pyranha/P&H to go paddling!

An edited version of this test appeared in Ocean Paddler magazine #73.

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