Sunday, November 9, 2014

Aquarius Sea Lion kayak initial review

I'm really not interested in doing product reviews, since the web is already flooded with them. They are usually also of rather poor quality, since people use them to draw traffic to their websites, without having a long enough experience with the products being reviewed. Since this blog is maintained on a pure hobby basis, I have no need to resort to that trick and hence have only done the occasional first impression post. My new kayak, which is of a brand rather unknown outside Eastern Europe, has however generated some requests to review it, so I'm doing an initial review post about it.

During the late summer when I started planning my Wilderness and Nature Guide studies in more detail, I came to the conclusion that of the two long specializations available, the Sea Kayaking Guide specialization is the one for me. Becoming truly proficient in the needed skills needs a lot of training, and my Prijon Kodiak, however good it is, isn't optimal for those techniques. I started looking for British style kayaks, only to find out that there are rather few easily available alternatives for someone of my size (192 cm and close to 100 kg). My long legs tend to rule out most kayaks. I tested a Seabird Scott HV, which I liked a lot, even though it was a tad big for me. The MV version might have been suitable, but I never got around to testing it, and as I understood there were difficulties getting the manufacturer to actually deliver kayaks. I sat in a few other models, like the Valley Etain and P&H Cetus MV, but my long legs caused problems. Most kayaks are big enough inside the kayak, but the cockpit opening and especially the knee braces are not made for long legs. At Bear&Water, one of the two big kayaking shops in Finland, I happened to test sit an Aquarius Sea Lion, and it was a nice surprise. It fit me like a glove. The knee braces were at the right place close to the knees and there was plenty of room for my legs inside. The seat fit me perfectly and it was still not a big kayak, being 525 cm long and 52 cm wide. The cockpit opening could have been a little longer, but I can still get into the kayak with my bum first and legs later, with some difficulty. After some short deliberations, I bought one. The price was also very competitive.

The first short test paddle was rather interesting. The kayak felt a lot less stable than the Kodiak and I almost capsized when trying to take a picture in the breaking waves from the 10 m/s wind. I soon adapted, though, and it no longer feels tippy. I also removed the seat padding, lowering the center of gravity. The seat is still a higher from the bottom than on the Kodiak, 15 mm vs 7 mm, which certainly is noticeable.

The keyhole cockpit is just long enough for me. The knee wings are unnecessary big and I might consider making them a little smaller. The skeg control is on the left side as it should be.

The laminating work is good. Several thinner mats are used instead of fewer thick ones, yielding a light, but strong result that flexes a little on impact. The use of carbon and kevlar gives strength at a rather low weight. The kayak weighs 22 kg according to the manufacturer and it really is noticeably lighter than most other kayaks, something which isn't entirely unimportant when transporting it by car. The only thing immediately indicating cost savings are the foam bulk heads. Usually you have have laminated ones on a composite kayak, but I think it is an acceptable place to save costs.

There is a place for a compass. I'll mount one after the winter.

The Aquarius Sea Lion is rather good looking. With a total volume of 326 liters, it is probably as small volume a kayak as I can have, if I at least want some cargo capacity. The hull design follows the new British style with a rather flat mid section (shallow V) for initial stability and surfing.

The manouverability is great, as it should be on a British style kayak. Edging it and applying a bow rudder makes it turn 90 degrees in a rather short distance, something not possible with the Kodiak. The back deck is low, which makes rolling easier. I've only done a few rolls yet, since the water temperature at the time of writing is around 5C, which isn't that tempting. Rolling feels easy with it and it should be possible to roll using technique rather than power with it. A great kayak for playing with.
Coffee is an essential part of any outdoor discipline, including kayaking.

The speed feels quite ok, maybe a little faster than the Prijon Kodiak. I've always felt that the Kodiak is one of the fastest kayaks in group paddles with sea kayaks.

The deck rigging was a little lacking in the bow. I added a plastic ball to make it easier to set the paddle temporarily aside...

... as well as a means to attach a spare paddle.

It remains to be seen how easy it is to pack for a week in it. It definitely is lower volume than the Kodiak, with smaller hatches. The skeg box also robs the kayak of some cargo space. With four hatches, it should at least be easy to organize things. In addition to the main cargo hatches in the front and back, there is a good size day hatch behind the cockpit as well as a small space in front of the cockpit, good enough for a camera and some snacks. The Kajaksport hatches are a safe and waterproof choice.

The kayak has not yet seen any surf waves, so I can't say much about that. On paper it should be a good surfer, though, It also should handle hard weather well, though I haven't been out in harder wind than 10 m/s.

This far everything has seemed really great. The Aquarius Sea Lion certainly has the fun factor and I'm sure I will have lots of fun in it.

Now to the bad part. The kayak I bought should never have left the factory because of some quality issues. The cockpit leaked a lot and during the first two hour paddle against the waves I probably got around 5 liters of water in, which is way too much. It turned out that the bolts keeping the seat in place had no sealings, which let in a surprisingly large amount of water. Bear&Water reacted quickly and sent me rubber washers, which solved the problem. I still had a leak in the front cargo compartment, which I later noticed was where the front toggle line was attached. This was at a place I couldn't fix myself. I contacted Bear&Water again and we decided that I should return the kayak to them, so that they could see what to do with it. One and a half week later they called me that they had gone through the kayak and fixed the leakage, as well as another small problem. I again drove to Sibbo, east of Helsinki, to get the kayak and the next day took it for a paddle. The cargo spaces were now absolutely water tight and had been pressure tested at Bear&Water. 

Since this is just a single case, I don't think one should draw too many conclusions from it. The quality control certainly failed in this case, but it was probably an isolated incident. Buying the kayak from a reputed dealer should be safe, as no dealer can afford to sell a product demanding as much after-sales work as my kayak for long. Bear&Water certainly handled their part of it in an exemplary manner, compensating me for my driving the car with and without the kayak for almost 700 km.

I might do a more thorough review sometime next summer, when I've had some more months in it. Currently the kayaking season is nearing its end here. Even if the winter has not yet arrived, the amount of daylight starts to limit things.

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