Thursday, 23 May 2013
P & H Delphin 155 - a brief impression
During our kayak trip on the Fort George River I was lucky enough to get the chance to paddle the P & H Delphin 155 for a few hours. My friend Douglas has written a very comprehensive and considered review of the Delphin based on a year of paddling the boat - my brief notes here are merely an impression formed over a few hours on flat water with some tidal stream.
The image above shows the high degree of rocker on the Delphin hull. This undoubtedly contributes to the boats manoeuvrability. The appearance of the Delphin has polarised views amongst UK sea kayakers with some seeing it as the way ahead for design, some seeing it as a niche boat for surf and tidal race play, and some finding it ugly and awkward looking. My view prior to paddling the boat fell into the second group - I thought it was an unusual design aimed squarely at the emerging "park and play" group of kayakers wanting to surf and to play in rough water in tidal races
The cockpit is very comfortable, the seat and backrest being sourced from P & H's parent company (Pyranha's) Connect 30 whitewater set-up. The cockpit is nice and long making for easy entry and exit. The backrest is adjusted by ratchets on each side of the cockpit; this was easy to adjust and stayed put. The thigh grips are also adjustable but this would need to be done before getting on the water. Footpegs are the familiar P & H twist-lock adjustment, once set these were firm and felt as if they could take some force. Compared with my own boat (a Tiderace Xcite) the fit seemed to be a little "looser" - in particular the thigh grips didn't give the same feeling of being dialled in to the boat when in hard turning mode. This could be partially explained by the fact that I didn't customise the fit of the Delphin too much during my short paddle.
This image shows the most distinctive feature of the Delphin on the water - the fact that in normal use the bow is well clear of the water. Under the forward end of the hull lies a unique hull-form with relatively hard chines and a mid-line V being separated by double concaves. These features fade out gradually into a flat hull in the mid section before forming into soft chines toward the stern. All this is obviously designed to help control while surfing whilst being forgiving enough to get back off a wave without too much drama. The distribution of volume definitely favours the forward end of the boat to help rough water handling. The hull shape under the bow produces an unusual gurgling from under the boat whilst turning tightly on flat water.
Which brings me to manoeuvrability. Put simply, this is the most responsive, tightest turning sea kayak I have ever paddled! The rate at which this boat can turn is more analogous to a river boat than a sea kayak. A raise of the knee and a slight edge produced a 90 degree turn whilst at cruising speed; a dynamic sweep results in a 180 degree turn with little effort. Edging felt secure; I managed to put the cockpit rim under water whilst experimenting with braced turns and the boat still felt solid on its edge. I spent some time using the tightly spaced supports of a road bridge as slalom gates in a tidal stream of approximately 3 knots - the Delphin was an absolute hoot and could be threaded through gaps I wouldn't attempt with many sea kayaks.
When stopping paddling to take photographs, the Delphin habitually veered one way or the other, yet whilst paddling it tracks straight and true. The skeg is the P & H Mark II skeg which felt light and positive, though I didn't need to use it on my paddle.
There are three hatches (no conventional day hatch). The rear oval hatch cover was very difficult to get back on once removed - no doubt this will ease with use. Both the main compartments would hold a good level of kit - but here's the question: would loading this boat compromise the in-water dynamics? I imagine that a good deal of care would be required if loading the Delphin for a multi-day trip, but the space is certainly available. The small deck hatch forward of the cockpit is a useful size (I'm a big fan of these small hatches), but isn't completely watertight if submerged - the main compartments were watertight despite the boat being overturned numerous times during wet practice.
The Delphin is a really stable boat. Balance is neutral and the back deck is both the widest point of the boat and also relatively low which aids rolling and made us look good doing balance exercises ! It would make a great boat to instruct from, being very manoeuvrable and forgiving.
So, do I still think that the Delphin is a niche boat?
Well, I didn't get a chance to surf the boat, but everything I have heard leads me to believe that it is a superb surfing and rough water boat. It is much more than that though. It would make a great boat for a novice and would not be quickly outgrown. It can cruise, could be used for overnight trips, but perhaps for me the most exciting use for a Delphin would be for rockhopping.
The way this boat can be manoeuvred, edged and turned on the spot, coupled with the tough Corelite construction makes the Delphin potentially the most effective rockhopping weapon available.
My preconceptions have been absolutely changed - the Delphin is a very, very good boat and an exciting as well as an interesting design. OK, the looks aren't as "elegant" as some boats, but if you can get past the uncoventional appearance, go for a paddle in one and prepare to have your preconceptions challenged!