Insert the P&H Team Male Chorus Singing a Sir Mix-A-Lot Medley here.
First let’s get this out of the way… I know a few of the guys on the P&H team so I’m certainly open to bias. On the other hand keep in mind that we are often most judgmental with our own families. I’ve spent close to 3 years telling P&H Rep., Kelly Blades I didn’t like P&H boats, (By the way, remember this??) basically due to an old style Capella we once had (for less than a month) that was like riding a fishing bobber. Yeah, they told me that the new Capella is nothing like those ones from back in the day. But honestly I never had a reason to re-examine my thoughts on the matter. So when my wonderful Alaw Bach gave up the ghost, I came to the conclusion that I should let go of past bias and give the new P&H kayaks a fair go. I started out with the Bahiya and now had my chance to try the Cetus.
The P&H Cetus is stable. It’s dead stupid stable. It’s “Weekend at Bernie’s” stable, It’s “National Lampoon’s Vacation, stick your dead aunt on top and go on a road trip” stable. It’s dare I say, “Current Designs Kestral 120 HV” stable. It’s so stable in fact that any self-respecting, self-aggrandizing, self-promoting, blow hard paddling yahoo will come very close to simply writing it off the second they sit on the back deck. (And I almost did!!) A boat this stable has to be tank right!? Well, no. As unlikely as it seems the Cetus may be as close as you are going to get to the best of both worlds. Yes, it’s a bit over 22″ wide but honestly it’s quite nimble for having such a well endowed bum. But more on that later.
Thanks to Darren Bush at Rutabaga for letting me take the frog green Cetus right off the show floor to paddle for the day. The first thing I did was to simply sit on the back deck and come to grips with the sense I was sitting on a north sea oil rig. I pushed myself up on my hands and swung around a bit, then slipped forward to sit in the cockpit and the kayak simply did not move. Yeah, I’ve done this awhile and my balance is quite good but I still expected a bit of a wobble. There wasn’t.
Once in the seat I was also pleasantly surprised that in the Cetus I felt well placed in the cockpit. Even with the big cushiony seat I felt low slung and well balanced. I’m a bit old-school and have an aversion to lounge chair kayak seats. In the Cetus it works. I’ve read some reviews saying that taking the padding out is a good idea, and it couldn’t hurt. Still the fact that you could leave the pad in and still feel properly fit in the boat is quite an accomplishment. I’d remove the back band. It’s not necessary and simply get’s in the way of good rotation, self-rescues and back deck rolling (Which is a bit of a challenge in the Cetus btw). The molded seat offers plenty of back support where you need it. If there is a negative aspect to the seat it’s that it simply fits too well. Your bum may be so well cradled that it cannot easily move on the seat to allow the sort of motion good leg & torso paddling encourage. Again, it’s quite possible that removing the cushion would allow your bum a bit more freedom to move with your strokes. These are sort of modern issues of all boats dealing with the “butt before boat control” market. The Cetus does not need a lounge chair but they did it without it getting in the way too much so .. kudos.
As I mentioned the fit is quite nice. The cockpit feels comfortably snug for a 22.5 inch wide boat. However once you realize the width is behind the cockpit it makes sense. Where the paddler is sitting the kayak is probably closer to 20-21 inches. At a generous 5’8″ my legs fit perfectly in the boat. The skeg box was comfortably out of the way and if anything helped my legs not to splay out under the boat. The combing lip and the infamous center storage actually give you a place to grip inside of your knees which can be nice when rolling. Having your legs placed a bit more vertical is also more comfortable over distance and the Cetus allows for that. One thing I did find to be a major draw back is that I could not take a foot off the peddle and slip it past the peddles to stretch out. The 4th hatch was in the way. When rolling and simply when paddling for hours it’s nice sometimes to move a bit more freely around in the cockpit. The 4th hatch is great, it simply could be a bit shorter to give your feet room to boogie.
One note on quality, the hull turns up underneath the combing giving it the strength necessary to hold up to people like me who like to stand on their boats.
All in all on flat water, sitting still you feel like you’re in a classic American wide-bottom sea kayak. Which does not bode well for someone who likes open seas and active water. That’s why I was really a bit shocked how quickly the Cetus turned once I was settled in and took a first sweep stroke. It certainly turns as quickly as any other kayak I’ve paddled. It’s responsive to the slightest edge. You can easily do a clean low brace turn without the use of a low brace. Magic. The kayak maneuvers easily and quickly on flat water. It has a very clean glide forward or backward. When doing sweeps on the dime I had a slight impression that the stern did not come around as quickly as the bow. I leaned forward and tried to unlock it a bit which seemed to help. The bow on the other hand practically turns in reaction to mind control.
I was quite taken by how easy it is to put the Cetus on edge and by how far I could edge the kayak while at the same time It remained stable. You can edge the boat enough for a tight turn with little effort. As I said, you won’t need your low brace for the low brace turn. It just goes around. In wind it was little effort to hold an edge to correct the course. Pushing it, you can sit on quite an extreme edge comfortably and the kayak will want to naturally right itself when released. I found later when I rolled the boat that it does go over easily, but generally you have to want to take it over. Again for new paddlers the Cetus would be a very comforting boat.
Green P&H Cetus sits next to a SeakayakingUK Romany.
Out in the wind and chop the Cetus handled quite well. There is certainly down side to the wide bum. With wind and waves coming from behind the Cetus wants to quickly spin out. When wind and waves are at your side it will want to turn up into the wind in a shot. In both cases the skeg easily corrected it without adding much drag. While I learned a harsh no-skeg or rudder style, I’d not want a Cetus without a skeg. With a skeg the Cetus will play nice is conditions. I have the sense that the Cetus would get squirrely in surf but that’s simply an impression based on its reaction to being pushed around by wind waves. I need to get a Cetus out on surf to test the theory.
One of the things I enjoy most in a sea kayak is finding a nice bit of current with a clean eddy where I can just slip in and out of the current and spin my kayak. It’s like playing on a merri-go-round. Of course to be fun, your kayak usually needs a lot of rocker. Since the wind was pushing the water around quite a bit I took the Cetus out to a place under a train trestle where one lake drains into another. The channel is quite thin and develops a nice playful current. As I had hoped the current was fairly strong and the there was a well defined eddy on both banks and behind the center strut. I took the Cetus back and forth ferrying from side to side and then back into the center eddy. I let the nose cut out into the current and spin me round, then pushed my nose back into the eddy again spinning the Cetus to face the bridge. With a moment to get to know the boat I could practically just sit and spin on a dime. I only needed to change the edge subtly in and out of the flow. It reacted very well to the strong but subtle changes the water. The Cetus feels nimble and as I mentioned it is a good dancer.
On the way back to the shop I simply had to put my head down and push into the wind. I didn’t have to worry about controlling the kayak, as with most kayaks when facing into the wind it wanted to go one direction. It certainly moved into the wind with no more effort than any of my favorite kayaks. Maybe it was a bit more on a line than some. Suffice to say I didn’t need to think about anything but simply pushing through the wind. Lost in the mindless slog I found myself thinking about what I would like. Shorten that 4th hatch for sure.. I started wondering if it came in a 3 piece.. All in all silly things because surprisingly to me the Cetus is a really great boat right off the shelf.
Let me tell you a little secret. A good instructor looks like they are amazingly talented. They can make their kayaks do just about anything. Well, that’s true for some. For others we simply find those few rare kayaks that are so easy to control that they make us look as if we were that good. There are only a few magic “instructor” boats. The Cetus at over 17 feet is longer than what we typically think of as an instructor boat, but it’s nimble enough to chase students and make the coach look like a super-human paddler type.
Regardless of what we’re supposed to say, lots of kayaks suck. I just don’t write about them. Over time there are things you’ve come to love and expect from a sea kayak. Some things are personal, some of it is simply quality and design. While it’s said that “all boats are good boats” for someone, there are only a handful are really good boats. With time and experience an exceptionally good boat does stand out. The Romany, The Alaw Bach, The Nordkapp to name a few. I should try a few more kayaks, but I’m honestly much more impressed with the Cetus than I thought I would be. It can play on the same level as any expedition sea kayak I’ve paddled and adds that crazy stability. I just have to let a bit of time pass so if I do do it it will be out of love and not lust.
*UPDATE: Coming back at this post a year later I have to say that what we’ve learned is that the full size Cetus is just way to big for 90% of paddlers. It’s also a challenge to get a good arch over the back deck for lay back rolls. I can hand roll one, but only if I’m really big and splashy about it to make up for not being able to get low. For most paddlers the best choice will be the Cetus MV or LV versions. The full on Cetus is just going to be too much boat for the average paddler.