Most kayak shoppers face a bewildering array of choices, but we made one decision early on that narrowed the field considerably. Fibreglas kayaks are sleek, light and stiff, but expensive and easy to scratch; rotomolded plastic kayaks are less expensive, forgiving of collisions, but impossible to repair and heavy. In between is the still small world of thermoformed ABS — the same stuff that your plumbing may be made of. The compromise itself was appealing, but what sealed the deal was the brutal sunshine that our boats would be subjected to. And the thermo-formers market themselves as greener — fewer toxic chemicals, and the leftovers get melted down to make more kayaks.
We bought a Delta 16 and an Eddyline Fathom. We will write some more, elsewhere, about the ones that we didn’t choose, but here is a look at the ones we have.
These two boats are pretty much the same size. The Fathom is half a foot longer, but they’re the same width and nominally the same depth. They approach a number of design questions in different ways, and it turns out that we like both of them for their differences; but the main reason that we got one of each has to do with seating position.
The fit of the Delta is about like one would expect: knees are low and spread fairly wide. This model is directed toward small-to-medium sized paddlers, and we may be at the upper limit, but the position still seems pretty traditional.
The Fathom, a bigger-volume boat with a high foredeck, fits slightly differently. The knees are bent, but now closer together, drawn up in front of the paddler. For many, especially the no-longer-young, this may be the most comfortable position. It protects the back while still allowing plenty of motion (the shape of the boat also encourages a high-angle paddling technique). The flick, though, feels different — to get a gunwale into the water, the opposite knee feels like it’s gone over the top, and the body may be required to twist more than expected. The short of it is, the Delta is often more fun to paddle because it is easier to toss about. Both hulls are described as rockered, but the Delta’s rocker is more obvious, both on land and at sea. The Fathom has longer legs and should be faster, allowing one to relax a bit, and it’s built to carry more weight. Both boats claim to weigh 50 lbs., but may be a few pounds heavier.
Hatches are another way to distinguish these boats, both in operation and in sheer number. Day hatches have appeared in recent years, enclosures that are meant to be opened even under way, and to contain articles that are likely to be wanted then. They have typically been located aft and starboard of the paddler, where they are just barely reachable; but the Delta 16 is far out in front of the pack with a small hatch just ahead of the cockpit as well. This is a big attention-getter. It is easy to imagine that this arrangement increases storage space too, since those items normally bungied to the deck (map, pump, water bottle etc.) can still be placed there, on top of the hatch — except that, if they are, then they need to be juggled when the hatch is opened. Even so, it’s the best place ever for a camera, and it’s big enough to hold some of those other items. The designer, Mark Hall, talks about the hatch as a way to keep stray items off the deck, and I think it is very good for that. By the way, this hatch protrudes into the cockpit and we were concerned about its restricting movement, particularly ingress. It’s a good idea to practice entering this boat as one would in an emergency so that you’re confident about finishing up with the legs on the correct sides; but while underway it’s not a problem. We had our Eddyline salesman try out the boat to make sure we weren’t making a mistake, and he claimed to like the under-dashboard pod, saying he used it with his knees when edging.
Another big selling point of the Delta hatches doesn’t seem to exist any more. In the prototype, which can still be seen in video clips, and in the promo pictures on the Delta website, the boat has flush hatch covers, secured only by crossed bungees — like the bigger Delta kayaks that we have paddled. But evidently leakage came to be seen as an issue, because the 16 as delivered has a sort of welt running around the edges of the larger covers, with turn-to-lock rubber fasteners on all of them, two on the smaller hatches and four on the larger. These changes, seen up close, in my opinion at least, turn what was one of the prettiest boats in the world into one that isn’t; but I must say that we haven’t had any trouble with leaks, either. The aft day hatch, as ours came rigged, is virtually impossible for the paddler to re-secure while under way, but that’s a problem common to most day hatches, and in this case there may be a fix. On the Fathom the hatches are the now-familiar leftover-dish type which seal perfectly if at all.
Some of the differences between the boats are more subtle, and I hope to be able to compare them in the future, but that’s enough for now.