Clothed in new costumes
That weather your new found storms
Staring through reason
Content with your new found decor
– collective soul
I’ve always been conflicted when it comes to companies like Wilderness Systems. I don’t think of them as “sea kayak” companies. They seem to put more weight into their recreational and fishing boats and come to sea kayaking as an afterthought. It’s hard to imagine the company that makes the infamous Pungo could produce a decent sea kayak. Still there have been a lot of good things said about the Tempest since it came out. Given that, and that I had Cindy Scherrer (partner of co-designer Steve Scherrer) paddling right beside me while I was out test paddling boats in Grand Marais, it seems like as good a time as any to take one for a spin.
I have a leaning toward British style boats… I guess… I’m not sure what that means exactly other than sea kayaks that are meant to survive water that gets waves on it. The Tempest is marketed as that sort of boat. The Tempest 165 which I paddled is 16.6 ft in length and 21.5 inches in width, similar to a Romany. The Tempest also comes in larger 170 and 180 versions as well. The 165 is targeted more toward weekenders, rough water play and of course, instructors.
The composite Tempest is a beautifully made kayak. I also love the shine that WS is able to put on their composite boats. They almost look plastic. Definitely one of the best looking boats out there. The demo boat I tried was built well and seemed solid enough. The deck is well thought out with lots of deck lines and bungies. Even though I don’t believe in putting a bunch of junk on your deck, you could on the Tempest if you really wanted to. There was also not a bunch of stuff sticking up all over or poking your legs inside the cockpit. They did a good job keeping the hardware out of the way. The back deck is low enough for layback rolls. I’d love to be able stand on the deck of every boat I try then them upside down and stand on them again, but I think I’d be breaking a lot of boats! Still the Tempest did seem fairly stiff and all in all very well put together.
The foot pegs are adjustable from the seated position using a slide-lock system. Basically a rubber strap with knobby bits that you can lift, slide back and forth, then drop down again to secure. They are easier to use than the P&H foot pegs with the flags that you twist to adjust. With both systems I wonder about long term durability but only time will tell. Suffice to say as long as they don’t slip under extreme pressure or wear out in a couple years, they are a fantastic improvement over the old metal rails & clips.
The Tempest has 3 standard hatches. Front and back of course, and a day hatch. Again I hate, hate, hate that floppy Kajak-Sport back hatch . Sure, it’s large enough to fit your pet gorilla through, but you’ll spend the next 3 days trying to get it closed again (Even if he wasn’t fighting back!). I can only imagine Kajak-Sport and Global Outfitters must offer kayak manufactures a free 70′s hits CD with subliminal messaging on them to have so permeated the industry with those terrible large oval hatches. What’s more, I simply don’t need that giant hatch on a 16 foot weekender anyway. It’s over-kill.
Probably the Tempest’s most talked about claim to fame is it’s white-water like, “Phase 3XP Outfitting”. I tried to sit in one back when it was just a “Phase 3″ and could not even get my bum in there correctly. I can’t tell you what changes they made, but now I was able to jump right in. I like the fact that the front of the seat can be adjusted vertically so you can have it lay flat on the deck more like placing a bit of mini-cell under your bum or adjust it upwards to lift your knees to the deck similar to some of the seats Valley has put in their boats. Putting the front of the seat down a bit will help you avoid leg pain or legs falling asleep after hours on the water. When I laid back on the deck, the backband slipped down and got out of the way on its own (I’d still take it out completely if I owned one). You won’t have a problem rolling this boat.
On the water the Tempest is a low slung kayak. While I’m not a light guy, I still had plenty of free-board in the 165 and at the same time my center of gravity was down on the water making the Tempest a very stable craft. Beginners would feel well taken care of in the Tempest. The secondary stability is solid as well. It’s fairly easy to find an edge and just sit on it. This is a kayak that feels really nice just sitting in it on the water and going nowhere!
The Tempest moved through the water cleanly with very little disturbance at the bow. It’s a quiet boat. With that, it seemed fairly quick for its size. The 165 maneuvers well and spins nicely if put on edge. It was also not bullied around by the wind that had blowing us out of the bay all day. As I went through a variety of strokes and maneuvers it always acted exactly as I expected it would. I didn’t feel any drastic difference in boat control between it and other top-shelf brit-boats I’ve paddled, which I’d call a win.
One difference that did stand out between the Tempest and say a Sea Kayaking UK or Valley Boat, is that the bow of the Tempest is not up-swept but in line with the rest of the deck. The low bow is probably what kept it tame in the wind as well as made the Tempest quiet and fairly quick on a dead run. I wondered if it would climb or spear on-coming waves, but I simply didn’t have the conditions to check that out.
At the end of my short paddle I came away thinking I’d be more than happy teaching or playing with this boat. It can certainly hold its own with the “brit-boats” I love, and it will give some a good run for their money. I’d love to play with it in some surf, but alas, here in Wisconsin that opportunity does not come up often. Instead we tend to really put kayaks through their passes on glass where we can feel every subtle slip and twinge. In the time I had with it, the Tempest was pretty darn nice. Honestly, I had a bias and didn’t expect it to be as nearly as sweet as it was. Grand Marais was as good of a time as any to finally take out the Tempest. At least now I don’t have to hide if Steve ever asked if I’ve paddled one!! It’s a great boat Steve. Really!