P&H Sirius review
Peter N D
"If the canoe designer must rely largely on his own experience and intuition, a novice canoeist must indeed be hard pressed to make a sensible choice of craft." (Frank Goodman, writing in the BCU Canoeing Handbook)
One of my many kayaking nadirs occurred while attempting to catch pollock at the entrance to the Penrhyn Mawr tidal race. The empty Sirius felt twitchy, the fish hook was out of control, my new paddle seemed flimsy and we were being sucked into the race. This combination of factors led to a total loss of confidence and then to the loss of basic kayaking skills. Luckily, I didn't catch anything as a fish on the spray deck would have been disastrous. A Level Five Sea Coach advised me to sell the boat and, at the time, I would have accepted anything resembling a sensible offer.
But on the way home, despite my shaken condition, the Sirius eased through a decent swell, creamed effortlessly past two young men in an NDK double and made light work of a surf landing which capsized others. That's life in a Sirius. Never a dull moment!
A boat's performance derives from its hull shape. The Sirius 2000 has a 5.18m long, V-bottomed hull with rounded chines and is widest, just 52cm, immediately behind the cockpit. It's stunning good looks are slightly marred by too much hollowing of the clipper bow but, even so, the Sirius is a work of art in the classic livery of golden yellow and white with black trim. Looks matter. No one wants to paddle an ugly boat.
However, three performance issues are a little bit more important and these are: -
speed versus stability,
tracking versus manoeuvrability
and recovery from capsize.
The waterline length is about ten times the waterline beam at any loading state. In other words, the effective beam is about 46cm without cargo, making a Sea Squirt look fat. A narrow Swede-form qualifies the Sirius for the easily driven cachet, meaning mile-eating requires minimal effort and tides may sometimes be ignored. During my one flat water trip, narrow boat engines strained in vain to overhaul standard cruising speed and I had to stop because of the noise. A beamier 18 footer may give the same rate of progress, but the Sirius is easier to handle in the car park, and possibly on the water too.
I once saw a man stand on the back deck of a floating Sirius, which must therefore be a great deal more stable than it feels. In calm conditions, wavelets seem to slap V-hulled boats from one plane of the V to the other, an unnerving sensation, but on big swells boats like the Sirius behave really well in comparison with wider, shallow arch hulls. It's an odd boat which reassures more on deep sea swells and in surf than on a flat calm, but experiences with other V-hulled boats have been similar. My comments on tippiness should be taken in the context of only one unexpected capsize, and I was back-surfing at the time. Stability can be summarised as good on fully formed waves and a little worrying in choppy water. Is the speed worth it? Probably. I'm rarely reluctant to get out for a training session.
Tracking versus turning.
The keel has very little rocker so inch-perfect tracking in calm conditions comes as no surprise. When the wind and waves go into that awkward area behind the shoulders, dropping the skeg maintains good forward progress. The Sirius is more friendly than most boats in a following sea. Given the straight-line running, manoeuvrability is pleasing but barely enough for rock slalom. Although setting this narrow boat on edge is quite easy and undramatic, it's hard to get more than a 70 degree turn from a big reverse sweep. The Sirius skids or carves turns depending on the amount of edge and responds well to stern rudders and draw strokes. In choppy conditions, timid sweeps yield a steady turn even if edging is forgotten. In my opinion, the tracking against turning compromise has been judged well by P&H. Any fast boat which goes sideways with relative ease is likely to weathercock and the Sirius is no exception despite its reasonably low windage. The Sirius ferry-glides across a head wind and, though better than flat-bottomed boats, makes quite a bit of leeway in a side wind. I have not managed to prevent weather-cocking by edging, either because of the narrow hull or because of my incompetence, but the drop-down skeg is superb. It stays put, doesn't flutter and eliminates weather-cocking.
The Sirius doesn't have to be a disaster even though its hard to grip the boat with the knees. The narrow hull and low back deck facilitate rolls, and paddle-float re-entries are reasonably easy, with threading the paddle under deck lines as the hardest part. Climbing on to the back deck takes no effort whatever - waves seemed to put me there - and turning into the cockpit is simple because of its length. A lot of water gets in but there is not much width for it to slop around so the boat feels steady as pumping out proceeds. While tightening the deck lines after a practice session, I discovered that the deck fittings screw down into fibre glass. Do not over-tighten! Finally, some details. The hull is easy to lift at either end, with or without the non-slapping toggles, and the cockpit rim is thickened at the balance point for lifting and for short shoulder carries. The seat is the most comfortable I have found in any kind of composite boat and, at five feet ten, I can just get my legs into the boat while seated.
On warm spring evenings, when the water temperature is low, the Kajaksport day hatch can be a swine to open despite anti-vacuum perforations in the bulkheads. I'd prefer a round VCP hatch behind the cockpit. The knee position is odd being neither high nor wide. In the circumstances, the thigh grip gestures are inadequate and by far the boat's worst feature. Given their impact on boat handling, particularly on edging and rolling, where there is some room for improvement, my final conclusion might have been different if P&H provided meaty mouldings as an option for white water converts. Foam additions help but cannot give the same control as solid, down-curved thigh grips.
I have yet to make a long journey in the Sirius, which is a shame as the boat has clearly been designed for easy progress while carrying a fair load. I cannot tout these notes as a review because I have failed to try the boat in its best role, but a small cargo appears to tame the Sirius without much compromise on speed. On warm summer evenings I tend to take any opportunity for an hour on the water, partly because the boat flows along so well and partly because close control is always just around the corner. With those points in mind, here is my impression after six months as an owner.
Although gorgeous, easily-driven, responsive, well-made and comfortable the Sirius has quirks which reduce its suitability as a day boat for the average paddler. Which is probably what you, after one look at the hull, expected me to say!
PS. I am not planning a sale but careful paddlers are welcome to try my Sirius. Club members paddle a wide range of interesting kayaks and I would like to read their views on their own boats. Boat design is fascinating.