1st impression of 15' Cape Horn

Yesterday I had my (new to me), used WS Cape Horn 15 out for it’s shakedown cruise. I met up with some nice folks from Tarheel Paddlers and spent roughly 4 hrs paddling a local lake with them. This is my first real kayak, after a lifetime of canoes. (I’m not going to dignify the little 9.5’ rec boat I had for 2 weeks by counting it.)

Obviously, the Cape Horn is LOTS faster than the canoes. However, that speed comes at a price, and I’m wondering if ultimately, I may find it a price too high. For one thing, this one has the old seat, not the new Phase 3, and it hits my back in the worst place. I’ve got the straps adjusted to make the back as upright as possible, and it’s still just all wrong for me. I understand that retrofitting it with a Phase 3 seat may be possible, but I’m going to have to do some thinkiing about whether I want to spend much on this one, or just re-sell it.

Never before have I really understood why kayakers want a small, tight fitting cockpit. I always thought I wanted a great big, open cockpit. Well, I get it now. I totally get it. The cockpit on this one is so large that when I brace for turns, I’m pretty much just flopping around in there. I don’t think I ever really had correct thigh contact. And since this one has no hip padding, there’s nothing to keep me in one spot. That should be fixable with some cheap foam. I’m going to play around with adding foam here and there to see if I can make this boat fit me better.

Personally, I’m somewhat skeptical that kayaks are really for me. I find that sitting in more or less one position for hours is murder on my lower back. Getting in and out of this thing is something I’m going to have to learn, but already, it’s not a great deal of fun. Surprisingly, one of the very experienced kayakers in yesterday’s little group dumped her boat twice trying to get out of it. I can easily see how.

Oddly, after having done several demo days, and having rented a few kayaks, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed quite so many nits to pick with a boat, as what I notice now that I own one. Hindsight being what it is, I actually think the Necky Manitou 13 or 14 fit me better.

The footpegs on the Cape Horn are ridiculously small and uncomforable. Furthermore, I can’t get my size 12 feet upright on them because the boat slopes too much at the forward position that I need the pegs at. Also, being a ruddered boat, the pegs are never really stationary, even with the rudder cable in the jam cleat.

The functionality of the rudder is something I’m still musing. I had thought that it would be a big help. Now, I’m not so sure. (I realize this is something of a hot button topic here, and I DON’T want to open that whole can of worms.) Suffice it to say that I no longer think it’s all that necessary. Intellectually, I wouldn’t think that a thin sheet metal rudder would slow one down all that much, but from a practical standpoint, I was really struggling to keep up with the group when I had it down, and they weren’t going all that fast. Obviously, I have a long way to go to work on technique.

As far as more personal observations go, I question the usefulness of hatches that can’t be reached while in the boat. I’m so used to wide open canoes, where I can just reach down into a cooler to get a drink, that contorting to reach the water bottle behind me, just struck me as being more of a pain than it should be. I briefly tried lashing it with the bungees, but a series of boat wakes made me wonder if the bottle would float away.

Comparitively, I found being encased in a kayak with a spray skirt to be lots hotter than being in a canoe. No surprise there, just an observation.

By now, all you longterm yakkers are probably laughing. We’ll see what happens over the next few weeks, but I may well wind up reselling this boat and sticking with canoes. A lot of that is going to depend on seeing whether I can keep up with the group by adding a center seat and using an overly long double bladed paddle in the 16’ canoe.

up to you.
On hatches and rudder-Both will come together and make sense when, and if, you get out on open water in conditions. you must have floatation,provided by bulkheads for open water in case you flip, and rudder is nice to have when winds pick up,especially if your technique isnt there yet.

Seat- I think phase 3 is over-rated, i had it in my cape horn and didnt find it to be that fantastic of a feature, i think it’s all in technique. The more you paddle with your arms the worse your lower back gets. Paddle consistently with your torso and see if that makes a difference.

Outfitting-if youre not big in lower body, cape horns are a floppy,floppy boat with very recreational outfitting.stick-on foam will fix most of that.

If i was to keep my cape horn i wouldve padded out a lot of it with foam and changed the phase 3 seat to something that holds me in place better, with a backband. but i moved on and much happier with outfitting and fit of my necky(though i may still switch backbands)


– Last Updated: Jun-06-06 12:27 AM EST –

What you encountered is all normal discovery - it just sounds like you discovered a lot of it at once.
To try before you abandon all hope with kayaks -
As you already mentioned, fit out the cockpit. But not just the sides of the seat, also the thigh braces downward if needed to get your legs into a lessened froggy position vertically and horizontally. Use minicell foam and Welwood Cement or Super Seven, whatever works best, to get the stuff glued in (others may have better adhesive ideas).
Get guidance or a lesson from someone in how to do a decent forward stroke, so that you are rotating your torso and not locking your back into an ache.
If you can, fit something over the footpegs so that they are NOT (oops - left that out)those darned little hard things finding all the worst parts in your foot after an hour. Check the archives - people here have tried varous things.
And really learn to turn it by leaning and doing sweep strokes, the movement will help your back.

In certain wind conditions you may want to deploy the rudder to help you stay on track (this is not intuitive) as tracking device. In the meantime, try a skegged boat here and there and see if the more fixed position suits you better. You may ultimately want a skegged boat with no footpegs and foam up against the bulkhead to put your feet against.

As to access to stuff on the water, that is why you see newer boats with a smaller third hatch just behind the cockpit. Called a day hatch, and is intended to give you a sealed dry compartment that you can pull stuff out of on the water. It is smaller and separated from the main rear compartment by another bulkhed, so that should it fill with water you will still have the regular sealed bulkheads on each end assuring that the boat will float and allow you to do a self-rescue.

And getting wet - that's just part of it. I hit the water trying to be as casual hopping into my Vela the other night from thigh-deep water as I can get away with in my Explorer LV, and promptly got tossed. It's no big deal. And it is a lot easier to dump a sea kayak out upside down than a canoe.

thank you
Thank you both for the comments so far. Locking my back into an ache, and keeping it there by paddling with my arms is exactly what I did. You’d think I’d know better, given that I actually do practice good torso strokes with the canoes. But, I seem to have to relearn all the basics. Today, I’m very stiff. I’ll get some foam and report back if I make any progress this weekend.

Big changes in order…
I totally agree with what the others have said.

Outfitting, technique, and posture, are everything in a kayak. To get the good torso rotation which is necessary for an effective forward stroke, your back should not be supported by the seat back. The seat back or back band should really be doing little more than keeping your rear from sliding off the back of the seat pan. An upright posture and good rotation will build your stomach and back muscles, improving your overall comfort level.

Foot pegs can be replaced or modified to increase their surface area, which will make them more comfortable also. I don’t know what your were wearing on your feet, but most shoes, boots, and sandals take up precious foot room. By wearing something like a rodeo shoe or Desperado Socks, you can maximize the use of available foot room in the kayak.


Mini-cell foam in the thigh-brace areas will do wonders for fit and boat control too.

I own it …good boat
If this makes sense…on the chesapeake…the boat seems to scream through the waves…and yawn on a calm day. It handles the tide current and 2 ft. waves with the right technique with out a problem. On a canal it can be boring.

The size is just right for me 6 ft. 200 lbs. the 17 was a bit to small in the cockpit.

I consider it a “mature” kayak. For the maturity level of 27 and above, not looking for a BMX on the water but also not looking for an old mans old town.

hope that helps…

eliminating footpegs
Celia, I really like the idea of perhaps, eventually going to a skegged boat with foam rests instead of footpegs. Thanks for mentioning that. I’ve been looking at pics of what others have done to customize their boats in the custom outfitting thread, and that’s one thing I saw. I’ll play around wiht the rudder on this one some more, but depending on what I learn about it, I’m not above simply taking the rudder off and removing the footpegs altogether. It’s funny how quickly my attitude about some of this stuff changed with very limited actual use. At the moment, I’m all about making the boat comfortable to me, because if it’s a torture chamber, I’ll never learn to paddle it. Whereas, if it’s comfortable, I can probably learn some techniques to compensate.

another idea
If youre willing to do away with the rudder. Have you thought about using a footboard from a whitewater kayak to replace your footpegs? The minicell footrest idea is fine on fiberglass boats with glassed-in bulkheads, and on Valley/P&H plastic boats with strong bulkheads but i wouldn’t be pushing against a WS foam bulkhead.

– Last Updated: Jun-06-06 3:22 PM EST –

Hi nw,
Clean up the paddling_posture, keeping your shoulders back, between your pecs and back muscles!..and head/neck back...aligning the whole spinal column. Lean with your whole torso...at the waist/lower_abs. Make it automatic...when climbing into a boat & believe me, you'll notice a real difference...within the first half-hour. Think of planting the blade in the water and pulling your hips forward(just as in canoeing). It'll improve the efficiency of your strokes 100%.
One can get away with so-so technique in recreational flatwater canoeing, but kayaks demand good posture/technique.
Paddle smarter, not harder...