Boreal Design Ellesmere

-- Last Updated: Dec-01-14 10:05 PM EST --

Not a complete review with everything everyone would possibly want. I just tried to focus on some stuff I often wish was readily available when researching a new kayak.

I’m including videos, not of the crazy exciting nature that a non-sea-kayaker would get a kick out of watching, but trying to be of an informative nature. Or at least give an idea of where I've gotten my impressions so far. I see lots of review videos that show the pretty deck of the kayak, and I always wish they would focus more on the hull shape. I then tried to show how easily it’s maneuvered on flat water. And in the other video, I’m taking you along, as though you’re sitting on the back deck behind me, to show a little fun in some beach surf on a couple different days.

The Ellesmere is 17’ long, 22” wide. As you can see from the tennis balls in the video, it has a good amount of rocker evenly distributed along the length of the hull. I don’t know how noticeable it is, but the Ellesmere and Capella were the only 2 hulls in that group that a tennis ball could fit under the normal keel line underneath the kayak. The rest, the tennis ball had to sit against the end of the raking portion of the stern curving up to the deck. I figured anyone could go home, sit their kayak on a flat surface, level it, and see what room there was under their own kayak using a standard sized tennis ball, compare to these pictures, and get something of an idea of the rocker profile. Odd approach perhaps, but it’s something I always want to get a glimpse of when looking at kayaks, it’s really hard to get a feel for in photographs, and I hoped this might help.

It is a solid build. This kayak is 15 years old, kevlar, and going up and down the kayak pressing on it, I found no soft spots. It is very stiff. None of the 3 KajakSport hatch covers have leaked at all. This may be my most solidly built kayak. I didn’t weigh it, but lifting it and all the others, the published specs are probably pretty good. It felt lighter than the fiberglass Legend and Greenlander, as you would expect. The Greenlander is noticeably a bit less stiff. The Legend was a little less stiff on the side sections from the deck to the chine. The rounded arched bottom of the Legend is very solid and stiff in line with the Ellesmere. You can see from the inside that both have more layers built up along the bottom. On the Legend, it’s the entire bottom between the chines. On the Ellesmere, it’s a very wide strip running the length of the keel line. Both the Greenlander and the Caribou have a little more give in the flat sections of the bottom, which I think in part points to the arched configuration being more solid in general than a flat section. In part, I suspect the Legend and Ellesmere add additional layers of composite cloth to the bottom to beef it up.

I’m 6’0”, 190 lbs., size 11 shoes, 33” waist, 32” inseam. This one has an ocean cockpit. I found the sweet spot for me is to sit so one side sits centered over the day hatch. From there I can bring my feet in, and scoot my way into the kayak without having to squeeze my way in at all. It is somehow a secure feeling in the boat with the ocean cockpit, but the Ellesmere is sold with the popular keyhole cockpit as well. There is plenty of room for my feet, and the footpegs have a ways to go to get to the furthest back adjustment. There’s a little space beside each hip for me. I’d probably go another ½ inch wider for perfection for me, but that’s a very subjective matter. I like room to rotate. The next guy might like a snugger fit vs. more room.

The deck has just enough room for me for comfortable movement. It’s fairly low, the lowest of those presented in the video. A nice minimized fit without extra volume for someone my size.

It was the rounded between the chines, or arched between the chines, hull that attracted me to this kayak. This was based upon my experience with my Nigel Foster Legend. It’s fast and maneuverable, and I’ve always felt that it’s the rounded vs. more v’d with flat sections that helps this along. We all know that overall round is fastest, but also lacks stability. So trying to keep things rounded as possible for efficiency, between hard chines for solid secondary stability, is my take on this type design.

I love it. This thing feels playful and maneuverable, and doesn’t feel sluggish under my 190 lbs. One of the things I found with the Valley Gemini SP is that its max recommended weight is 190 lbs., and with gear and all, it felt like I overweighed it, and negated a lot of its playfulness. The ever-popular Romany always feels somewhat sluggish when I’m needing to get going. The Ellesmere allows me to get more out of that extra effort. I was instantly at ease with the stability profile. Most feel very uneasy in the Legend, and I’m comfortable in the Legend. But the Ellesmere doesn’t feel so loose in the primary stability without primary stability being overdone, and has solid secondary stability. There is no nervousness for me out in waves regarding the stability.

15 knots is the most wind I’ve been out in so far with the Ellesmere, and she tracked fine for me without the skeg, and remained maneuverable in all directions. She has a light tendency to weathercock into the wind, as any kayak should. And there’s a built in skeg to take care of any directional control issues should a person find it necessary.

Out in the waves, it feels very settled in – it doesn’t feel twitchy at all to me. The footage I have is from 2 separate days. You can tell from the green top and the grey top that I’m wearing. The day in the green top, I don’t think I pearled at all. The day in the grey top, I managed to dive the bow a few times, but it resurfaced without issue, continuing through the ride. Part of me thinks I would like to put a peak on the front section of the bow, because I think that helps the bow surface quicker after a dive. Part of me knows that adds a little volume and would be an experiment with overall behavior. Overall, I took some fairly steep drops dropping in on a few waves that would have bow-dived and stalled out some of my other kayaks. And part of any surfing is timing, and not dropping in too late so that you drop into a thrashing. The Ellesmere manages the whole process very well, and I’m not worried at all about having her out on bigger days. I will actually be looking to the Ellesmere for this.

Directional control riding in front of a wave is very good. My Capella 169, my go-to sea kayak playboat for years, requires a little more control. The chine profile seems to help direct the Ellesmere in a line out front. It resists broaching better. And yet I can still straighten her out and manage directional control to avoid a broach quite easily.

She proved forgiving in the waves. The low volume feels settled and not bounced around much. An interesting thing regarding the angle of the chine profile shown in the video, as I sat with my back to the broken waves, when a wave would hit me at any quartering angle from behind, the kayak would edge itself in towards the wave. I’m not talking about getting clobberblasted by an intense wall of wave that’s just gone critical. I’m referring to broken whitewater washing over. The kayak automatically guided itself to exactly where a person would want it. It leaned inward towards the wave without input on my part. Now that’s a forgiving nature. It’s the first I’ve noticed it in a sea kayak, so at the very least, it feels more pronounced in the Ellesmere. Sometimes you can have the wrong reaction when you’re not expecting broken water, such as a whitecap, so it’s nice to have a kayak that guides you into the proper reaction.

You’ll notice when I got back-surfed in the surfing video, all I did was try to anticipate which direction my kayak might broach. It just felt to me like she has a very forgiving nature overall. No quick broach, stern dive and stall, twist and turn. Given the evenly distributed rocker, this kayak might actually surf as well backwards as forward. I have a feeling my stronger direction will always decidedly be surfing forward, so I’ll probably never really know the answer to that.

I felt I could paddle out in a hurry when I needed to, I could catch waves in plenty of time to settle in before they went critical and started breaking. It’s just a real nice surfing kayak, remaining predictable and easy to control. It’s not attempting to be an Aries or Delphin. Just a kayak built to travel through conditions – built to travel efficiently – and still be very playful and fun for park-and-play days.

I personally never looked to the Capella 169 (this is the older version – more rocker, less stable, more squirrelly than the updated versions) for travelling distances. It weathercocks a bit more than others, and a bit less efficiency – although pretty good efficiency among playful sea kayaks, which is probably where it lined up well with me. The Ellesmere is maneuverable, good efficiency, less squirrelly and less weathercocking, seems to have good rocker and profile for waves, settled, predictable, and forgiving in broken waves. I find it to be an exceptionally well built and great performing sea kayak.

Hull Comparisons
Thanks for your effort in showing the differences in the boats. Your correct that it would be useful to see pics of the bottom of the boats, “the working end” when boats are being reviewed. I was surprised to see how full the Ellesmere is in the Bow. What hull shape do you prefer on the hard chines; Arched or V’d?

NICE JOB on your review!

Thanks Steveey
I appreciate the nice comments.

I know it’s a lot of stuff, but I also know how much time I spend digging for information, pictures, reviews, anything that will give me clues about a kayak I’m interested in. So hopefully someone interested in the Ellesmere can find this information and will find it helpful.

I’m really a fan of the arch between the hard chines vs. the V. I think it expands the reach in both directions on the efficiency - maneuverability spectrum. And I think structurally it ends up stiffer. I think primary stability becomes a little looser, which is more evident in the Legend than the Ellesmere. But once you’re comfortable in waves, I think primary stability becomes more of a liability than an asset. So as long as you personally can relax in a more rounded hull, and not be stiff and flopping back and forth nervously between the secure feeling secondary stability, you’ll appreciate that fluid feeling. The Legend makes a lot of folks nervous. I don’t think the Ellemere would. As always, a single feature never tells the whole story.

Ellesmere review comments
CapeFear - thanks for your review. So many reviews are written by those with NOE (New Owner Euphoria), so your dispassionate review is most refreshing in its depth. My 2003 kevlar Ellesmere has the keyhole cockpit and the skeg-adjusting dial. I have a somewhat inflexible lower back due to an injury and find the keyhole much better for that circumstance. For me, the Ellesmere almost always likes at least a little bit of skeg, for my skill level. I have added a keel strip to the hull and a small plastic yellow ducky on the deck. The ducky whispers encouragement and even instructions when I practice my rolls.

The skeg rope is rather vulnerable in the rear hatch and care should be taken in stowing gear. This had a leak in the coupling when I first bought this (used), which I have since repaired.

It is also evident from your tennis ball video that the Ellesmere has quite a bit of water length for a 17’ kayak - despite the rocker.

Nice review! What is the depth?
Thanks for the informative videos! What is the depth of the cockpit behind the seat, from the hull to the top of the cockpit rim? Bow about the same on the Legend?

depths - keyhole cockpit 2003 Ellesmere
Behind back seat ~8.5"

Front of coaming (at top) ~14.25"

2004 not 2003
I misremembered the year of my Ellesmere.

Another thought:

Cape-Fear mentions not needing the skeg in flat conditions, whereas I find mine likes at least a little skeg most of the time. With the dial skeg, it’s easy to adjust the amount of skeg. Note that I am about 45 pounds lighter than Cape_fear- so that may be a contributing factor. From the videos, I see that his skill level exceeds mine significantly. On the other hand, even though just a few weeks from turning 74, I am likely more handsome.

Same measurement on mine from the hull to the top of the rear coaming. It was a hair under 8 1/2".

This measurement was a little tricky on the Legend due to the sloping bulkhead. So I set a level from the top of the back coaming, and measured to the lowest point on the seat. That was 9 3/4" on the Legend.

Then I used the level and measured the same distance from the bottom of the seat to the top of the rear coaming on the Ellesmere. That was 8 1/16".

For the bow, I measured from the bottom of the hull to the lowest point at the front of the cockpit. The limiting factor at the back of the cockpit is the top of the coaming that you would lay back over. The limiting factor at the front of the cockpit is the lowest point on the inside for leg room.

The Ellesmere measured 10 3/4" (and right at 12" to the top of the coaming - this is the ocean cockpit version, so things will be different than keyhole I would imagine).

The Legend measured 11 1/2", so about 3/4" more room at the front of the cockpit. Again, the Legend is keyhole vs. ocean cockpit Ellesmere, so no apples to apples here. But the Legend definitely has a little more room under the front deck than my ocean cockpit Ellesmere.

Rsevenic, I won’t doubt your word about being a handsome fella. I hope I’m still going strong at 74.


The needle on my skill level meter barely gets off zero but I really enjoyed this review and the videos, and I think I learned quite a bit from it.

Boat Designs/ Designers
As new boats are designed and built to drive the market as the latest / greatest new boat; there are several older designs that are being ignored or forgotten. I’m sure the Ellesmere would fall into this category. Any older kayak models come to mind; if introduced as a new model today would be considered as latest / greatest?

forgotten designs
That’s an excellent point Steveey. I recently wanted a ruddered boat to replace one of my skegged boats - to get more interior space for camping gear. I needed to trade either my Romany or the Ellesmere. I traded the iconic Romany, preferring to keep the less famous Ellesmere. The Romany likely had more market value, but (at least for me) the Ellesmere is superior … but will likely be a footnote.

Great review
I see you also have a NDK greenlander. I have the Greenlander Pro, so less rocker and longer than the greenlander.

Speed wise how does the Boreal compare to any other models in your fleet or maybe any other models you have tried. looks like you have quiet the fleet of kayaks.

Nice review, the video really makes it nice. You can really edge that Boreal.

forgot to ask
How does the boreal roll compared to your now sold Romany? Or any of the other kayaks you have had?

rolling the boreal
Originally I got the Romany in a trade (for our rarely used tandem). I found it maneuverable and responsive, but rather slow compared to the Ellesmere. I never tried to roll the Romany, so can’t make a comparison. The Ellesmere rolls smoothly, when I am having a good day.

The Ellesmere is rather fast for a 17’ boat, but my experience is limited.

Romany is a rollin’ machine…
surpassed only by Tahe Greenland and Impex Outer Island…IMO

I might try an experiment
I might try an experiment to test speed to get a little more scientific, flawed as these things always are.

I’m thinking around a half mile. Short enough to push hard, but a bit much to be sprinting. Using the same paddle throughout.

10 runs total. 2 kayaks, one the Ellesmere, doing the 1st and 2nd run, 5th and 6th run, and 9th and 10th run. Then 4 other different kayaks doing 1 run each for runs 3,4,7, and 8. Maybe the Greenlander as the other one of the two, since you brought it up.

So maybe 1. Ellesmere 2. Greenlander 3. Legend 4. Caribou, 5. Greenlander 6. Ellesmere 7. Capella 169 8. Extreme/Nomad 9. Ellesmere 10. Greenlander

It means I would have to get 6 kayaks transported somewhere to do the run. Then do 10 runs all in the same day, the idea being to make it feel like a task that needs to be worked through and completed, trying not to think about which boat I’m paddling. Just work up to a consistently solid-feeling level of resistance. Three runs each with 2 of the same kayak should shed some light on whether I’m actually able to do that or not. Fair enough? Who knows? But it might be as fair as I can make it.

As far as rolling, the Ellesmere has felt nice and slick without a hitch from the start. But honestly, in all my kayaks, I don’t have one that I think “Gee, this one’s hard to roll.” I guess so far I’m lucky enough to have the physical capability to not be overly effected by a different kayak or different paddle. I use a standard sweep roll without a layback, and it feels easy in the Ellesmere. I think the last time I thought “Wow, this thing really snaps right up” was a few weeks ago in the Current Designs Nomad/Extreme. And lay-backers might be lost in that one. So that’s a tough one for me to answer for someone else. I usually just say “She rolls like a sea kayak.”

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I was just trying to get a sense of the speed differences between your fleet. I wasn’t asking for a complete test BUT if you want to sure It would be interesting. Sounds like a lot of work which I wasn’t asking for you to do.

I have rolled quite a few kayaks and can always see difference in them not that any are super hard to roll. I was just rolling a P&H hammer in a pool Tuesday night. Using that as an example that kayak has a definite sticking point that you must get by. Were my valley avocet rolls so smoothly no sticking point at all. My Greenlander pro also has a sticking point but not near as much as the Hammer does or my Pyranha Fusion which is very similar to the Hammer. The Romany rolls very good but my Valley Avocet RM is even easier. Every time I try out a new kayak the first thing I do is roll it. So was curious how the Boreal rolls.

Again great review. Iam always on the lookout for that next great kayak, its kind of an obsession with me.

How can I tell how old the Ellesmere I just purchased is? I don’t see a serial number anywhere on the boat.

From what I know, even canoes and kayaks (built since 1972) are required to have an HIN somewhere on the boat. I’d say keep looking.