I spent a season paddling a P&H Sea Kayaks Cetus HV kayak, which is definitely not enough time or experience to write a review. But, I wanted to share some experiences, especially from the perspective of someone coming from a very different kayak, a Wilderness System Tsunami 140. Broadly, the Tsunami is a good beginner/intermediate paddler kayak, and the Cetus is good for an intermediate/advanced paddler. My skills grew about as much as they could in the Tsunami, so I moved on to a better boat. This is less of a review, and more of a comparison.
Cockpit and Seat
The Tsunami cockpit and seat are comfortable. The seat is Wilderness Systems famed Phase 3 seat with many adjustments, and tuning the fit is easy. It’s a great seat; I can’t complain about it. The cockpit is a good size, and I didn’t really have any trouble getting in or out. It’s too short for me to pull my knees out while sitting in the seat, but some practice and balance make it easy to get in and out.
The Cetus cockpit is notably smaller than the Tsunami. However, because of the backband (as opposed to the high-back seat of the Tsunami) I can easily slide in and out with no trouble. Again, a little practice and balance are key, but I actually find it easier than the Tsunami. The Cetus seat itself is a contoured hard molded plastic with a foam cushion. Upon first look I’d expect this to be less comfortable, but I found the opposite to be true: it’s a fantastic, super-comfortable seat! The real surprise was when a P&H representative told me to remove the foam pad — indeed, that brought the seat’s level of comfort to a new level! As I’ve told people, angels sang when I sat in it. Now, at the end of the season, I still feel the same: the seat is an amazing fit to me.
One big change was moving from a seat back to a backband. In the Tsunami I left the seat back reclined a bit so that I could sit straight up and have good rotation, while still being able to lean back to rest. That worked ok, however when getting into the Tsunami I’d often bump the seat back forward and inadvertently sit on it. The backband provides enough support for me while paddling to both get good rotation and to be able to lean back a bit to rest.
On the topic of getting into the kayak, I’ve read a few reviews that mention how easy it is to get into the Cetus because of how stable it is (primary stability). It’s important to recognize that stability is judged as a relative thing. Relative to the Tsunami, the Cetus is not stable! It definitely requires more balance and focus on how your weight is positioned. Again, practice and experience will make this easier, but they are not in the same league as the Tsunami’s primary stability.
I have always been pleased with the Tsunami’s secondary stability (how stable the kayak is when it’s moving). However, the Cetus is clearly superior here. When paddling the Cetus it is exceptionally stable; I have to really work to edge it or push it hard enough to feel like it may tip.
Length, Speed, Turning, and Edging
The Tsunami is 14’ long; the Cetus is 17’ 11”. I never considered the Tsunami slow, especially going out with friends who have a rec kayak like a Pungo or even other similarly-sized light touring kayaks. The longer Cetus should be faster — and it is! What I most notice, however, is how quickly the Cetus can get up to speed. A single stroke gets the Cetus moving well. This is most obvious when I want to use the camera. In the Tsunami I’d take a few gentle strokes to get the kayak moving where I want it, then put the paddle down and grab the camera; I can rely on the Tsunami’s slow momentum to let me drift to just the right spot for the photo. In the Cetus, however, a few gentle strokes gets the kayak moving fast and by the time I put down the paddle and grab the camera I realize I’ve moved past the vantage point I wanted or that I’m passing by too fast to be able to snap some photos.
When I was first considering a more advanced paddler kayak, I was not intending to go with something longer than the Tsunami because I didn’t want to give up easy steering; going straight, fast wasn’t a high priority. I am amazed by how well the Cetus turns! I saw another paddler demoing it and was simply in disbelief that the Cetus was clearly able to turn more tightly than the Tsunami. But it does!
Edging — leaning the kayak to change the hull shape in the water — is one of the most limiting things I found in the Tsunami. I tried to edge it quite a bit and didn’t feel like I was getting anything out of it; the Tsunami wasn’t turning differently and I kept questioning if I was doing it properly. On my first outing with the Cetus, I had my answer: the Tsunami simply doesn’t edge.
In the end, moving to a longer kayak was a win in every way: the Cetus is faster, turns more tightly when upgright in the water, and it turns more tightly when on edge.
Width and Paddling Technique
The Tsunami is 24” wide and the Cetus is 22”. Sitting in the middle of the kayak that’s only one inch on each side, however that doesn’t communicate how different the deck height or kayak shape is. Here’s what it came down to: in the Cetus I have a much higher-angle stroke. A low-angle 220 cm paddle worked great in the Tsunami for me, but in the Cetus the paddle was far too long (I was starting each stroke too early and ending too late) and a shorter high angle paddle was very clearly just what I needed. I’m using a 210 cm high-angle paddle now, which works much better, though I do wonder if I should have instead gone for the 205 cm length.
Related: it’s a little challenging to perform a good stroke when the paddle is too short. You’ll move your arms to the side of the stroke a little more, but it’s easy to modify technique to make it work. On the other hand, a paddle that’s too long is quite aggravating and hard to work with. The stroke starts early, so you are not able to apply power to get a strong stroke, and then it ends late so you are effectively causing drag before getting the paddle out. Frustrating.
Skeg vs Rudder
I expected to have a hard time giving up the Rudder in the Tsunami. I used it a lot specifically when I had the camera in hand — the rudder allowed me to control direction with my feet. The drop skeg is great at helping the kayak to go straight, but won’t help to control the kayak when using the camera. What I have found, however, is that the ability to edge the Cetus largely negates any benefit the rudder had. The switch was quite easy.
The Cetus was a great step up for me; I’m thrilled with it! There are a lot of other details to like about the Cetus. The small hatch on the deck is nice, the day hatch is easy to get into, the fiberglass looks great. After another season or two of experience, I hope to find more things to like about it.