It was very early on in my kayaking career when I decided that it was time to upgrade from my heavy plastic clunker to a real sea kayak with some performance to it. So I marched right down to Billington Sea Kayak in Plymouth, MA where Doug took one look at me and shoved me off from his dock in a P&H Capella 163 to demo (little would he know that it would be hard to get rid of me after that). I tried it and liked it but I couldn’t possibly buy the first boat that I sat in with so many more left to try at the demo docks! That was the start of what amounted to over two weeks of hemming and hawing over which boat to buy. I tried Boreals, and Valleys, and was even offered my boss’s North Shore Calypso in an attempt to put an end to my kayak shopping odyssey and get me back on the water. Anyway, it all came back to that Capella 163. Although it was probably the most painful decision that I’ve had to make in my kayaking career it also turned out to be one of the better ones!
The P&H Capella is a versatile boat. I’ve done everything with mine from teaching kayak classes to open water crossings to playing in rock gardens to 50mile epics. In doing so I’ve come to know this craft intimately (some girlfriends have gone as far as to say that they’re in competition with the Capella for my love!). From its playful rocker to its pain-in-the-@$$ day hatch cover I really do love this kayak and plan to keep her around for many years to come!
The Capella comes in an array of sizes including the 161, 163, 167, and 173 and serves as the flagship sea kayak for P&H. Just taking in the classic and oh-so-beautiful lines of the deck make you feel like you’re about to get into something special! Starting in 2004 they decided to change the hull-shape to a flatter (more moderate) V-shaped hull, further softened out the chine, and made the rocker a bit more aggressive. This resulted in a highly maneuverable kayak that turns on a dime (I’ve thrown a 180 in a single stroke) and transitions smoothly from a moderate primary stability to a bomber secondary stability. These features make the Capella (especially the 161 and 163) well suited for day trips, sessions in the rock garden, and teaching my beloved introduction to kayaking classes.
However, most sea kayakers can appreciate that great maneuverability means less-than-superb tracking and the Capella 163 is no exception here. She’s a dancer, for sure, and nothing save the integrated drop skeg (cable control) will keep her on a straight track for a long trip or crossing. She’s also far from the fastest in the pack with an average touring speed of 3.5-4 knots. Certainly, no one sea kayak can be expected to do everything perfectly but that doesn’t keep the Capella 163 from doing everything well. I’ve taken my Capella on many 20+ mile trips, over to Martha’s Vineyard, and through some serious soup and always finished with a smile on my face! Also, I’d imagine that stepping up to the 167 or 173 would certainly help with the tracking and speed while adding more volume to accommodate a larger paddler and more gear.
The thing that takes the Capella from very special to goddess status is definitely the supreme attention to detail and the comfort in the outfitting. P&H lays up their composite sea kayaks thick and strong without pouring on unnecessary weight (the glass layups average about 55lbs with the hybrids just under 50lbs). I find the cockpit to be extremely comfortable. The slightly raised deck and key-hole cockpit allow for easy entry and a comfy paddling position that prevents cramps or “numb butt” in those of us who are less-than flexible. The soft seat with low-profile and adjustable seat back, molded thigh braces and solid “keepers-brand” foot braces secure the paddler for braces and rolls. The day hatch is easily accessible from the cockpit but I must say that the cover is a real pain-in-the-@$$ to get off. The fore and aft compartments are large enough to store an extended weekend’s worth of camping gear and, thankfully, have much more amiable hatch covers to deal with. Did I mention that P&H offers a slew of custom options?!?!
In summary, the Capella 163 is a versatile, highly maneuverable, goddess of a sea kayak that you’ll be happy to grow old with!
More Info at: P&H Kayaks Official Website
Stats: 16’3” long, 22” wide, 55lbs (fiberglass-layup)
Pros: Excellent maneuverability and secondary stability. Comfortable outfitting. Highly versatile
Cons: Slower than average. Cable-operated skeg. Difficult day-hatch cover
Kayak Dave Rating: