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Submitted: 11-13-2010 by kocho
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The 2010 plastic Zephyr 15.5 has been with me for a couple of months, so this is more of an initial impressions review. Iíve taken it to decent 3-foot wind waves on the Chesapeake Bay (20+ mph winds) and a handful of times on the white water rapids of the Potomac river from Lock 10, through Anglerís Inn and Mather Gorge, to below Great Falls (just above Fish Ladder).

I was looking for a maneuverable and easy to roll kayak that would be strong and maneuverable enough for the rocky Potomac and up to Class III rapids, occasional rough weather day on the Chesapeake, and the even more occasional ocean surf session. Have not tried ocean surfing yet, but for the other two objectives the Z is performing great.

For the past couple of years Iíve been paddling the Perception Sonoma 13.5 in Airalite (40lb) and giving the light weight was not an easy decision. I still miss that little boat (see my reviews of it). The Zephyr is sluggish on flat water compared to the Sonoma. Despite being 2 feet longer, the Z is actually a bit slower for me than the Sonoma (which by the way is exceptionally fast for its length). Anything above 4.5 mph in the Z is a serious stretch and it seems to lack a good glide. But on moving water the Z allows me to have a little more control. It is less affected by currents too. The bow is more buoyant and pearls less easy and is easier to control (I felt I was a little front-heavy in the Sonoma but the seat was glued so that trim could not be adjusted).

The Z has low rear deck (same as the T 165, notably lower than the T170) and to me at 185lb and 6'4" has a more attractive rolling ability than the Tempest 165 (which is also easy to roll). The T feels narrower (although it is not) and is less stable with a defined transition point when edged. The Z is rounder bottomed compared to the squarish Tempests and thus has no such well defined feel of sitting on "edge" when edged. Instead, the feeling of stability increases gradually. In confused water and foamy white water I find the added overall stability a bonus Ė where I have to be very attentive with the T165 to keep myself centered, the Z puts me at ease. Almost cheating, so the T may be a better learning tool than the Z all said and done, as it will teach better balance and edging skills IMO. The Z is the better play boat though -;).

The beginning and end stability are considerably higher than with the Tempest 165. That same stability makes it pop-up during a roll where the T just rolls back with no fuss. To me, being tall, that "pop" is a welcome that helps me right myself-up. For smaller paddlers it may be a problem to overcome the slight initial effort needed to flip the hull to initiate the roll up from an upside-down position (canít have it both ways, unfortunately).

The Tempests would excel in open water touring type of use, where the Z is really a play boat that could work as a day tourer as long as high paddling speed is not on the agenda. The T 165 edges with less effort than the Z so if the primary use of the edging is to just steer while paddling, the T would be the better choice. The Z on the other hand requires more effort to edge effectively but responds better to steering strokes.

Another difference in hull shape b/w the Z and the T is that the Z has full ends while the Ts have pinched ends. The swede vs. fish form has already been mentioned by other reviewers. The fuller ends on the Z I think make it a more stable platform in confused water and currents as they are more forgiving and offer extra buoyancy while still sitting low above the water. The Z also has more flare throughout the hull, thus its secondary stability keeps on going, where the Ts have an earlier tipping point. That same flare also helps in moving water to make the hull less susceptible to swirls and currents.

The hatches Ė mine are bone dry and the rubber covers easy enough to put on or off. In heavy underwater use I have gotten not a drop in any of the three hatches. None. Iím very happy about that, since on some of my previous Tempest kayaks (plastic) I had one or two hatches leak considerable amounts due to hatch rims that did not mate well with the hatch covers.

One last note Ė the cockpit rim is wider on the Z than on the Ts. It is also longer and higher in the front, which allows my 36" inseam to get in seat-first. This I canít do in the T165 and barely in the T170. The knee/thigh braces on the Z are placed wide apart do I can paddle with knees together comfortably. Canít do that in the Ts and I like paddling with knees together when not absolutely necessary to be bracing. Foot room is a problem for me Ė my size 15 feet fit comfortably enough barefoot but I canít put absolutely any hard-sole foot wear (the only option is neoprene socks).

As a kayak for me to learn and play in white water it has met my expectations. While at just over 50lb it is lighter than just about any other plastic kayak, I still wish it was 10-15 lb lighter (but then it probably would not be nearly as tough as it is now).

Check my Z in action on my YouTube page -;) just search for Zephyr 15.5 and Potomac and white water and a couple of videos should pop-up.

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