I recently had a lengthy discussion with Al Anderson, owner of Betsie Bay Kayaks. He explained that since my boat was built (it was the 7th Aral), there have been numerous changes to the construction process that have addressed the issues I pointed out in the review, plus others. For example:
- They're using a new mold that improves the lines of the hull.
- The coamings are now fiberglass and more consistent than before.
- The hatches are bedded in a stronger compound using a different process that eliminates leaks.
- The bulkheads are vented and the hatch covers have unobstrusive pulls instead of large vent plugs.
There are probably other improvements that I'm not aware of, but I haven't seen one of the new boats yet. I would encourage prospective customers to seek one out and judge for themselves. If you have any questions or comments, contact Al. He's a very friendly and helpful guy.
I will reiterate that the on-water performance of the Aral is outstanding. It's always been a pleasure to paddle.
I'll keep the rating on MY boat as it is with an 8 (see below), but with the footnote that newer boats may be significantly improved.The Aral fits midway between the Valkyrie and Recluse in the BBK lineup and shares their 20.5" beam. Fortunately, it also shares many of their handling characteristics. I've also owned a Recluse and the Aral is much like it. It's very stable for a narrow boat. It's nearly neutral in the wind and responds beatifully to leans, making a skeg or rudder completely unnecessary. It's quite maneuverable for it's length, but tracks well enough that you won't find yourself constantly correcting it. In this regard, it's about the best boat I've paddled. It's also pretty quick, which is to be expected in an 18' boat.
BBK emphasizes light weight over durability and the construction reflects that. The deck is thin (3mm) and much of the boat is only fiberglassed on the outside. This is not a boat for rock gardens or surf play, but it IS light.
The downsides of BBK boats are small hatches that tend to leak if not fully seated, no day hatch option, sparse deck rigging (optional full deck rigging is available) and finish quality that's not comensurate with the price. They're structurally sound, but there are numerous unfair areas in the hulls and I have yet to see one with a coaming that wasn't noticeably crooked.
I guess one could say that BBK is the NDK of wood boats. Outstanding design and handling qualities, with so-so build quality and a few annoyances. I'd rate it a 9.5 for handling and a 6.5 for construction and finish work, so I'll call it an 8 overall.
It's funny how you forget all about the flaws when you're out on the water...