The Swift Bering Sea is a well kept secret! I was looking for a kayak for my 180 pound, 5'10" body that was under 16 feet long (so it would fit in my garage), under 24" wide, and weighed less that 50 pounds (so I would not ruin my back while loading it on the car), and was an efficient boat to paddle. The Bering Sea met all of these criteria.
With a waterline length of 15'2" and a soft chine hull, the Bering Sea is faster than many 17 footers. While the initial stability is a bit 'twitchy' the Bering Sea has reasonable secondary.
The skeg version is just 43 pounds in the Kevlar Fusion layup. I couldn't pass up an older used model that was a little heavier with fibreglass hatch covers and a rudder weighing in at 52 pounds. Although I had planned on buying a skeg equipped model, my boat has a Seal Line Smart Trac rudder system. The rudder is a short blade that has very little drag and is nicely controlled with separate foot pegs and rudder pedals. As a beginner kayaker, the rudder gives this boat great maneuverability. I have been paddling this boat for the past 3 months and I have no regrets!
This is a great North American made kayak that should be on any serious kayaker's short list.For a couple years I was quite happy paddling my Enlightened T-16 thermoformed plastic boat. It was stable, tracked well, a little hard to turn but acceptable, hauled a freight load of camping gear well, and made me smile every time I paddled it. It just cruised right along with easy strokes and was a good first touring kayak for me. The paddler I sold it to is saying pretty much the same thing about it.
What I wanted next was something a little more nimble, a little faster, perhaps less stable but more playful. So I went on the boards here and asked for advice, and got plenty of choices. I took time off for the on water demo days this spring and talked with dealers and builders. I narrowed my choices down to the Eddyline Fathom and the Swift Bering Sea. Either one would fill my needs quite well. At the end of the day I wound up buying the Swift Bering Sea.
There isn't just "one thing" that I find outstanding about this kayak. It just is what it is. A comfortable, reasonably fast, reasonably maneuverable kayak that is well made, pretty as can be, and makes me smile every time I look at it on the rack or on the truck or on the water. It's just a purely delightful boat that I'm enjoying immensely. I've done several day trips and two weekend camping trips and have no problem stuffing my 200 pounds and another 70 pounds of gear into the Bering. The work "cavernous" comes to mind, it just seems to always take "just one more thing" through those oversized hatch openings. I do think the 30 pounds of water and the two soft sided coolers with beer and ice were a bit over the top, but I had a good trip anyway.
The hardest thing I've paddled so far is a 2 mile crossing with 3 foot breaking waves on my left rear quarter and a steady wind pushing the boat around when I was on the crest of a wave. The boat wanted to slide down the wave face sideways into the trough. That was the first time I was absolutely thankful I got the rudder. Without it the boat required diligent steering with every other stroke. Once I put the rudder down everything settled down to a good ride. The hatches stay dry in normal use and the seat is very comfy now that I've cut about 3 inches off the top of the backrest.
The manufacturer has been easy to work with and willing to spend extra time helping me decide if this was the right boat, and not trying to push something off on me and he has followed up to see how I'm liking it. So, there's no "gosh, gee whiz this is the best boat out there" kind of review. Just a satisfied customer who wouldn't hesitate to buy another John Winters design and I certainly won't hesitate to buy another Swift. This is the third Swift I've owned over 6 years and all three have been beautiful boats and very pleasant to paddle.Since I was interested in a kayak primarily for open water with occasional weekend camping trips I knew I wanted an efficient high-volume touring kayak. Because I had to lift the kayak to the top of the carriers on my van I insisted on a maximum weight of 50 lbs. Those criteria led me to these ideal specifications for my touring kayak:
Length - 15’ 17’, typical touring kayak length
Width - Less than 24” for better efficiency
Weight - 50 lbs maximum for easy lifting and portaging
Cost - Less than $2000 for budgetary reasons
Capacity - 185 lbs + Camping Gear (I weigh 185 lbs)
Volume - 11 Cu Ft Minimum for Camping Gear Space
Tracking Aid - Skeg Aesthetics, Personal Preference
Trying on the Kayaks
Dimensions, specifications and theories are one thing but how a kayak fits and feels in the water is another. To get a better handle on fit and feel I tried on many kayaks at outdoor shows and local dealers. Some of them I tried on 2 or 3 times.
Bering Sea Observations
The 16.5” wide cockpit fits me well and I found the optional high back seat to be much more comfortable than the standard touring seat. The 14” deck height results in generous foot room. The built in thigh support fit me like a glove. The large bulkhead storage areas can be readily accessed with the oversized rectangular hatch covers. The easy to lift weight of 47 lbs is achieved with Kevlar reinforced fiberglass and an ABS nose cone which protects the bow from damage. The amount of skeg engagement is precisely set with a sliding control knob to the right of the cockpit. The flared hull improves secondary stability and the long waterline relative to the overall length makes it easier to paddle at cruising speeds. A co-worker told me that he was very satisfied with a Swift warrantee claim and the owner, Bill Swift, makes regular visits to the Swift dealers.
Bering Sea Paddling Feel
The Swift Bering Sea glides through the water with a smooth forgiving stability. It tracks well and yet, with a little lean, turns easily. The skeg is effective in minimizing weathercocking in cross winds. Its wonderful gliding characteristics, great tracking, good efficiency, smooth forgiving stability and comfortable cockpit combine to make it very easy to paddle for long distances. The Swift Bering Sea is a winner!