I'm reviewing the Venture Orca 14. I understand that Venture Kayaks is a division of P&H that makes lower-end kayaks. But from the pics I've seen, the Venture 14 is identical, hull-wise, to the P&H Orca 14.
I'm a novice-intermediate kayaker with canoeing experience over the years. I'm 52, 178 cm and 69 kg (5'11' and 150 lb). I've also got a limited bit of experience with sea kayaks.
I own an Old Town Loon 120 that I bought last year with my brother. It was a compromise, and you all know what that means: it was okay for the first day or two and then it began to feel too limited. Now I'm looking for a better boat for paddling down rivers, across the occasional lake, and perhaps do some overnighters or 2-3 day trips.
I demoed the Venture Orca 14 from Mountain Equipment Co-op in Calgary. It's a version without a rudder. I put my stuff in a bag in the rear hatch, and had quite a time getting the cover on. It took at least 3-4 minutes of considerable effort to get the rubber cover on. The guy in the store tried too, but I asked him to stop after a few min. of effort. He said it would loosen up after a few times. But will it?
I sat in the boat in shallow water. The hull has a double V shape: a shallow V along the centreline, with a deeper V (hard chines close to the gunwales. Because of this, primary stability is lower than the OT Loon, and the kayak might feel tippy when you get in it. BUT, secondary stability is very good due to the hard chines. I could tip the boat more than 60 degrees and it still didn't want to tip over.
I adjusted the foot pegs (I liked the push rods that slide them up and down), and found the padded knee braces were already adjusted to a good position for me (good thing, since it would take a wrench and a hex key to adjust them), then paddled 1.5 hours up river into a moderate (at times strong) current. At some points I was paddling as hard as I could into a narrow steep channel and barely moving. In this type of situation, if you let the nose get more than a few degrees off the current, you will quickly spin around broadside to the current. But at no time did that happen, as I was able to use the low primary stability to lean on the required side to get the curved waterline working for me to make minor course corrections in the strong current. What I mean to suggest by this is that I don't think the kayak needs a rudder. A combination of leans and asymmetrical paddle strokes should be enough to make any corrections you need.
When I turned back downstream, I returned to my starting point in only 7 minutes; I passed through a couple of Class 1 rapids with some 25 cm (1 ft) chop and didn't think anything of it; the boat cut through it without being tossed around at all; this speaks well for the length of the boat.
The Orca can be retrofitted with a rudder, and comes rudder-ready with guide tubes in place. Maybe it would be beneficial for long flat-water crossings in a cross-wind, but it doesn't seem necessary in a river.
I tried turning into a marked eddy behind a rock jetty and was able to spin the boat around within a boat-length using one rear sweep and one bow pry. Not as maneuverable as a whitewater boat with lots of rocker, but certainly adequate for Class 1-2 rapids.
I didn't think much of the seat, the main reason for my lower rating. I think it's thin and flimsy. The seat back is adjustable, but through a buckle that is situated behind the seat back itself. This would be awkward to adjust in the river. In fact, due to a lot of forward and rearward leans while trying to push upriver, the seat strap loosened off, and I wouldn't have been able to adjust it without popping my spray-skirt. I also didn't think the foam in the seat-pan was very thick or comfy. Lastly, no water-bottle holder hole in the front of the seat. I had to let my water bottle roll around in the bottom of the boat. After two hours of paddling, I found myself thinking a higher quality seat would be beneficial. I wouldn't want to paddle an entire day in that seat, I suspect.
This kayak has a rounded British-style bow line rather than the deep V of the greenlandic style. I suspect that might help it track better, but I could be totally wrong on that.
All in all, this boat provides reasonable value for the price point ($Cdn 750), and could be a good choice for the occasional paddler.
There are two many reviews on this website by people who say "this is the only boat I've ever owned, but it's perfect. And too few reviewers state their experience (which colours perception) so one person will say a boat tracks poorly, while the next will say it's nice and maneuverable. Also too many of the reviewers comment on a boat they've owned for years - by that point you've dialed into and have lost the ability to assess it critically. I paddled the Orca for just under 2 hours, and feel I have a good feeling for its strengths and weaknesses. Still, before I buy another boat, I will demo several others and report on them. Tomorrow, a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140 (similar hull Xsection to the Orca suggests it will be lively), a Necky Manitou 14 (the rounded hull Xsection makes me suspect that it will be too stable for my liking), and a Necky Looksha Sport (whose narrower 22" beam and some rocker suggests quite sporty handling). I recently tried a Kestrel 120 (ho-hum), a Delta Kayaks Twelve Ten (very nice, but out of my budget range), a Delta Fourteen Five (double ditto on the price). I also tried a Seaward Cosma TX, but as it was on flat water I didn't get a good feel for how it would handle wind and waves). I think it's well worth my while to invest a little time and money ($25 per boat demo fee) to educate myself. I hope this review was useful to you.