This is a review for the Brittany 16.5 and the Brittany 16.5 Thermo. I have both and paddled them for he past 6 months in different conditions.
1. Differences between the two:
The Thermo is some 9 kg lighter than the standard, which makes a very notable difference in handling it out of the water. It is also a bit faster
The Thermo is made of a different and thinner material. It seems less robust and for white water (with rocks) conditions I take the standard Brittany. Having said that the Thermo is not flimsy, if you want to do sea kayaking (and this is a sea kayak after all) you will find both strong enough for what an ocean can throw at them.
The Thermo has a different more comfortable back rest (see details further down). The standard's seat however can be pushed back further that that of the thermo.
- Rudder mounting:
The Thermo uses an aluminium bracket
Why did I buy the two versions? I kayak with my girl friend and also on my own or with friends. I am faster than my girlfriend, so she gets the thermo and I the standard (and she gets light carbon paddle, while I take the cheaper aluminum one). This equalizes our speeds nicely.
When I am out without her I take the thermo.
If you're after one kayak only then I would go for the thermo. It's more expensive but you'll love the lower weight and the higher speed.
2. The pros:
I found them good value. They are fast and offer more than enough space for an average size man like myself (71kg, 177cm). They keep a straight line very well and the retractable skeg (goes up and down with a flick of a slider next to the cockpit) makes them track even better (which slightly increases speed).
3. The problems:
They both handle very nicely in the ocean; itís a joy manoeuvring them through the waves.
I have been paddling for 25 years and have owned twice that many boats. Riot is under new management and they have upgraded their quality and service over previous years. I figured I'd give them another chance and I chose the Brittany because the narrower, more v'd hull design is a bit edgier than the standard competition (Tempest, Storm, Etc).
- The rudder paddles:
As others have commented before the bungees that act as the rudder paddlesí return spring make a u-turn through a hole in the sliders. This is a completely unacceptable design. It creates so much friction that you have no feeling at all for the rudder pressure. When I inspected the hole I found that (after 3 hours of use) it had already elongated to twice the size. The bungee chord was also chafed. That bungee should be looped back through a pulley or at least an elbow.
But there is a simple solution: Remove the bungees. A rudder on a kayak does not need a return spring mechanism, just as the tiller on a boat does not need one. The only problem is that the paddles can slide backward when your feet are not on them. So before you enter the kayak make sure they are pushed forward (thatís easier that doing it when you are in already). Once youíre in the kayak itís not a problem because your feet are against the paddles anyway.
- The rudder:
The rudder is about 80% to 90% out of the water. It simply is mounted too high. In calm water that is not a problem. But with the waves up you find that the rudder is often not effective enough (and often it is not touching the water at all). I once had the whole boat going sideways while surfing down a wave. No rudder action at all.
I will try to make a modified bracket for the thermo to lower the rudder and to adjust its angle. Problem is that I can't access its bolts inside the hull.
- The rudder mounting on the Brittany 16.5 Thermo:
The bracket holding the rudder is fixed to the stern with two bolts. The nuts are inside the hull. They are practically inaccessible and they turn with the bolts. This means you can not tighten the bolts properly.
- The seats
The standard has an uncomfortable back rest if the seat is in the far back position. But most people will fit in well with the seat in a more forward position (and the back rest pulled forward also).
The Thermo has what Riot calls a floating back rest. It doesn't work. I guess "floating" means it can move up to the point where an adjustable strap limits it (and prevents it from popping out of the seat altogether). In reality, gravity keeps it down all the time. I prefer to have it higher. So to keep it up I drilled two holes in the lower part of the backrest (the part that slots into the seat), and put two plastic bolts through them. So now the back can not slot all the way down any more. Works great, I am comfortable now.
- The hatches:
Some water enters them when plunging into waves.
The addition of both a skeg and rudder is a bonus stroke of brilliance. The plastic seems to be as high quality as any and the outfitting seems fine too, but the price was way under the competition for the same setup. It's fast enough and handles well in the rough, and is more exciting than most Camry/Accord do-it-all boats. Pretty hard to beat, really. Looks like Riot's back. Lets see how it fares long term. I like the look and the fit of the Riot Brittany. It is my first single sea kayak so my grounds for comparison and kayak knowledge are limited. Soon after purchase one of the bellcrank/levers on the rudder where the cable attaches broke with what seemed like a minimal force. This was replaced without hesitation under warranty. When a second one broke I was supplied a replacement by the vendor but chose to make a "shed " version myself because the factory part seemed flimsy and I didn't want to have to deal with a rudderless paddle home after another breakage. I chose to fit some aftermarket rudder peddles with solid footpegs and toe rudder control pedals. When I removed the old ones I was disappointed to see the rails the factory pedals slid on had warped with the pressure of the shock-cord return spring on some unknown hot day. The pedal system was very poorly designed and would have needed replacement soon in any case. The return spring was a piece of shock-chord doing a 180 degree turn through a hole in the slider rail and would be chafed through very quickly.
After a session of rolling practice I was alarmed at how much water was through all the hatches, Litres not drops. I discovered that all the bulkheads were leaking. Again vendor support was good and he offered to re-seal all the bulkheads for me but I chose to do it myself with materials supplied by the vendor. I have now got a boat I quite like, but really it shouldn't have taken so much to get it to that point. There are some fittings behind the seat that have rusted very badly despite the fact I was the boat with fresh water after every outing. I discussed this with the vendor but by this stage I was starting to accept that the fittings are just poorly chosen for a SEA kayak and rather than replacing them with the same item, which will only rust again, I will work out an alternative at some stage in the future.
I think the kayak performs OK but because it is my first single I really can't comment in a comparative wayjust purchased this boat for my wife a few days ago. She is new to the game I have been paddling for a year - I paddle a telqua nimbus kevlar but I started out with a Boreal Inukshuk and this boat beats the Inukshuk by a mile. I paddled her boat today and could not believe how well it handled. That's not to say the Inukshuk isn't a good boat but it wants the rudder down with the least amount of wind. The Brittany comes at a great price; nice features such as day hatch etc.
It's not a light boat, but if you want some quality in your plastic boat, not the thin cheap plastic some manufactures are selling, try this boat out. Always remember: paddle what you buy first and beware of people selling only one brand of kayak; they may put you in the wrong boat. If all Riot boats are as nice as the Brittany these boats will be around for a long time