I've been paddling a Vela for about 2 years now. In total I've been kayaking for about 10 years and work as a part time guide in Nova Scotia so I considered an advanced paddler.
With that said it took me a couple months to really get comfortable in the boat. I think it had something to do with the water temp. and my hesitation to push the limits at first because I hate getting wet.
If you are willing to spend some time developing your skills this is the boat for you! It's perfect for anyone who likes something that can track well, turn on a dime, and is easy and fun to play in all conditions. I've used it on many camping trips and never ran out of space. I wouldn't suggest anyone go solo camping but if you did you would have to plan your packing. It does sit quite low in the water when it's loaded and water does wash over the bow a lot in the swells so I'd suggest you get a good spary skirt for the boat.
I was lucky enough to pick up a used fiberglass boat and all the gear for $1500 CDN from someone who just got into kayaking and tipped out at sea... said they would never get into a kayak again. It's such a sad story :(
My advice is if you're just getting into kayaking do not buy this boat. Kayaks don't tend to depreciate like cars so you can always sell and trade up after a few years of paddling fun. I've seen too many people buy boats that they are not ready for and end up never using them. Lose the pride and buy something your comfortable in!
I'm not a "small" guy. About 5'10" and 175 lbs. Which is about the max. limit for the Vela. Great boat! You get the idea. A really great sea kayak for smaller people like me. Nearly everything has been said here already, the best thing is the fit. You glide into the boat and feel home. From tight and secure in high waves to relaxed and easy in calm seas. High quality workmanship, nice details.
You can get it with a rudder instead of the skeg, but the boat doesn't need it. It traces good even in stronger winds and also turns very well when putting it on edge. When edging, there is a sharp point between keeping upright and turning to capsize (I didn't - yet).
So, if you've checked all the Romany’s, Avocets, Shorelines and other small volume boats, give this one a try!I have to agree with everything SS states in her review, below. I have owned my Vela for almost years now. I would consider myself a strong intermediate paddler. I came from a flatwater C-2 racing background so I wanted an efficient and fast boat (e.g "Need for Speed"). I originally thought my selection would fall in the 17 - 18' range. I had been paddling off-and-on in rental or borrowed boats for several years. I attended several shop sponsored paddle days on Cape Cod and upstate NY, but I could not find a boat I was really pleased with. When I did not have any luck in my regional shopping I purchased a QCC 600 on-line without a test paddle. The 600 is beautiful boat with a high quality composite lay-up. The folks at QCC are some of the finest you will ever deal with. Regrettably, the 600 was not a good fit for me, or my personal paddling style. I have to echo the sentiment often repeated in other reviews, "Try Before you Buy", particularly when it comes to sea kayaks.
After finally purchasing a boat I hated to part with it, but the 600 went back. The QCC people were good to their word and accepted the return without any hassle. My search continued. I heard of a kayak dealer north of Boston called New England Small Craft (NESC). They came highly recommend by several paddlers I met on-line. I made a few calls to NESC and spoke to Joel the owner. Initially he came across as a "gruff" New Englander, but I soon warmed up to him. He knew his stuff and carefully queried me on my preferences and needs. I eventually took a long weekend and made 6 hour drive to NESC from home. Based on my research I fully expected to take home a P&H Capella, Sirius or possibly a Current Designs Caribou. These boats all run 16.5' or longer. When I arrived at NESC Joel and his assistant were putting a bunch of boats on their trailer. They then taxi you to a local lake to test paddle. Joel had put the Capella and Sirius on the trailer specifically for me, but added one more boat, a P&H Vela. I immediately dismissed the Vela because of it;'s length. Heck it wasn't even 16 feet long (15' 9" to be exact), it couldn't be that efficient. At first I told him not to bother. He gave me a wily look, and proceeded to load it anyway. He commented "Let's bring it along. Why don't you give it a try after you test paddle the other boats?". OK, let him waste his time and effort I thought. We traveled to the lake and I test paddled the Capella, Sirius, Current Designs Gulfstream and several unmemorable composite boats. Heeding Joel's advice I left the Vela to last. I'm 5' 9" and 150 lbs. All the boats I had previously tried just did not seem to fit. I was very disappointed with the Capella after reading all the positive reviews. I didn't feel it tracked or handled that well, and the cockpit was not a great fit for me. Too much hip room. I enjoyed the Sirius and I probably could have been happy with it. As Joel requested I paddled the Vela last. To my pleasant surprise the Vela came up an easy winner! Joel did indeed know his stuff. Up to this point, I had to make fitting accommodations with most of the boats I tried. The Vela fit me, not the other way around. It handled beautifully, tracked better than the Capella, and turned when I wanted it to. The Sirius was faster, but not by much. As with all P&H boats the construction and trim are very nice. Not quite as fine as QCC or Current Designs, but the boys at P&H in England do a very fine job laying up their kayaks. The Kajaksport/VCP hatches fit snugly and do not leak. The day hatch was a big plus for me. The boat is only slightly prone to windcocking. It comes equipped with a retractable skeg, which I have only had to use in strong quartering winds. The Vela has all the deck rigging I'll ever need, and the lines behind the cockpit worked well in self-rescue attempts without modification. I'm fairly new to rolling, but after some practice I found the boat easy to roll. The seat is one of the most comfortable I tried. I have only had to do minimum outfitting to the boat. I added padding at the knee braces and an under-the-deck foam/Velcro holder for my bilge pump. The boat has paddled well at Cape Cod, large lakes and a slow local river (Susquehanna). Storage volume is on the small side compared to the QCC 600, but my camping gear fits inside with careful packing. More importantly the volume is much greater than that of my backpack. Lastly, I did not experience the deck flexing mentioned below.
If you are a "smaller" paddler (e.g. under 5' 11" and 170 lbs.) or are considering the Current Designs Slipstream (another nice boat) please give the P&H Vela a try. A final note - I wrote the above review several months ago. Up until now I have solo paddled. I had a opportunity to take two day trips with a friend paddling a 18' Eddlyline Falcon. I found that on calm waters or if the waves were constantly from one direction I could nearly match my partner's speed. However, in confused seas (e.g. waves from many directions) I lost ground. The Vela is still and excellent boat, but you may not alway be able to kept pace with your paddling buddies. Thanks.
This is *THE* small/light person's boat!! The Vela is new for 2000 from P&H. It has a rounded hull bottom between curving hard chines. At 21.25" wide and a hull that tapers quickly to a fine entry and exit point, a lighter person will sit down in the water like a heavier person does in a larger/longer boat. Therefore, the Vela's hull interacts with the water the way a kayak *should* for us lightweights. No more bobbing around on the surface of the water like a cork, at the mercy of the wind, or banging your hands on the deck and sides. It has a retractable skeg but tracks very well without it. The low deck makes windage minimal. Secure footbraces, glassed inside, not bolted through the hull, and recessed deck fittings are also glassed so as not to snag inside. Three bulkheads allow for two large oval Kajak Sport hatches and one small round hatch over a rear day compartment; there has been no leakage. The white hull makes repairs/touchups easy to match. Like all P&H! boats, it's gorgeous, too.
It has rather low initial stability, but very good secondary. It might not feel comfortable for a beginner who's not willing to develop some skills, but this is a boat you won't outgrow skill-wise. The chines/slight rocker allow for great turning, but tracking is remarkably good. There's not a huge overhang above the water fore and aft, so the waterline is probably deceptively long for a boat that's rather short as sea kayaks go. I can lift it easily to my shoulder where it balances perfectly, in spite of low upper body/arm strength. My kevlar Dagger Meridian is a struggle to lift and impossible to paddle in the wind, at my weight range.
The only drawback is is a little deck flex in my very early kevlar model, although the hull is like steel. The fiberglass decks may be stiffer or P&H may tweak the later production runs. Check for that flaw, the only reason I rate it 9 rather than 10. But at only 42 lbs., it's soooo manageable off the water. I haven't taken it in the ocean so can't comment on that. This is probably a better flatwater touring boat than surf kayak.
At 5'5" and 120 lbs, the Vela fits like a glove, responds like a boat *should*, but is simply scaled down for the lighter person. What a joy. If you are light/small, try this sea kayak before buying one, try lifting them all, and then decide.