Maelstrom is the brainchild of kayak instructor Charles-Alexandre DesJardins. Instead of setting up his own shop, Desjardins forged an agreement with well-established Quebec-based kayak manufacturer Boreal Designs to build Maelström kayaks. The partnership with an established builder ensures quality manufacturing and better distribution for both of the Maelström models: the Vitäl 166 and its big sister, the Vaåg 174.
My first impression of the Vitäl is that it’s small. It’s not particularly short at 16-feet, six-inches but the extremely low decks mean that it’s certainly a low-volume design. The look is British with an upswept bow and stern, a drop skeg and capped with rubber Kajak Sport hatches. These include a four-inch hatch on the foredeck, a 9.5-inch round bow hatch, 17×10-inch oval stern hatch, and finally an eight-inch round day hatch that is centered behind the paddler. The Vitäl is obviously not an expedition-oriented design but a play boat with tripping potential for the careful packer.
The Vitäl is a snug fit due to its low deck, producing good thigh contact for a secure fit. Mid-sized and larger paddlers will find themselves in a straight-legged position. If you come to the Vitäl from a Greenland background, you’ll love it. If however you are more accustomed to paddling with your legs slightly flexed, then you’ll be longing for a little more deck height.
Despite its narrow 21-inch beam, the Vitäl is very stable on an even keel. Edging is confidence inspiring but there certainly is a hinge point beyond which good bracing is required. The rocker profile is quite conservative, so the boat tracks well and needs to be edged aggressively for tight turns. As an all-out playboat, I personally would have enjoyed more rocker, giving up some of its tracking for increased turning ability. Surfing was fun in the Vital and the boxy cross-section and hard chines worked well for subtle edge control and carving.
When we were out in conditions reported as 30 knots gusting to 42, we found the Vitäl to be a wet ride, and it had a tendency to throw its bow high when riding over waves. This results in the bow deflecting and being blown off course. Speed seems average for a sea kayak of this length and design—a good compromise between speed demon and not damnably slow. The low stern deck makes rolling the Vitäl very easy—it’s great for lay-backs.
With Boreal building the Maelström boats the quality is good with no rough edges or messy caulking, and the distinctive sexy black deck and black hull sections drew many favourable comments from other paddlers. As a sporty all-round day-paddler the Vitäl fits the bill, particularly for diminutive folks who feel swamped by larger kayaks, or for paddlers who love a low deck, straight leg configuration. Larger paddlers should try the Vaag 174.
An order of skeg on the side
The skeg slider is neatly mounted right on the seam joining the hull to the deck. the placement keeps the slider within easy reach, and out of the way of the paddler’s knee inside the cockpit. Clever.
Sometimes less is more
The vital sidesteps the potential danger of finger entanglement by having its handles tethered with a single length of cord, rather than a loop.
Can you say “hard chine”?
The very boxy cross-sectional shape of the vital provides great initial stability for a boat only 21-inches wide. any more angle to the sidewalls and the vital wouldn’t release from the mould.
- Length: 1.5 ft (5.03 m)
- Width: 21 in (53.3 cm)
- Volume (storage): 48.0 gal (184 L)
- Bow hatch: 23.8 gal (90 L)
- Stern hatch: 14.5 gal (55 L)
- Weight: 53 lbs (24 kg)
- Fiberglass: $3,599 CAD
- Kevlar: $4,199 CAD
- Carbon: $4,999 CAD
This article first appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Adventure Kayak magazine. For more boat reviews, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.