I n Derbyshire, not too long after the Beatles launched out of nearby Liverpool, P&H became one of the original modern sea kayak manufacturers. Now the updated Capella 166 arrives in North America to introduce a new generation of paddlers to the P&H sensibility.

The Capella 166 RM (“166” for 16.6 feet and “RM” for rotationally moulded polyethylene) first came along in 1996 and rose to the top of the charts. P&H combined a sporty hull with straight-tracking expedition lines into a mid-sized boat that both turns and tracks reasonably well. Among many critics, the Capella developed a reputation as “the best plastic sea kayak” available.

P&H Capella 166 RM Specs
Length: 16’8”
Width: 22”
Depth: 14”
Cockpit: 29” x 16.5”, 155 litres
Weight: 54 lbs
Rear hatch: 16” x 9”, 85 litres
Front hatch: 9.5”, 45 litres
Day hatch: 7”, 34 litres
MSRP: $1,895 CAD / $1,399 USD

The updated Capella 166 RM still performs among the best

Despite new competition, the reputation of the Capella RM remains hard to disclaim. P&H has stayed at the top of its game by overdubbing the original Capella with modified performance, redesigned outfitting, new hatches and more durable plastic.

Designers have tweaked the mould to squeeze in a tad more initial stability and tracking for more comfortable cruising while retaining a playful side with equally strong secondary stability. It’s British pop with an edge, easing smoothly into a stable tilt for excellent carving. Quite manoeuvrable and moderately fast, cruising at four to six knots.

Outstanding features include the exceptional cockpit outfitting and one of the most rigid plastic hulls available. The triple-layer polyethylene resists deformation and paddles like fibreglass, while the welded plastic bulkheads add internal robustness.

Our testers agreed that the P&H mix masters have come up with an ultimate best-of-all-worlds, do-anything boat, small enough for day trips and ocean playboating but large enough for most multi-day trips.

Kayaks are like lovers and potato chips. It’s hard to have just one. But if you must limit your fleet to a single Yellow Submarine, include the Capella on your shortlist.

Features of note for the Capella 166 RM

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1) Baby you can drive my kayak

Excellent cockpit outfitting includes standard Yakima foot braces. Surprisingly, holes and attachment points are included for an optional foot rudder system, although we found the standard skeg and minor correction strokes sufficient to counteract weathercocking in crosswinds, tail- winds and following seas. Contoured plastic thigh braces adjust easily with a flathead screwdriver, flexing slightly but providing positive thigh contact without being confining. The cockpit opening was just long enough for six-footers to pull their legs out while seated, contributing to a snug feel. Yet testers ranging from 130 to over 200 pounds found the cockpit comfortable and spacious.

2) Eight days a week

…is how long you’ll be able to sit in the Capella. One of our testers found the moulded seat, which is padded not just on the bottom but also the sides, to be “one of the most comfortable kayak seats I’ve ever sat in.” Similar to what one finds on British composite kayaks, but more plush, the bucket seat is well secured in the boat, remaining reassuringly firm on a tilt. The comfortable backband adjusts using one of the simplest ratchet systems we’ve seen—neatly tucked out of the way behind the seat but well within reach.

3) You’ve got to hide your gear away

The Kajak Sport rubber hatches are new to this version of the Capella, as is the third hatch, which is easy to reach from the cockpit providing the rubber pull-tab is facing the right way. All hatches fit very snug and water- tight. The welded plastic bulkheads are one of the Capella’s prized features, said to be much more secure than bulkheads of glued foam found in many plastic kayaks, indicating the Capella 166 RM’s suitability for rough play: rock gardens, surf landings and deep-water rescues.

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