Nigel Foster Silhouette Sea Kayak Review
I’ve owned a Nigel Foster Silhouette for almost 5 years now. I have paddled my Silhouette in a wide variety of conditions. I’ve paddled it on a number of long trips loaded to the gills. This is probably the kayak I have put the most miles in.
|From Naturally Superior Adventures-Lake Superior Greenland Style Symposium 2008|
Nigel Foster Silhouette Stats
Depth at front of cockpit coaming: 13″ (I measured it at 12.5 to the front coaming)
Two oval Valley 17″ Hatches 7″ round day hatch fitted left
Static rescue lines rigged fore, but skipping the area along the front hatch and aft along perimeter.
Bungee deck rigging. Compass recess. Purchased model had a Silva 70p compass fitted.
Weight: Fiberglass 55 lbs.
Conditions Under Which Sea Kayak Was Reviewed
Flat Water Inland Lakes
Lake Michigan Waves: 7-10 Feet Wind: 30+ Knots
Longest Journey Under Which Sea Kayak was Reviewed:
Nine day trip Silver Islet to Rossport along the Black Bay Peninsula 2005North Shore of Lake Superior
South & North Manitou Islands
Lake Superior Provincial Park
Tester: Me-Height/Weight: 5’7″/175-180 lbs
When and how tested:
I’ve owned this kayak longer than I’ve owned any other kayak (5 years). I’ve paddled it through a wide variety of conditions. I can say that I’ve paddled it in quartering seas in excess of 5 feet and 30 knots, beam seas in excess of 5 feet and 30 knots, headwinds of thirty plus knots, and tailwinds up to 30 knots. I’ve had it loaded to the gills with camping gear and paddled it empty in a variety of conditions as well.
Fit and Finish of Kayak
I’ve actually owned two different Silhouettes. I owned a Walden silhouette and now a Seaward. and seen a few of the old Dutch built Foster-Rowes.
The Walden Silhouette I received as a demo from the Appomattox River Company. It looked brand new when it was shipped to me. The fit and finish was excellent. There are two observations I had after five years in that kayak was the gel seemed to be light in the tail and the sides. After doing some heavy tripping on rocky shores the tail continually needed application of gel coat. The second observation is that the Walden Skeg system was a little finicky and prone to cable problems. After five years of heavy use the skeg wire came loose in the housing and started to jam. I played with it, and decided if I was going to do any more long trips I wanted something I wasn’t going to have to screw with and that had parts available. (Walden is no longer in business.) I was confident the old one was fixable but not to the point where I would trust my life to it on a long crossing. And if you are tired and in a beam wind, you might have to trust your life to it. As a point of interest one of the first things Seaward did when they got the molds from Walden was to modify the skeg control area in the cockpit on all three of Foster’s boats to allow a more standard skeg control system to be used.
I’ve only had the Seaward Silhouette since May> I purchased this from Gun Lake Paddle Sports so I can’t tell how this one will fare. I will say that the glass work is impeccable and seems sturdy. The boats are nearly identical in weight. A nice plus is the perimeter of the decklines is now all reflective static line. The hatches are now all internally tethered.
This kayak has been typecast as twitchy. It is nimble, agile, easy to edge, and fast and this comes at a price. The initial stability, while not as tender as a Surf Ski is somewhat loose. The kayak rocks from chine to chine. The rounded hull and hard chines makes this possible. And as a result the kayak is very easy to carve and skid out when edged, and it locks the hull in when you want to go straight. However if you are sitting still on wavy water and reach into the dayhatch for a drink, make sure you are ready to brace a bit. I’ve had accidental capsizes a plenty in rough conditions, but rarely on flat water where some horseplay was not at work. But it doesn’t really bother me as I roll up and continue my day. I can typically edge the kayak well into my armpit to turn.
Speed and Maneuverability
The Silhouette has very little rocker in the hull. It is fast and effecient when under way. With about 50-80 pounds of gear very very stable. It is also very maneuverable due to the hull shape. I find that the kayak will turn around in less than four strokes when on edge. It is easily the fastest non-racing hull I have paddled. I find that I do not struggle to keep up with even a QCC 700x. Speed is one of it’s better attributes and certainly at 17’10” this is not a short kayak even with some overhang at bow and stern. Maneuverability is really where this kayak has a lot of benefits over other kayaks with as much waterline. The Silhouette can easily carve and spin around within it’s own hull length when operated by a paddler who can edge really well. I’ve been able to perform a lot of tight turns and spins in rock gardens on the North Shore of Lake Superior that I would not try in shorter boats like the P&H Sirius or a Valley Nordkapp. When headed downwind in waves the kayak will easily edge on and off waves with no paddle strokes. I’ve been able to offset a broaching turn downwave with an edge in the opposite direction. There are few kayaks that provide this much enjoyment out of a downwind ride.
Out of the Box Comfort
This is definitely not a boat I paddled with the original equipment. I have replaced the seat and the backband in both the Silhouettes I owned. I found that the 1″ thick mini-cell seats and bulkhead supported backbands I fashioned were very comfortable. The lower custom seat lowered my center of gravity in addition to making it easier to lay over the back deck. The foot braces are factory and no problems to report.
This kayak has been a do it all boat. I’ve loved every second in this boat other than when I’ve had a jammed skeg on the crossing between North Manitou Island and the mainland. A beam sea where there are no waves will really cause the tail to skid out. This is true of many kayaks and why the kayak is equipped with a skeg. I now carry a butter knife in the dayhatch to clear the skeg box in emergencies. Surfing, playing in rock gardens, doing long trips, and instructing in this kayak is fun. No other way to put it. I probably would have moved on to another kayak by now if it wasn’t. I occasionally try another boat and wonder what if, but very few have the juicy edging capabilities and speed of the Foster Silhouette. As a dedicated rolling kayak, I would probably not pick this kayak. However if you want a kayak that you can really paddle and perform all the Greenland Competition Rolls, this is the kayak. I can perform most of the rolls on the competition list in this boat barring the elbow roll, straight-jacket, and under the hull sculling roll. And this is due to technique not the kayak.
I’ve fallen in love with this kayak, I’ve owned two now. If Seaward sold an ultralight version with clearcoat hull that weighed less than 40 pounds I might own two. The light one I would use for every day use, and the heavy glass one I would use for trips and teaching. Nice thing is seaward now does custom colors for all sorts of wild looking kayaks. How about a Lime green deck with a pink hull!!!!