Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Silverbirch Broadland 15 Duralite Review - By Alain Cook

I was given the opportunity to 'test drive' the Broadland 15 following a chance conversation with Liam at AS Watersports a few months ago. All they wanted in return was an honest review and a few photos. Well, I knew the Spey was on the cards again but not until September…
  • Could I wait that long?
  • Would it still be around? 
  • Was it worth sacrificing the comforts afforded from my Explorer 15 after years of tweaking?

I wasn't sure at first, but the answer was most definitely yes to all of the above. I should say I’m no expert, whatever that maybe, but I have been mucking about in canoes and kayaks for approximately thirty years with the last eight or so solely in a canoe.

This review is a personal opinion based on my experiences, with a bit of input from my tripping companions Clive, Graham, Matt S, Matt R, Paul, Nick, Pauline and Dave; between us a mixture of 3, 4, and 5 star paddlers. A big thank you for their practical and photographic input, especially Matt Rea for his expert stalking along the way, you’ll find his photographic work if you follow the link here:

The first test for me has to be the carry and load test - how easy is it to load on top of my Landy?  Well loading is easy, relatively speaking, it is no more difficult than loading my Explorer. Carrying wise, like any boat it just needs a bit of personalisation, some padding on the yolk for me is essential. 

The second test is my wobble test, no matter how secure or far back I place my Royalex Explorer on the roof bars the front end will shake about and 'wobble' anything above 30mph. The Broadland felt and looked rigid, even on the motorway at the supersonic speeds my Landrover does! Well ok it got tested to about 55 or 60 mph and gave me no reason for concern.

Finally the third and fourth pre paddling tests included a visual inspection and comparison with other boats and its packability. Well it's a nice looking boat, this one is blue; there’s a reason they choose blue for catering plasters! Amongst the beautiful and slightly wild backdrop you get from the River Spey surroundings, I did initially feel I stood out somewhat, not helped by the fact that, unintentionally, everything I was wearing and carrying seemed also to be blue!! It could have been worse of course, it could have been pink ;-) I understand Silverbirch offer flexible colour options, (including pink) on this occasion it was just what AS Watersports had available. I prefer to go for the faster green boats!

Getting cleaned in the washing machine!
It has simple lines with what seems like a prospector cut and I like the groove line just under the gunnel, I’m not sure it does anything but it’s a nice touch. It has a flat bottomed hull which seemed to have some very gentle lateral ripples in, I’m not sure how much use this boat has had and in what conditions, it will be interesting to know how this fares in the future. I am being critical, as this is a review, but it was certainly no cause for concern. The Duralite plastic is tough for its weight, it is a short 15 and on the narrower side with a short freeboard. As for packability, well loaded with four days worth of gear for a solo paddler, it was absolutely fine. I was carrying all the usual stuff; camping gear, cooking gear, clothes, all the paraphernalia we seem to collect as open boaters and it fitted fine and without upsetting performance.

Morning Yoga has never been so well balanced…
So how did it fare on the river? As an 'off the shelf' set up, (I think) the seats seemed further in towards the centre of the boat than I’m used to, AS Watersports kindly fitted a kneeling thwart which, to allow room for rear seat, was set at approx 350mm from the yolk. Some of the larger guys in the group found this a bit tight, it was perfect for me however, and with this in mind with some personalised outfitting think it's certainly a great solo boat. As a tandem it works but with larger adults just seemed a bit small. Smaller adults or youngsters might benefit from this for day or weekend paddles, you'd need to pack diligently for tandem multi day expeditioning.

I had no difficulty keeping up with the Explorers, Esquif Avalon, and new Voyager Prospector canoes. I’m not so sure how I would fare on longer slower rivers such as the Thames, the Broadland 16 a likely better option here?
This is a manoeuverable boat whilst still feeling very stable and forgiving. It will turn on a sixpence when edged enough and I had no trouble picking and following a chosen line down bigger water, indeed picking a line and being maneuverable was essential if I wanted to stay dry due to what seemed like quite a low freeboard! Pushing directly through a wave train guaranteed a wetting, even quartering and maneuvering smaller waves didn't guarantee staying dry due to the low cut; I wonder what adding just a inch all round would do? (disclaimer, better paddlers might stay dry?)
In the rapids, (no more than grade two on this trip) the Broadland 15 wants to be playful, I was happily eddy hopping, crossing big waves and I even found a little bit of surf from one feature, not enough to really judge but what I caught was fun.  

The Broadland immediately instilled me with confidence, as a smaller weedy, (I weigh at best eight and a half to nine stone) paddler this boat fitted me well and I would happily recommend to the slight paddler, (male or female) as well as perhaps making an excellent first boat for a younger paddler, (I have my eleven year old daughter in mind) I’m putting it on my wish list…

Additional Review By Team Members Graham Thomas & Nick Davies

My usual open canoe of choice is a Royalex Mad River Legend which is narrower than most and flat bottomed which makes it slower as a tourer but great in moving water. So the first noticeable point which I liked in the Silverbirch Broadland 15 Duralite was how narrow it is. This makes it great for easy cross deck work and weight transfer for maneuvers. Its prospector style hull shape makes it track really well and has good cruising speed.  The hull feels really stiff and rigid with no flex which is a tribute to the Duralite material.
It was difficult to really compare how well it manoeuvred compared to my Legend and the other canoes I paddled on the Spey partly because we were all carrying a weeks gear and the others all had fitted matting which gave more confidence for bigger edging and better boat contact. However once you are in a stable position it behaved well although I did feel the gunwales are a bit low for bouncier sections and it would take on a little water while quartering. 

Graham Thomas
Level 4 WW Leader.

My thoughts

The boat tracked well, has a low gunnel, but ok for grade 2ish stuff a bit more rocker would help its manoeuvrability, (big word for me) but other-wise nice shape and paddle, oh and the seats are a bit tight if you want a kneeling thwart.

Nick Davies
4 Star River Leader