The Venture Islay 14 SOT is the first sit on top to come out of the workshops of the Cheshire based brand, but they are far from new to the broader world of kayaking. Venture is well established in the closed-cockpit world with a well-respected line-up of touring kayaks. They’re also the sister brand to Pyranah, much renowned for their river and freestyle boats. That’s a solid track record, so we were impatient to look at the Islay and see what that experience could offer the sit on top world.

First impressions

It’s big. At fourteen feet, the Islay is the longest one-man sit on top we have reviewed. Big doesn’t mean barge like though and the Islay is a sleek looking boat: A long tapered nose and slightly raised bow sweeps back to a wider seat area then falls sharply back at the stern creating a diamond like silhouette. Venture have also gone to town with the fixtures and fittings, resulting in a seriously tricked out boat.

Fourteen foot of hull and “at least one of everything” from the fittings catalogue does of course add to the weight. Tipping the scales at a shade under 31kg for the base boat, the Islay isn’t a light kayak by any stretch, although large handles and a good centre of balance make the best of that.

The Islay was also shipped to us with an extra bag of mystery fittings… more on that later.

On the water

The Islay 14 is a comfortable place to spend some time thanks to a good seating position, plenty of leg room, adjustable foot pegs and quality seat. Applying a few strokes of the paddle, that good fit also translates into a great connection between paddler and boat and a solid footing to allow power to be confidently applied as that streamlined bow cuts efficiently through the water.

I was also impressed by the stability that the hull offers. The seat sits quite low in the hull, putting the centre of gravity where it needs to be.

Laying down a few strokes and building up some momentum, the Islay starts to come into its own. It cuts through the water and tracks well and feels like a siton that you could cover some distance in. What struck me most though was how manoeuvrable the Islay is for such a large craft.  That connection and solid foot position combines with the hull shape to allow for confident edging, and once on edge the Islay manoeuvres well. If you want even more manoeuvrability then you simply need to release a toggle to your left and the first of the Islay’s tricks is deployed: the innovative Skudder.

What on earth is a Skudder?

Half skeg, half rudder, the Skudder aims to tick both boxes. The skudder lives in a slot beneath the hull (like a skeg) until a deck top toggle is released. A spring loaded mechanism then allows the skudder to be deployed as much as the toggle is fed out.

Deploy it a little as the Skudder acts as a skeg, trimming the kayak against weather cocking. Release it all the way and it operates as a full rudder, steerable from pedal controls atop the foot pegs.  A skeg only version is also available for rudder-phobes.

Outfitting

The Skudder is just one item from an impressive list of features on our demo boat. Grab lines, carry toggles, paddle keeper, cup holder, rear storage with bungee, easy access storage pod, rod holders – it’s all there and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the option of a kitchen sink.  Flicking through the blurb we also liked that every Venture kayak is made with partially recycled plastic collected both from manufacturing waste and a kayak scrappage type scheme.

Wrapping up

The Islay 14 SOT is an impressive boat and is going to be deservedly popular with those looking to take their sit on top touring further. Comfort, stability, oodles of storage and plenty of room for attachments all on a boat that can get you to where the fish are is bound to also make the Islay appeal to the kayak fishing fraternity.

Beginners shouldn’t fear such a technical looking craft either. It is stable enough to give confidence to newer paddlers, although the cost and practicality of owning such a large kayak will make it an unlikely choice for most new paddlers’ first purchase.

As Venture’s first venture into sit on kayaking, the Islay is undoubtable impressive. There are a few areas that we can imagine might change in later iterations of the design (a couple of hatches are fiddly to fit, the rudder control lines are harsh on bare legs and we’re yet to be convinced by the optional storage pod), but the Islay 14 is a great touring sit on top that we’re looking forward to putting some more miles on.

One last thing…

I mentioned that out Islay shipping with an extra accessory bag. Well, it turns out that it has one last trick up its sleeve. The bag contained a “flat earth” kayak sail. Combined with the aluminium centreboard, the Islay can also harness the power of the wind.  More on that to come.