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All the deals in my neighborhood have been for composite boats. I'm nervous about taking these on crappy rivers.
Is it worth getting a plastic beater?
Composite boats can take a beating. Not sure what you mean by crappy rivers...do you have lots of sharp objects like rebar and chunks of concrete that you expect to hit often? Fast water with big rocks? Fiberglass is typically much lighter so easier to load and transport which may mean that you will use the boat more. It can also be repaired if you have a big boo boo.
More that the water level isn't great and I'm heavy.
You should be just fine with fiberglass. Just remember that it should be in the water when you get in...if the hull is in the water then the weight is distributed and the boat handles it easily. Don't get in the boat when it's on land, it should be at least partly/mostly in the water when you get in and out.
I don't know all about it, but if you choose poly, you can beat on it a long time. It's a bit heavier, but no repairs should be needed. Composite boats can take a licking too, just learn how to repair the gelcoat and keep both out of the sun when stored. FWIW, I've been paddling composite boats for the last 10+ years (you can see the amount of repairs on the river boat) and just purchased a poly boat for taking on extended travels where I will not know conditions until I arrive. My first trip in it was in low waters in the Shenandoah, and I certainly scraped the "new" right off that hull! So, I guess I vote for poly on a 'goof around creek boat". It's not like you're looking for an 18'er.
I like poly for goofing around on shallow creeks, seal launching, and dragging across the parking lot.
I have an orange Venture Islay 12 with skeg Demo that needs a home. Same plastic as the other side of the Factory, Pyrahna whitewater Kayaks.
See you on the water,
The Connection, Inc.
9 W. Market St.
Hyde Park, NY
Are you prepared to learn the techniques necessary for repair work for fiberglass, and composite boats? Are you prepared to spend the time and money necessary to actually do repair work?
If you answer no to either question, I would suggest that you start checking out boats for sale ads. Buy what I call a "beater boat". In other words; a boat you'd
use on rivers that have lots of rock gardens, ledges, and shallow water areas. A boat that would take a lot of abuse, and not require a lot of maintenance, or repair work.
Yes, poly boats are heavy, no doubt?
BUT, how far would you typically have to carry your boat to get it from your vehicle to the water's edge?
Doesn't sound to me like you're talking about doing any lengthy, "death march" portages.
The vast majority of my paddling is done on rivers. I very seldom have to carry a boat more than a couple of boat lengths from my vehicle to the water's edge.
A cheap poly boat is cheaper than Composite Repairs.
Another option is old school home-built fiberglass "pointy boats" that were made on the Augsburger type molds by a lot of paddling clubs back in the 1970's. My outing club used to make them for ourselves -- the boats were 13' long (old Olympic slalom design) and we would lay them up in two halves (sometimes the deck would be in two pieces as well) that we would tape together along the perimeter seam (plus deck seam in the 3=piece version). They were designed so that if you were pinned and trapped in a hole or against an overhang, the water pressure would cause the boat to split apart so you could escape. Then the halves could be recovered and glued back together. They were light -- the one I used to have was only about 25 pounds. Had molded in seats and we added foot braces by drilling through the hull and reinforcing and sealing the fasteners. Had to use inflatable flotation bags but that is often the case with plastic boats as well. I still see them turn up around my area on Craigslist. They are often pretty ugly (we sometimes laid them up with color but they were more often just ugly raw off-white glass fiber color.) And they were fun in class 2 to 5 whitewater and simple to patch, They were similar in proportion and lines to the well known Perception Dancer plastic whitewater boat that was so popular in that era.
By the way, plastic Dancers and Pirouettes from the late 70's and early 80's often turn up in some areas used for around $100. Good beaters. I briefly had an older Dagger RPM that I picked up used for $300, a price that included a PFD, Seals neo skirt and a new whitewater helmet. Got a WW paddle for $45, also on Craigslist. The 9' RPM was another good creeker but it ended up not being a great fit for me so I passed it along to another paddler.
If you are talking really tiny creeks, I have taken my absolutely ancient Piedra out for that. Same era as the above mixed/WW boats mentioned by Willowleaf, and if the decades old plastic gives way I just walk out thru some muck cursing at flies. What I like about it is being easy and thoughtless to drag over berms or around beaver dams, a common feature of smaller creeks around here. I paid a kid $100 for it and it has been a great little boat to have around for that money.