Hey folks! I'm a somewhat experienced paddler and soon-to-be first-time owner, and I'd appreciate some advice from the veterans out there. I'm looking for a kayak that fits the following criteria:
+Good for paddling big things like the Great Lakes, boundary waters, and Everglades, but also smaller things like Grand Traverse Bay and the Manistee River in Michigan
+Dialed-in fit for 5' 10" 125lbs (yes I'm very skinny). Low volume the way to go?
+Lightweight (less than 50lbs would be ideal)
+Enough storage for a week on the water (I'm an ultralight backpacker - all I need is 50L)
+Less than $3k (probably thermoformed ABS?)
Based on my research I came up with the Eddyline Sitka ST as my top choice (though I haven't had the opportunity to get in one) because it seems to fit all those criteria. Now I'm wondering whether it would be too short and I need to look for something longer? (It's 13' 9"). Or is length not as important as I'm making it out to be? The Eddyline Fathom LV seems like an attractive option at 15' 8" but they aren't made anymore. The Delta 15 S looks good at 15' but I'm turned off by the rudder (as opposed to a skeg, which I am attracted to because of it's simplicity - both for the sake of having to manipulate it and for its reduced fragility). Of course there are tons of boats out there that might fit the bill, including ones I haven't heard of. That's why I'm coming to you.
So what do you folks think? Would a 13' 9" boat be too short for those trips? Would a longer boat be too long for river trips? Am I wrong to be turned off by the rudder? And most importantly, please tell me what to buy! Thx : )
For your height/build/goals I’d steer you more towards 16’ in length but <50# is going to mean a composite construction well over $3k unless used. Rudder is fine and there if you and/or the boat design needs it.
If you asked this of me in person I’d probably aim you at the Stellar S16 or Stellar Intrepid Low Volume (P.com review posted) both at <40# and at just over $3k
A couple of things: Boundary Waters in many ways is canoe country. Kayaks are not the best for portaging. Grand Traverse Bay is not a smaller water. It’s Lake Michigan and needs the same respect. The Manistee is a big river & boat length isn’t going to matter. In fact, I haven’t run into much in Michigan where a 16’ solo or an 18’ tandem won’t fit. The Sitka St may be a decent place to start although you would want to try sitting in one to see how it works for your height. There is a paddler in our club who uses a similar sized kayak for much of what you are wanting to do including 1 - 2 day over night trips. That said, she is much shorter than you so that that into account.
From the waters that you are interested in I think that you may be in or near Michigan. Might be worth checking with a couple of places like Riverside Kayak Connection & the Power of Water (others I’m sure but I know those two).
The problem for you with an LV kayak may be your foot size, despite your skinny build - so check closely for that. As a specific example, if you can cram your feet into an LV kayak, can you also get your feet off the foot braces to stretch your legs out on a long paddle?
Can’t tell you what to buy but I can tell you that I own an Eddyline Samba (now called the Sitka), a Fathom LV, and a CD Prana LV. All have skegs, as that’s my preference.
The Sitka ST would be fine for paddling along the shore in calm conditions on Great Lakes bays as well as river paddling. It’s quick, responsive, and a fun boat to paddle. I keep mine for river paddling. While I have paddled it on Lake Michigan in 1-1.5 foot waves, a longer boat for big water is more appropriate. I don’t think it has sufficient storage space for your needs.
The Fathom LV is quite capable for the bigger waters of the Great Lakes, but as you noted, the LV model has been discontinued. FWIW, it can be a bit teeth-chattering in choppy conditions. I prefer my Prana for paddling the Great Lakes. It’s faster and I like aspects of the design much more.
If you’re around the Grand Traverse region, why not give Michael Gray a call at Uncommon Adventures in Benzonia and see what used kayaks he has for sale? You could also arrange for instruction, which would be helpful in making your decision.
Also, the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium is scheduled for July. It usually has kayaks to demo. That’s where I found my Prana. You could rent a kayak through the symposium; I believe Michael Gray also provides rentals for GLSKS.
That is a very good point brought up by @rsevenic - make sure your feet fit in these smaller kayaks. I was very uncomfortable in the Sitka/Samba, and couldn’t fit my feet comfortably in a P&H Scorpio LV. (I’m 5’7", women’s 8.5 shoes).
If you don’t limit yourself to thermoform boats (which really only leaves Eddyline) there are several shorter rotomolded sea kayaks that might fit the bill - Valley Gemini SP, P&H Virgo and Dagger Stratos 14.5S come to mind. I have paddled the Stratos and own a Gemini - both are very versatile kayaks that can handle a variety of conditions with ease and IMO are more capable than the Eddylines. Yes they are a bit heavier but the Gemini is very well balanced and quite easy for me to carry solo.
Lastly - stock of any of these may be extremely hard to find this year. If you find an available kayak that you like and is comfortable I would not hesitate or you may be waiting until next year to get on the water!
Don’t give up on the Fathom LV. While it has been discontinued, there are likely leftovers at various shops around the country. I myself just found and purchased one 2 weeks ago. They also show up used occasionally. It may be a bit of a “treasure hunt” but they are out there.
As for fit, I am 5’7" and 160lbs. My wife is 5’3" and in decent shape (but I never disclose her weight ;-). My wife has and loves a Sitka ST. I tried it and as mentioned by others, there just was not enough room for my feet to get comfortable. We paddle small lakes and calm rivers and in those conditions, the Sitka is quite fast.
I had a Sitka LT which never felt quite right to me. It was a bit too roomy and felt overly wide compared to the slimmer Sitka ST. I traded the Sitka for the Fathom LV and that fits me really well. While it is low volume, the deck is a bit higher than the Sitka ST, so my feet are completely comfortable even with my somewhat bulky NRS neoprene boots size 9. I have only paddled the Fathom briefly in my 2 weeks of ownership, but I really like it. It is a bit tippy initially due to being quite narrow, but once you start paddling it is easy to control and very responsive.
As others have said, for big open water a 16’ or longer boat will be more suitable, and to keep the weight down that means a pretty expensive boat, probably Kevlar or Kevlar/carbon fiber. If you are planning on kayaking in rocky rivers or streams, a plastic boat will be a better choice, heavy but much less expensive. For a first boat I always recommend buying used. Few people stay with their first boat and you can almost always sell a used boat for about what you paid for it.
I have an 18’ boat and rarely have trouble navigating even fairly narrow and twisty creeks Just takes some practice in boat handling.
Rudder vs skeg is always good for a fine battle of opinions, but for camping, a skeg takes a fair amount of room up in your rear hatch. And by my experience, although it seems counter intuitive, rudders are tougher than they look. The most common problem with a rudder is a broken cable and there is almost always a way to make a temporary repair. The most common failure in a skeg is that a small rock (there is always one the perfect size on every beach) will jam the skeg and when someone goes to deploy it they will kink the cable, which is not often an easy fix. A broken cable is often not an easy fix either because of the way the cable is routed. Same goes for a broken skeg hinge.
I went ahead and checked on the stock of used kayaks at the places you guys mentioned and found a good deal on a kevlar Current Designs Willow - a 15.5’ x 22" ruddered boat with soft chines/shallow V hull “designed for smaller, lighter paddlers.”
On inspecting: if it is from one of the dealers mentioned, especially RKC or Power Of Water, have them go over the kayak with you. They are good honest folks and can tell you all of what to look for.
If you are any way near Lansing, you would be welcome to come out with LOAPC (Lansing Oar And Paddle Club). Lots of day paddles and trips of various skill levels. We have also started up the Monday Night paddles at Lake Lansing. We do everything through Meetup: https://www.meetup.com/Lansing-Oar-and-Paddle-Club/ . The Meetup is free to join. The club dues are $10 & we all sign a waiver each year. Oh, PFDs are required for all of our paddles.
It’s very easy to make a mistake buying your first sea kayak. You were wise to get input from this forum. The CD Willow looks like a great first boat and could end up being one you stick with. Just make sure you fit in it … even your feet with your paddling shoes. Of course, it needs to be in decent shape or easily repaired.
I wouldn’t worry about it being a strong tracker and hard to turn. Once your paddling skills evolve, you’ll be able to edge the kayak and turn it easily enough.
I agree with Celia on not paying attention to hard or soft chines. When I was new to kayaking, I read so much about love for hard chines and love for soft chines that I just had to try both. I now own several of both, and it always comes down to overall characteristics of the hull. Hard or soft chines won’t tell you much of anything about tracking, maneuverability, speed, stability. Overall superiority of one over the other? I sure haven’t found it.
I agree with rsevenic on not worrying much about what others feel about tracking and maneuverability. In hard tracking kayaks, I have learned to use solid maneuvering techniques that will work in any wind and conditions. For a couple of years I paddled to work and back 4 or 5 days each week through the intracoastal waterway, 4 nautical miles one way. And although I loved it, it was still out of necessity. I had budgeted for 1 tank of gas in my car per month. When you need to be there on time, and you want to get home, and it’s windy, and stormy, and dark and cold, I learned that when push comes to shove, straight tracking kayaks are the ones that I want to use. The first ACA class I went to (I had already been paddling for many years and regularly played in ocean surf at this point), I used a very maneuverable P&H Capella 169, and I honestly became embarrassed about my maneuvering. I particularly remember the group being asked to paddle only on one side of the kayak and spin as tight of a circle as you can. I did a deep lean and three interconnected sweep strokes, stayed basically in place, sat up, and saw everyone else in the beginning stages of paddling what I considered a very wide circle. I looked at the IT and apologized. I said “I think I misunderstood”. He said “No, you did exactly what I asked.” I got the biggest compliment I have ever gotten at the end of those few days on the water. One of the IT’s remarked to me “I never understood why anyone wanted to paddle a Capella until I saw you in one.” I know there are a lot better paddlers than me out there, but I thought that was a really nice complement. The next ACA class I went to, I used a Caribou. It’s stronger tracking than the Capella, not a super hard tracker like a Soltice GTS, probably more similar to what a Willow might be. My hope was to give my best and fit in, and the Caribou became my favorite for those type of class scenarios. In any case, I think we learn what we need to give to get the job done. And learning to maneuver a stiffer tracking kayak will pay dividends in any craft you end up paddling through the years. So that’s one of those where I think you just decide what puts a smile on your face. Gliding forward through the water should feel fun, and maneuvering should feel like a fun, welcome challenge. So as Rookie pointed out, try the boat if you can, and see if you enjoy yourself. I know Rookie paddles a Prana LV, and that kayak gives a combination of both efficiency and maneuverability better than any other kayak I’ve paddled.
I have kayaks with rudders and kayaks with skegs. I always believed a kayak should perform well without either. I’ve heard every argument from every angle from all kinds of different paddlers. Lots of people hold pretty strong beliefs about one vs the other. I’m not one of those people. I find rudders win the day for utility on the water, and rudders have proved to be lower maintenance among my kayaks. But I’m perfectly content with a skeg as well, and if a person prefers it, I think that’s what they should use, one way or the other. They both provide directional control assistance. For tight and quick maneuvers, both of them are in the way. Like my story above, a rudder will allow you to paddle a big wide circle with no other input. But it will prevent your stern from skidding sideways when you want a more tight pivot turn.
A comfortable fit for your feet is probably the trick for you. You need a taller deck than the typical 125 pounder. But with your height, sliding your heels back a couple inches while keeping the balls of your feet on the footpegs should raise your knees probably 6 inches, and extra deck height above skinny thighs is probably not such a big deal as it might be for a shorter person.
Enjoy your search!
CapeFear, thanks for the time you put in your post! I learned a lot and also loved reading your stories. How awesome that you got to paddle to work like that - makes me think you live in Amsterdam or Venice or something ; )
I’ll get to paddle the Willow in a week and in the meantime I’ll keep an eye on the stock of local places. I’d love to get to test a Prana LV as well, from your and Rookie’s posts it sounds like an awesome boat.
Second what CapeFear said about skegs and rudders. I have had both, since the first they have all been skegged because the overall hull behavior I wanted came on a skegged boat. But I know much, much better paddlers than me who have done major expeditions and found that a ruddered boat made their lives appreciably easier.
I also paddled a boat that definitely paddles easier with its skeg deployed without an operating one for three seasons. Because I was too lazy to fix the skeg. I just got better at incorporating correcting stokes and moving my weight around in the bilge when I was offshore in Maine. It didn’t make for the fastest paddling but the boat, a Romany, is hardly a speedster to start with. I still don’t use it much after that time.
My speed goal paddling these days in Maine, solo, is to be home before the offshore winds really come up on days where anything will be blowing towards 10 knots or more. Which is most of them.
@justgimmethisone If you are interested in trying a couple of very different kayaks I’m not too far from you in Mason. I have a Pygmy Arctic Tern 17’ - hard chine, no skeg or rudder, and I think way too big for you and a P&H Delphin 150 lots of rocker, skeg, and a complex chine profile.