Is 17ft overkill?

Hey everyone! I’m a relatively new paddler and I am looking at upgrading to a better kayak. I currently have an Old Town Dirigo 120 and I am looking at two used boats. One is 17’ with a rudder and the other is 14’ with a rudder. I am thinking that the 17" may be overkill.

I mostly do day paddles around various coves along the Chesapeake bay and go out to local reservoirs here and there. However, two friends and I went on our first overnight trip on the Patuxent River last week and we are hooked. We managed to stuff enough food and water into the three kayaks for the trip down (about 8 miles), the overnight stay, and a short paddle out (about a mile) the next morning. It was obvious that we brought too much food and too little water. My two friends have 12’ kayaks that they got from the big box sports store (Dicks I think). We want to do a two night trip in a few weeks. My friends don’t have the resources, or desire, to upgrade to better kayaks right now.

I am worried that the 17’ would limit my ability to explore marshes along the Patuxent River and the longer kayak would force me to get an extend-a-truck and a trailer hitch (which I need anyway) for my truck to carry it. I could carry the 14’ with proper strapping.

So, is a 17’ overkill for my purposes? One or two day overnights and day paddling? Should I go with the 14’?

In my opinion,no. I have 4 boats over 17 feet and never feel like my boats are too long. I paddle rivers and creeks in central Fl frequently. I also use an extender on my truck and it makes for extremely easy loading after a long day.

If a boat you are looking at is for a paddler bigger than you are, it won’t be pleasant in the long haul. There are short as well as expedition length kayaks for bigger water designed for all sizes of paddler. The overall volume for which a boat is tuned is about the whole package, not just the length.

So depending on the boats you are considering, the 14 footer could be too much volume for you and the 17 footer just right.

How big are you, and what boats are you considering?

As to long boats in marshes, now that we have a number of boats I do bring out a shorter ones for windy creeks. But when we had just one boat each, I was fine with the 17 foot plus boat for that use as well. The longer boat was apt for the rest of our paddling, on rivers and bigger lakes locally as well as coastal waters when we drove east some, more so than the short boat that I take on creek crawls now would have been.

Specifics of the kayaks and I.
The 17’ is a Wilderness Systems Cape Horn 170 and the 14’ (actually 14.5’) is a Current Designs Whistler. I am 5’8", around 190 pounds, and losing weight.

Have you had a chance to
paddle the two boats? Put them in the water and see which one you liked best.

On those boats…
CD Whistler was apparently redesigned in recent years, but the CD website doesn’t say what year. So the seller may know if the boat is from before or after. It looks like the redesign included messing with the bow and adding keyhole to the cockpit.

It is a quite big person’s boat, that probably hasn’t changed. Long cockpit - like over 3 feet in the newer version - and a deck height of 14.75 inches. I would suggest that you take a tape measure to the cockpit of your Dirigo and see how the two compare, overall cockpit size as well as deck height. Whistler has a load weight of 400 pounds (paddler plus gear.)

The Whistler is advertised as CD as a boat that is well suited for activities like fishing and photography, that usually means they don’t have bigger water paddling in mind where a smaller cockpit is critical due to waves. I don’t know if that matters to you, but I thought it worth noting.

Cape Horn 170 is a pretty old design, I can’t comment on the fit for you but others here who have had one probably can. It is an old enough boat that no one including WS has specs listed for it. For that one, it’s old enough that I’d look very hard at the condition issue.

17 feet isn’t overkill
Everything is a tradeoff. It all depends what you want. The shorter the boat, the more maneuverable. Longer boats are better for covering more miles.

To turn a longer boat in place, alternate forward and reverse sweeps on alternating sides of the boat. The guy in the first video has a short boat and it turns on a dime. The boat in the second video is longer, but you can still do it. See the 2:40 mark.

As for trucks, you have to decide. I carry a 17-footer on my Ford Focus. It hangs well over both ends.

Most longer boats
can be turned quite easily if you know how and practice. To start out go into shallow water and practice forward and reverse sweeps. Edge your boat substantially and away from the turn. Put your paddle blade at about 45 degrees (experiment with this) to provide both sculling support and turning force. Edge your boat more severely at the start of the sweep and reduce the edging near the end of the sweep. If you need more turning force use your paddle in the extended position. When you have that down go on to other strokes like open faced bow draws. I have gone through swamps and mangroves in an 18 foot boat with no problem. Sometimes you need to use just half of your paddle (or take a canoe paddle) but you can turn the boat with either.

If the marshes/creeks/ small spots are big enough for a 17 footer, you may want to go with it, because it will be better suited to longer distances than the 14’. However, if the small spots are small enough that the 17’ literally won’t fit, the 14’ is obviously a better choice, especially if only 1-2 day trips are what you plan to do.

If it is just a question of is 17’ better or worse than 14’, I (just what I would do if I were you) would go with the newer kayak, or the one in better condition. Cockpit size and overall fit for you obviously are things to consider as well.

It’s waterline lengthe and hull shape
that effect maneuverability, not overall length.

My over 17’ Eclipse 17 / Sea Lion turns much easier than an Eddyline Merlin LT, which is 13.5’ or my QCC 400X, which is 15’2" long with about a 14’9" waterline length. The waterline length of the Eclipse 17, Sea Lion is just over 15’. The Merlin LT has a very deep V hull.

This is true. Seventeen foot sea
kayaks get around swamps just fine, guided by paddler anticipatory planning. A 14 footer is handier, but carries less.

Often the issue is how much boat one wants to manage off the water.

adding to what Bowrudder said
"The shorter the boat, the more maneuverable." - as some have pointed out, short doesn’t necessarily make more maneuverable (water line length, not boat length is more important), but a shorter boat can be turned around in a narrower area (you need a channel at least as wide as the boat’s length to make a 180). And shorter boats in general are lighter and would have less overhang out the back of vehicles when on the roof, which makes it easier to transport.

“Longer boats are better for covering more miles.” - longer boats generally go faster. And they can carry a lot more gear. if you paddle with others with longer boats, having a long boat would be good, as it would make keeping up much easier.

I have both a 14 foot and a 17.5 foot. I find I use the 14 footer the vast majority of the time, and only use the longer boat when I am paddling long distances, with friends who are fast, or loaded for longer trips.

If you get the 17, your friends will
make you carry the beer and most of the gear.

Check out that new 16’ Epic SOT. Rudder designed to cock up easily in swamps. Lots of storage. Fast.

when you paddle a longer boat
your bow gets there before the bow of the other guy’s boat :wink:

I went from a 13’ Necky Manitou to a 16’6" P&H Capella and never missed the smaller kayak. In fact, I kept the Necky for a couple of years but never paddled it again. Once I got used to the Capella, it was very maneuverable and also faster and better handling in rough water. The only advantage to the Necky was that it was easier to load on my truck and carry to the water.

You didn’t say
what you’re looking to get in your “upgrade”.

Ideally, paddle both boats to see which one you like more.

If your friends are on short boats, the “advantage” of the long boat might be lost on you. Faster? You’ll just be waiting longer for your friends to catch up (been there, done that, can get boring). Better suited in big water? You’ll have to find other friends to paddle the bigger water with, etc…

As for turning in tight space, there will be a point when the 14 footer can do a u-turn in a 15 feet wide channel and the 17 footer won’t (but you get pretty good at backing for 1/2 mile after a few practice! ;-] )

of course
I should have said it - it is almost a sure thing that a 17 foot kayak will be significantly faster than a 14 foot kayak. There probably are exceptions that someone will be nice enough to point out, but I can’t think of any.

the redesign w. the RSS (Revolutionary Seating System) came in 2010. If the Whistler you’re looking at is an earlier model, it’ll have a cockpit 16.5x33, not huge esp. in width.

you’ve done a good job of describing w. whom, how and where you want to paddle, including future goals of more river paddling.

I’d be persuaded to go w. the Whistler (assuming you paddle it and you like the fit, handling etc)

  • your buddies are in 12’ boats. Y’all aren’t likely to go into open waters so the open water capabilities of a 17’ Cape Horn won’t be missed.

  • you said you were getting hooked on river camping. The Whistler’s a gear sponge whether you are going solo or w. a buddy or two. It’ll hold plenty, so no advantage to the 17’ boat there.

  • you can learn how to handle a 17 footer on rivers but there is much less of a learning curve on a 14 footer. It’s easier.

  • the point made by abc about outpacing your buddies in their shorter boats is a good one to consider.

  • your favored places are estuaries and coves…sheltered areas. The Whistler will be excellent for that kind of paddling and give you all the advantages above.

  • at 190 lbs plus gear (esp. camping gear) you will settle into the Whistler just fine. With a cockpit width of 16.5" it’s not a real big guy’s boat…

  • it is however very stable (thus great for fishing and photography). While the Cape Horn boats are not tender, they aren’t optimum for either activity.

  • from what you described imo you’ll get more priorities satisfied and more uses met more easily in the Whistler than the Cape Horn.

Thanks for the tips everyone! I can only have one kayak so it looks like one that is between 14 and 15 feet may be ideal for what I do especially because I may be moving into an apartment soon.

A few Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145’s have gone up for sale. One is $1000 (but includes a paddle, pfd, and spray skirt) and it is about three years old. The other doesn’t have a rudder and there is no price listed. However, its part of a package deal with another kayak and accessories for 1750 so I could probably score it for 7-800. I’d add a rudder if possible.

About a rudder
I doubt that you will need one. You should be fine controlling your kayak via edging while on the move.

As for kayak length, mine’s just over 17 feet and I’ve squeezed into some tight waterways. Only time I’ve had trouble turning was when the width of the stream was less than the length of my kayak:) Luckily we do have a ‘reverse’.