planning on purchasing 2 'yaks

My wife and I are planning on buying a couple of kayaks for ourselves for Christmas. We’ve been wanting boats to paddle for awhile, and now we have the financial means to pull it off.

The boats we have available to us are models from Confluence (Wilderness Systems and Perception), Necky, and Current Designs. I really don’t know which ones we can test paddle beyond a few rec boats at the local paddle outfitters, so this might not be a terribly viable option for us. We can, at least, climb into some models to see if they fit in the boatyard.

This is what I’m looking for:

The biggest issue I have is with price. I’m pretty much only able to look at boats with a retail price of about $1500 maximum. I work at an outdoor retailer, so I won’t be paying retail…but you get the point. I have a price ceiling.

Beyond price, we’re looking for a pair of boats suited for smaller paddlers (I am 5’8 155lbs, and my wife is considerably smaller) that we can load up with our camping gear. We are more or less lightweight backpackers, so our camping gear is quite small and doesn’t require massive amounts of dry storage.

We live in Pittsburgh, so we don’t exactly live close to the ocean…ocean paddling is the absolute last place we would expect to go (and we’d rent ocean-worthy boats for that instance, anyway). Still, our most frequent paddling destinations will likely be in the 3 rivers area (Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers). Large, slow-moving rivers with considerable commercial boat traffic. If the wind is right (or wrong), respectable waves can be kicked up. Our ‘practice’ ground will be a small local lake with no motorized traffic. There is also the potential for us to take the boats up to the great lakes (Lake Erie being the closest to us), or to paddle some smaller streams.

With all that said, we’re not looking for a full touring/sea kayak. We’re also not looking for a rec boat to poke around in. The boats that look attractive to me for our purposes are boats labeled as ‘transitional touring’ or ‘light touring’ or something similar…typically in the 14-16ft range. I personally want one that is a little more performance oriented that I can develop my skills in (braces, strokes, rolls, rescues, etc). It seems like my wife is looking for similar, but she has done less research into this than I have, so she may not want the same.

I’m pretty certain I want a rudder on my boat. Wifey will probably want the same. I’m not opposed to a skeg by any stretch, but it looks like not as many boats in this category have them. Seems to me a rudder offers a bit more versatility than a skeg, so I’m leaning towards a rudder at this point.

To reiterate an earlier point, because price is an issue, I’m more or less limited to plastic boats. Some of the thermoform models fall in my price range, so I’ll consider those, too. Seems like there’s a little weight advantage to the thermoform. Are they significantly stiffer than rotomolded boats? I doubt the wife will care as much, but I’d rather not have a boat that oilcans a lot.

Of the models available from the manufacturers I listed above, where would you guys rank them relative to each other insofar as they correlate with what I’m looking for?

my thoughts
My girlfriend has been trying out boats and seeing what works. She is 5’2ish and maybe 110 lbs. She has found that the Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 and Necky Chatham (both about 16.5 feet) fit well. Both are around $1600, but the end of season sales (or your discount) could get the price down below $1500. These two boats side by side look almost identical. They have skeggs and are “full” touring. She likes how both would turn very well.

She tried the new Necky Eliza (15.5’, $1300) and found it to have a more recreational feel than the first 2 (showed up in being a bit harder to turn - note: in both cases she tried them without using skeggs or rudders).

Too bad the Necky Looksha Sport has gone away (Necky stopped making them a year or two ago). It is about 14’ long and I found it to be a very playful boat. Sounds like it would meet your needs perfectly - perhaps for both of you (fits my 6’ 200lb body well, and my girlfriend rented one once and it worked for her also). Not a good “full” touring boat as I have heard it can get bogged down a bit when loaded.

To bad you can;t get out in the boats to try them. Many of the places out here in CA allow you to rent boats, and apply the rent towards a purchase.

supporting skills
"…performance oriented that I can develop my skills in…"

Necky Chatham 16, Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 and Current Designs Sqamish each will do everything you note. All available in plastic, these boats support skills development and are capable of handling the Great Lakes.

Gotta go 16’

– Last Updated: Oct-11-06 9:13 AM EST –

And a sea kayak. The transitional/touring boats will, even for you, have large cockpits and high enough decks and wide enough hulls that it'll be frustrating to go for the skills you want. It'll take a 16' sea kayak boat, like the Avocet or the WS Tempest 165 or the Chatham 16, to get there with any certainty. Your price point certainly allows you to get into these used, or maybe new depending on your work-related options.

For your wife - very tough. Contact will be almost impossible if she is not at least 5'4" tall (my height). But she may also be less interested in rolling than you, so you could get away with something that gives her good purchase for turning and basic manuvers. At my size I could make a more recent model Avocet work OK for that, haven't tried the Tempest or the Chatham but it is within the realm of possibilities. Or - if she is shorter than that - it'd be worth looking for a used glass boat for a small person. I might be missing something, but I'm not sure that there is a thermoform boat out there that'll give anyone who is shorter than my height any decent purchase on the braces.

As to "needing" sea kayaks - for what you want to do, yeah you need them. It's less about the length than the rest of the features, and the package is about safety. Overall sea kayaks simply handle waves and dimension better, have full deck rigging and all around sealed bulkheads that make all the diff in rescues and so are safer in waves and dimensional water than most transition yaks.

Don't get hung up on rudder or skeg. Whatever comes on the boat that fits right is the device you need. In fact, when you start doing self-rescues you'll find that a rudder can be a real deterrent for some of them, like the Cowboy where you come over the rear of the boat. (If you just winced you got it.)

thanks for the advice. I did notice that the transitional boats tend to be fairly beamy (around the 24" mark) while the tempest is much narrower at 21.5". So it would be pretty difficult to work on rolls in a boat with a 24" (or wider) beam?

I suppose the main reason I’be been gravitating towards a rudder for a trim device is because its use seems more intuitive to me. Learning to use a skeg properly will involve something of a learning curve, I suspect.

I can see how a rudder would interfere with some rescue techniques (OUCH!).

My wife is about 5’3 and 115lbs or so at the moment. Sounds like we’ll have to work at finding a boat that fits her well.

Hehehe, I guess it’s a good thing that I’ve been putting my name in the contest to win the tempest. If I get lucky, we’ll only have to buy one boat. :slight_smile:

I’ll see what I can do about getting into some boats for a test paddle. I’ve only so far been to the websites of the other stores that sell these boats, and none of the sites mention test paddles or rental options or whatever. With my wacky work schedule, it’ll be a little while before I can make it out to do any test paddles. Hopefully it’s not absolutely oppressively cold by the time I get out (the weather is already starting to turn…looks like we’ll get our first frost this week).

the great search
well I don’t know what area of Pittsburgh you are in but the Outfitter in Monroeville has a list of paddle clubs in your area. They would know what boat to use in those three nasty, bomber-eating rivers of yours.

also the classifieds on here will help out. There are a handful of boats for sale in PA and OH.

Local paddle clubs should be a great place for first hand information about the conditions down there. and you will want to get the best boats you can afford so that you can grow with them. the chop in lake erie and on the rivers can be pretty rough, so quaility should be a main consern.

well I am not adding too much insight so I will go


Rolls and width
Someone will come in here and say that you could easily roll a transition boat and they do it all the time. And many who have long since gotten a roll could do so.

But for most mere mortals, yeah it is a lot easier to roll a boat that has a narrower beam and a somewhat tighter fit. I can guarantee you that you are not going to fully “get” the fit issue until the first time you are upside down in the boat attempting to do a hip snap/thigh lift whatever you want to call it as instructed. If the boat fits right you’ll find something against your thigh that maybe you can move. If it doesn’t you’ll be sliding around and ultimately out of the boat in rather much frustration. It’s not impossible to roll that, but why make it more difficult than needed?

Skegs are pretty simple, and don’t require any major work to figure out how to use once you start getting seat time. If the rear of the boat is getting kicked around by wind or whatever more than the front, drop the skeg some to stiffen it. If you need the rear to turn more easily, bring it up. All the skeg does is make the stern more or less likely to turn off course compared to the front, and how much that’ll matter varies between boats. You don’t really use either the skeg or the rudder for actually turning in a kayak anyway, or at least you shouldn’t.

And the outfitting - is huge. You really want all that deck rigging - full perimeter lines etc. Transitional boats by and large don’t have full perimeter rigging, and it’s a huge safety factor for self and assisted rescues.

I want to get back on tonight with some ideas re your wife. At that hieght and weight it’s going to be a tough go in a plastic boat for one that’ll perform equivalently to what will work for you. You have a lot more options.

Tempest 165 should fit her
I’m 5’2" and under 110 lbs. The T165 works very well for me. I did add 1/2" minicell under the seat cover to give me the height I like (knew what it was from another kayak I own). The adjustable outfitting is easy to set up for your needs.

It is a boat that an athletic beginner can handle yet will not outgrow in terms of capabilities.

I have packed two weeks worth of camping gear in mine, for freshwater touring. You are already used to backpacking, so I doubt you will think the volume is inadequate. The really great thing is that the T165 handles well both with and without load.

Only downside (for you) is that you want a ruddered kayak. If that is so, you will rule out a bunch of other nice kayaks of similar size.

Disagree about the resemblance
I don’t think the T165 and Chatham 16 look almost identical side-by-side. They look similar above the waterline but the profiles of the hulls below waterline look quite different.

I haven’t sat in the Tempest 165 myself, so it’s nice to know it’d fit her.

I think the skeg/rudder thing is mostly a matter of someone having cast an erroneous impression that skegs are complicated. That is probably not critical, I hope, because yeah avoiding a skeg rules out some nice boats.

Check out the Calabria. Its a great boat in the 14 foot range.

You could also check out a Prijon Catalina. It is quicker and more high performance and suited to a smaller paddler. I could be talked into selling the one I have for my girlfriend if you find it a suitable match.


It takes about a minute to figure out a skeg. Here’s the directions: Drop your skeg the amount it takes to stop weathercocking. Weathercocking means pointing toward the wind.

If you want to start very stable but still pretty seaworthy the Cape Horn 15 is a nice beginner boat. It’s somewhat beamy and I wouldn’t want to learn to roll in one.

If you think you might want to learn to roll and brace and are willing to deal with a little initial twitchiness the Tempest 165 is the thing. Love mine. I’m 5’9" and 165 pounds.

how 'bout two used Hurricane Tracers?
I know someone in Jackson Michigan that has two for sale. Both used only this season. They might be 2005 boats put into water this year. Registrations should be available, ask to confirm.

They are still listed as being for sale as of tonight.

You can check out the model and the material at then e-mail me privately if you want contact info. I have no vested interest here, I work in construction, so you can pursue one or both if you like.

The pair of Tracers are thermoformed plastic trademarked by Hurricane as “Trylon”. MSRP $1499.

44 lbs. yup, 44 lbs. with two sealed bulkheads full perimeter decking fore and aft. They go 16.5" long 22.75 wide, two hatches, and each has a manufacturer installed skeg.

You can definitely roll these Tracers… I’ve seen 'em roll numerous times with ease having paddled with the owners this summer.

Original warranty is three years but does not transfer past first owner.

One is yellow “fair” condition $850

One is red “very good” condition $950. Hulls on both are pure white, as are all Hurricane kayaks.

Probably would consider offers. And you’d have to factor in transportation.

About Hurricanes: I have a Tampico 135S (41 lbs, two bulkheads, 23.5 wide, 13.5 long, no skeg or rudder) which I love which I would highly recommend for your wife since she and I are the same height and weight. No, it is not a sea kayak, but the instructors I know have three of them and, being expert paddlers, use them on the Great Lakes every season, as they do the Tracers.The decks are nice, clean and low. I have also seen these roll.

Everyone I’ve personally spoken to also thinks very highly of their Hurricanes,and the customer service is fantastic. It’s a small American company that takes pride in their work.

You can read reviews of the Tracer and the TampicoS in the Pnet forums.

Iknow these are not plastic and not Wilderness but thought they’d be worth considering given the savings and your criteria.

Good luck on your hunt.

Your girlfiend paddles a Catalina?
She must be a fox! Stealthy, well-balanced, outdoorsy.

I’ll agree about the Tracer
I have one. It is light weight, great quality, and great customer service. Check them out.

Boats for 5’2"
I see the posts about the Tracers - I was wondering about the narrowest of them for your wife but can’t comment because I haven’t tried one. They do have full perimeter rigging and two sealed bulkheads as I recall, not as present in the Tampico series.

I just checked around some ads for used boats, and noticed that there are some prices at or around $1000 out there on used Betsy Bay boats, which are wood stich and glue boats that come in quite lightweight and have a boat that might be the right size your wife. It’s their boat for a small paddler, and these are well-respected boats.

I don’t know of anything in the Neckly line that’ll do it for your wife. But I’d say that you want to listen to pikabike. She has the skills like rolling that you would like to go for, and has some big water time as well. Her experience should be extremely useful for your wife.

Some possibilities
Actually, the Chatham 16 and the Elaho might work for her or him. Have not paddled the Chatham but I’ve paddled an Elaho twice (rental). They’re both skegged, though I think the Elaho might be available with rudder instead. It needs a skeg or rudder, in my experience. Super easy to maneuver but seems to weathercock quite a bit for such a low rear deck. Might not have enough volume for camping gear, except a one- or two-nighter. (If there is a HV version, that is NOT the one I’m discussing.)

Another good kayak to demo would be a Valley Avocet, also available in plastic.

Possibly an Eddyline Nighthawk 16 for him; the cockpit is probably big on her (I’ve rented one). The stock backrest is AWFUL. Costs more than roto plastic, less than fiberglass. Skegged.

Celia, I have paddled in the ocean, but some would say where I paddled was not “big water”. Thanks for the ref, though. And yes, I do roll…but will say that it was a lot of quick bracing left and right that kept me from getting into trouble on one rough, chaotic crossing. I didn’t need to roll (or swim).

boy, you set the bar high!
a transitional kayak, but it has to be $1,500 or less

To save money, you might thing about going used. Watch craiglist for your area. Here’s Philly.

(Check out the P&H Sirius for $1,500 in Audibon, NJ! It’s not transitional, but wow wow wow!)

Skegged Elaho

– Last Updated: Oct-13-06 8:45 AM EST –

We have what I think you (pikabike) are talking about in the basement, a plastic skegged Elaho that they made for just three years. As I recall they went to ruddered Elahos after that, and straightened out the rocker a bit on them. It was my husband's first sea kayak.

The boat will fit a shorter person for control purposes because it actually has whitewater style braces and a relatively narrow cockpit and seat - so even at a smaller size there's something to grab. It takes an average sized guy to get it to a good waterline - at 125 pounds that I had on me back then I felt like it would take about 35 pounds of ballast to make it right, and that is what Sea Kayaker tests seemed to find as well.

My concern is that it does weathercock like a banshee - it turned out to be highly regarded as a rock gardening boat - and may be frustrating for a newer paddler in wind. Fantastic boat as long as touring straight isn't an overwhelming priority. But if you can find one someone will sell it'd be inexpensive. (We decided that ours isn't for sale after we re-discovered how much fun it can be.)

Maybe worth checking out a used ruddered Elaho, just to see if they retained the great cockpit fit.

(As to being in big water - so maybe not anything like the Bitches off of Wales, but from what I've seen here pikabike has plenty of seat time to be helpful on this one. And my first sea kayak was also a Squall like hers, so I know what that boat can get you thru.)