My paddling interest for years was faster long mileage point A to B days on the largest Adirondack Lakes - Lake George, Champlain, Saranacs, Raquette, etc. Thus among my straighter tracking boats is my current Valley Aquanaut LC Composite. Due to a cronic injury, my growing nature photography passion, and a desire for more wilderness and less motors, I am now mainly interested in shoreline exploration of the medium to small lakes. My Hornbeck is superb for the backcountry smaller ponds and lakes but I believe I still want a shorter kayak now. (unless a Rapidfire is worth considering but beyond budget). It just seems overkill and feels overkill for loading, to use a 17-1 foot sea kayak for an afternoon paddle on Lewey Lake, Utowana lake, Blue Mountain Lake, etc. Some folks have suggested the P&H Aries or Dagger Alchemy but an ocean playboat is not what I'm after. From years of trying some other boats, I am totally baffled what to consider. I am leaning toward a boat still smaller than a Tempest 165, Avocet, etc. At 5-7 and 168, the LV I have is not ideal as well. Suggestions appreciated.
Why kayak instead of a canoe? A nice smallish solo canoe sounds perfect for your needs. Easier to access gear and lighter weight.
Love the 11 foot Hornbeck for poking around on small ponds and lakes and creeks. But even on smaller Adirondack Lakes like Blue Mountain Lake, those westerly winds can create a wet ride that a spray skirt on a cockpit can be welcome. I suppose I could go 100% canoe, not own a kayak, and consider the Rapidfire as an addition to the Hornbeck.
Rapid might not need a skirt
I have done BML in an open canoe though not Rapid. I have done Lake Superior in Rapid and the Gulf of Mexico in same.
The shouldered tumblehome does a nice job of keeping the ride dry as it deflects waves downward. Most of us are too big for the tiny Hornbecks. Though the hull is flared we sit too deep for a dry ride. You can consider a seventeen foot Hornbeck for a drier ride too.
Spray covers are available
for both Hornbeck and Rapidfire canoes. I purchased a pre-made one for my Rapidfire for about $200, but made one myself for my Hornbeck. Total homemade cost: $24. They both work extremely well for keeping out wind blown spray, paddle drips, and the occasional large wave wash. I don't hesitate taking either out in any Adirondack lake except when in the worst of conditions that would unsafe for any larger canoe.
I can't imagine anything over all better, easier to portage, or more suited for pond-hopping than the Hornbeck.
"ocean play boats"
The ocean play boats, as you call them, were generally not developed to be such. When I talked to the P&H guy at Outdoor Retailer about the Aries/Delphin, he said it was developed as a day touring boat, and kind of seemed offended when I called it a play boat (or similar, don’t recall exactly what I said).
Dagger may be an exception, as Dagger is the moving water line of boats for Confluence (Wilderness Systems and Perception being their flat water lines).
But whether they are called play boats or not, the benefits you seem to be looking for (shorter length, a little better maneuverability) are what these ocean play boats have. if you avoid the most rockered ones (like the Sterling Reflection), you should have a good boat for what you are after.
If you like Valley, maybe you should look at the Gemini twins. One is made for more maneuverability/play, the other has less rocker and made as a better tracking lightweight day tourer.
one of the WS Pungo’s?
Lol....from Valley to Pungo.
I just recently downsized from a 15’ QCC 400X to Swift Saranac 14 simply because its lighter and more maneuverable plus it catches less wind on those exposed area’s. I also paddle a PBW Spitfire on selected waters but the Spitfire definitely catches more wind in open area’s.
I’ve no idea what that Valley is but living in the Adk’s for over 25yrs and having owned the old style and 140 Pungos I can say with confidence/experience they’re great boats for he’s looking for.YMMV
other 14ft options
I'll throw the eddyline samba (http://www.eddyline.com/kayak-models/samba/) and walrus griffin (http://www.walruskayaks.com/griffin/) into the mix again...giffin is also available in a slightly lighter "LT" version with only a stern hatch.
I think both have more rocker than the Saranac, but aren't marketed as "play boats" either.
"Valley (Aquanaut) to Pungo"
The joke is that is like going from a Ferrari to a Volkwagen Beetle.
What about a Wenonah Mini Canak? I’ve thought one of those would be nice for inlet and lake canoodling. At 39 pounds it would be easy to wrangle.
I’ve paddled an Avocet RM for years. When I demoed a Pungo 140 I was impressed with how fast it felt compared to some other rec kayaks I’ve tried. I’d have no problem recommending one for the appropriate use and paddler.
What I didn’t like was that the cockpit was huge for me, and that it felt less maneuverable than the Avocet. It’s designed to track and is almost impossible to edge.
Pygmy Tern 14?
The Tern 14 has always seemed like it would be a good lake-puttering boat for sea kayakers wanting something smaller & lighter.
I agree that a 60-lb. sea kayak can seem like overkill, but rec boats don't want to play when the waves pick up. There's not much in the middle.
The Pinguino Sport might be a good choice if more stability or capacity is desired.
Lots of choices.
The Rapidfire is my go to boat for the Adirondacks if there are any portages or for covering distances. With the Bag Lady spray deck installed it becomes a semi-kayak. From the use you describe a Spitfire might even be a better choice. But as you mention they are not cheap, but you get what you pay for and Joe at PBW is great. Just put mine on the Jeep for a trip up to the ADK’s tomorrow, didn’t even consider taking any other boat.
When not using the RF I’ve found my Tsunami 135 to be a good all round kayak for both Adirondack use and messing around in marsh lands here on Long Island. It’s a little on the heavy side but stable, reasonably fast for a short boat and has plenty of storage. I’ve done 4-5 day trips with it and if you think like a backpacker you can really take a load of stuff with you. The advantage is being a plastic boat you’d have to try hard to do any permanent damage to it. If I expect to do rock bashing, intentional or otherwise, while up in the ADK’s I take the 135. I looked at the larger Tsunami’s, Tempest etcetera but found them to have too much volume to make them practical ADK boats. I’m a few inches taller then you but about your weight and the Tsunami 135 works well for me.
Let me provide more info. For those familair with the Adirondacks, let me use sized-water like Blue Mountain Lake, Lewey Lake, Middle Saranac, and Forked Lake as examples. When these waters are completely calm, i would probably have no issue with just taking a Hornbeck out on them and not even use another boat. But such moderate lakes are often choppy and even mid-day whitecapped. Although others do, I would not choose to take a pack canoe out. I would not hesitate to go out in my Valley boat under such conditions. I just feel like dragging out a 17 foot sea kayak on these lakes is overkill. So perhaps I am looking for a lighter and shorter kayak that is still well mannered in conditions. In print, the Swift Saranac 14, 14.6, 15 weight and features seem nice but the turnoff per Charlie’s past comments are a high rec seat back that hinders paddle skills. Perhaps the Alchemy or Zephyr should be looked at.
High back seat
The seat back can be changed out. Mine has a low one.
I’ve paddled the 14S and liked how it handled, but it’s still a 50+ pound boat. That destroys some of the appeal for me if the goal is to scale down.
Hurricane Tampico 140S?
The Cape Falcon F-1 would be excellent for the use you describe, a 14’ sea kayak that tracks well, edge turns like a champ and is very good in confused seas, or crashing surf, for that matter.