Yet another "help me pick a kayak" thread

Hi folks,

Quick intro, I’m a dinghy sailor/racer, whose wife doesn’t have much appreciation for getting banged around on hard/fast sailing dinghies, but she’d like to be able to get out on the water at her own pace. She had the opportunity to paddle a sit-on-top tandem rental kayak around one of the sheltered beaches in Bermuda for several hours two summers ago, with our then-5 year-old daughter as dead weight in the front seat, and said she’d really enjoy doing more of that. So, here we are.

We are local to a lake, where the kids and I sail one of our dinghies nearly every weekend April thru October, and we have a trip planned to the Jersey shore this summer for a few weeks. My wife has indicated she would like to get a kayak to paddle around Little Egg Harbor, maybe with one of the kids, while I sail with the other. The kayak would likely also see a few weekends per year use at the local lake by my wife over the next few years, and likely the kids as they get older.

So the profile is for a tandem that will track reasonable well with a single adult paddling, has reasonable speed to cover distance (Little Egg Harbor is big… we’ll be doing some island hopping), and something that could be used for some recreational crabbing, etc. Nothing too serious, this one isn’t headed to the AWP World-Series.

Budget is not really a factor, within the realm of consumer-level kayaks, all I’ve been considering are easily under $1k.

I’ve been looking at the Tribe, Rambler, Pescador, Bali, and a few others. The trouble is, as soon as I think I’ve settled on one, I read a review that makes me doubt it. I’m wondering what advice the good folks here at the paddling.com forums would have for me.

Thanks!

Given the current supply issues, I would suggest seeing what is available locally, and I wouldn’t wait until the northern season starts as all indications are that kayaks will be very hard to come by this summer as they were last summer.

Keep in mind that tandems are meant to be paddled as tandems. They are big, bulky boats as singles. Also the ones with the most comfy seats are also the ones that may not have the option to move a seat for single use. I don’t know how old your kids are but don’t rule out two singles - some like the Feel Free Juntos can take a small child as a passenger.

That said, focus on finding a kayak that is comfortable. None of these boats are rocket ships but all should paddle decently for how you intend to use them. But sitting in a seat that makes your feet fall asleep and your butt numb after 15 minutes is no fun. Kids are usually very adaptable but adults tend to be a bit more discerning and want some comfort. Seriously, don’t underestimate it! I sold kayaks for 7+ years and put lots of families in tandems. Get some halfway decent (ie not square bladed bricks) and some comfy pfds (your dinghy sailing pfds will probably do well) and get out and enjoy the summer.

I would add the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 130T, Feel Free Gemini and Corona, and the good old Ocean Kayak Malibu II to your list.

I’m a sailor too - full time liveaboard on a Tartan 3800.

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Check out the Stellar 17’ tandem. Stellar doesn’t make barges but they aren’t cheap. I suspect $1K would be a good down payment. If it’s like their other kayaks, it will be quick.

I hear ya, I had a crew/girlfriend want off of my racing cat. Got her a Sunfish and me a single handed cat… Both could go on the same trailer… Life was good…

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Excellent advice, Brodie. I really appreciate your experience on this. Here’s replies to some of your specific points:

Excellent advice, and it makes sense. I went thru the same with buying a bicycle last year, and looking now, I’m not seeing any stock locally. I’ll likely end up ordering one online, but there may be a chance to sit in some singles of the same brand/model to test the seats.

This is my biggest concern, especially with the Rambler, as some of the reviews for that one mention difficult tracking with a single paddler. But my wife is pretty set on a tandem, so she can have the option to take a kid… or not. I fact, I anticipate kids maybe being on the sailing dinghy with me, getting bored after an hour, and wanting to transfer to the kayak. Or vice versa.

Kids are a relatively passive 11-year old and a more aggressive 7-year old. The 7-year old is going to be a sailboat racer, but I’m not so sure about the 11-year old… he’s more like mom.

Therein lies my confusion. Can a beginner really get a sense of that, just sitting on it in the store for a minute or two? Any advice here is appreciated.

Yep, the whole family has some good dinghy racing or kayaking PFD’s. But what are “bricks”?

Excellent, I’ll add them to the list. In fact the Malibu II is what she used at Bermuda, and it worked just fine, at her level.

Cool! I just race small boats, primarily Thistle class.

Like so many other well-intentioned but clueless husbands, I have a good story to go with why my wife doesn’t sail anymore. I’ll tell it after this thread plays out, but don’t want to derail my own thread, before I settle on a good tandem for her.

By “brick” I mean heavy. At this stage you don’t need to spend big bucks on a paddle but don’t go so cheap that the paddle is a hindrance. This makes as much of a difference as comfort.

You can tell quite a bit just by sitting in the kayak, but the key is to sit for 5-10 minutes, not one or two. What I used to do was pull out a few possibilities onto the floor of the shop and have the customers sit while we were talking about paddles or roof racks or whatever other questions they had. I’d watch for squirming/fiddling/adjusting. If they sat comfortably for a while I knew we had a winner. Unfortunately you may not have this option now, i think you will probably have to go with whatever you can get your hands on.

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You might look into inflatables. Some of them allow you to position the seats lengthwise, so you can adjust your trim with one or two aboard.

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Are you going to have to transport the kayak for the New Jersey trip? I’m thinking mostly once you’re there, from the lodging to the water, etc. Tandems and sit-on-tops can both be quite heavy.

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Yes, I definitely like the inflatables, some of them have gotten quite good, in many aspects. I initially considered them, but eventually ruled them out, because my impression was that paddling effort was higher for covering distance. We’ll be doing some island hopping in the bay off our house, and I was worried my wife would get discouraged trying to cover the 1/4 or 1/2 mile distances between consecutive islands in an inflatable.

If you think I should give them more consideration, I’m game. I definitely like the storage aspect, as I’m already storing a small fleet of boats, and garage space is premium. Please let me know specifically which inflatable you’d favor, if going this route.

Yes, I’ll likely roof-rack it on my wife’s Durango. I should only have to move it once for the trip there, and once again for the trip home. The rest of the time I’ll likely be hoisting it in and out of the water right at our own bulkhead dock. My sailboat rigging skills will come in handy there, as I’m going to have to rig up our own boat hoist, where none exists at the house we are renting.

As for paddles, the general advice is to get the lightest paddle you can comfortably afford. The length of the paddle should be such that in a forward stroke the entire blade should be in the water, no more and no less, and you shouldn’t be hitting the side of the boat. The overwhelming number of paddlers who are not into racing use low angle paddle designs.

For some unknown reason dealers seem to sell paddles that are too long for people. Factors affecting paddle length are boat width, seat height, and body dimensions, among others.

For the boat I don’t have any specific recommendations (adult couples often refer to tandems as divorce ships). I would stay away from inflatables for open water use as they can be seriously affected by wind. Be aware that with a weight mismatch in a tandem, having the bow ride high can also present a problem with wind unless you add ballast to balance the boat. For multiple uses you probably want a rec or SOT style boat unless you like crabs in your lap.

Be aware that in general the wider and shorter the boat, the slower it will be. With a wide flat bottom a boat will be more stable in flat water, but may not be suitable for open water with the possibility of significant waves as it will tend to follow the angle of the waves while a narrower boat with a U or V-shaped bottom will tend to stay more upright. For tracking and use in open water a skeg or rudder is a good idea IMHO. Which to get, or even whether to have one is a matter of great and furious debate.

Look for a boat that has sufficient floatation, either a sealed hull design, watertight bow and stern compartments, or added floatation that will enable you to get back in the boat in the event of a capsize. Learn the skills of how to do this. Most SOTs you can just climb back on, but boats with a cockpit generally require specific techniques.

Times are tough with the pandemic, but maybe by late Spring there will be some dealers that will be running demo days or have boats that they will let you try out on the water.

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You could also check out the modular Point 65 Tequila sit on top that can be configured as either a solo or a tandem kayak. (Technically, I think you can also add an additional section to make it a triple if you really want to.)

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The drop stitch inflatables (like the Sea Eagle 473 Razorlite tandem) are faster and not as balky as standard inflatables because of their thinner and high inflation pressure construction. And I think the seats can be moved around to adjust for different passengers. They sell them in packages that include decent paddles. For $1499 this month you can get the kayak and carbon paddles and free shipping,

https://www.seaeagle.com/RazorLite/473rl#boat-packages

Another option (though it will be a bit over your budget at $1500) would be a Pakboat folding kayak, specifically the Puffin Saranac . Super light (29 pounds) and can be configured for solo or double. Also can be used as an open boat like a sit on top or you can get the optional solo or tandem decks that turn the boat into a sit inside kayak (handy in windy or cooler weather). They have inflatable sponsons along the inside gunwales for buoyancy and to tension the fabric skin. I’ve been using folding kayaks (7 different models, 4 of them by Pakboat) for 20 years including in coastal waters.

Of course, a folder or inflatable also offers ease of storage and the seller can mail it to you, saving a drive to pick it up.

you can also sail Pakboats (though this video is their XT model, not the Puffin.)

I saw these a few years ago, and actually forgot about them, since they haven’t popped up on any of the sites where I’ve been reading reviews. They look like a fantastic idea, and would suit nearly all of our needs. Other than cost, what are the potential down-sides?

Looking more at pricing and availability, I think I could buy a Perception Rambler Tandem + a separate single kayak for the price of a modular like the Point 65 Tequila. Maybe that’s why I’m not seeing a lot of reviews on them, they’re just priced higher than the market will bear, for this concept.

Which adds a whole new option to this thread. If I go with one of the lower-priced tandems, some of which actually seem to get pretty good reviews, I could just add a single to the purchase and have all the flexibility we need for various activities over the next several years.

I suspect the quality of the reviews (or the qualifications of the reviewers) may go down, when getting into these budget-level kayaks (eg. Perception Rambler < $600). But for a novice with modest expectations, they may hit the sweet spot for best all-around option.

Replying to myself, I guess… but I just purchased a Rambler 13.5T. I went with this because it was one of the few SOT tandems with a seat that could be repositioned to a center location for occasional solo use, and it was also the only SOT tandem with a solo center seat that I could find in-stock locally. The low price point made it an easy decision, as if we’re not happy with it, I won’t feel like I lost much of anything in any future upgrade.

Next up: paddle.

And I promise to follow up with the sailing mishap story I already mentioned to grayhawk, last week, as soon as I find a few free minutes.

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Sorry for my lack of earlier response. I’ve never actually paddled any of the modular kayaks, just knew they existed as an option.

I’m glad you found something else that seems like it will work for you though. I hope you get lots of wonderful use out of it and get to enjoy time on the water with your family.

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Okay, grayhawk. Kayak retrieved, and two paddles purchased, for wife and one child. Will post the lengths the store clerk recommended later, to see if there’s consensus here.

Time now for that story of why my wife no longer sails. I will make this as short as possible, without leaving out too many of the sad but entertaining details.

She had begun her sailing life just a year before we had our first child, taking lessons and crewing with me in races on various Thistle class boats at our local club, and then took a year off from getting banged around on the race course when she was pregnant. The following spring and one healthy baby later, she was ready to go again, and I had signed us up to crew for a friend of mine on the old beater boat he used for local club events. It was late March or maybe the first weekend in April, when the air and water are still mighty cold in the northeast, but the weather and forecast had been good (50F+ and sunny) when I made the commitment.

In the few days leading up to the race, the forecast turned bad, and I knew there would be high winds, some rain, and temps in the low-40’s during our race. These are the fast and rough racing conditions I love best, but being aboard an over-powered racing dinghy in a gale isn’t for everyone, and I debated calling the skipper to say she shouldn’t come out with us.

But we had made a commitment to the skipper and I knew he would have trouble finding another crew on such short notice. He was very experienced skipper, nationally-ranked and our club champ at the time, so I felt comfortable everything would be fine. Cold, uncomfortable, and a bit difficult, but probably a good time, nonetheless.

So, we head out in the the old beater boat, and cleanly win the first two of the three races scheduled for that day. We were getting banged around pretty good, and hiking so hard our legs and stomachs ached, but it was all good. Air was 43F, and water was just a few degrees warmer, so we were in full foul-weather gear (shells over fleece over hi-tech long underwear).

In the third and final race, we were on the same tack as another boat, when we were hit by a header, where the wind swings around to a less favorable direction. The obvious response to a header would be to tack, taking advantage of the wind shift. So, when our skipper heard the neighboring boat’s sails luff, he had naturally assumed they had made this obvious choice, and he called a tack.

We had just finished a nice moderate roll tack (for the conditions), and hiked out on the opposite rail, when the skipper realized he had made a mistake. The other boat had not actually completed a tack, and we were only one or two boat lengths from T-boning them at speed in 18-20 knot winds. He did the only thing he could at that point, to avoid serious damage and possible injury to the opposing crew, and threw the tiller over hard, taking us back to the original tack to avoid a collision.

Being more experienced, I felt the rail of the boat dropping out from under me, and knew we were in a death roll. I dove into the center of the boat to grab the centerboard trunk, maybe even having a small chance to right the weight of the boat, and watched my surprised wife start to back-flip out of the boat as it went over. I grabbed the ankle of her foul weather gear as the boat quickly rolled toward us and she went under. I had a good grip on the leg of her pants but she hadn’t seen that I had caught her as she tumbled into the water.

She had heard too many cautionary tales of people getting caught in the copious amounts of loose rigging on these crowded little race boats, and if I recall correctly (this was many years ago), one person in our class had died or been seriously injured due to getting caught up in rigging and trapped under the mainsail in the year prior to this. So, when I had grabbed the ankle of her suit to pull her back in, she had panicked, thinking her leg was tangled in a halyard tailing, or something similar. Her head was under the sail, and she started kicking to free herself, as I was trying to pull her back into the free space where she could surface between the boom and the hull.

Meanwhile, the skipper who had seen she was kicking against me, and trying to swim the wrong direction (farther under the mainsail), dove under, grabbed her shoulders, surfaced, and told me it was okay to let go. He pulled her up, and by then the rescue boat was already approaching. We put her onto the rescue boat, a little shaken but fine, while we set about righting our boat.

That’s when a normal racing capsize, which was merely uncomfortable due to the cold conditions, turned bad. We righted the boat, but it was floating very low in the water, and it re-capsized before we could get it sufficiently bailed to become stable. It was blowing pretty good at this point, easily over 20 knots, and I suspect the well-meaning folks in the rescue boat who were trying to hold our righted boat against the wind were causing it to blow out of iron and re-capsize on us. We re-righted it a few more times, but each time it seemed it was floating lower in the water, until the transom was just staying under. The air was 43F, and my wife was in a panic over us in the cold water for what had probably been 20+ minutes, at that point. In truth, she was probably colder than us, as the water was 7 - 10 degrees warmer than the air that day, and blowing pretty good.

But I was starting to get real cold, and despite the exertion to right and bail the boat, I could feel hypothermia starting to set in. Our foul weather gear is more about splash and wind protection, than long-term submersion. Eventually, a second crash boat crew showed up, with two fresh guys ready to hop in the water and tend to the boat, while the first rescue boat pulled us out of the water and headed for shore.

The boat continued to slowly sink over the next 30 minutes as we were ferried to land to dry off and change, but the new swimmers were able to secure a line to it, and slowly tow it (now under water) back to the launch ramp where they beached it. Later inspection showed a leaking and flooded floatation tank in the stern, likely the result of water infiltration and freezing causing a crack in the tanks of this old beater boat, which sat outside in the winters. One of the hazards of keeping your old boat outdoors without sufficient cover, I won’t pretend it wasn’t neglected, but it wasn’t my boat.

A few weeks later, I tried to take her out on my own boat, a nicely restored woodie that was in restoration on the date of the prior event. The forecast was a nice steady 8 - 10 knots, which is perfect for this boat, but it ended up being a shifty day with gusts into the mid-teens. These boats are so over-powered that they can bang you around a good bit with shifty gusts in the mid-teens, our rules of racing actually prohibit any race to start in winds over 20, so it was heeling and popping around pretty good with each wind shift. It was fun, I suspect most would enjoy it, but the experience was too much for her on the heels of the prior event. It was the last time she sailed, and that was about 10 years ago, now.

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In hindsight, I guess that sounds like drysuit conditions. You get warmth plus some floatation.

I had a similar but less dangerous experience years ago when in my teens crewing on a 210 class sailboat. It was a breezy day, but shifty and we had one of those instant headers where you’re on the other tack without wanting to be. I was under water on the now-leeward rail, lost my grip and got separated from the boat. But this was summer, tee shirt weather, I’m a good swimmer and the 210 is a keel boat so it didn’t capsize. I just became an entertaining victim of a man overboard situation.

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