from Wes Boyd's Web site
Sometimes, it seems like kayaking is another place where the shrimps get all the breaks. It seems like all the really cool boats are shrimp boats, designed for someone standing about 5'8" and weighing maybe 150 lbs. If you're much over that size, the selection thins out rapidly. There seem to be a lot of "extra small" boats on the market, but not many those of us that fall into the "extra large" category.
Well, there are a few boats out there designed for the big guys and gals. Not many, but a few. I've put together this list of a few of the available boats for big people. It's not complete, but probably does cover the majority of easily available bluewater boats for full size people.
A few caveats:
|Millennium 174||Old Town||17"4'||23"||13"||34"x17"||60 lb||325 lb+||$1249|
|Looksha-IV||Necky||17'||23"||12"||29.5"x16"||64 lb||350 lb||$1320|
|Sealution II XL||WS||17'||23.5"||14.75"||32"x16.75"||64 lb||250 lb+||$1199|
|Storm||Curr Design||17'||24"||13"||32.5"x17.5"||64 lb||400 lb||$1395|
|Narpa||Necky||16'5"||24"||12"||31.5"x18"||64 lb||350 lb||$1320|
|Heron||Old Town||16"3'||24"||13"||34"x17.25"||59 lb||300 lb+||$919|
|Eclipse||Perception||16'1"||24"||14"||?||65.5 lb||360 lb||N/A|
+ - Manufacturer's stated capacities. When compared with other boats with similar specifications, these appear very conservative. By comparison, the capacity for these boats is probably 350-375 lbs.
NECKY LOOKSHA IV and NECKY NARPA: If it weren't for Necky, the list of available boats for full-size people would be a heckuva lot more sparse, but Mike Neckar, Necky's founder, is one of us big guys and his boats reflect it. Though these boats are similar in size, the Narpa is usually considered more the touring boat, even if it is a little shorter. The Looksha, in plastic, anyway, reportedly turns quicker. I find both a snug fit, the Looksha especially so, but really can't compare the two in on-water characteristics.
OLD TOWN HERON and OLD TOWN MILLENNIUM: I am not an employee of Old Town Canoe, nor is this a paid endorsement. I own an Old Town Heron, and I like it. It's one of the smaller "big guy" boats, but it's just big enough for me, although I do wish it were a little bigger. It's a good boat, built well at a very reasonable price that fits me reasonably well (it has about the fourth biggest cockpit on these lists, right behind the big composite Neckys and the Thunderbird), its plastic work is about the best and stiffest in the industry, avoiding several problems common with other boats, and the boat is capable of doing what I want it to do. You really can't ask for much more than that. I know that the Heron is often passed over by people that think that Old Town isn't "exotic" enough to build real kayaks. It's their loss. Granted, the Heron isn't perfect -- its hatches and bulkheads leak like most plastic boats, the seat, while comfortable to sit in isn't built for rolling, the boat is delivered rather barren of accessories like lifelines, the cockpit rim is too narrow to keep a spray skirt on easily, and so on. Most of the problems are easily solved or tolerated. If you want more ranting, check out I Paddle An Old Town Heron. If you want the manufacturer's ranting, check out Old Town Canoe.
Much of the above comments on the Heron apply to the Millennium 160 and 174. In general, theseboats are somewhat snugger in the cockpit than the Heron, although space was still adequate for me when I tried them out. Both the Millenniums are hard trackers, but do turn a little better than the Heron. They are quite a bit narrower, though, and the initial stability is noticably less than the Heron's, although the secondary stability is still pretty good. Capacity is somewhat less, especially on the 160, although when I paddled the 160 at about 50 lbs over stated capacity it didn't seem as sluggish as the Heron when it was similarly overloaded. The Millennium seats are snug and not as good a fit as the Heron's. I think the lines of both Millenniums are very pretty, especially the 174's, and wish they were available in fiberglass. The 174 was the only plastic boat to make the "Final Four" list of my recent boat purchase.
PERCEPTION ECLIPSE: This is the old "Sea Lion", one of the most popular of the large plastic sea kayaks. I only had a few minutes in one on flat water, and didn't notice anything too out of tthe way. It is a little softer tracker than the Old Towns, and cockpit size is ample. I don't particularly care for Perception's single-layer plastic layup, however, and other examples of this boat that I have seen have evidence of considerable thermal instability, which is fifty cent words for saying that if you're not careful, you can get some interesting warps and dents.
WILDERNESS SYSTEMS SEALUTION II XL: Whenever the subject of boats for big people comes up, especially in plastic, the Sealution II XL is usually the first boat brought up, especially by people that don't know better and think they do. In fact, it's on the small side, both in terms of capacity and cockpit size, for a big guy boat. In addition, I was not impressed by its handling -- it really needs a rudder. With the rudder up, I found that it tracks poorly, but commences a turn well -- but doesn't want to come out of the turn without excessive force and will power. I can say, "It doesn't fit" about a lot of boats, but the Sealution II XL is one of the few that I've come across that I can say "I don't like," over and above the size issues. Your mileage, of course, may vary. For more information, try Wilderness Systems.
CURRENT DESIGNS STORM: Having a great opinion of the Current Designs composite boats, I was expecting great things from the plastic CD Storm when I tried one on at a show. However, I was disappointed -- while the fit was snug but adequate, I found the plastic work mediocre and floppy. When I flexed my ankles and knees into a brace position, I could lift the bow what looked like three or four inches. It's plastic boats doing these sort of things that gives plastic a bad reputation. Your mileage may vary, but I didn't like the boat. I have not tried one of these on the water, and it could well give a better impression there. For more information, contact Current Designs.
|Eskimo 18-6||Easyrider||18'6"||24.75"||14.25"||?||59 lb||? lb.||$3000|
|Telkwa HV||Nimbus||18'3"||24.25"||14"||32.75"x18.75"||62 lb||400 lb||$2523|
|Looksha-IV HV||Necky||17'8"||24"||12"||32"x16.5"||55 lb||400 lb||$2395|
|Solstice-GTSHV||Curr Design||17'7"||22.5"||13.75"||31"x16"||55 lb||350 lb||$2595|
|Thunderbird||PWS||17'6"||28.25"||14.5"||35.5"x19.5"||65 lb||500 lb||$2800|
|Pinta||Necky||17'4"||27"||15"||36"x19"||60 lb||500 lb||$2575|
|Wind Dancer||Eddyline||17'1"||24"||14"||35"x17"||60 lb||450 lb||$2585|
|Vagabond||Nomad||17"||24"||13.5"||31.5"x18.5"||48 lb||? lb||$1795*|
|Tesla NM||Necky||17"||24"||13"||32"x16"||55 lb||400 lb||$2395|
|Vision||Seaward||17"||24.5"||16"||32"x16.5"||55 lb||? lb||$2495|
|Raven||Eddyline||16'9"||22.5"||13"||31.5"x17"||56 lb||360 lb||$2559|
|Viking||Seda||16'6"||25"||13"||33"x16"||46 lb||350 lb||$1350|
CURRENT DESIGNS SOLSTICE GTSHV: I've tried on the CD Solstice GTHV and GTSHV at shows, but not on the water. However, the fit is pretty good, and with the thigh braces removed would be better. I suspect that the wider GTHV might be a little more comfortable and docile. I liked the handling of the snugger GT well enough that the GTHV was provisionally on the "Final Four" list for my recent boat purchase, pending an on the water test, but it proved to be difficult to find a place to demo. I still would like to try one on the water. For more information, contact Current Designs.
EASYRIDER ESKIMO 18-6, ESKIMO 17 and SEA HAWK: (Note: specs only given above for the 18-6.) I have not seen these boats, and they are apparently hard to find to demo; the only dealer is in the Pacific Northwest, but they are advertised nationwide. Though they have some interesting design features, I've heard it said in online discussion groups that quality control suffers, and some people don't like the handling. The innovative rudder system also reportedly causes foot room to suffer. Try before you buy.
EDDYLINE WIND DANCER: The Wind Dancer is a fairly decently handling boat that will carry a load, if not necessarily in the cockpit. The one I tried on was pretty snug, although adequate, and I was well locked into position -- but stretching or squirming to relieve leg cramps might be a bit difficult. The dealer said that the Wind Dancer I demoed was an older one, and that the cockpit has been aired out on the newer ones; a little work on the seat would have helped the one I paddled. I didn't particularly care for the highly cathederaled cross-section of the deck; while it may aid water runoff, it seems to me to add a lot of side wind resistance without adding a great deal of volume. The Wind Dancer has been around longer than many of the other boats on this list, and the chances of picking one up used at a decent price are therefore a little better than others. Also, if a medium sized paddler wanted to haul a big load, say, for an extended trip, the Wind Dancer would be an excellent candidate; one was recently used for a three-week paddle across the Gulf of Mexico, chosen for this reason. For more information try Eddyline. I've not tried on an Eddyline Raven, but suspect that it might be a bit snug for a guy my size.The Wind Dancer was also on my "Final Four" list, at least, sort of; I wanted to try on the longer, narrower Eddyline Sea Star as a possible replacement, but didn't get the opportunity.
MID-CANADA FIBERGLASS FORMULA SERENITY This is a new boat that has a lot of possibilties. Mid-Canada is better known for Scott Canoes. I tried this out at the same time as the Telkwa and the Vision, and the handling in high winds, without the skeg, was a little worse than the Telkwas, but not a lot worse. A number of people besides myself have commented on the sweet handling. It has much more rocker than many big guy boats, and a skeg, instead of a rudder. It's solidly built, although I had the impression that the hatch covers might be a little fragile, and I found the skeg control sticky on the boat I tried. Still, I was quoted a price in Canadian dollars that converted to about $1450 US for a new fiberglass boat, which certianly makes it a contender in the price war. For more information, try Scott Canoes. The web page did not have a picture of a Serenity when I checked, but it looks somewhat similar to the Diamante.
NECKY LOOKSHA IV HV and NECKY TESLA NM: As I said above, Mike Neckar, Necky's founder, is one of us big guys and his boats reflect it. And, no more so than in the "High Volume" version of the popular Looksha IV. Most designers, if designing a "high volume" boat would just add on an inch to the depth and call it good enough. Not Necky! The Looksha IV HV is a genuine redesign that resembles its shrimpier brother. Eight inches longer, two inches wider, an inch deeper, a much bigger cockpit, much improved capacity -- plus retaining the Looksha handling and stability. The thing that kept if off my "Final Four" list is that there aren't a lot of HV's out there, and I was unable to find one to demo. I did try out a Tesla, and found it a little snug.
NECKY PINTA and PACIFIC WATER SPORTS THUNDERBIRD: If the Looksha IV HV isn't big enough for you, you're left with the Pacific Water Sports Thunderbird and the Necky Pinta. They're similiar in size -- the Necky is a couple inches shorter and a bit narrower -- but both have true 500 pound capacities and good performance. You're going to have to be a real big guy or gal to need something the size of the Thunderbird or the Pinta. The Thunderbird is the granddaddy of the really big singles. Unfortunately, it's pretty much a regional boat, and unless you live in the Pacific Northwest, getting one to demo is going to be difficult. Demoing a Pinta should be easier, as Necky has dealers nationwide. However, smaller dealers may not stock a relatively rare bird like the Pinta, so you may have to search for a bit.
NIMBUS TELKWA HV and SEAFARER: (Note: Specs above only given on the Telkwa HV.) A very highly regarded kayak builder calls this competitor's boat "very impressive", noting that it'll fit a 250-280 pound or larger guy -- and that's nice words to have about the competition! This is a regional boat, mostly in the northwest, and I figured that it would be a long time before I saw one. However, there are two dealers east of the Rockies, and I was able to paddle both the regular Telkwa and the HV version, but not the Seafarer. The Telkwas are very well done, with many well thought out details. My first trials were in a very strong wind, and I found the handling adequate with the rudder up and exceptional with it down, although the HV, with its higher profile, does get blown around a little more. In calmer waters, handling is good. It's a rather hard tracker, but turns reasonably without the rudder and edges well. Initial stability is very good, maybe too good, and secondary stability is awesome.The HV actually felt a little big for me, something I never expected to find in a kayak this side of the Pinta or Thunderbird, and the regular Telkwa was on the verge of too large. I wound up buying a regular Telkwa, and will post a detailed report on it when I've had a chance to become more familiar with it, but for an initial reaction, see Telkwa to Goose Bay. For more information, try Nimbus/Rainforest Designs. In addition, Sea Kayaker Magazine gave it a glowing review. (I'm a little mistrustful of SK reviews, however -- while they always seem to find something to pick at, I've never seen a truly bad review.)
NOMAD VAGABOND: I have not paddled one of these Quebec-made boats, but from the specs it looks like a possible contender, and certianly in the price war. It's listed at $2450 CDN, and that works out to about US$1700 at current exchange rates. One of the interesting things about the Nomad is that it's available in a kit form. If you're at all good with tools you can do a few hours finish work and save yourself an extra $750 CDN (about US$500). There are a few dealers around where they can be demoed, too, and I'd want to try before buying. For more information, try Nomad Kayaks.
SEAWARD VISION and NAVIGATOR: These are big boats that are commonly used in rental fleets. They have lots of foot room, but have a reputation for stiff tracking, especially the Navigator. I tried out a Vision at the same time as the Nimbus Telkwa, and found the Vision virtually unmanagable in high winds with the rudder up, and difficult with it deployed. For more information, Seaward Kayaks.
SEDA VIKING: I have tried on a Viking, but not paddled it, mostly because I found it uncomfortably snug in the seat. Someone with a little smaller hind end might end up liking this boat. For a number of reasons, fiberglass Sedas cost considerably less that comparable fiberglass boats, with near level quality. They deserve a serious look; more information is available from Seda Kayaks. Like the Sealution and the Wind Dancer, the Viking has been around long enough that there's a shot at finding a resonably priced used one.
IF YOU ARE A FIRST-TIME BUYER, don't worry too much about getting the perfect boat the first crack out of the box. Get one that you can get into and out of comfortably, preferably used and don't bypass the rotomolded boats. There are a fair number of used Sealutions, Chinooks and Sea Lions out there that will serve you through the first part of the learning curve; there are fewer used Narpas and Herons, but the latter is available new at an attractive price. And don't overlook the possibility of a new or used fiberglass Seda Viking. Or, buy a recreational boat like an Old Town Loon or a Wilderness Systems Keowee as that first boat -- mine was a Loon. Spend a year with that boat, learning how to handle it and getting some feeling for what you want in the next boat, trying out various possibilities based on what you enjoy doing and what you want to do with it -- and not what someone else would do with it, either. Then, you can sell the first boat to someone else for almost what you paid for it, and have a boat that's a little closer to what you want -- and what you want probably won't be what you thought you wanted the year before. The time will come when you're probably not satisfied with it, either, and will be shopping again . . . get used to it.