Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Little boats for little people

   Sharon in her Avocet LV. With nothing in the front or back hatches, 
it sits nicely in the water.

   When we began paddling seven years ago, there weren't many serious sea kayaks for seriously small paddlers. Our first boats were a Valley Avocet (Alec) and a P&H Vela (Sharon). They were terrific boats for the early part of our learning curve, but too high-volume for our low-volume selves. (Alec is 5'4" and about 140 pounds; Sharon is 5'1" and about 110 pounds.)
   We think of that time as preLV. Since then, several boat manufacturers have come out with true low-volume kayaks--boats specifically designed for smaller paddlers. They are narrower (typically less than 21 inches), have lower decks (typically less than 13 inches), are lower volume overall (so they have an appropriate amount of freeboard for a low-weight paddler), have more aggressive thigh hooks (better for shorter legs), and forgo some of the cockpit volume by placing the front bulkhead further back. Because they are truly designed for smaller paddlers, many of these boats make up for their shorter length by having comparatively longer water lines, so they aren't slower than their regular-volume siblings. And because they're shorter and lighter, they are easier to move around on land as well as on the water.
   Today's low-volume boats--meaning those that are actually well-suited to paddlers who weigh as little as 140 pounds--include:
SKUK Pilgrim
SKUK Pilgrim Expedition
SKUK Explorer LV
Valley Aquanaut LV 
P&H Cetus LV
P&H Scorpio LV
P&H Quest LV
Eddyline Fathom LV
Rockpool ISEL
Seaward Silhouette
Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 or Tempest PRO 165

   These boats are good down to 110 pounds (unloaded), in our experience:
SKUK Romany LV
Impex Force 3
Valley Avocet LV
Valley Avocet RM
P&H Capella 161 
Current Designs Rumour

   Many low-volume kayaks perform better for smaller paddlers with some weight in the front and/or back hatches. And, of course, personal fit and paddling skills and preferences have a large effect on boat choice. There's no substitute for test-paddling, preferably in the conditions you prefer.
   We're currently paddling the Pilgrim (Alec) and the Avocet LV (Sharon). At our weights, these boats allow us to do the full range of things we want to do in our kayaks: teach, surf, play, paddle long distances, and keep up with the pack. But we're also spending as much time as possible in other people's low-volume boats to become more familiar with the range of options for smaller paddlers.
   Have a low-volume sea kayak you love? Let us know! Post a comment or email us at bpfamily (at) gmail.com.

Alec in his Pilgrim. (Yes, it says Romany LV. The label was attached before Nigel Dennis named the new boat.) After seeing this photo, Alec decided to move his seat forward and carry a bit of weight in his front hatch.

11 comments:

corgimas said...

check out the smaller Wildy Zephyr too....should do quite well as a playful boat....

good list you got built!

bpfamily said...

Thanks. We also heard from a couple in Tasmania, one of whom is less than 5 feet tall and under 100 pounds. She's currently paddling a Force 3, but even that feels big to her.

spike said...

You could also check out the Eliza by Necky. Full disclose I was one of the people who designed it.

Cate said...

Great post. It is definitely a challenge for us petite paddlers to find boats that fit and are proportional to our size. Any thoughts on skin on frame kayaks?

mikehenebry said...

Have either of you paddled a QCC10X? If so, what did you think of it? I paddled one at the recent GLSKS, and found it to be very sensitive to crosswinds. Use of the skeg helped some, but it continued to either weathercock or lee cock, depending on skeg position. I usually paddle a Warren Little Wing 12.5 (which works will for me), and I have found a borrowed Capella 161 to also handle quite easily.

I am looking for a boat that is both very efficient and somewhat playful.

bpfamily said...

@spike: The Eliza is a nice boat, but there's a difference between "small" and "very small." The Eliza would probably fit Alec better than Sharon.

@Cate: Skin-on-frame boats are great, but you'd have to find the right person who can help design a boat for you. One suggestion: Bryan Schultz at capefalconkayak.com. He actually scales boats for individual paddlers.

@Mike: It sounds like your boat has too much freeboard. Check out the Avocet LV.

Anonymous said...

Current Designs Suka!
16'6" 20" beam Foredeck just under 11 inches, aftdeck 9".
Hard chined, low volume, snug cockpit, 41 lbs in kevlar/glass...fast n fun. Not a beginner boat but a worthy addition to the list :D

North Shore Shoreline Fuego!
15'11" 20" beam, 10" foredeck, 8.5" aftdeck. Cockpit 16x26. 46 lbs. Very turny and agile, stable medium chined Brit boat.


not made anymore, but very much like the Avocet LV... except even a little bit lower volume. It was like the Romany before there was a Romany LOL I love mine.

Some boats made for the "smaller" paddler mean "smaller" than the average 6 foot 190 lb male. They are not for truly small people... be sure to try and not buy based on marketing terms.

bps, tx for keepin' it real!

Deborah

kay said...

What do you think of shorter boats - like a 14 foot Dagger Alchemy for example? I just got into kayaking, LOVE it, but I'm not ready to fork over $4000 for a boat. Is this a good choice for most purposes (river touring, Lake Michigan-near the coast/surfing, Door County)? I think if I did a longer trip, like Apostle Islands, I'd be part of a group tour and rent a fiberglass sea kayak. What do you think?

bpfamily said...

Kay, the Alchemy looks like an interesting boat. I like that it has many of the safety features we look for in a sea kayak: front and rear bulkheads, non-elastic perimeter deck lines and front and rear toggles ( though it looks like these are configured in such a way that it would be harder to reach them from the water.) Depending on your size you might find the 23" beam a little wide, making it harder to get a natural forward stroke in and edging a somewhat tougher. I think that this would be a fine boat for flat water of gentle river paddling. It looks like it could be fun in the waves, but probably slow in the wind. You might also keep an eye out on the used or demo kayak market. That can be a great way to find a very nice boat at a good price.
Sorry for the delayed reply, we don't get automatic notices on comments.
Bes

bpfamily said...

Kay, the Alchemy looks like an interesting boat. I like that it has many of the safety features we look for in a sea kayak: front and rear bulkheads, non-elastic perimeter deck lines and front and rear toggles ( though it looks like these are configured in such a way that it would be harder to reach them from the water.) Depending on your size you might find the 23" beam a little wide, making it harder to get a natural forward stroke in and edging a somewhat tougher. I think that this would be a fine boat for flat water of gentle river paddling. It looks like it could be fun in the waves, but probably slow in the wind. You might also keep an eye out on the used or demo kayak market. That can be a great way to find a very nice boat at a good price.
Sorry for the delayed reply, we don't get automatic notices on comments.
Bes

Laila P. Høivik said...

Coming in late with a comment, but since I found this page on a search for low volume kayaks no doubt others will find it the same way.
If you're looking for LV sea kayaks that don't cost an arm and a leg check out Seabird Designs, specifically the Scott LV, the Sea Pearl or the Black Pearl. The latter two are Greenland style which can be challenging for creaky knees, but are very low volum while keeping a good length.
I'm not in any way affiliated with Seabird, but I was kayak hunting with a friend this weekend (we both weight about 60 kg), and really liked these kayaks, not least because they're not such a huge investment.