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Hi all... I am a fairly new sea kayaker... but have found I LOVE it... I will likely spend most of my time on Lake Superior and am looking for suggestions on what to buy. I am 5'6" (carry a little extra weight but I am not big :) ) - I am pretty strong but not a brute... I want to be able to handle this on my own and eventually plan to do some overnight trips. Advice anyone?

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Lot's of options. What's your budget? Plastic or composite?
A ~16'-0" boat would give you some speed while not becoming too much boat for your size.
The Wilderness Systems Tsunami 16 seems to be well liked, isn't too challenging to paddle, can carry some gear and isn't slow. If you are up for a little more boat, the WS Tempest 165 might be worth a look.
There are plenty of other boats to consider, but those are readily available in most areas.
In terms of budget, I don't know if I know what's reasonable to expect to pay for what I need/want yet. I guess that's one of the biggest downfalls of being so new to this. I have only rented - and of course you know how that goes - you get what they give you. I have talked with a few folks and they seem to be so reluctant to suggest a particular brand, etc. Therefore, I truly appreciate your input.

Let's put it this way, I will be a hobbyist at best with this. I can expect to get out 6-8 times a summer given other demands on my time right now - and the 4 hour drive to Lake Superior. There are a lot of small lakes in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area where I live but I can't imagine that will be nearly as much fun as the big water.
Don't knock the small lakes!!! Kayaks can be a great way to explore small bodies of water.

I haven't paddled the Tsunami, but the Tempest is an awesome boat. I'd look and see if there are any local paddling clubs that you could join, and see what others are using.

You might check with a shop in your area, some have options where you can rent boats, and have your rental fees credited towards the purchase. It's a great way to try out different boats. Tehy may also have demo days.

Used boats can be a good deal, if you know what you are looking for.
The Twin Cities has some great lake paddling... Lake Minnetonka isn't exactly small and many of the 'smaller' lakes are interconnected. Lot's of opportunity there... aside from the fact that they are frozen for 1/2 the year.
As Geoff mentioned, used boats are a great way to start... you can find some real bargains now. Just like a car, once a boat leaves the showroom floor it's value drops about 25% or more. You can usually find better deals from individuals... shops are always selling used/demo/rental fleet boats, but they are usually beat-up and over priced.
I would look for something in the 16'-0" range... less length begins to get a little slower in terms of covering ground, longer than 16 begins to get more difficult to control (for your size) in wind and waves.
I mentioned the WS Tsunami line because they are easy to paddle, yet not something you will outgrow immediatly. They have the hatches, rudders, outfitting, carrying capacity to make for a adventure ready boat.
Jackie - the advice already given is pretty solid. You want a little length for speed. But also a boat with a rep for stability... Also, you may want to consider a skeg to help with tracking (less complicated than a rudder).

A Venture Kayak Easky 15 or Orca 16 might fit the bill:
http://www.venturekayaks.com/page1.php?Page=57

Best Bet is to find a local shop which lets you demo different boats (try before you buy)...
Jackie,

Like Taylor said, lots of options. You said you expect to get our 4-8 times each summer. More specifically, how do you plan to use the boat? Are you going to be doing short day tours, long day tours, overnights? I know that Superior gets some -big- water, will you be paddling in surf or unruly water?

Generally, a plastic (rotomold) boat is going to be cheaper and take more abuse than a fiberglass boat, but will be heavier and less efficient. I would probably stick to a long boat (15-17'), with a skeg or rudder. I am biased towards Current Designs, but have paddled nice boats from Perception, Northwest, and even a Feathercraft folding boat.

The key is finding something that will get you out on the water within your budget. Chances are that you will fine tune your kayak quiver as you learn more about paddling and what you want out of a boat.
I want to thank everyone for their input... Still not sure on what I will wind up with, but surely value your experience! - see you on the big water. Jackie
I second the recomendations to look at a Rotomolded boat. For your first purchase the costs will be slighly lower than composite (fiberglass), the plastic boats made by Valley and P&H are far superior than they were 10 years ago, they don't flex as much. A lot of people are concerned about the cost of their first boats. With paddling the upfront costs will set you back, but once you're outfitted your pro-rated adventure cost is virtually nil, just gas and food to get to your destination. If there is one place to not skimp on value, it would be the paddle. Don't get a ferrari for a boat, but use a gremlin paddle. Spend some extra money on a well suited, light paddle and your body will thank you over and over.

For your size I'd look at the following boats

Valley Avocet - Great smaller bodied paddler boat, not especially fast, but will take anything the great lakes will offer. Suitable for short overnighters. Well built and probably in top 3 all time manufacturers of british style sea kayaks. Has skeg.

P&H Capella - comes in several lengths 16' and 16'6" to fit various bodies. Good stable boat, great plastic triple-layer layup process. Another British style boat that is a take anywhere boat. P&H's outfitting, seat and thigh supports are top quality.

Eddyline Nighthawk - Thermoform boat that is a different type of plastic, harder, more ridgid. Costs slightly more than a traditonal rotomolded boat, but is lighter and just as tough. I know many women that paddle nighthawks. Easily usable for daytrips or week long overnighters. Great American company with good outfitting. boat style is more greenlandish, ends are not as upturned, boat tracks well, but is a little wetter ride.
Go to paddling.net every day till your out of time and look in the classified ads. There are always great values in used kayaks in your area. You'll be able to get alot more boat for less money. More boat could mean a Kevlar built boat that weighs much less and is easier to load. Easier to load means you'll get it out more! I just sold 2 boats on paddling.net in a matter of days. Also contact Ketter's. They often have some great kayaks deals. They are in your town. http://www.kettercanoeing.com/apps/joomla/content/view/95/67/ I bought a boat their last year new and saved over $500.
You really should spend a few hours in a boat before you drop the bucks. Outfitters might rent you a boat for a few hours, but they might also insist that you take the safety course for $80.
I have a couple of wilderness systems 15'5" boats. Might be willing to sell one. (but not the wife's) I am willing to let you try one for an afternoon. I also have a 17' boat at the cabin that the owner is willing to let go for a very good price.
What ever you do spend more then an hour in the boat before you spend the money. It will not be the last boat you ever buy but it will teach you about what you want in your next boat.

the boats are near Bayfield.
Do you know what boats were rented to you that made you "love sea kayaking?"

I say this because this might be a helpful way to at least start with some sort of an idea on what felt good or did not feel so great.

Other wise start by "trying on boats" at any or all of your local outfitters. Most will "get their boats down" for you to sit in. I say this becuase most boats are up on some sort of display rack or even hung from the cellings.

Dont buy a boat on first try, check out all that is to offer in your area if you like, since you are going to be spending at the very least several thousand dollars on the boat and all the necessary equipment.

When you find a boat in which "fits you well" then work with that outfitter to get your possable purchase on the water for a test paddle.

I am partial to the Current Designs boats, since you are a beginner to sea kayaking you might consider kayak that is versitable for sea and smaller bodies of open water lakes.

lastly take a course or even several courses, saftey and the lessons on self rescue and paddling.

good luck and welcome to kayaking, you'll love it.
Don't know about the area where you live, but here in the Puget Sound region a lot of the rental operators sell off parts of their fleets every year around September/October.

Try renting boats for a while and find what you like and don't like in a boat. Then go back and check if they are having a sail. You can save quite a bit on the cost of a new boat. That is how I got my Wind Dancer. It was a used boat. We paid about 1800 for it and new they were over 2200.

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