Submitted: 09-14-2007 by mflash980
I began kayaking about four years ago and consider myself an "intermediate" paddler. I kayak most often on Lake Michigan along the Illinois/Wisconsin border and on the Des Plaines River in northern Illinois.
My first kayak was a Wilderness Systems Pamlico Excel. This is a large, stable boat that I thought my whole family would enjoy. I was wrong, and I was left with a 17' behemoth that weighed in at almost 80 pounds! This boat was too big for me to handle alone and I quickly realized that if I was going to do any serious paddling, I would have to get a different boat.
After doing all the usual research, I settled on the hybrid version of the CD Kestrel 140. Initially, I was sold on its great looks and light weight (under 45#). This made it easy for me to load and unload it from the top of my van myself. Also portaging around dams in the Des Plaines River can be tiresome in a heavier boat, but the Kestrel can be picked up with one hand and carried over your shoulder with ease.
On the water, the boat performs very well. It felt a little "tippy" when I got in it for the first time, but once you paddle it for a little while, you realize what a stable craft it actually is and the "tippy" feeling goes away. It is quick to accelerate, very responsive and tracks very straight, even with a pretty strong cross-wind. The version I bought came with a rudder, but I have never used it.
The inside of the boat is very roomy. The cockpit is very large, making entry and exit very easy. The bulkheads are fiber-glassed in place and provide structural stability as well as watertight storage. The hatch covers fit well and keep things dry, but can only be accessed when you are outside the boat. This boat would have benefited from a small access hatch that is accessible while seated in the boat.
I primarily use the boat for exercise and touring, but I also have used it for nature photography and fishing. The boat has lots of room for gear and equipment, but most paddlers probably use theirs for day trips. I have used mine for weekend camping trips and I have had plenty of room for a small tent, sleeping bag, food and other gear (within reason). I have always had enough space as long as the turkey frier stays at home.
My 12 year old son loves this boat and learned how to paddle this summer. In fact, we like this boat so much, we just bought another Kestrel 120 HV (poly) for him. We plan on taking the boats to Florida this winter for some coastal cruising and fishing on the Inter Coastal Waterway.
In summary, what is the best kayak to buy? The answer is the one you will use the most. I have found the Kestrel to be a boat that one person can easily load and unload and use in a variety of water and weather making more usable than my behemoth that sat unused in my garage for several years. I have not been disappointed with its performance yet.