Submitted: 11-14-2008 by mapper
The Kestrelís excellent features have been well covered here. So this is mostly about speed.
At high speeds a longer boat has an advantage. At low speeds, however, friction and weight favor a smaller, shorter boat. There are plenty of web data available on this subject comparing various touring and racing kayaks. Not much for rec boats. How hard does one have to paddle before "hitting the wall" (more effort does not produce more speed) with the little Kestrel?
Here is what I have found out so far: Measured with a GPS, my 2007 Kestrel 120 Kevlar fiberglass/kevlar hybrid goes 4.7 mph for my normal 9 mile flat water river run, and 4.5 for 14 miles (half upstream, half down, to average out the gentle current). As far as I can tell after experimenting with a borrowed 18í long 22" wide Eddyline Falcon, the "crossover" point is at about 4.5 mph. That is, below 4.5 mph, the Kestrel is easier to paddle. Above 4.5 mph (about 4 knots), the Falcon starts to get easier. The difference at 4.7 mph is quite subtle. And although I can only sprint at about 4.9 mph with the Kestrel, I got to 5.2 mph in the Falcon relatively easily (the Falcon is classified as a "fast sea kayak", for racing).
These things are difficult to estimate, because there are so many variables: Current, wind, fatigue, and the fact that Iím unfamiliar with the Falcon. I hope if other people have different data they will post them. If youíre planning for flat water exercise and are trying to decide between the recreational Kestrel 120 and something longer, remember that given a lower paddling "horsepower" the shorter boat is quicker. And much, much easier to get onto the car. If youíre a beginning paddler and you can demo the boat before you buy, find a way to measure your speed for at least 15 minutes. That will tell you if thereís some ceiling for you to grow into. If youíre near 4.5 mph already (and if speed matters to you), you might want to consider a longer boat.
On the other side of the coin, if youíre trying to decide between the Kestrel and a heavier, wider recreational kayak, Iím pretty sure I canít get much above 4.0 mph in your average wide plastic rental. I originally considered getting a less expensive boat. Iím so glad that I didnít. If youíve "topped out" in your boat and more effort doesnít give you better results, exercise sessions get boring.
Also, now that Iím more into paddling, I have considered joining a paddling club. But most of the trips are on the ocean. If I want to be social, I need a more "sea worthy" boat! Iíve taken the Kestrel on the ocean, but only with adult supervision and a very quite sea. It has good primary but poor secondary stability. Not bad for a rec boat, though.
Bottom line is this: For a recreational kayak, the Kestrel is excellent. I chose the Kevlar version to encourage myself to paddle often, like going to the gym. I can swing it onto and off of the car, and get in with an ease that the narrow sea kayak paddlers envy. Even if I get a longer boat for speed and to use in the ocean, I intend to keep the Kestrel for impromptu fitness runs on my local river until Iíve completely "topped out" in it. Not there yet.