The admonition to try before you buy holds especially true for Kayaks! I just picked up my Carolina 15.5 on lease yesterday. I had originally leased a 2006 Current Designs Sirocco that turned out to be far beyond both my needs and my abilities. I had selected it after sitting in it on the ground at the boatyard. It seemed to fit well and was really pretty. It also turned out to be really, really tippy. While most of that could probably be attributed to pilot error, the boat simply was not stable enough for me to photograph from, one of the primary reasons I wanted a kayak. The Sirocco had to go back. Luckily, my leasing arraingement allowed for trades. I should probably point out that I'm 5'11" and 250 pounds. Not only was the kayak too much for me, I was probably too much for a sleek boat like that.
Steven, the owner of North Shore Kayaks, in Rockport, MA suggested that I try both the Carolina 14.5 and 16. Wow! What a difference! The 14.5 was pretty stable and the 16 even more so. I paddled the 16 around the inner harbor of Rockport for about a half an hour. Finally, I felt that I was in control of the kayak and not just struggling to remain in the cockpit.
Steve took me over to his boatyard and he only had one Carolina 15.5 (the 16 has been discontinued) with a rudder. As I'm not as concerned with the color of my kayak as much as its stability, the yellow and red boat suited me just fine.I strapped it to the top of my SUV and headed back home. A mere 50 mile jaunt.
I live on the Merrimack River in Massachusetts so as soon as I got home I put the Carolina in the water. The 15.5 was every bit as stable as 16. I paddled around for about 30 minutes and then heard a rumble of thunder in the distance so headed back in. Getting in and out on the riverbank was an order of magnitude easier from the Carolina than it was from the Sirroco.
This afternoon I was back on the river again. Spent the first hour and a half paddling up river at a lesiurely pace and the next hour floating back down with the current, smoking a stogie. I feel very comfortable in the boat. The rudders help to both keep it on track and navigate around the rocks and other features of the river. Another plus of the Carolina's geometry is that I don't need to have the spray skirt on when out on calm water. There is enough of the gunwale above water to allow me to edge slightly (I'm not a complete slave to the rudder) without taking on water.
I was able to drift close (but not too close) to some ducks and a great blue heron. I mimicked holding my camera and tracking while floating and got a feel as to how the boat would react with me moving around a bit. I now feel confident enough to bring my digital SLR and lenses (in a Pelican case, of course) out in the boat with me.
I found that I could get up to a reasonable cruising speed with just a few strokes. The only other company I had on the river was a jetski that passed by about 100 yards off my starboard. The Carolina handled the wake beautifully. Again, getting out of the boat was relatively easy. I had just got the boat up and locked on the rack when the first lightning bolt lit up the sky. Timing is everything.
I am well pleased with the Carolina after 3 hours total time on the river. As I expect to do most of my paddling on lakes, ponds and rivers, that means that the second time around, I made a solid choice.