Posted by: willowleaf on Jun-12-12 9:42 AM (EST)
You might want to look at the Mad River Adventure 14 canoes (also sold at Dick's sporting goods as the Passage 14). These are reasonably priced plastic canoes that have some kayak-like characteristics. My boyfriend and I mostly use touring kayaks and sometimes a conventional canoe (Old Town Guide 147) but when we visited the Everglades last winter we rented an Adventure 16 and were impressed with it. It has lower gunwales than the usual canoe and is narrow enough to use kayak paddles (we rented 240 cm paddles with it.) We found it tracked and accelerated well, even in rough windy conditions along the coastal inlets, and having less draft than other canoes we've used, was fine in the shallow swamps as well. It feels more like a kayak due to the slightly loose primary stability but it has good secondary.
It even has sort of a coaming lip around the perimeter (probably to make the edge more rigid). We have been thinking of buying one and I may try to make a neoprene or nylon spray deck of some sort for it. The stern design will take a small trolling motor if you want to add one. It's around $500 for the 14' boat and $550 for the 16' at Dicks. I have been told the Dick's models (Passage)are not quite the same quality as the Adventures (which REI sells). Looking at them both I think that is true -- the outfitting is chintzy on the Dick's versions and the molding and finish of plastic looks rough. But for your budget, $200 less is a substantial savings (though buying from REI earns you a 10% rebate the following year in the member dividend).
Capacity rating are very high -- I believe the 14 footer is almost 900 lbs -- so it would not be much affected by your size and you could even take someone else along. The seats are very comfortable and the boat is easy to enter and exit. Though if you plan to paddle solo you would probably want to retrofit one to the middle seat. At 75 lbs it is not much heavier than many large sit in kayaks or sit-on-tops.