-- Last Updated: May-07-13 11:14 AM EST --
You might want to look into folding and skin on frame kayaks for her. They weigh nearly half what a plastic rotomold does and many perform just as well. HAving a kayak you can lift over your head with one hand (25 to 30 lbs) is very liberating for us smaller folks. Pakboat makes the Puffin Saco model (formerly called Puffin Sport). REI sells the 20 lb Saco for $755 though for some reason they don't list the optional deck that makes it a sit inside kayak (it can be paddled open or with the deck). The deck adds anothe 5 lbs and runs around $200. But I see them for sale used for under $600. I have one (a Sport) that I bought on Ebay for $500. And here's a guy selling a Puffin for $450:
At 12' the boat paddles as well as any hard shell rec boat I have seen. I mostly use it for a loaner for friends but have paddled it myself. A comfortable boat that tracks and moves along nicely. The adjustable inflatable seat is great and the inflatable sponsons give it more security -- it handles waves and boat wakes well. Here's a YouTube of a guy using one. He is a little heavy for it -- your wife would not weigh down the middle like he does and it would track better:
You might also find an older used Feathercraft K-Light in your price range, especially if you don't care about being able to dismantle and fold it. Sometimes people store them set up without lubricating the metal frame joints and they become "frozen" which reduces their value considerably. But if you treat it like a hard boat and store it set up that will not matter. They weigh around 32 lbs. There's a paddler on here selling one used (that still folds):
Another option is traditional skin on frame boats with wood frames and urethane coated nylon decks. These are way tougher than people think -- I also have one of them and can testify you can bounce a claw hammer off the shell. Here is a guy selling one for $300 in Texas. Note it weighs 22 lbs, and is designed for a lighter person (and described as fun and fast). At 23" wide it would be good for someone her size:
You can get kayaks shipped for a few hundred dollars.
These may not appeal to you but I thought you might be interested in exploring an option a lot of newcomers to the sport are not yet aware of. There are even sites from which you can get plans and directions for building your own from scratch or in a class, like these:
Then there is the new "origami" 12' folding kayak at 25 lbs and under $900 (though they have only recently begun to ship these).
Hardshell Kayak Sail Rigs
Pull-Up Strap Handle Kit
Kayak & Canoe Covers
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