-- Last Updated: Jan-28-14 6:47 PM EST --
Actually, neither the Bliss nor the Zydeco is much of a step up from what you have. And neither will help you keep up with the "big dogs" in 12' plus kayaks. Drawbacks to both is that they are quite wide for their length (they have to be to provide the volume for flotation) which makes them awkward to paddle for us folks with shorter arms and upper bodies. Also neither has basic safety features like deck rigging and front and rear bulkheads (open hull kayaks like that will swamp and sink unless you stuff flotation bags in the bow and stern - an added cost.) I don't think at your size you will have a great fit in the cockpits of them either. A sloppy cockpit makes for tiring paddling.
I realize you'd like to stay light as possible, but i am more inclined to suggest for your budget that you look into the 13' Perception Sport Conduit at Dick's sporting goods. It has the safety features and is a couple inches narrower and will be faster than the shorter boats and easier to paddle. Yes, it is around 50 lbs but a longer narrower sit inside kayak is easier to carry and to load on a car than a short wide rec boat or sit on top. You just lift the bow up onto your rear rack and then walk back and lift the stern and slide it up. They also have a Conduit 11 that is shorter and a few pounds lighter, BUT it is wider and has only a stern bulkhead.
There are some nice smaller person boats that would be lighter for you, but lightness costs money. There are $1200 to $1500 range kayaks that would be great but may not be realistic for you. If you can find a dealer, you might look at the Venture kayaks by P & H. As a smaller person myself I really love their Easky 15LV which is being phased out -- you might find one on sale and at 46 lbs it is manageable and a really fun and fast kayak to paddle.
Unless you can have somebody help you locate a used light touring boat within your budget, I think you should do a little more research if you want to go on day tours with people in longer boats.
Spring is coming eventually (at least I sure hope it is!) and most shops will have demo days. It would be worthwhile to check out some other models and do a cost/benefit consideration. Since you are clearly planning to up your participation in the sport, you may find upgrading to a touring boat rather than just a slightly larger rec boat, will give you more options and greatly increase your skill potential and enjoyment for more challenging trips. You've had your "beginner" kayak -- I can't see just buying another entry level type boat.
Touring Kayak Paddles
Wabakimi Canoe Pack
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