About the Kayak and Canoe Reviews
Average speed has been measured over a two way return trip (therefore with and against any wind/current to try to average it out) of usually at least two hours duration. Comfortable cruise means a relatively easily maintained speed which I could probably keep up all day. Sprint speed is fastest speed attained (with touring paddles) during a few seconds flat out burst and will be pretty near the max hull speed of the boat.
Obviously paddlers of different skill levels with different paddles may get different results (I guess I'm just average) but it gives you some idea of relative speeds. Paddle used in kayaks, unless otherwise stated, 220cm Originz Hauraki Gulf. Paddle used in canoes 60" Carlisle wooden beaver tail. Paddler weight c. 84kg.
It is easy to get carried away with always searching for the perfect canoe or kayak, always looking for extra speed or features and agonising over whether to get model A or Model B (I have been as guilty as anyone, probably more so!). The truth is that the most important thing is to actually get out on the water and try them out - All canoes and kayaks are are compromise to some extent, no single one will do everything well, you can't have ultimate speed, manoeuvrability, stability, load carrying capability and comfort all in the same model.
Most reviews are very subjective - What suits or appeals to one paddler may not suit another paddler and body size/weight, and how much gear you want to carry, can also make a significant difference to the way a particular boat feels. Likewise the area you paddle in and the type of paddling you want to do will influence which is the best boat for you. It is only once you have paddled for a while that you will know and appreciate the features that are most important to you and the best compromise for the conditions you paddle in (or, as many paddlers do, end up with more than one boat - which may explain why there are 7 boats in my garage at the moment!!). Even a test paddle of a boat isn't the same as living with one for a while.
While a great canoe or kayak can be a joy to behold or paddle it is a fact that, in the spirit of "Swallows and Amazons", even the cheapest most basic tub can give a great deal of enjoyment and adventure - and it's better than looking at a computer screen and just dreaming about it. With today's manufacturing techniques and materials there are very few truly awful craft and you can't go too far wrong if you buy any of the well known brands - You may though wish to beware of some of the lesser known brands, especially cheap Sit On Top kayaks, often originating from the far east, as there are quite a few that are produced in low density polyethylene (LDPE or LLDPE) more suited to making washing up bowls than kayaks and these may not be quite the bargains they first appear and can well end up in disappointment or put you off the sport for ever. There is a reason why they are cheap despite some sellers even claiming this is the best plastic for kayaks. Better quality (longer lasting, stiffer and therefore better performing) kayaks are generally made out of Medium or High Density Polyethylene (MDPE and HDPE) and though usually more expensive will probably prove to be a better buy in the long run and have better re-sale value should you want to trade up (or give up) later. Remember the old adage, buy cheap, buy twice! -Click on this link for an explanation of which plastics to watch out for in kayak construction and a vivid video which clearly illustrates the difference - Explanation and Video - The difference between poor quality Low Density Polyethylene and good quality Medium or High Density Polyethylene in kayak construction .
Also be wary of taking the advice offered on on-line sources like Twitter and Facebook as gospel. I often see beginners asking for advice about buying a "Sit On Top" kayak and immediately people start saying they should join a club and get a "Sit In Kayak" instead when actually for the purposes the beginner wants to use if for the Sit On Top is probably the perfect solution. I find many Club Members tend to be be "White Water" boat biased and while, if this is what you want, then that is great advice, and certainly if you have the opportunity try out as many boats as possible, for many people what they want is just a simple stable, unsinkable craft, that is easy to get into and out at the riverbank and is easy to self rescue yourself should the worst happen without you having to learn to roll etc (Which is actually great fun if you want to do it but can turn off a lot of people who don't want that kind of thing). Think of it as the difference between a keen running club member and someone who just wants to go for a quiet Sunday afternoon stroll - They are going to have quite different expectations and requirements.
Most of our ancestors would have been amazed at what we have available to paddle today. It is surprising how much you can get out of a canoe or kayak if you just go out and practice your paddling technique and skills rather than always worrying about searching for that ultimate boat. When I bought my Bob Special it was a revelation as it was so responsive and so obviously highlighted bad paddling technique and rewarded good technique. However, once I had refined my technique in the Bob Special and then I went back and applied this to canoes I had previously paddled which I had thought of as unresponsive (in truth more forgiving of a less talented paddler) I was amazed at how well they could be made to perform. The challenge of making a basic boat perform well can be a source of pleasure in itself and improving your technique can be a lot cheaper than buying a new boat! Buying your first canoe/kayak second hand can make sense as you can save yourself a fair amount of money and if you subsequently find you have made the wrong choice, or more likely just get the urge to trade up to another model, you can usually get a large proportion of your money back when you sell it on.