Thanks to all for the interesting and considered responses to my question concrning boat length. I have been paddling kayaks for about 10 years, but my experience is largely limited paddling my 11-ft by 26-in Necky Gannet and my 16.75-ft by 24-in Folbot Cooper. (I also have a considerable amount of time in Necky 16-ft Chathams and some time paddling a CD Suka.)
The Cooper defintely has a smoother ride than my Gannet through sets of waves; the Cooper's longer waterline seems to act like a longer wheelbase on a car. If my Gannet rides like a Honda Fit, the Cooper rides like a Caddilac. While I consider the Gannet to have 'bombproof' stability in all kinds of conditions (and I prefer it to my Cooper in really rough and confused water), it does get a little tedious paddling it hour after hour in steep waves as it bobs up and down. However, I also have noticed that the greater length of my Cooper causes it to get really hairy to paddle in high wind and waves in confused seas as one end of the boat is pushed one way and the other end shoved the other way. Sometimes the entire boat is blown off course. Paddling the Cooper can be kind of like driving an old rear-engine VW bus compared to driving a sports car (similar to my Gannet and now my Little Wing, see below)on a windy highway.
Since I am older (63 years), I decided to downsize my day-touring boat for ease of car topping and launching. I recently purchased a Warren Little Wing 12.5-ft by 21.5-in (19.5-in waterline) that weighes just 24-Lbs (I weighed it myself). My concern is that I like to go on guided day tours to interesting places like the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. While I have no doubt the my Little Wing is better suited to the rocky coastline and the sea caves of the Apostle Islands than my Cooper, the Little Wing techically is not acceptable for the guided tour. I wrote the following to the tour operator, which accurately decribes my experiences with my Little Wing so far (I have had it just over one week).
"I signed up for the Stockton Island intermediate tour on Friday, as well as the Sea Caves tour on Saturday. According to your requirements, my Little Wing is not long enough for Stockton Island trip. I have a 16' 6"-long, 24-in wide, Folbot Cooper that I have paddled for four years, and I can bring that along for the Stockton Island trip if a longer boat is absolutely required. However, I hope that you will consider letting me use my Little Wing kayak on this tour also. I consider my pretty Cooper seaworthy, as I have stiffened the frame (over as designed and delivered by Folbot), and have equipped it with full-length floatation bags in both bow and stern, and also with a seasock. I can paddle it for hours on end at 3.5-4.0 mph and push it to about 5.5 mph. It has so much foatation that re-entries from the water are difficult, but I can reliably push the extreme stern under water and do an over-the-stern scramble re-entry in a matter of minutes.
> My Little Wing kayak, at under 15' length, is techically not acceptable for your intermediate tours, but, with my GPS unit, I measured exact same cruising and top speeds as my Folbot Cooper. My Little Wing has even greater buoyancy than my Cooper. I cannot do an over-the-stern scramble in the Liitle Wing since I cannot force the stern low enough in the water. I was forced to re-learn my paddle float re-entry skills with the Little Wing. After practicing five or six wet exits and re-entries, the bow and stern compartments were bone dry.
To me, my Little Wing is more seaworthy than my Cooper or any other kayak that I have paddled, with the possible exception of the 16' Necky Chatham (which I have borrowed or rented several times), in both its phenomenal primary and secondary stabiilty and in the way that it seems totally unaffected by wind and waves from any direction in confused seas. I consider my Little Wing not only more seaworthy than my much longer Cooper, but the most seaworthy kayak that I have paddled. Even as far as length is concerned, it has a very long waterline length for its size; it just does not have the great overhang at each end like a Greenland style boat. By the way, I like the looks of a Geenland style boat, and one of my favorite boats to paddle is the CD Suka.
I have a more general question about why high-end sea kayaks of less than 15' are not considered suitable for the intermediate tours, yet 'kid's kayaks' of less than 15' may be suitable if they have adequate floatation. Your requirements of 15' or longer for your tours are about the same as what I have seen on the web sites of other tour operators. However, to me the seaworthyness of a kayak depends less on its overall length than on its cruising speed, buoyancy, and stability and manunverability in rough water conditions. I don't want to be argumentative, but I really would like someone to explain to me why 'kid's kayaks' under 15' my be considered appropriate by tour operators, but fully-equipped adult kayaks are not. At 5'3" and 125 Lbs, I am more efficient paddling smaller kayaks. I suppose I could buy a kid's boat like the Perception Carolina 12; it would fit me fine, but at 63 years of age, I might look kind of silly in it. Thanks, and like I say, I can always paddle my Cooper on Stockton Island tour, although I prefer my Little Wing."