In 1993, retired pilot Hugo Vihlen sailed alone across the Atlantic Ocean from Newfoundland to Great Britain in a boat that was shorter than its captain was tall, seizing the record for a trans-oceanic crossing in the smallest boat by a suitably narrow margin. Vihlen’s record-setting trip is a good bit of trivia for any paddler of the Perception Carolina 13.5 to invoke when facing skeptical remarks from snobs in 18-footers.
Perception Carolina 13.5 Specs
Cockpit: 38” × 21”
Weight: 41 lbs
Dry Storage: 29 U.S. gal
Max Capacity: 350 lbs
$1,600 USD or $2,350 CAD
$1,750 USD or $2,500 CAD
Go short and sweet with the Carolina 13.5
New for 2005, Perception Kayaks offers the shortest version yet of their popular Carolina series in both conventional rotomoulded plastic and the new lighter, glossier, Airalite thermoformed plastic. The features and performance of the Carolina should be enough to take the wind out of the sails of any “lengthist” who dismisses a short kayak.
At 13.5 feet, this Carolina skirts the recreational category. But with the features, fit, performance and price of a touring boat, it’s slotted into the more highfalutin group that Perception dubs “day touring.” The Airalite model is enough of an upgrade from the roto version to be a completely different boat. It’s 20 percent lighter and much better suited to real touring and performance paddling.
Venture into small spaces
We had a great time testing the Airalite model in light winds and currents on a sheltered tidal inlet. The kayak’s short length facilitated manoeuvring in small bays, poking along the shore and playing in tidal rapids.
The Perception Carolina 13.5 is an impressively spirited and capable little kayak with a sophisticated, responsive hull design featuring a shallow V bottom, a fair bit of rocker and a semi-hard chine. The comfortable initial stability puts most paddlers at ease and rock-solid secondary lets you really get into a tilt to take advantage of the hard chine’s quick-turning performance. Beginners and intermediates can be confident that the Carolina will grow with them into more advanced skills like tilt turns and sculling.
Carolina has ergonomic excellence
The Perception Carolina 13.5 has a cockpit you could cross the Atlantic in. One tester said “It’s the most comfortable kayak seat I’ve ever sat in,” and commented on the good ergonomics for older paddlers with back and hip problems. The seat is thermoformed plastic with contoured padding. The backband, with thick neoprene padding and a ratchet system for micro-tuning on the fly, supports the back in an anatomical position and is a perfect compromise between a skinny whitewater-style backband and a cushy La-Z-Boy backrest. Padded, contoured thigh braces are moulded into the cockpit coaming. There’s plenty of width and height for beefy builds, but a 5’ 10” height maxes out the legroom.
Unique to the Airalite model is a hatch system found on high-end kayaks: an airtight neoprene seal protected from spray and sun by a hard outer cover that straps down flush to the deck. These hatches have large easy-stuff openings and stayed completely dry. The ample 110 litres of dry storage fore and aft is separated from the cockpit by foam bulkheads.
Competent paddlers won’t require the optional thermoplastic rudder to track and turn but it’s a nice feature for long-haul paddling. With the rudder retracted, the Carolina tends to skid into a turn like other short boats when you stop paddling. Other features aft include straps over the hatch that are long enough to secure paddles and fishing rods, plus bungees and a notch in the rear deck for paddle float rescues. The rubberized grab handle is very comfortable with a moulded handgrip—it’s loose on the back deck for easy access but the bow handle is tethered with bungees to keep it from flopping around in waves.
The Perception Carolina 13.5 has outsized value
For the price of a Carolina 13.5 in Airalite, some shoppers will be tempted to move on to larger designs and composites. However, small paddlers looking for manoeuvrability and the best performance and features they can get in a kayak of this length and weight will want to shortlist this boat.
The Perception Carolina 13.5 will be most at home on quiet lakes, sheltered bays and meandering rivers. And, of course, a trans-oceanic voyage is never out of the question. To beat Vihlen’s record, though, you’ll have to wait for the Carolina 5.3!
This article was first published in the Fall 2005 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.