People who buy homes that they can barely afford are “house poor.” With a Kevlar boat that’s worth more than my pickup and most of my possessions combined, I am “kayak poor.” Maybe I should have bought a Perception Sonoma 13.5, a kayak that’s made of a new kind of plastic with the shiny finish, light weight and sharp lines of a composite boat at half the price.

Perception Sonoma 13.5 Specs
Length: 13’5”
Width: 23”
Cockpit: 33.25” × 18.75”
Storage: 20.35 U.S. gal
Weight: 38 lbs
Max Capacity: 225 lbs
MSRP: $1,099 USD or $1,599 CAD

Introducing the Sonoma 13.5 in Airalite

The Perception Sonoma 13.5 is the first boat to be made of Airalite, a type of plastic that Perception Kayaks compares to the material used in those missile-shaped car-top storage boxes from your favourite roof rack company. Airalite comes in flat sheets that are heated in an oven and vacuum-moulded to kayak shape.

Airalite is not quite as impact-resistant as regular rotomoulded plastic and should be cared for like fiberglass. The folks at Perception say this material is pretty strong, and no problems have been reported since they smashed a bottle of Spumante Bambino over the bow last New Year’s Eve.

High-end features included

Perception has kept the Sonoma’s design simple by including only one hatch. There’s a rear storage compartment enclosed by a foam bulkhead behind the seat. The cockpit extends into the bow with a foam pillar at the front end for rigidity and floatation.

The Perception Sonoma 13.5 has many features of a higher-end boat including heavy-duty deck bungees and comfortable, retracting grab handles. We were able to tilt, brace and roll quite easily with stock outfitting, thanks to solid support from the adjustable plastic foot pegs. One random nitpick: our shiny Perception decals peeled off in the sun.

Perception doesn’t skimp on performance

Here’s the deal. Most lightweight, light-touring boats or fancy recreational boats are wide, slow and downright boring once you’ve figured out how to keep her going in a straight line. The theory must be that if you don’t have any money, you don’t want performance. With the Sonoma 13.5, however, Perception has released an economy car designed by a Formula One racer.

The 23-inch-wide, shallow-V, hard-chined hull makes her a little shaky when you first climb in, especially if the only other boats you’ve tried are Dodge Diplomats and Crown Vics. Get it moving and toss it into the corners with a little outside tilt and it snaps through the pylons. If you’ve ever wondered what all the hard-chine fuss is about but have never really noticed it in long touring boats, try the 13.5 foot Sonoma.

If you plan to eventually upgrade to a full-sized composite tripping boat, you’ll want to keep the sporty Sonoma as your day trip or play boat. The Sonoma 13.5 is a surfable, rollable kayak in a cutdown size that’s comfortable to paddle in wind and waves, easy to turn, easy to store, and easy to load on and off the car.

Show out with the Perception Sonoma 13.5

The Perception Sonoma 13.5 in Airalite is a lot of boat for the price. It’ll make you look “kayak rich,” but your benefactors will still want to know who gets the boat.

This article was first published in the Fall 2003 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

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