You can't have everything in one boat. For speed, you want long-and-narrow. For comfort, you want beam and a big cockpit. For maneuverability and compactness, a short kayak is desirable. Artful compromise is the mark of good design, and we feel that Eric Schade's Shearwater Sport is a great combination of kayak virtues.
Eric has brought his practiced eye and decades of paddling experience to bear on the problem. Settling on a length of 14'6", he added just enough beam (25") to support paddlers over 200lbs. Refinement of the underbody, the bow, and the stern allowed him to retain the crisp handling that has sold almost 650 Shearwater kayaks.
For paddlers with longer legs who want an easy entry and egress, Eric specified a 34-inch long cockpit. Standard spray skirts still fit, and the Shearwater Sport is outfitted with all of the features expected in a high-performance kayak: knee braces, hip braces, and a low aft deck for those who want to roll the boat.
The compact Shearwater Sport gives up nothing in cruising speeds to its longer, narrower Shearwater sisters, though it won't be quite as fast in a sprint. It's still more than fast enough to accelerate onto waves for surfing. Indeed, many paddlers will build the Shearwater Sport just for surfing, while maintaining longer kayaks for distance work.
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This was the second kit from CLC Boats that I built, I had previously built the Stitch+Glue Night Heron. The experience from the earlier build was useful but not essential. My goal in building this boat was to have a stable boat that was built like a tank. The stableness was inherent in the design, a 25" beam is going to make the boat forgiving no matter how you build it. I used a heavy fiberglass layup (fully glassed inside and out, with up to three layers on the bottom of the hull). The boat is very stiff, but also heavy. Of course, if you want a lightweight boat you don't have to use as much fiberglass, I just wanted a boat that can take a beating and keep on going.
Construction of the boat was straight forward, the directions were accurate and the folks at CLC are always responsive to questions. If building the strip version I do recommend reading Nick Schade's books on strip built sea kayak building, the information in those books does augment the manual well. The only significant change I made to the boat from the reference design was to move the stern hatch to be closer to the cockpit. Doing this, along with using delrin hatch toggles for holding it closed, allows me to open/close the hatch while seated in the cockpit essentially using it as a day hatch.
The Shearwater Sport is a short and wide version of the Shearwater sea kayak line, kinda straddling the line between a rec boat and a sea kayak. The cockpit is large and roomy, almost to the point of being bathtub-like. Expect to use some closed-cell foam to pad things out to shrink it down to a reasonable fit.
The cockpit opening is quite large, somewhere between a Seals 1.7 (very tight) and 2.5 (kinda loose) skirt size. The front deck is high, giving plenty of foot room, but the curved deck doesn't get in the way of my paddling stroke. The basic seat is adequate but could use some more padding. Thanks to the large cockpit there is plenty of room to move your legs around and stretch while on the water if the seat does make you stiff.
The boat is very stable, faster then a plastic kayak, and handles reasonably well. It tracks well, but in strong winds it does tend to weathercock. I have paddled it a few miles in 20mph beam winds and you do get a work out constantly correcting. The boat is forgiving in chop/small waves, and I often use it for photography. Even in light wind I can put the paddle down and pick up my camera and take pictures, not worrying about the need to brace, a little hip movement keeps me stable. The stability comes at a price, of course: it's not a fast boat, but it is faster then a similar plastic boat. Don't expect it to win a race against an 18' sea kayak, but it cruises along at 3.5 - 4.0 mph no problem. The boat isn't a fast turner when flat, leaning the boat over helps but it takes some effort to lean due to the width.
The boat (at least as I built it) is very tough. I have hit rocks, stumps, and other kayaks with just lots of scratches to show for it. T-rescues, rafting up, and other techniques that abuse your boat aren't any worries if you don't mind scratches. The boat won't break, and the most I have needed to do is touch up the varnish.
Overall, the boat is a nice cross over between a rec boat and a sea kayak. If you want to paddle big water in reasonable comfort and stability this boat works well, and looks really good doing it. If you want a fast, challenging boat that will stretch your skills you will want to look elsewhere.