This boat tracks very well on the water and it is also easy to turn at 14'-0" long. I have used the drop down skeg only when there is a lot of wind and current working against me. Once you drop the skeg down the kayak takes on a whole different feel. While there is some drag with the skeg, the tracking is bulletproof straight. I am 6'-0" and 175 pounds and I believe that I am close to upper end for the capacity of this boat. The seat is comfortable and easy to adjust and the thigh pads have multiple settings.
As I said above it is a wet ride in ocean swells, and a spray skirt is really required for any rough water. The rear hatch does not seal extremely well as there is always a little water in the bottom after each trip. I read in another review that the skeg box is prone to leaking, so I think that is what is going on here. The drop down skeg is prone to jamming as beach pebbles fit perfectly between the skeg and the skeg box wall. I learned about this problem the third time that I went out in this kayak as I could not deploy the skeg while on the water. The skeg was easily fixed on my return by digging out the offending pebble with my knife.
All in all I am very happy with this boat and I think that I made a good purchase. This boat is also short enough to paddle rivers.
First off, I now insist on a skeg (as opposed to a rudder), so in looking for a second boat this was an absolute criteria. I also wanted a rotomold (plastic) layup to compliment the conditions that I didn't want to use my glass boat for. It's hard to find a good plastic boat with a skeg...there are presently very few models to choose from. I also wanted something 14-15 feet... a good size for paddling rivers and tight mangrove tunnels found here in south Florida, but also long enough to keep up with the touring yaks.
Finally, I wanted the kayak to fit me, and being a small-framed person, that is hard to find these days. The Alchemy SMALL seemed to fit all these criteria.
So on her first paddle, we did about 8 miles and she kept the pace well. Since, I have done 20-mile paddles in this boat with no problem. Yes, she is a bit more sluggish than the 17-footers, to be expected, but I can usually make up for it in endurance. This boat turns very well because it has a long bow and relatively short stern, so your pivot point is set back. It also edges easily but be careful! Primary stability is good but secondary stability is harder to define...I have unintentionally rolled this boat on several occasions, caught off guard while aggressively edging. I think this has to do with the pivot point being so far back and the hard chine. On the upside, the boat feels really responsive when maneuvering in surf.
I rarely find that I need the skeg, but if I do, it's nice to have. Unfortunately, like other Wilderness System boats (Zephyr/Tempest), I find that the skeg flops back in forth when deployed, making a clicking sound against the skeg box. It's very annoying but doesn't seem to affect the performance... just part of the design I guess. My glass boat doesn't have this problem, though. Also, the skeg slide is indented well-enough so that you don't hit your hand on it when taking a close-in stroke...this is an improvement over my glass boat.
The deck is low, which pleases me very much since I paddle with a greenland paddle and also like to roll. I can go into a static brace very easily with this boat, even more so than my glass boat. And rolling this boat is a breeze. The outfitting makes it very comfortable for me to roll as well, with hip pads and thigh braces holding you tight. Because of the low volume, most people will probably find the tight fit confining. Just remember, you are supposed to wear a kayak, not sit inside one. If the small size is too tight (and it will be for many), there is also a larger volume.
The hatches stay dry for the most part...oval shaped hatch covers (common to the Confluence company) all leak to a certain degree, especially if you roll the boat.
I was getting a lot of water in the back hatch though, and found that the skeg box was leaking only after a few months having the boat. I tried to tighten the nut and found that it just free-spun in the box...it was supposed to fit just so inside the box but the plastic gives too much to hold it in place. This is a bad design flaw because you can't tighten the hardwear enough to get a good seal. I ended up just coating it with silicon and that fixed things for now. Beware of replacing the skeg cable, as it is incredible difficult to do.
Again, I compare this to my Impex, which has a much simpler design. I have replaced the cables on both and the process left me grinning in one case and close to tearing my hair out in frustration in the other case. Look up the how-to video online before you try... it will help you figure out the system BEFORE you do damage. Again, I like having a skeg on this boat but the bad design is a drawback to this boat, and I imagine it is common to the company's other skeg boats as well. Hopefully they will engineer a better design in the future.
All in all, I'm very happy with this boat.
I LOVE this boat, it has the length and the tracking to take on any bay, lake, river, etc i decide to hit. I am not a small person (6'4 190 lbs) and the boat fits like a glove and comfortably, although I wouldn't recommend the smaller model for anyone larger than myself.
It is very low to the water which is perfect when your out and the weather gets a little stormy. I've taken the boat out on a larger local lake with winds 30+ MPH and gusting and 10-16" waves and managed to easily paddle back in from across the lake tracked perfectly on the boat launch the entire time without too much work. I have yet to take it on a multi-day trip but have no concerns that it will perform astoundingly. I was greatly impressed by its speed turning capability and tracking, awesome boat for anyone who can get their hands on on.
The only issue I have ever had with it was while putting it on edge, it is so close to the water you need to be wary of swamping if you plan on pulling a hard turn in choppy water, which to me was easily fixed with a good Seals neoprene skirt. Other than that perfect boat one that I will hopefully have for years to come.
What I like about its outfitting:
The seat and thigh braces are excellent and provide lots of good contact. The footpegs are super easy to adjust from the cockpit (just lift and slide) and have not popped on me in rough water. The foam pillar and keel stiffener keep the cockpit structurally sound.
What I like about its performance:
The rocker makes it easy to spin. Stability is predictable and reassuring in confused water. The short length is very handy in rocks, caves, slots, etc. Despite its maneuverability, I find it quite neutral in the wind and a pretty solid tracker, even with the skeg up. Compared with a Delphin or Elias, for example, it's much less squirrelly. It also doesn’t feel slow, though obviously it's maximum hull speed is limited by its length. That said, I don't feel a struggle to keep up with others on a day paddle. And on land it's an easy carry (short, not too heavy).
What I don't like:
The rear hatch leaks on most Alchemy's I've seen. After a rolling session, expect 2 litres or so in the hatch. The front hatch leaks slightly and the day hatch is dry. The skeg is compromised by a wire slider and several Alchemy's I've seen have kinked skegs. I hope the newer boats have a metal rod slider. Finally, I've compared two Alchemy's side by side and noticed considerable difference in the rocker profile, so they're not coming out of the factory uniform in shape.
In short, the concept is awesome, but the application needs some improvement. Still, for the price this little boat is attractive and can suit the needs of a beginning kayaker or a more experienced rough water paddler. Again, I paddle the S version. I am just over 6', 170 lbs, with a shoe size of 10.
My particular example had several manufacturing flaws. The rear bulkhead was not properly sealed and the rear hatch leaks badly when upside down. Other owners I have talked to did NOT have these issues.
I highly recommend it!
I have had the boat out in flat water streams and limited light surf and rock gardening (entry level stuff only) The primary stability is very high making it a good beginner kayak. Secondary stability is not bad, but to me, I could not reliably feel the "point of no return" and found myself rolling when aggressive edging. I think moving the seat back hurt the boats rolling behavior as I can not lay back flat on the deck, but it seems to be easy to snap the boat back under you.
In my opinion, this is a good general use kayak for a beginner that wants a boat they can grow with, learning new skills. It also seems to have the ability to turn and handle very well making it a good surf boat (I am still learning this skill).
The Alchemy is well built, has dry hatches, and is fairly light for a poly boat.
I'm not sure but the hull V and chines seem more pronounced on the small model, the secondary stability is superb and the kayak is very agile on edge, ride is slightly wetter on the small but you'd expect that, more than made up for by the sharper handling.
I found the large needed skeg in the wind where as the small still needs a bit for crosswinds but nothing like as much, maybe a quarter. Hull speed isn't bad but this kayak really comes into its own in tight spots like sea caves and narrow passageways etc, a great rockhopper! I've gone from proper sea kayaks to a Dagger Charleston flat water tourer, which was ok but this kayak fits my needs better than either, still small and agile like the Charleston but with proper sea kayak features and handling, highly recommended!
I will preface by saying that I really like this boat. The fit is great for me, and its wonderfully responsive. It has a fair amount of rocker and a harder chine for a poly boat, so the combination makes for very tight radius turning. Initial stability is solid, although I haven't tested the secondary. The seating system is pretty much identical to Wildy's backband Phase 3 - so its very adjustable and comfortable. Again, the 14.0S is very snug, but that's what I was looking for.
Overall, a very comfortable boat to be in, and very customizable. One ergonomic issue for me was that the seat seems somewhat far up the cockpit. Not enough to impact overall comfort, but it did make the day hatch placement enough of a stretch that I would not be going back there on the water. But then there's enough room behind the seat for dry bag storage, so its a wash so long as its secured (this pretty much echoes what previous reviewer's comments). I also agree that water does get in the coaming quite easily.
I did find that the boat weathercocks easily; perhaps due to the degree of rocker and a higher stern deck than some comparable boats. The skeg helps, but does slow down the boat noticeably. Storage is on the small side, but this is a 14' low volume boat, so I expected that. Since I also backpack, most of my equipment is light or ultralight anyway so I can easily fill the boat with enough equipment and water for an overnight or a light weekend. I would not expect to take the 14.0S on a trip longer than a weekend, unless you aren't taking any water.
In conclusion, I would recommend this boat to a smaller - medium paddler who likes a snug fit in a boat, and whose intention for it is day trips perhaps with some overnight excursions. Ideally the boat would be used in more calm weather conditions, and/or situations where maneuverability is more of a priority over tracking.
I have had the boat less than 30 hours, but I did get a chance to get it out on a pond a couple of hours back. Again, I wanted something that would do well in open water and handle choppy conditions well.
It turns out my first opportunity to paddle it was a perfect test - SSW winds at 20 mph gusting to 30 mph. The boat passed with flying colors - all I wanted! The skeg control is in a recessed slot just below the hip. Being recessed, there is no way to hit it accidentally. I was able to find a "sweet spot" where it would neither weather cock nor lee cock in those 20-30 mph winds.
Chop? What chop? There were 6-12" waves which would have shaken my kidneys loose in the Blackwater 115. I hardly noticed them while headed straight into them. (When they were side waves, I was glad for my skirt and PFD!)
Although just about everything on the seat adjusts, well, once you get that skirt fastened and are out on the pond, nothing adjusts. The cockpit is tight. Wonder which I would have bought had I sat in both the 14s and the somewhat wider 14l? Whatever, you don't sit in this boat, you wear it. However, this does give great control! Although there is a middle bulkhead with a day hatch, there is also a surprising amount of room behind the seat for stashing a dry bag.
Here are the few picky things I found. First, there are no drain channels for the coaming and the areas around the hatches, so water accumulates there. (There is also a 3-4" bowl, presumably for a compass mount. They should have simply left a flat area, but it doesn't hold that much water.) The cover on the day hatch is probably impossible to re-seat from within the cockpit. It's pretty difficult even when out of the boat and standing over it!
In summary, this is a very nice boat!