I did manage to narrow my choices down to two different boats. With the wonderful help of Alder Creek kayaks in Portland Oregon I got to paddle a Wilderness Systems FG Tempest 180 and a Northwest Pursuit XL in FG. I settled on the Pursuit. It was a tough call but 2.5 yrs later have no regrets.
The Pursuit is a dream to paddle regardless of the conditions. I started out kayaking in the regular Pursuit and struggled with balance and stability. I finally had to admit that at 6'2" and #250 I was a little big for that particular boat. So the decision was made to purchase the XL. The XL has a little more beam than the regular Pursuit, its about the same length and has about 3/4" more deck height. The added deck height is great for carrying additional gear for that longer weekend or that long awaited 7 day fishing/camping trip. The XL is 17'6" long and still turns well without the rudder down and will spin on a dime with the rudder down. One of the first things I did was reverse the rudder control cables. Everyone should try this. Think about it, leaning to the left and pushing the left pedal seems to be the natural way to turn the boat to the right. It took absolutely no getting used to and we all found it pretty natural and intuitive. For 2 years I lived in Vancouver, Washington and got to paddle in quite a few lakes in Oregon as well as Washington. Even paddling in waves 2'-3' high the boat handled well and was very predictable. Call Northwest kayaks in Seattle they will be more than happy to talk about their boats and make recommendations. They even were kind enough to give me a tour of the facility. Great boats, great company. I can't say enough about the service and advice. Regardless of the boat you choose try reversing the cables, Right to left and left to right, you'll love it.
Initially in order to maneuver the boat I felt that I had to use too much effort in the waist to get it on edge. Also the factory back band stuck up too high and during wet re-entry I ended up sitting on the back band. I was able to correct both of these issues by taking out the stock seat (easy to do by just removing a few bolts) and installed my own customized minicell foam seat, hip pads and knee/thigh pads and installing an after market back band.
That said, I really loved paddling the Pursuit. This is a fast boat. Many friends I paddled with had a difficult time keeping up with me. Very stable and tracks well. This is a high volume boat that can pack more gear than any other kayak I’ve paddled. The extra cockpit room allowed me to stretch out when I needed which I greatly appreciated on long trips. The trade-off is that due to the boats high deck it will catch wind a bit and weathercock. This can be corrected with proper strokes/edging and/or deploying the rudder. The boat tracks well in high winds with the rudder down. In rough seas the bow stays above the waves and has a nice dry ride.
This boat shines in rough conditions and if you’ve never had it out in rough seas you haven’t yet been properly introduced to the boat. The Pursuit you paddle on placid water and the Pursuit you paddle on a rough Bay or Ocean are two completely different boats, I assure you. The first time I went upside down I found out the hard way that the front and rear bulkheads both leaked. I was able to repair this by removing the plastic bulkheads and stripping the old adhesive using acetone and a sharp chisel and completely resealing the bulkheads in with 3M 5200 Marine Adhesive. I also had to re-seal one rear rudder cable guide with adhesive because it had been knocked away from the fiberglass somehow. Once done this was a very watertight boat that I had full confidence in. The issues I encountered were due to neglect by previous owners and no fault of the manufacturers construction or design of the craft.
Final word: this is a great boat! Stable, fast, maneuverable and user-friendly. I enjoyed paddling the Pursuit very much but sadly will let it go in favor of a smaller boat with a tighter fit for my body type. I hope the next owner gets as much pleasure from it as I did. I rate the Northwest Pursuit XL an 8 out of 10. Would have been a 9 if it had a better seat and back band arrangement. I’m reserving my 10 rating for the perfect kayak that I have not yet found.
I only have one small complaint: The cock pit croaming is sharp, which makes it tough to remove the spray skirt (potential problem during a wet exit).
Overall a great kayak, I'm very pleased with my purchase.