Perhaps I should leave this review to my girlfriend since she now paddles my Avatar way more than I do, but here it is: The Avatar 15.5 is a great low volume greenland style sea kayak. It does what is was designed to do supremely well. The fit is great for a smaller or shorter paddler and the seat very comfortable. Anyone with size 10 or bigger feet though better get another boat. On flat water paddling the avatar is almost effortless - it accelerates quickly, is rock solid at amazing lean angles and turns on a dime with the skeg up or down. My gf complained about the skeg up tracking the 1st several she used the boat on the reservoir, but eventually got the hang of it.
Strangely enough she never complained about the tracking out on the Chesapeake during the same period, but perhaps that's because the avatar comes into its own as conditions get rougher. The boat almost makes 4ft waves, 30knot winds, and confused surf at an inlet seem boring. The only problem is that waves splashing over the low volume bow can make the ride a little wetter than in some other boats. The payoff for being wet is a boat that slices through waves instead of pitching up and down and a boat that feels rock solid regardless of how angry or confused the waves get or where they hit from. Yaw is easily controlled by the skeg and the primary and secondary stability makes rolling seem like an unnecessary skill. The avatar is a capable but not stellar surfer that prefers to sit in place but can be enticed to run down a wave face or two. There's a slight tendency to weathercock with the skeg up and to leecock with it all the way down -- you can't ask for better balance.
The Avatar is great for playing on rivers lakes or in the ocean and for day and weekend trips. It is fast, extremely efficient, maneuverable, and even stable enough to do long lens photography in. Beginners may mistakenly find the boat a little cramped and tippy but will quickly grow into it and intermediate paddlers will love the way the boat inspires confidence while begging you to play and extend your abilities.
What the Avatar doesn't do well is carry a lot of gear for longer trips. The skeg box takes up valuable real-estate in the stern and the narrow racey upturned greenland bow limits what you can shove up there. But then the avatar is not designed to be high volume gear hauler. The HDPE seems softer than the plastic used in our Dagger and Perception whitewater boats and no where near as stiff or scratch resistant as the SLPE used in the Prijon Barracuda, Excursion, or Seayak we've owned or paddled.
The boat has a little problem in tracking (which could have been my paddling that needs improvements), but once I put the skeg down, it run straight as if I drew a line with a straight edge. It is very easy to turn, especially without the skeg. It is quite a fast boat. Great secondary stability, I can do edging and leaning easily (till the water almost over the gunwhale). I am 5' 4", 145 lbs, the boat (low volume) is perfect for a small paddler like me. I was once out in a shallow river with some beaver dams(not suppose to go there with a sea kayak), and I paddle fast and over a beaver dam with a 4 feet drop on the other side... boy that was fun. The boat is fast and nimble enough to do that.
Anyway, I love the boat, it performs just like what they have said in their web site and I will keep it for a long time. I give 9 out of 10 cause it has a bit of difficulties running straight without a skeg, although it could have been my paddling problem.
I just want to add a thing to help our fellow kayaker "RP" (Sept. 2005 review)
I had the same problem with the skeg on my Avatar 15.5 - It won't comes down. I flip the boat and open up 1 screw on the skeg, pour water on the skeg housing until almost full, pull the skeg up and down a few times to let some sand and dirt out in the water, drain the water to get all dirt out. Then pull the bungee cord out, tie another notch next to the original one, make sure the new notch is tight, then cut off the original notch, put everything back in, put the screw back in, and done.
This way I made the bungee cord a bit shorter and it will give a bit more spring effect when you try to put the skeg down. It works great on my boat. Good luck.