I purchased a custom foam seat from Joe Greenley at Redfish Kayaks....and I am wowed and delighted!
I have been paddling and building high performance kayak's for a number of years and was a regular buyer of Joe's seat blanks which were very comfortable and easy to finish with three other boats i had built.
But most recently, I was working a very special project where I wanted a very light weight build and a very high standard of fit and finish, So I basically sub-contracted the seat part of the project to Joe.
Because i was looking for a very light weight boat, the idea of an integrated seat with back support and thigh support in a single package was intriguing. In this approach, using Joe's custom seat, there are no back-bands, cheek plates or associated structure required....so weight is saved. it is also a very clean and professional look.
The only question I had was, "how is Joe going to make a good fitting seat working on the west coast when i am building on the east coast?" Anyway, after some pictures, measurements and conversations, Joe set out about the work and a couple weeks later a box arrives with the seat in it. I put it in the boat and it fits perfectly. I simply mean, perfectly.
Anyway, this boat is a 'show' project and the seat matches the fit and finish of the work. As I said when I opened my review, I am delighted and I get a lot of great comments. Price wise, this is incredibly reasonable for this level of work, and, if you add it up, not a big uplift from buying any other quality seat offering when you also consider a high quality back band needs to be factored into the comparison as well.
I have been paddling the Shearwater 17 for three seasons. I have been building stitch and glue kayaks for a while now and this boat was my 10th project over a number of years so i have had a lot of practice.
From a build perspective, the designer is Eric Schade. The kit and instructions are from Chesapeake Light Craft (CLC) and the kit and instructions that come with it are thorough and complete. the only elements outside of paint and finishing materials that i needed to buy was a good seat (which i picked up from Redfish kayaks), a nice set of toggles and some additional rigging material for how i like to outfit the boat.
The build itself is modern and sophisticated for a stitch and glue and while ok from a first project perspective, is worth taking your time on to get it right. Using the CLC Builders forum - CLC's on-line technical support and community -- is a great resource to sort out any particular step in the construction which may be confusing.
the boat has hard chines, a multi section deck with some beautiful curves and color contrasts, and when finished bright, will provoke a lot of conversations about the craft at your local put in. overall, the boat has a low, sleek, fast look to it with elements of traditional greenland kayak styling, fully outfitted, my boat came in at 43 lbs.
from a paddling perspective, the boat matches it sleek picture. with gear i, weigh about 190 lbs and i am 5" 10 inches with a 30 inch inseam. i would describe the fit as comfortable but not roomy.
i paddle almost every week during an 8 month season and would describe my skills as advanced. the boat is easily driven and can hold a nice cruising speed, its deck design/low volume is easy to paddle with various styles without ever striking the hull with your sticks. the boat rolls easily, responds well to leaned turns and tracks nicely even on a windy day without a skeg or rudder. it is a boat you can easily use to develop advanced paddling skills.
the boat has fore and aft hatches and plenty of space for a lunch or dinner out and i routinely use the boat for little picnic outings (paddle two hours, eat, paddle back) but it's not a boat with so much volume that i would be comfortable trying to get a tent into or heavier equipment into it.
i have also used this boat as guest boat for those with a little bit of experience....but not for an absolute beginner. its stability is fine and it is not in anyway tricky.
i don't really have anything negative to say other than the boat fills a niche in my paddling portfolio....and while it does what it does well, there are a couple places i would approach with some caution - 1) it's not a high-volume boat, so if you are a large person, you want to test fit it before committing to it; 2) not a boat for rock gardens....think of these boats as high-quality glass boats.....while they will survive scrapes and are easily repaired and refinished, if rock gardens is your thing, that's why you have plastic craft, 3) for the same reason above, not a great boat to practice multi-boat rescue techniques (e.g., pulling another boat over your deck).
That said, if you like the looks and it fits you, this is a high performance day tourer in a light package and at a great price (if you are ok building it) that you should definitely keep on your list for consideration.
this boat is a very sophisticated and incredibly beautiful machine. it was my second strip-built project and i spent a lot of time sorting through its construction with an objective of doing something spectacularly good looking and light-weight.
i ended up with a 17 foot 31 lb rigged boat (s-glass, kevlar and carbon on 3/16 cedar core) that turns heads and performs amazingly. the boat is described by it's designer (Nick Schade) as a play boat.....a boat to develop advanced paddling technique, comfortable in confused situations and very maneuverable. i can honestly say she lives up to that remit.
i have several kayaks in my arsenal (a shearwater 17, a night heron, and the petrel). when do i reach for the petrel? typically for a shorter paddle where i really want to focus on my paddling and want to feel everything and not have the stability of of the boat hiding doing something wrong with my body. while with the skeg down she will track like an arrow, with the skeg up, you can literally spin this boat on its access with little effort. so controlling the boat with the skeg up means you are doing something right.
the boat has space for a day trip, but for me at 185 lbs and 5 10" i am at the upper limits of the body type this boat was built for.
i kind of think of this boat as my porsche 911.....probably not the one for you if you can only have one...but if you can have one....it's one to have:)
I don't think it's possible to get much lighter than this without significant modifications….the 41lbs weight was primarily due to very careful epoxy work and wood work which minimized epoxy weight. In a nutshell... easy to carry.
The boat was built from the material included in a CLC kit which was relatively complete. The hull was built per plans and all bulkhead locations, foot pedal track locations and other critical measurements were right on specification. I paid careful attention to the deck rigging as the plans and included material did not address what I consider sea-kayak safety minimums. So the boat has full perimeter lines (not included in kit), fore and aft flush hatches (included in kit) and two fore and two aft bungee tie down sections (not included in kit) to hold paddles as well as toggles (not included in kit) to make carrying the boat easy. A well contoured seat from redfin kayaks (not included in kit), the back band (included in kit), and padded knee and thigh braces (included in kit) rounded out the cockpit. dynel rub-strips on the bow and stern knuckles (not included in kit) extending about two feet towards the center of the boat allow the hull to deal with beach or a boat ramp without getting destroyed. These additions probably added another $100 on top of whatever the kit cost.
When it's all said and done, there is little in the commercial market that is a high-performance, fully rigged 17 foot sea kayak that would come in at this weight. There is no skeg on the boat but one can be fitted... it would probably add another two pounds to the hull.
The Shearwater is an attractive boat with an interesting mix of classic looks while at the same time modern. I finished the boat brite which let the underlying wood show through. The dark sappele deck is a nice complement to the okoume hull and shear pieces. Nothing but complements from other paddlers and park walkers when I pulled it off my car top to get underway.
I weigh 183 lbs and am 5'10 inches tall with a 30 inch inseam. For this review I was wearing a dry suit with just long underwear underneath and my regular shoe size is a 10.5. I had water slippers on to preserve the booties of my drysuit... I also paddled with a neoprene skirt. By way of paddling experience I paddle 300 to 400 hundred miles each year... usually once a week during the high season. My other boats I have paddled extensively include the Night Heron, the West River 180, Chesapeake 17s and a large number of commercial sea kayaks. I roll as well.
From a fit perspective, while not roomy, the boat was comfortable and worked for me. My sense is that if I had bigger feet, however, it would have been tight.
When we hit the water we had a 7 knot wind and light chop as well as motor boat wakes. The journey was a quick 8 mile round trip so roughly 4 with the wind at my back and 4 with the wind on the nose.
The first thing I noticed was the boat felt fast and relatively nimble. She tracked nicely without the need for correcting strokes and also responded very nicely to leaned turns. Not as nimble as my night heron with skeg up….but certainly better than the Chesapeake 17 or west river. I had initially considered building the boat with a skeg option….but glad I held off….i did not feel, under these conditions, like the boat was lacking in any way that a retractable skeg would address.
The boat accelerated easily and seemed to hold her speed well. the eight mile run was completed within two hours at a leisurely paddling stroke. My sense is that one is not going to worry about being able to keep up with the group with this hull. The numbers suggest she is fast and the on-the-water performance seemed to confirm that. This is not a high volume boat and for the upwind section, she knifed through the little chop with ease. I found the cut-away shear panels created plenty of room for a relatively aggressive paddling style and I did not once accidently strike the paddle to the boat. I found the boat stable... and had no real adjustment period required... just got in and went.
Overall, I am very happy with the results and the performance. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised, for a hard-chined boat, at the good balance of tracking and maneuvering and speed. Definitely a keeper.
I will probably write an updated review after I put more miles in more varied conditions.
First a bit of background on the boat and its set up:
The boat is a customized version of the high deck strip built night heron. The hull is per the designers lines. The deck, however, was modified to preserve the knee height as designed in the high deck version, however, I adjusted the deck lines to round off what, otherwise would be a peaked deck center-line on both the rear and front decks. What this effectively looked like was the regular deck version of the night heron with the knee room of the high deck version. The coaming was also modified slightly and stretched about an inch and a half. The objective here was to allow me to sit in the boat and then be able to get my legs in or out while seated.
Fore and aft hatches were installed with hatch sizes per the designers
lines. The hatches are flush with three straps per hatch to hold them
Waterproof bulkheads were installed -- 3 inch minicell foam fore and aft.
In addition, the boat was fitted with a retractable skeg from superior kayaks. A mini-cell seat from Redfish kayaks was installed.
Rigging included full perimeter deck lines and 4 bungee areas immediately fore and aft of the cockpit as well as additional bungee area fore and aft of the hatches. These outermost bungee areas are to accommodate extra paddles and other long items. Simple toggles tied through the bow and stern complete the external rigging. Internally, there are internal tie-downs/bungees under the deck to hold drinks but allowing the fore-deck to be kept clear. Inside the rear hatch area there is bungee on the floor to give an option to secure items there and prevent them from moving around. The boat was also fitted with a custom through hull aft of the coaming to accommodate a hydration pack under the rear deck but allow the tube to come up through the deck without allowing water into the hull. All pad-eye and strapping was executed using the soft padeye approach compliments to Redfish kayak. This is a very clean rigging approach with no bolts, washers, or nut usually associated with rigging.
I paid close attention to my construction detail and the completed boat complete with everything mentioned above and the weight came in at 41 lbs. I am an experienced builder and the boat was built true to the design within a millimeter of the designers specifications.
A little bit about the paddler:
I am an experienced sea kayaker, 190lbs and 5'10". I paddle about once a week through-out the year. I have won a couple amateur races for touring class kayaks. I probably do between 500 and 700 miles of paddling a year….mostly in protected waters in and around the Chesapeake basin. My usual boat prior to completing the Night Heron is a West River 180.
Boat review and impressions:
This boat is exactly what I was looking to acquire and accomplish. A light, fast maneuverable touring kayak that could accommodate my body and the knee bend I need to be comfortable…..but without a lot of excess volume to drag around.
I was very impressed with the maneuverability of the boat given its length. The hull is very easily driven and it accelerates easily and maintains her speed. It also was very maneuverable. That said, with a little bit of skeg dropped, she tracked like she was on rails. I was surprised also at the very good stability. The boat is only 20 inches wide….and the natural assumption is that this would make her tippy. Not the case at all. A very stable and comfortable platform. The Night Heron has a very rounded hull shape fore and relatively hard chines aft. It is a complex and sophisticated hull and blends a number of properties in a balanced manner.
I was pleasantly surprised how roomy the boat felt given how small the boat appears to be. I had spent a lot of time understanding where the size matters and where it was simply excess volume. And I was very focused on this concept when I started this project. There were times, however, during the build that I had my doubts….so having it all work was a pleasant relief.
My first paddle was a 10 mile trip with a slight headwind and negative current. We averaged 4 mph for the 10 miles. When we explored the top end, we were able to bring her up to slight over 6 mph…..at a click below an all-out sprint. I was pleasantly surprised how easily I kept up with my colleagues and how light and lively the boat felt.
My second paddle was a 12 mile trip...flat water up river 6 miles and then turned around. Again the average speeds were between 4 and 5 mph maintained easily. The second paddle confirmed the general handling conclusions described above.
As for the lines and the looks, this boat is a head-turner and a beautifully executed traditional looking kayak with a very modern and sophisticated hull design. So I got a lot of comments on just what a beautiful boat it was.
Storage and cargo were not a significant consideration for me in picking this boat. That said, the boat will definitely accommodate day trips and if you are Spartan in your approach, perhaps some very light weekend camping. I built the boat with fore and aft hatches per the designers lines. But cargo for the aft section needs to be able to fit under the deck which is relatively low. If putting cargo up front, you will find the forward hatch relatively small compared to most commercial kayaks of comparable size. I had no trouble accommodating what I would normally carry on a day trip….but I did notice it was substantially tighter than my west river 180. If I was doing it again, I would modify the hatches to make them larger.
Definitely a boat to consider if you are a larger paddler who likes a performance touring kayak but wants a classic look. Easy to make 20 to 30 mile days day after day. Not a freight hauler or heavy duty camping machine. Definitely important to do a test ride to check fit. While roomy, it's roomy if it fits. But I know people with body types that would simply not work in this boat. As a owner-built boat, easily customizable to make it have the rigging and other details done to your liking.