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I have since paddled it on the Suwannee River in FL, the Saluda in SC, and the marshes and ocean in SC. I find I could pack (for camping on salt water) 3 1/2 gallons of water inside the back next to the bulkhead and 2 more gallons behind them. This gives me about 5 1/2 gallons counting the 2 litters in my camelback. I can do at least 6 days and still have room for maybe another gallon or so of water if I pack like a backpacker with maybe a few extra comforts.
The boat handles well and I have been in 15-20 kt winds loaded for camping with no need for a skeg. I don't need skeg or rudder with this boat. It turns well with edging and a sweep and bow rudder stroke. It is reasonably fast even loaded. I find both the primary and secondary stability to be good. I can do a layback roll but I have to come out of the seat a bit to lay all the way back. C-C roll is fine. Beach surfing in 5 foot waves it will spear through a steep wave. It surfs well enough. The sharp bow does tend to slice through waves, put it does ride over them if they arenít real steep. I even could get through breaking 5 and 6 foot surf against 30 kt winds, but I didn't have the skill for reliably handling the surfing back in the empty kayak. I haven't done any "loaded for camping" surfing yet, but I have surfed 10-15 kt wind waves loaded and running with the wind.
I added tie downs under the cockpit deck and bungeed a 2 litter wide mouth plastic kitchen container with screw top for a dry under deck storage for items I might need or want while paddling. I have to pop the front of my skirt to access it. I can do a cowboy rescue and enter with the under deck storage while sitting mu butt in the seat and bringing my feet and legs in one at a time. I don't think a backward and turn up reentry like a traditional paddle float reentry well work with this under deck storage, but it is very easily removed. It is an easy boat to empty and reenter.
I added foot braces but took them out as a 3x3 inch foam bar wedged from side to side at the deck and hull junction against the bulkhead works perfectly for my leg length. My son at 6'2" uses just the bulkhead for his foot brace. I had to pad out the side braces and the thigh braces for a good fit for me. My back is about 3-4 inches from the back of the cockpit. I didn't like the knob that sticks up from the deck for securing the hatches so did my own hidden bungee closure for a watertight and flush deck look. I added 2 more of Eric's wooden recessed deck fittings both front and back between the hatches and the stern and bow, and put bungees across the deck and perimeter lines as I like this type of rigging. It makes it better for carrying a spare paddle, and grabbing the kayak when in the water.
All in all I find this a well mannered and fun kayak and expect to get years of use from it. I have really enjoyed the boat. I like the ease of doing a quick cowboy reentry, the ease of turning and handling, and the speed and glide of this kayak.
The 16'x21", 17'x22" and 18'x21 Mergansers are similar in pivot point resistance to weathercocking and response on a lean, the 17W sticks out regarding weathercocking and response to a lean. You could toss five lbs in the stern or add a long 3/4" skeg to the stern but a retractable skeg would probably be ideal. Moving the seat back would put one up against the coaming. What would really be ideal is a slight re-design so it handled similar to the other Mergansers.
My next decision was which company and model to choose. I ended up going with the Shearwater brand because of a few construction features (predrilled holes, jigsaw style end joints, and integrated thigh braces to name a few). I chose their Merganser because of its reputation for speed, turning, and straight tracking. I chose the 23" wide version over the 22" to gain some stability and more storage volume.
The construction took around 80-90 hours and went fairly smooth. Being my first kit I was a little shy and had Eric Schrade's (the owner & designer)phone number on my speed dial. He was always available and happy to answer questions.
Once the boat was complete, I took it out on the local reservoir for its maiden voyage. It was quite tippy at first, the hard chined hull being quite different than my other kayak. The tracking and edging were awesome. The water was pretty choppy that day, but the boat tracked as well as my old kayak...and the old one has a rudder.
The water was cold, but I did a few rolls anyway and it was easy, the only problem being a slight case of "brain-freeze".
All in all, the entire experience, from construction to paddling was a very good one. See you on the water!
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