Mine is a 2000 model year. I'm not sure how it differs from other model years. I read in other reviews about a rudder. Mine, thankfully, does not have one. It would, however, benefit from a skeg. It tracks horribly in even the slightest wind. I still give it a 9 though since everything else about it is great.
I read people say it is not for beginners.....I can't imagine why. It is incredibly stable and could have been made 2 inches skinnier. I got mine used having been previously owned by multiple people. There are many hairline cracks in the gelcoat both on the deck and hull. I don't know if it was banged around or if it just has a poor quality gelcoat job. The Shearwater should fit most people comfortably...I'm 6 ft. and 225 lbs. I may mount a surfboard skeg to the hull to straighten things out.My boat is actually a Hop on Top 18. The design is the same as the Shearwater, but this boat was Paul Cronin's personal boat and it's made of Kevlar and Carbon Fiber. This is my initial assesment:
Finally got a chance to try it out. Compared to most SOT's, it's very quick. Unfortunately, I had my OK Sprinter out for comparison. The Sprinter is faster with better glide. The HOT 18 is a beautiful boat and more stable than the Sprinter and it will carry more. The HOT is also seriously lighter. Probably at least ten lbs difference. Nice when it comes to loading and unloading.
This was on flatwater, so I don't know about rough water handling. The under stern rudder worked very well and would turn it very quickly. But it did slow it down a lot when I really cranked it over. Makes sense. I really like the option of using the rudder or not so I've removed it and going to replace it with an over stern one. Also, some of the water I paddle in can get shallow so the over stern rudder will help there.
Couldn't tell anything about the inherent tracking or maneuverability of the boat because the rudder controls that. Now that I've removed the rudder, it'll be interesting to see what it does.As almost everyone has noted, this is not a beginners' boat. If you are currently using a wide SOT, this will be a learning exprience for you. It might be easier to switch to a sit inside or surf ski if you are looking for speed. Initial stability is not as good as a lot of sit inside kayaks. More like a surf ski.
Watch out for rear quartering winds. In a 25 knot wind it will weathercock even with the small skeg. I haven't had it out in big waves, but even a very exprienced friend said he could probably not stay on it on a big wave. And he can handle an 18' boat in big water better than anyone I know.
The former owner raced it fairly sucessfully on San Francisco Bay. He replaced it with a racing surf ski. He warned me off of using in really rough conditions like off the Mendocino Coast in winter.
On the other hand. It is a beautiful, rugged, and very well made boat. It was designed by a boat architect and it is very well designed. The only SOT I know with bulheads.
Did I mention it is over 18' long and 24" wide? I guess it holds a ton inside, and that might improve intial stability. I don't know. I travel light. It is also very fast. It can run with the big boys. Sit on top, or sit inside. Just a few sit insides like the Seda Glider have an edge for speed, and not a big one.
If you do not do open ocean trips it should do just great. If you do open water, then buy the Shearwater for speed AND get another boat for the rough stuff! Bottom line is: mine is not for sale.