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This is EASILY the fastest SOT ever made and quite a bit faster than even the super-fun (also a good choice if you can't find a Freedom) Necky Dolphin. It takes 3 strokes to reach hull speed, after that you're fighting drag but you're already at about 5.5 miles per hour on flatwater. In wind or waves she is very very decent as well.
The boats at Folsom Lake really enjoy trying to knock me over with wake since I have the audacity to be in the middle of such a large body of water that they consider their territory. They fail, of course and the Freedom has no problem with even extreme chop. I hardly notice. 1-2' waves break evenly on the bow and no water even gets in the boat. If it does, simply pull the one giant scupper and keep paddling. This is definitely a long-haul touring boat with a huge amount of cargo space inside. I take an Ice chest, my folding cart, extra life vest, camera equipment, lunch, a tent, folding chair and a small collapsible BBQ and they all fit fine in the hatches since there are no bulkhead structures in the way (the inside of the boat goes straight through, end to end - making room for very long / large objects.)
On rear hatch placement: This is a greenland style boat. As such, you can roll it! I don't know if there's another SOT like this, but you can lean all the way back against the rear deck and roll it (this is surprisingly simple with thigh straps and a little practice.) I love doing so to cool off though it's not necessary for an SOT to have this feature because it's so easy to get back on. Which brings me to my second point.
On getting in from the water: Someone stated in another review above that he doesn't recommend climbing in from the water via the rear as the greenland style deck means that the rear hatch (which leaks, it's true) is barely above the waterline. Why are you climbing in like that? From the water: Reach ACROSS the middle of the boat to the handle on the far side from you. Pull your self over the boat sideways. (you end up half pulling yourself up, and half pulling the boat under your stomach) Turn slightly and sit down. It's that stable, there's no need to go crazy.
On leaking hatches: For some of you it may be too late (if your seals are already too compressed and dried out so they aren't pliable any further) but this is what I did. Put your hatches on and tighten the strap as much as it can be tightened comfortably. Now unlatch them and tighten them about 6mm-8mm more. Now, re-latch them. Enjoy. When you get home, UNLATCH THEM and leave them that way. Let the boat dry out and let the hatch seals remain at rest when not on the water.
If you hang your boat sideways on j-hooks at home (rather than storing it on a riser, or on the ground) and you think it looks funny with the hatches hanging off, then loosen them considerably instead. You should be able to jiggle it around (IE no seal contact with the boat)
If your seals are completely spent, there are a number of Do-It-Yourself materials which would work fine but you can also order this seal from Harmony or from TopKayaker. (Talk to Tom, he knows this boat)
On rigging (or... mine didn't come with paddle stow, seat, rudder, etc.):
The OEM equipment for this boat is sold here: http://topkayaker.com/
**The seat you want is the Surf to Summit Drifter - It's also available in a taller model
**These are the side handles with paddle stow (same as Tarpon 160)
**Day hatch is a Viking 5" (I believe)
Great boat, can be had for a song compared to what they would be worth. Nothing like it was made before or since. It stands utterly alone among sit on tops. There was nowhere near enough demand for such an odd thing in order for wilderness to continue making it, but if you like everything about touring kayaks (except you'd rather sit outside it) this is your boat.
What can I say...I love this boat. It has nice speed and stability but is also very easy to edge (without thigh braces) and turns rather well. I'm a bit heavy for this boat (225 lbs.) but that does not seem to matter. I've had it in a variety of settings from open water crossings to extremely tight and twisting rivers and it adapts quite well to any situation.
Complaints - few, really. It does weigh a lot but the plastic is thick and has held up very well, especially considering I'm not too gentle with it (oyster beds, boat ramps, logs, etc). Just eat your Wheaties, and you'll be fine.
WS no longer makes the Freedom, but if you can find a used one at a good price, I highly recommend it. I will soon have the opportunity to paddle a Tarpon 160 and I'll try to contrast/compare in the not too distant future.
As a diving or fishing platform however it does not fare as well. Speed is great, but the boat is just not laid out for diving and/or fishing. I currently still use it for both, but there are much better platforms available, although none as fast. It is also very heavy. Poly SOT's are already heavy, but the difference between 50 lbs and 60 lbs is huge (Freedom weighs 60 lbs). W.S. needs to lop about 10 lbs off the weight. If you're looking for a great diving or fishing platform, better off picking a boat that was designed with those purposes in mind. However, if you want a fast, good looking, great handling boat for general use paddling (or touring), this is one of the best ones available.
1) It tracks great, even in the wind and Iíve been out in 15-20 mph winds with no rudder.
2) Turning with thigh brace straps is outstanding. Without the straps, turning is fine for open areas but can be a challenge in tight confines.
3) As noted by others, this is definitely a heavy boat. I go out solo a lot and have to load/unload/portage this boat Ė Iím looking at getting a dolly.
4) The plastic is thick (hence the high weight) and as far as I am concerned that is a good thing. I looked at some other manufacturers and the plastic was paper-thin. I operate in an environment that has oyster bars, hidden logs, pilings, and other potential puncture devices. Iíll pay the price in weight for the added thickness and structural security.
5) The 5" day hatch is great for storing a camera, wallet, and keys. I have yet to load it up for an overnight expedition but Iíve been preparing and I can say that the bow and stern hatches have large openings but their depth is rather shallow (7-9"). In addition, there is no deck rigging at all on this craft.
6) This is a wide boat and Iíve not had any problem with stability. I managed to get in and out of the boat standing up at a dock. I do a lot of leaning turns and have not tipped yet.
7) I own a WS Ride as well and thereís no doubt that the Freedom wins hands down in terms of speed. Beyond that, I donít have any fair comparisons.
When I initially started looking at and trying out various kayaks, I was not even considering a sit-on-top. But, I went to a local demo day and tried the WS Ride and decided a SOT was the way to go. Overall, I feel that the Freedom is an excellent boat and plan on covering many more miles in mine.
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