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As mentioned by others here the seat could be more comfortable (maybe some foam will help,) and it is by design a low volume boat (so it is not ideal for carrying a lot of gear) despite it's size.
Overall I am quite impressed with it.
Things to worry about:
In launching into surf, I have had the front hatch blow off completely in a 4 foot swell. Bummer! I got to watch my sandals float away. Glad I was in So Cal and not the North Sea.
The Deck fittings arent (or werent at that time) recessed. When your fingers are cold, striking the deck fitting can be really painful.
Still a fast and fun ride, even new kayakers bond with it when they see how fast they can come up to speed even with lousy form.
I had to resort to sweep strokes, rudders, edging, etc to keep on course in a stern quartering 25kt wind with windblown waves at 1-2 feet. I must admit I had no extra load in my Hawk other than me, and I am about 195lbs. I have heard that you can negate this behavior with weight in the stern of the boat, but would rather put a skeg on it.
I just wish I had the skill or bravery to put a skeg into this thing, but I don't so may have to find someone to do it for me.
Still LOVE this boat, though! So very wickedly fast, and despite my top heavy frame, very stable!
I am having a little issue with getting used to hard chines vs. soft though, with my "no edge" or "all the way edged" reality that results from this design.
I thought my Outer Island was sexy...but the hard chines, flat decks, and great lines of this boat blow the OI away in looks!! Guess that I like the "Greenland" looks - so this is not taking away from an OI, believe me.
Now - the down side, which EVERY boat has.
1. The rear hatch leaked about 2 gallons the first time I did some pool rolling. I come to find out that Wilderness Systems held back the kevlar top deck edge for you to be able to force/wedge the Valley hatchcover to make it more watertight. This is a ROYAL PAIN IN THE A _ _!!! I have never known the Valley hatches to need this type of wedging to work well, so this really stumps me.
2. Seat and Outfitting - The seat is one of those "all inclusive plastic bottom and back" seats that does not allow laybacks. Also note that WS used three glops of rubber/cement to secure the bottom to the hull, and none of them held so the seat slid side to side. Yuk. As to outfitting - there was NONE. No padding on the thigh hooks, none inside the boat. NADA...
3. Coaming - The rear coaming makes putting a sprayskirt on a real chore as there is very little clearance, hence don't use skirts with good sized bungees as they won't go on.
All in all, the boat performs well though I haven't had a chance to take it out in rougher conditions, so will have to see if it is the "nightmare" that a previous reviewer mentioned in rear quartering seas. I love the low weight, incredible looks, high speed performance, and good stability. (moderate initial)
As to the outfitting and seat, I cut the entire seat out, built a "very nice" foam seat and back, did knee, thigh, hip braces in foam, took out the footpegs and put in fitted foam bulkhead and put in a vertical pillar of foam behind the seat to stiffen the rear deck. The comfort level is now 100% perfect for me with about 8 hours of work. (1st time) I also rerigged the deck bungees "Greenland style", added carved caribou toggles, protective deck tape, and other little niceties. Now, this boat is really "mine" and with the outfitting and extras I would give it a "9".
The arctic hawk turns immensly better when at speed, so the first time people try and turn it theyre' often frustrated. Ditto for weathercocking. It will rotate toward the wind when you're sitting there, but if you keep it moving you'll be fine. It doesn't need a rudder or skeg though-and a skeg would take a chunk out of the already-low storage volume.
The bad points? I find the seat kinda uncomfy, and as a result I sit with a paddle float under my knees.The initial stability when the boat is empty is pretty low, so it's not great for photography, or fishing, or playing yahtzee on deck, or whatever. And I wish the front hatch was recessed, since it throws up a lot of spray: the hawk is a wet ride. And hard chine hulls are never the best for surfing as they tend to plane back and forth while falling down the face of the wave, which means you can broach quickly in either direction if the tail catches. And one look at the size of the boat, and one lookf the hatches tell you its a tough boat for long trips. I've fit 7 days of stuff in it, but its not ideal unless you're ready to saw the handle off your toothbrush.
I am 6' 210 lbs. and still find initial stability light after almost two seasons. I find it hard to fish from and it feels tippy in small breaking waves. As waves get larger the boat feels more stable. The secondary stability is really good because of the hard chines. The downside to this is you expend more energy moving through the rough stuff. This is better than being upside down but I suspect that an advanced paddler would want a round chine boat with less secondary stability. I recently paddled with a friend (admittedly in better shape then I) in a heavy soft chine boat (Epic with rudder). I kept up with him fine until the wind picked up and some tight 3' waves made things more interesting. The Epic seemed to move through the waves with less resistance and I had a hard time keeping up. On the other hand, he stated he felt like he might go over a couple times, and I never did.
The Hawk carves turns nicely, as would be expected with hard chines. It does, in my experience, weathercock in stiff winds when empty. Sometimes edging is not enough to correct this, and you have to use a sweep stroke or, with a really stiff wind at a bad angle, use a stern rudder stroke. I would love to have a skeg on the boat, although the box would really cut down on what you could carry. A rudder would look too out of place and would add little over a skeg.
What the Hawk does not do well is surf. If you want to catch a ride in a decent size following sea it takes work to keep it at a right angle to the waves (that stern rudder stroke again).
The Hawk is a pretty low volume boat for an 18', with about 11" depth up front and 8" behind the seat. This cuts down on wind resistance and makes it easier to climb back aboard in a paddle float or assisted rescue. I am still learning to roll, but according to Seakayaker's review the boat rolls really easy. With a high floatation pfd I find that I do not end up completely upside down, a fact that makes the renter and roll easier. I have found a little leaking in the oval hatch after rolling class. The front hatch seems completely watertight.
The Hawk is fairly quick but not as fast as a boat with similar dimensions but round chines. It can be ordered from its designer, Mark Rodgers of Superior Kayaks, in mahogany plywood and epoxy. Rodgers makes several variations on this design. One of them, the somewhat smaller Sparrow Hawk, is also licensed to Wilderness Systems and would be a better choice for a smaller paddler.
In sum, the Hawk is an excellent boat for those looking to make the transition from a stable boat to a more performance centered boat, or for those who love Greenland style lines and handling. I get compliments on it everywhere. I would not recommend it for complete beginners as it is a little tippy and, as it has no rudder, takes a little skill to handle. If you like to camp you will have trouble carrying large items.
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