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I wanted to buy a kayak that would be efficient and comfortable for long trips, but not so much so that it wouldn't be a decently quick handler or be awkward in whitewater. I also wanted it to be samll and maneurverable enought that it would be fun to take out just for a couple of hours after work and it had to be able to carry a reasonable amount of gear comfortably. I think the Woodsman fits the bill perfectly.
I was nervous about going from a canoe, where I could move around, to being cooped up in a kayak all day paddling, but the Woodsman was surprisingly comfortable. I have a temperamental back, but I still feel pretty good after being in the seat all day for days on end. One weird thing is that, after my first week long trip, one of my toes was numb for almost a month. My kayaking shoes have zero support and I wear a size 12, so that's probably why, but I guess it's worth mentioning. I liked the foot braces fine, though. They adjusted very easily and felt sturdy.
One of the things that I initially wanted was a front hatch, but I actually think I like it better without one. Those front hatches are pretty tiny and without one, I can just load up a giant waterproof bag and stuff it down past the foot braces. I only keep clothes, tarp, and sleeping bag in there, so I can also push my feet into it and stretch my legs during the day without worrying about wrecking anything.
The rear hatch is plenty big, although I recommend two medium bags instead of one big one back there just to make things a little easier. I've never had a problem with it leaking. There's also plenty of room behind the seat for a day bag to keep all your little stuff in. I camp light generally and this boat was perfectly sized to carry a week's worth of gear and some luxury items like a Crazy Creek chair and a radio.
Right after I bought my Woodsman, I went on a week long trip with a friend who has a fifteen and a half foot long Liquid Logic Seneca. This friend is also a good fifty pounds lighter than me and in much better shape, although I do have a little more paddling experience. I was worried that I'd be killing myself to keep up with him the whole time, but I actually seemed to get by with less effort than he did. I don't know how much of that is experience or efficiency or what, but it seems like a plus that the Woodsman was able to do just fine alongside a longer, narrower boat carrying less weight.
That said, it is a bear to learn on this thing. As others have said, it refuses to go in a straight line on its own. The second I stop paddling, I get a quick u-turn and stop. While this is pretty comical to watch, it's fairly annoying, especially when starting out. I blew a lot of energy the first couple of days getting the hang of handling this problem. Also, it didn't seem to be weathercocking. While it does turn into the wind, the turning when you're not paddling seemed independent of wind or current or anything. Once you get a feel for it though (or if you're more experienced to begin with, I'm sure), it only takes a touch here and there to keep it on a straight line. Tracking isn't even something I think about any more. Still, it would be nice to be able to take a drink or a picture and not swing around.
One thing that's really nice about the Woodsman is that it feels totally comfortable in whitewater. That first trip went by Harper's Ferry and through some good rapids. There were long sections of class II and several spots of class III and this boat felt great in all of them. The hull's rockered a bit and the keel is very small. It turns very tight, sheds waves reasonably, and just generally feels at home when it's rough. I play a lot in the I's and II's further down, near Violette's Lock, and the Woodsman handles like a dream sliding into eddies, hopping them upstream, surfing small waves, and doing anything else out there. I can't roll it yet, but in practicing wet exits it turns over smoothly and easily.
When I first bought the Woodsman, I figured it would be a nice, cheap way to get into kayaking and that if I liked it as much as canoeing, I'd buy a nicer boat and keep it as a second. But, after looking at lots and lots of boats (and getting a big increase in pay in the meantime), I can't think of any reason to. I think this is the perfect river, camping, and whitewater boat and I couldn't recommend it more highly.
Small enough for small rivers and large enough for ocean bays. You could spend $300-$400 for a lot of 10-12' boats and wish you had something longer but then maybe you always wish you had something longer until you have to carry it for a distance. I guess 14-15' is a nice size for me and where I live in MA. We just couldn't find anything 14' for less than $800.00 Compared to other $399 boats its a 10+ compared to other 14' boats its still an honest 7.5.
This is the same boat as the Trinity Bay Venture, and The Wilderness Systems Seacret. The Trinity Bay currently sells in canada for ~$600 US and the Seacret is discoed...
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