SEA KAYAKER MAGAZINE - OCTOBER 2006
SHEARWATER 17 REVIEW
Note from the Designer:
Chesapeake Light Craft's commission for the Shearwater design called for a fast, nimble and fun kayak for paddlers wanting a good fit and good control. The Shearwater has a lower volume than most of the currently available kit boats, and three different sizes (14.5, 16 and 17) will accommodate a broad range of paddlers. The Shearwater 17 provided for this evaluation is intended for paddlers 5' 8" to 6' 2" and between 150 and 220 pounds. Taking advantage of proven ultralight stitch-and-glue plywood assembly methods, I have attempted to sculpt a kayak suitable for amateur construction that nevertheless ranks with the best production boats in performance. I envision paddlers using the CLC Shearwater for light overnight touring and for day paddling in all conditions, including waves. CLC wanted this boat to be new and different from its existing product line but with a family resemblance - hence the attractive cambered deck.
- Eric Schade, Designer
GL: 5' 11", 165-pound male. Day paddles, winds to 20 knots, waves to 1 foot. 50 pounds of cargo.
TW: 6' 1", 180-pound male. Overnight tour, winds to 20 knots, waves to 1 foot. 40 pounds of cargo.
TE: 6' 1", 200-pound male. Day paddles, winds to 17 knots, wind waves to 2.5 feet. No cargo.
"The Shearwater 17 is an attractive kayak: It has nice contrasting varnished plywood, sweet lines and in interesting multi-panel deck. The panels are joined with jigsaw puzzle-like joints. They appear to be precisely cut and have very slender glue lines, which suggests the joints provide a tight and accurate fit when assembling the full-length panels" (TE). The Shearwater is a "nice light kayak for its size; it's easy to heft for a solo carry. The cordage loops at the ends provide a solid place for two people to carry the Shearwater, but the rope cuts into your hand, especially when the boat is loaded" (TW). The kit builder could easily add toggle grips. The deck fittings are secured with short loops of webbing screwed to the deck. The kayak reviewed had deck bungees forward and aft of the cockpit. The builder could add bungees for a spare paddle and perimeter grab line.
The cockpit opening was long enough for all reviewers to get into seat first. TE "had just enough room for size-13 booties. The boat feels very low around the waist, and the low aft deck makes for an almost unrestricted layback. The foredeck's curved center panel and sloped side panels offer great clearance for paddling. The boat felt so compact around my waist, I was surprised not to feel cramped in the cockpit." The molded foam seat is "comfortable" (TW and GL) but "too short to provide support under the thighs and not contoured deeply enough to prevent me from getting a pressure spot after about a half hour. The kit builder can do some custom outfitting and carve a more comfortable seat" (TE). The back band of the Shearwater was "comfortable, supported my lower back sufficiently and didn't pinch or shift up and down while paddling or while entering and exiting the cockpit" (TW). The thigh braces are plywood flanges with foam underneath. They provided "good support that can be easily modified with some additional shaped foam" (GL). The foot braces are "standard issue and provide solid bracing" (TE).
Stability and Maneuverability
The Shearwater's initial stability is "moderate" (GL) to "fair" (TE). Secondary stability is "very good; pretty secure on edge" (GL). "The secondary stability kicks in at fairly small degrees of heel and provide very solid support, even with the sheer well submerged" (TE). All the reviewers thought the stability profile offered easy and secure edging; "What a great feel this boat has!" (TW). The Shearwater tracks well and "responds nicely to leaned turns" (GL). TE thought it "had a fair response to edging and responded to sweep strokes, but it didn't carve tight turns unless aggressively edged."
The kayak had a "slight (GL) to "moderate" (TE) tendency to weathercock. "Setting it on edge or using an occasional sweep would keep it on course" (TE). "The Shearwater was very manageable, and although the addition of a retractable skeg would be a nice feature, it didn't seem necessary for an experienced paddler" (TW). The kayak has a fairly dry ride: "In punching through waves, the water slapped together over the bow, but only a little bit of that gets aft. With such a clean foredeck, most of the water stays low and runs off" (TE).
The Shearwater had "very good speed and excellent acceleration" (GL). TE logged "4.5 knots at a relaxed pace, 5.5 at an exercise pace and 6.3 for a sprint." With a cruising load aboard, TW "easily cruised along at 4 knots and sprinted up to 5.8 knots." The Shearwater "had very good acceleration for catching waves and was easily steered once on the wave face. Broaching wasn't a problem. On a couple of occasions, I stuffed the bow under, but it didn't submerge far before riding back to the surface" (TE).
Roll and Rescue
GL thought the Shearwater was "easy to roll. Laybacks are possible, but you come way out of the seat." The tow taller reviews, TE and TW, had no trouble with layback rolls: "The low aft deck and the good fit of the cockpit make layback rolls very easy. Re-entry and roll was good, with reentry being very easy and a quick reset in the seat and foot braces" (TE). After a wet exit "lifting the bow can empty virtually all of the water in the cockpit, leaving nothing requiring pumping out" (TE), and "the low rear deck is pretty easy to clamber up on and the cockpit is large enough for quick and easy reentry" (GL).
The Shearwater has "ample stowage for a week-long trip" (GL) and "for extended tours of two or three weeks, depending on packing skills" (TW). "The low decks limit the height of the cargo compartments, but the placement of the bulkheads close to the cockpit open up a lot of volume in the compartments. Small dry bags would be best for easy loading" (TE). The hatches have rubber gaskets but allowed "a half cup" (GL) to "a pint" (TE) to "a couple of quarts" (TW) into the end compartments.
With a load of 50 pounds aboard, the Shearwater "tracked beautifully, with good speed, minimal windage and slow but easy turning. With about 70 percent packed in the stern and 30 percent in the bow, weathercocking was nonexistent" (GL). For TW, 40 pounds of cargo "made the Shearwater very stable indeed."
The Bottom Line
"For medium-sized paddlers, the Shearwater is an eye-catching, light and fast cruiser that does many things well. It is a strong contender for the budget-minded paddler looking to answer the 'if I could only have one kayak' question" (GL). It "turned in a respectable performance with good speed and good fit. If it were a bit more nimble in response to edged turns and could be tuned (by adjusting the trim or adding a skeg) to eliminate weathercocking, it would be a top-notch design" (TE). "Lightweight, strong and one of the most attractive kayak kits on the market, the Shearwater handled very nicely and would be a great economical and fun project for someone that desired a smooth-handling touring kayak" (TW).
Thank you for the review of the CLC Shearwater, I'm pleased that your evaluation of the Shearwater's performance matches my design goals so closely. The review helps emphasize how kit kayaks can perform with the very best production kayaks. All that performance - and the great look of wood, too!
It's interesting that all of the testing took place in relatively strong winds and some choppy water. These are excellent conditions in which to wring out a performance boat. I would agree with the reviewers that novice to intermediate rollers would have no problem rolling the Shearwater. The low aft deck architecture anticipates aspiring rollers. As this is a kayak kit, the builder/paddler has board latitude to customize the boat to suit his or her needs. CLC offers many types of seats and backrests, retractable skeg kits, lifting toggles and other items to customize the Shearwater. CLC has recently upgraded the hatch gasket to a denser material, and we have found that hatches stay very nearly perfectly dry.
Chesapeake Light Craft has seen huge interest in the Shearwater series. Thank you for confirming our own impressions that the Shearwater is a fast, capable and beautiful kit kayak. - Eric Schade, Designer