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This is an $899 MSRP kayak--I am not rating it for its extra-cost, standard features, like dual hatches, full deck rigging, or skeg. I couldn't care less--I wasn't in it for a week, nor did I attempt to store anything in it. The Monterey was speedy (as fast as any kayak tested, including that lithe Carolina), tracked well, and turned as well as the 12 foot craft I tried.
One factor that probably influenced me (maybe not you) was the cockpit fit. This is a small-to-intermediate cockpit size, and the padding for knees and thighs fit me great (5'8", 158). You could probably adjust the footpegs and do the same for a lot of people, because this is not a "small person's" boat. It fit well without feeling confining.
The seat was also comfortable, and stability was great. It is odd how beam measurements are deceptive. I found the 22-23" Carolina quite stable, and a 24" Vista unnerving. The Monterey was hypnotically stable for me (again, probably the seating/bracing combination helping out) while offering as much speed as I cared to try out. Only the 16 foot fiberglass Montauk was barely faster, and that wasn't even fair.
I did try the skeg on two long runs because of a beam-on wind of 10-15mph. This wind was causing the Waldens (especially) to turn into it. While it happened much less with the Monterey, I found that the skeg pretty much eliminated any necessity to double-stroke to keep the tracking straight. It still tracked quite well without the skeg, too.
If I were only rating these seven boats, this would be the 10--but I don't think I've tried everything I need to yet. If I could find a Monterey-like hull, minus the extras, that cost in the $500-$700 range, I don't think I would bother testing anything else! But, at $899 MSRP, these aren't free, so I'll keep looking for now. I have a feeling that extra $100-$300 would buy me a nice paddle, and a roof rack, and .....
Last note. If you, like me, once read dozens of these reviews without having tried a kayak before--test one before you buy it! Based on dimensions, catalogue fluff, and salesmen, I was dead sure I was going home with a Walden Vista--before today. Now, I would probably take one for free, but I wouldn't buy it before several other, cheaper kayaks. If you love your Vista, that's excellent--but you've tried it and proven it to yourself! Don't go on the neighbor next door, a magazine article, or dimensions on a chart. Try that baby out and prove that you love it!
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