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With rear quartering seas, the slippery rear of the Meridian is more eager to initiate a broach than hard chined and stronger tracking kayaks. Some skeg I am sure will plant it and it could be paddled easily in any direction - I had no issues with the WS Zephyr with skeg and I imagine a Meridian with skeg will be no different.
That said, surfing following seas (wind chop) with the waves and wind from behind, and zig-zagging on the wave face or just going downwind was very easy. The Meridian is very maneuverable and with good rocker and I found it very pleasant to surf small swells and wind chop. No broaching, easy to correct, a dry ride. Once on a wave it surfed it nicely. Compared to Eddyline Raven, the Meridian was more difficult to speed-up and to climb over or catch a wave to surf. The speed-up unwillingness is due to the lower top speed potential and the hull shape, which makes the front raise up as speed increases. The inability to climb over the front wave is due to the hull shape - the nose goes up and the tail down more than on the Raven, so it is like paddling uphill in the Meridian (and the Zephyr) in this situation. The Meridian responds to body weight shift forward and aft more readily though, so a good lean forward would allow it to catch waves much easier than without it.
The Meridian is a very nice ride in wind chop. It is relatively low profile and the nose does not blow around in strong winds. The tail does get pushed downwind, causing severe weathercocking without skeg, which edging alone is not enough to correct - needs corrective strokes too.
Without wind, that same ease of sliding the tail around with a good edging makes the Meridian very maneuverable and would be a great boat to explore tight places and to learn new skills.
The stability is very good - lively on-center and increasingly and predictably strong when edged. It holds on edge easy and reassuringly.
The cockpit is comfortable and should accommodate well almost anyone between 140 and 220lb. I am 6'4" at 190lb before gear (200-210lb for day paddling) and I think I am well within the Meridian's design weight range. With size 15 US shoes and 36"+ inseam I can't get in seat-first, unless I sit on the backband (with the backband in place where it needs to be my knees hit the front of the cockpit). I had to cut an extra notch on the factory aluminum foot rails, which gave me an extra inch of leg room - that is enough for barefoot paddling for me. I can't fit with any shoe, only socks or barefoot (unlike in unlike in the Raven where I had plenty of foot room and some extra leg room too). However, most regularly sized adults should have no problem getting in seat-first and with plenty of leg room (and of they are not giraffes with large feet like me, also plenty of foot room for low profile paddling shoes).
The thigh braces are well-positioned for people shorter than me, but work OK for me too. The minicell padding under the thigh braces does not extend far enough forward for me (will add some 4" at least, forward of where it ends). The seat is contoured and perfectly wide enough for me to fit without the need for additional paddling. The original backband is surprisingly supportive and sits higher than on any other kayak that I have had - very nice to relax against when taking a break. It does manage to get out of the way fairly well too, for layback on the rear deck.
As for speed, this kayak is NOT terribly fast. I do not know how some other reviewers can say it is fast. Yes, it is efficient to paddle at a moderate speed, but it does not reward increased effort with much more speed. It hits a wall easier than kayaks like Nordkapp Ram/LV and Eddyline Raven. Granted, the Meridian is 9" shorter than the Raven, but that's not the main reason - it is the shape of its hull: the front tends to lift up and create a bow wave when pushed to go fast. Just like the WS Zephyrs do. The Meridian (in Kevlar) felt a bit quicker than the Zephyr 155 in plastic. Being only 42lb (with seat and hatch covers) probably has something to do with it. Also, having no skeg and with finer edge front and aft, it splits the water more cleanly and barely makes any ripples when paddled slowly.
The rear deck is nice and low, allowing full layback for rolling. The front deck is not terribly high, so it is not in the way when paddling. There are no paddle cutouts though. And the rearmost front bungee and perimeter line attachment points are too close to the paddler - I kept hitting them with my fingers (in contrast, on the Raven they are forward of where my hands pass by during the paddle stroke, which is better).
The cockpit rim near the thigh braces is quite sharp, making for a bit uncomfortable carry on land. However, at 42lb, the Kevlar Meridian is easy to cartop (much easier than the 55lb Raven or the 65lb Nordkapp RM). The ends of the Meridian are finer and lighter than on the Raven, which make it easier to swing around on the water.
Overall, I would say the Meridian is a VERY good kayak for those who want to explore at a relaxed pace and value maneuverability over speed and tracking. It is also quite nice to surf in following seas. It is great in choppy and rough water. And with a skeg I am sure it will be a pleasure to paddle in any condition and in any direction. I am rating the skeg version an 8 because it does not surf following seas as well and is slower than the Eddyline Raven, which I rated a 9. The skeg-less version is a solid 5: the amount of weathercocking it exhibits in stronger winds borders on dangerous (requires too much effort to correct and one can get in trouble after a while, tiring fast).
It's swede form hull makes it fast for its length. Swede form also makes it fishtail in following seas/wind, but I've learned to handle it over the years (mine has no skeg). One big change I made was the switch over to Greenland paddle 9 years ago. It's added more skills to master, and it fits well with the Meridian.
There is a bit of a cult following for the Meridian. I get compliments on it from time to time for its well-respected turning ability. On the water, this boat is me.
The skeg has a design problem... if it gets stuck (which it will do), it is very easy to kink the cable and then it never really works right after you straighten it out... I have noticed that Valley kayaks are now using some sort of solid steel cable that doesn't seem as likely to malfunction.... Dagger needs to look into this... If you can afford the Kevlar, do it... the boat in Kevlar is so light it is amazing...
Cons: Deck height contributed to major knuckle dusting too often. A lot more work in a following, quartering, or beam sea than a Romany due to the flattenning of the hull between the hatch areas, where the Romany tracks great with the shallow v hull. Small scratches show fiberglass early, whereas the Romany will take deep scratches, then can be sanded out, and wet sanded until the hull looks new again.( of course you'll have 10 yrs. of sanding to do before the Romany gets down to the original weight of the Meridian. Life's a trade-off). Leaky hatches. Just accept it. Kayak Sport is not VCP. (why does'nt everyone go to fore and aft VCP ovals like Nigel Foster's Silhouette,etc?) Hardware from semi-recess deckfittings are exposed, waiting for unsuspecting drybags, etc. Bulkheads are to weak to mount a foot pump on. Broke plastic footbrace on first day of 5 day surf trip in Florida. Spent the rest of trip with foam packed against weak bulkhead. Bummer. Agree with other reviewer!
re; cheesy rudder-skeg thing on Sitka and Lattitude. I thought it made so much sense to do the boat in a 17ft edition, but how can you take it seriously with that little gimmick of a stern. If you can't fit into a Romany, or simply don't want to deal with the weight, get your Meridian with a skeg.
At 22 inches in width, this hull may be slim for some, but provides for excellent speed and gives the boat an awesome "snugness" factor, which I personally favor.
As far as tracking goes, with the skeg "enabled" the boat goes dead straight even at a maximum sprint. I am constantly amazed at how effective the skeg is, and plan for my next boat to have one as well. To make minor or major course changes, just pull up the skeg, change course, drop the skeg again, and voila... you're on your new heading. For loooooong trips, the skeg is indispensable and reduces fatigue immensely. I've found myself a few times trying to make slow speed 180 degree turns with much difficulty, only to realize the skeg is down, once you put it up, the Meridian is very easy to turn.
*Sidenote- if the Dagger people are listening* Get rid of that cheesy rudder thingy on the Sitka and other boats, either put a skeg on it, or nothing at all. I avoided buying a Sitka specifically because of it.**
Storage capacity is limited, but if you are in a "REAL" expedition mode, I think you could live out of it for 1 month. There's plenty of room to stock it with essentials, a tent and plenty of freeze dried food. I hope those complaining about storage capacity are not trying to stick the kitchen sink in it. ;) I've also tested the handling of the boat while it is fully loaded. If you'd like to try this at home, just fill both bulkheads half full of water, and paddle it around some. The Meridian handles very well with the added weight, although stability does diminish.
Hmmmmm.... another plus... since it's Kevlar, its a light, stiff, and very durable kayak. As with any boat, there are many personal preferences, so before dropping $2600 on a boat, demo it for at least a full day.
All in all, two thumbs up.
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