I just bought my Andromeda in Kevlar yesterday (8/21/04) and I am super happy. I am a serious paddler but with limited expedition experience. I've taken most of the basic classes, such as BSK I & II, Surf Zone, and Roll Class, and I paddle about 25 miles a week in the summer. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area so flatwater is hard to come by, 20 knots + of wind are a norm here in the summer and so is the associated chop. I tested several boats extensively, many for multiple days, before arriving at the Andromeda as the final.
In addition to other sit-on-tops and nameless plastic boats, I got a pretty good feel for different kayak characteristics. No kayak is a bad kayak, just unintended uses for a kayak that was not designed to meet certain conditions and demands.
The Andromeda is a long, sleek looking boat that has beautiful lines. This is a classic Greenland design though, not like the sexy modern looking Tempest. I ended up going with British designer Derek Hutchinson's boat partially because I've read his books and I like what he has to say about boat design. Sure, some of his ideas on paddling technique are arguable, but his experience in designing and making the first modern kayak out of his garage 30 years ago don't hurt either. He really changed the industry. I also like the classic look. My kayak should look like it came from Greenland, not the Matrix.
The Andromeda isn't a fast boat for a 17'3 overall length because its length at waterline is substantially shorter. In fact, if you look a the Sea Kayaker magazine reviews/tests of both those boats, the Gulfstream, another Hutchinson boat produced by Current Designs, has less resistance at all speeds while being 5 inches shorter. But what really excels about this boat is its performance is rough water. The rougher it is, the more you'll love this boat. Waves can hit you from any direction and neither the boat nor your confidence will be rocked. That being said, if I didn't live here in SF Bay, but on a very calm lake, I would have bought the Gulfstream (or the Chatham or the Tempest 170) even though I find that boat a little wide. The Andromeda is hard to relax in for a beginner since it won't sit still in the water due to its medium rising chines and lack of a flat/rounded bottom at any point in the hull. I found a way around this though so I can take my feet off the pegs, sit back, and enjoy the sun or the occasional energy bar. I have a Werner Ikelos paddle that is made of Carbon Fibre but the blades have foam cores. This means that they are quite buoyant. I place the paddle in the extended position perpendicular to my boat, and put a hand (or hook it under my elbow) on the side that it is extended. With the blade paralel to the water, this ever so slight tripod-action keeps the boat off to one side of the center line and extremely stable. So if you want to do some photography or just relax on this boat, it can be done. Fishing I can't speak to since I don't fish.
The Andromeda is incredibly stable, but does not offer high resistance in stability. This is an important point to distinguish. What this means is, if you're and intermediate or advanced paddler, you'll be just fine. In fact, you might love this feel as it's a boat you'll grow into, not out of, as your skill increases. This boat leans great and initial stability is light enough so it's almost effortless to get the boat on edge. When you have more advanced skills, edging and leaning the boat will be achieved more by your own balance-- by keeping your body weight centered and using your knee-hang to achieve the desired angle. As opposed to novice or recreational paddlers relying on secondary stability of the hull to hold them up, and prevent a capsize. I am tempted to say this is not a beginner's boat but that would not be good advice. This is a boat for the ambitious beginner who is looking to improve his or her skills and grow into a boat and more challenging conditions. Probably not good for the beginner who intends to buy an boat and use it twice a year and never take classes and learn rescue skills. Sweet boat for advanced paddlers.
This boat tracks like it's on rails. And this is without the skeg down. With the skeg down, you feel like an ice skater with a sharpened pair of skates on a new ice rink that just got Zamboni'd. The tracking has a weakness though. In following seas and wind, it tends to weathercock a little more, easily countered with skeg, but boat lean is not sufficient in this angle if winds are above 15 knots.
Now, because it tracks so well, you know maneuverability will be down. And that is the case. Every boat is a compromise, and I chose the pareto-optimum point for my tastes. I can easily turn the Gulfstream or the Tempest 180 degrees with 1 sweept stroke, telemark turn, and 1 more sweep stroke. With the Andromeda, I have to add 2 more strokes onto that sequence, although, I suspect as I learn to lean the boat over even farther while achieving counter balance with my stroke, I can get more turning action of the kayak.
Deck lines and hatches are great. I hate the boats that have cris-crossed bungee cords galore for no reason other than it looks kinda cool. The Andromeda has simple deck lines and bungees where you need them, and smooth beautiful curves where it doesn't. Hatches remain bone dry after a day in the ocean with swells and waves crashing on the boat. This is probably true because the Andromeda is made of fiberglass, kevlar, or graphite composite. A plastic boat's hatches will flex and let water in as the boat warms up in the sun.
Finally, this boat is a pleasure to solo load onto the car. I have the Kevlar 46 lb. version. But because of the medium chines, the keel line of the hull will get very close to my crossbars on my Thule rack system. I just put a piece of pipe insulation there (or you can use a surfer's bar rap from your local rack store) to guard against any chaffing if I go over bumps.
This is one beautiful boat! Slim, Sleek, Sensual to paddle. I know I love it, you'll have to test it out for yourself to see if you do too.