I paddled a Merganser/Shearwater17 with Eric Schade, the designer, back in August. I live near him, here in Maine, and he very obligingly spent a couple hours with me on a nearby pond.
The Merganser and Shearwater 17s are essentially the same boat (the latter is marketed by Chesapeake Light Craft), except that the foredeck of the Shearwater is curved (“tortured”) whereas the Merganser is a flat, 3 panel construction. Eric said that he actually liked the look of the Shearwater boat better, and I agree. However, they are both very attractive.
I’m 5’8", 155, size 10 shoe. I fit in the boat comfortably. I generally paddle a Current Designs Caribou, which is 17’8". I found that the Merganser had somewhat less initial stability, though with another hour or so that might have disappeared. Rolls were easy, despite the fact that the boat wasn’t outfitted for me, and I couldn’t brace my knees well. It came up with more of a “pop” than my Caribou. It seemed to paddle with slightly more drag than my 'Bou, but i can’t be certain about that. We were in flatwater, so I don’t know how it would handle in “conditions.”
I decided to take the plunge, and build a Shearwater 16, which is (obviously) a foot shorter. It will be used primarily by my daughter, who is 5’3" and 120 lbs. I’m building the boat with Eric at the Bath Marine Museum in a series of Wed. night classes. I will use it as well, assuming that I fit in it. Eric keeps kidding me about this, which worries me a little!
It doesn’t sound like you’ll be building the 16, but one thing to note for those who might be is that the current Shearwater 16 has a beam of 23". The original was 21". I specified that I wanted the “original,” so I’m building the narrower boat. If I recall correctly, if you order a Mergansar from Eric, it’s a 21" beam.
I’ve carved a few Greenland paddles, but never built a boat, and don’t have woodworking skills. It is a great help to be doing it in a class, but I think I could probably figure it out on my own, with some forum or email support.
The process is fun, in a slightly nerve-wracking way.
You might want to look at the Night Heron, designed by Eric’s brother, Nick. It’s also marketed by CLC. If I survive building the Shearwater, I may take a crack at a Night Heron this summer. There are quite a few reviews on it, scattered about.