Submitted: 05-22-2006 by jbv
My boat is a Valley Nordkapp, made in 2005. it has no suffix or nomenclature but is the same boat as the H2O without the sticker.
I'm 6'5" 205 size 13 feet. The boat is the standard fiberglass.
I've been researching this kayak and a handful of others for the last few years. For all the hype and the history of the boat, it is very hard to get any real insight into it, due to the fact that there has been a number of versions and many, many opinions on the boat, from many sources, most of which have limited exposure to this craft. I spoke to every Valley dealer in the US and only a handful even stock the boat, many have never even seen one. I demoed one in England at the dealer (Knoydart) a couple years back then spoke at length with the importers and a couple of dealers who paddle it on a regular basis. I then went to the Shearwater Kayaks on Orcas Island, San Juans, and paddled my boat at length and in some foul seas and made my decision, before paddling it back to Victoria.
First impressions: Well put together, but with the occasional sloppy gel coating in places, notably the exterior seam. Great deck rigging. Great seat, great back band, highly comfortable and lending to good paddling stance. Given my size this is a snug boat, I have little play and wiggle room, resulting in a decidedly sporty fit. Cockpit entrance is like most boats for me- might as well be an ocean cockpit, I have to wiggle in from sitting on the back deck. Once in the thighs are held down a little more than I'd prefer and the surfaces on the underside of the cockpit are not ideally shaped. More on this later.
On the water, it is quite sensitive, more than most sea kayaks, save a couple, such as the P&H Bahiya, for example. Primary and secondary are indistinct, instead, one notices a general "liveliness" all around with not much of a firm place to hang out at on the edge. The stability is there, just lighter than most sea kayaks, so it depends what you've come from. Needless to say, this is a boat for paddlers, and if you aren't good at playing and bracing as you search the limits, you won't be happy with this boat. Once underway this lively feeling is more and more enjoyable, and in dynamic water, one becomes more at ease and uses the character of the boat to move it along with minimal effort at a good clip, and at varying angles of heel to maneuver.
The boat has a tremendous amount of rocker, quite asymmetrically skewed towards the stern. It is also very noticably fish form. It is a remarkable looking craft. The boat tracks fairly well and turns very well. There are a few more maneuverable boats, but with assertive technique, especially the use of a solid bow rudder, the boat will spin. Given it's long length and narrow width, it's maneuverability is impressive. It maintains much of this character in heavy seas as well. One of the quirks of this boat is the super slicey stern; the last couple feet of the boat are often referred to as razor thin. I've wondered what benefit, if any, this might have. Valley advertises, "easily driven underwater sections of the hull" and with time in the boat in all kinds of conditions, including huge tidal races, I think I now understand. Given it's sliciness, it is rare that the bow is driven underwater when surfing or in following seas. Watching a friend paddling the boat in a tide race I can see that when a steep wave hits it from behind it pretty much buries the stern, engulfing it in water. The stern is not thrust up due to it's lack of bouyancy. The same can be said about the bow, resulting in a less violent ride in the steep and confused seas.
People often wonder about the volume of the boat. It is said to be such a load hauler, but out of experience, I'd have to say that this is distinctly a medium volume kayak. The oval hatches are a joy, and I wouldn't buy anything else at this point, but the boat is very slender and the volume is distributed mostly around the paddler. You have to pack strategically in order to use the volume up, no bulky items or stiff dry bags. However, given my long arms I enjoy using the long slender space behind the skeg and use it completely. If I were to guess, I would say the boat has a total packable volume of around 150-170 litres. "sufficient" I think the British would say... If you are going on a long trip, or are in a leadership capacity, you will have to put the giant group tarp in someone elses boat!
Another feature often opined on is the sharply peaked deck. I'm ambivalent for the most part, but it can make it harder sometimes to read your chart or to place a compass on to triangulate your position on while underway. Being such an active hull this is best done rafted up in my experience, and pulling the chart down onto your skirt anyways. I think there would be some benefit to a more gradual peak or perhaps a rounded deck.
Back to performance: the boat weathercocks, as do all sea kayaks. It is more neutral than many boats I've been in, mostly controllable by edging, and more neutral yet when loaded. If that gets tiring, lower and tune in the skeg and relax. The boats handling in big water and winds is excellent, fun, playful and fast. Unladen it remains sensitive and responsive: if you are not feeling 'on' that day, it can feel like a handful, like a high performance road bike, if you are feeling physical, the boat will rock your world. Loaded, it's reactions are dampened as per normal.
The hatches are watertight. My other sea kayak also has these hatches but the design around the flange is not as tight up to the hatch seal. On the Nordkapp it is very snug, so if you want to engage the secondary seal, you will give your fingers a bit of a workout but the result is very reasuring.
The boat rolls lightly, the back deck is very low and the backband is almost nonexistent. Some will like this, others will want firmer lumbar support. Once again, the boat encourages an aggressive paddling stance.
The one feature of the boat that is a bit disappointing is the coaming and under cockpit design. The coaming thigh support flanges are set too far back for me. Given my size this is not a surpise however, any number of other boats put them much farther towards the front of the cockpit where they are more effective at gripping the inner thigh. Also, the shape of the deck where it attaches to the coaming is somewhat convex where it should be flat or even concave to match the shape of one's legs. I have put some very thin minicell foam here which improves it and have gotten largely used to it, but I do feel that Valley is somewhat behind in this aspect of the design. There are fine details here that could be well improved upon to maximize both comfort and cockpit fit and performance. I will tinker further for better upper thigh contact with foams. This last point prevents me from giving the boat a rating of 10, but having said that, it is certainly the most fun, best performing kayak I have been in. It has been described as an "ocean playboat" by the distributor, Great River Outfitters, and this is my take exactly.