Submitted: 05-16-2007 by cooldoctor1
The Valley Avocet RM is a nimble, mid-sized sea kayak with more rocker than Keef Richards and the ability to soar across choppy water in a fluid, dynamic fashion. Manufactured by Valley Canoe Products (VCP) in England, mine is an orange 2006 model (and I have paddled it for one year) and features a sturdy and stiff rotomolded triple layer plastic that is, frankly, second to none. I am a German-made Prijon fan, but even that blow molded plastic, as exceptional as it is, is not as stiff as the Valley plastic. The VCP finish is excellent, with a handy placement of bungie deck cords, even some near the bow for a temporary paddle hold, and a sturdy perimeter deck line for rescues. The bow and stern toggles are bungeed down to prevent wind flap. The hatches are with plastic bulkheads and are sealed at all edges, and access is by two large oval Valley “tupperware” type covers with a smaller round day hatch cover behind the cockpit. The hatch covers, although they do not take on water when I overturn the boat, leave a little to be desired with regards to remaining in place during car transport. Although Valley places hatch cover tethers on the composite models, these simple cords are lacking on the plastic boats; I will add some. My Avocet seems to have hatch areas molded into the boat that do now allow the hatch cover to seat fully in place. This is very hard to describe, but it is as if the hatch indentation in the deck is slightly small for the hatch cover itself. Owners should add hatch tethers for protection on the water to avoid a lost hatch cover in wind, and plan to cartop the boat without the covers in place to avoid loss. The Avocet has a lineage in the Pintail, which I also considered. The Avocet has less rocker than the Pinny, and the slightly longer waterline makes it a tad faster, yet not nearly as fast as the Nordkapp RM, which I also own. The Avocet rocker makes playboating in surf and boat wakes fun, indeed, and plenty of skills can be gained in edging and directional control with a boat with this degree of playability. The Avocet excels at playing in wakes and chop, where the boat always feels firmly stable—both primary and secondary—and is a thrill to capsize, roll, and practice reentries and rescues. For a truly traditional Greenland style boat with loads of rocker, one could consider the Valley Anas Acuta, but with its tight ocean cockpit, it’s availability only in composite (not roto), and it’s even more generous rocker than the Avocet, it is a specialty boat and thus I did not choose to purchase the Anas Acuta.
The Avocet keyhole cockpit requires some refinement, not in quality of finish, but in function of backband and thigh braces. The stock thigh pads are adjustable, yet more than one paddler I know has removed them completely on Valley boats, finding them useless. I find them to be flat and provide no “hook”, so minicelling may be desired (I have done this already on my larger Nordkapp RM). The backband is too far back on the seat pan, requiring one to lean back to contact seat pan and back band, but adding a wedge of foam or a pad over the backband helps comfort. Peter Orton, director of VCP, has stated that a modification to the backband is upcoming for Valley boats which might rectify the issue. I am 5 foot 8.5 inches and 161 lbs, and find the cockpit size on this 16 foot boat to be ideal with adequate foot and thigh movement/space, yet a firm feel for being in contact with the boat when upside down. The Avocet benefits also from adding a small amount of minicell on the hip pad area, and one could consider removing the seat pad and replacing it with customized minicell; I plan to do this for the ultimate fit. The skeg control is front right of the cockpit, and perhaps this is an issue with all skegged craft, but with Valley boats, it is fairly easy to strike the skeg control during a paddle stroke and pull it back (i.e. drop the skeg) unintentionally. This is more frequent in choppy water due to the errant nature of paddle control. A skeg control that, in my opinion, was even 3 inches further back than this one would likely not be as affected by the paddle stroke and yet be in a practical position. The skeg itself, plastic, works well, and seems to stay in place for partial deployment, allowing precise trim control. The Avocet features Yakima brand footpegs, which are slightly too small in size, but easy to slide (sometimes too easy, and should be locked in place my adding a cotter pin or cutting down the loosening level to prevent unintentional kick adjustments).
I should add a comment about speed in particular as there is likely a kayaker out there considering an Avocet for its size and fit, but wondering if they can keep up with the Jones’s in their paddling group. In short, yes, it is reasonably fast. It is not a high performance speed shark, like the 21 inch beamed Prijon Barracuda (see my review of that boat), which is likely the fastest plastic boat available, but the Cuda’s rockerless design is merciless on choppy water where it can be very unstable. The 21 inch beamed Valley Nordkapp is less speedy than the Cuda, but is plenty forgiving in chop and even on flatwater feels stable to this paddler. It’s size is medium, as it was based primarily on the Nordkapp LV, and thus you would want to compare this boat for fit before choosing an Avocet; it might better suit your needs if speed is the concern. The Avocet is not slow, but adding rocker does have it’s disadvantages in water speed. The Avocet is roughly 10% slower than the Nordkapp, which is 10% slower than the Prijon Barracuda, in my opinion.
All in all, I find the Avocet RM’s superior plastic, 22 inch beam, exceptional stability, and playful nature that can be tamed with the skeg (necessary in extreme wind or for making dedicated forward progress in highly textured water) to be a winning combination for it’s intended purpose. It is a sublime vessel for day tripping, playing in soup, and rolling. It would not be my first choice for long crossings, keeping up with a fast paddling group, or expedition paddles—the Nordkapp RM is superior for those purposes. I will add a review of the Nordkapp RM when I have spent more time in that boat, but if I could own only one Valley kayak, it would be the Nordkapp, which possesses the ultimate blend of rocker, narrow beam and waterline for tracking; it is fast. But, if shear fun is the name of the game, and a paddler is smaller sized, the Avocet RM is king. Coupled with the extended bracing and maneuvers available with a Greenland paddle, the Avocet RM becomes a ballroom dancer on the water. Valley Canoe Products is a top notch company and provides support for their line of legendary sea kayaks. They make only higher end sea kayaks (no recreational models) and seem to always push the limits of improving hull and boat design and function. Like a fine European auto maker, VCP is always vying for the next tweak to even better establish their name as the penultimate brand in sea kayaking. Take a Valley Avocet out for a spin. I think you’ll appreciate its playful nature—like a Labrador pup, always yanking at the leash to get you to romp with it. Email if you have further specific questions.