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Submitted: 04-26-2013 by Kocho
Let me start with the rating of 10. I rate the hull dynamics at 10 for the intended use of the boat. The cockpit ergonomics are not perfect, but with some foam and ingenuity, these can be fixed. Given that I am not aware of another plastic boat that paddles as well as the RM for its intended purpose, I don't feel like taking a point or two off for the need to customize the cockpit before it becomes "your own". Though, I would appreciate if Valley made that easier out of the box by providing modern and easily adjustable outfitting...
For an experienced paddler, I feel this is a great day or short tour kayak (limited by storage). Just like there are driver's cars, this is a paddler's boat. The RM is relatively fast and efficient and loves textured open water. Read on for more... The plastic Nordkapp, also known as the Enthusiast model or the RM (short for roto-moulded) is the sole plastic member in the legendary Nordkapp line of Valley Sea Kayaks. Someone said, if you have not paddled a Nordkapp you will always wonder if you should have. I too wondered... So, when a virtually new Nordkapp RM popped-up on Craigslist recently, I took the chance and bought it after a short test paddle. I am glad I did!
I have paddled briefly the Nordkapp LV and I feel this one is quite similar. Peter Orton from Valley did comment online that indeed, the plastic version is fashioned after the LV, except with 3" extra length. In terms of construction, fit and finish – almost perfect. The 3-layer plastic feels stiff compared to other plastics. I feel it is stiffer than the 3-layer on the P&H Delphin. The outer layer, however, scratches easier than the one on the Delphin (which proved to be exceptionally scratch-resistant). So, just like with any other polyethylene kayak, your RM will get scratched easy. But the hull feels stiff in the water and on dry land (compared to other plastic kayaks, even compared to thermoformed). The penalty is weight – about 65lb with the rather heavy Valley hatch covers installed.
The bulkheads are made of stiff plastic, curved, and welded (supposedly, can't see) and glued well in place. You can't tell from outside where they are, unlike in say Wilderness Systems boats where the hull is usually slightly deformed around the stuffed foam bulkheads. I am very tall and with very large feet and I can touch (if I stretch) the front bulkhead. Still, in normal use, there is about 6" wasted space there for me (would be more like 12" for the average male). You can stuff some cargo there or install foam to reduce the volume (to me it is not a big deal as the space is indeed minimal and allows me to stretch my toes forward for a change of posture).
The deck rigging is a bit minimalistic but functional: a Greenland paddle fits nicely on the front and a 2-piece Euro paddle flat on the rear deck. The front bungees are enough to hold a map and are close enough to the cockpit to reach. The perimeter lie is borderline too tight than ideal so grabbing it with gloves in a sketchy rescue situation might be difficult (have not tried, works fine barehanded). The lines are attached with recessed and sealed (!) fasteners (i.e., just like in a well done fiberglass boat, on the RM there aren't any sharp protrusions inside as no bolts are visible under the deck – all enclosed in plastic during the moulding process).
The two oval hatches are hard to close. They require a walk around their perimeter with your fingers to push the lip of the hatch cover down inside the channel against the deck. And very-very hard to open - I can't open the rear hatch cover with bare hands even in warm weather. I need to pry it out with a screwdriver (and I have reasonably strong hands). The front is a bit less hard to open – I can do it without tools but it is still not ideal. The day hatch is easy to both close and open, which is very important on the water where you don't want to struggle twisting sideways to the rear with it. It is also positioned relatively close to the cockpit and to the side so the opening and the contents are easy to reach. On the plus side, the hatch covers will stay put no matter what and are all fully watertight. When they rot, I'll replace them with SeaLect (sp?) version and might do that for the rear even sooner. None of the hatches comes tethered and can be lost (very bad if it happens at sea – despite being floating, in wind and waves or off your rack they can get lost). The day hatch has a small protrusion on the inside that you can tether to and the two oval hatches have outside loops built-in, so just add some bungee or even a shoe lace to tie them to the boat.
I removed the seat pad as it raises the front edge of the seat uncomfortably high for me. The seat and cockpit seems to be designed for a shorter person who can bend their legs at the knees more than a tall one can in this boat (the cockpit is relatively low). I repositioned the backband 2-3" to the rear (see my YouTube video: http://youtu.be/RsShUSN7rxM ) - this way the seat and backband are just about a perfect match for my bottom (size 35-36" pants, but wide hip bones, apparently). The backband is not a floating type – it stays put where you Velcro it. Good since you know where it is, bad that it does not get completely out of the way in layback rolls or reentries. Still, after the modification, it is quite comfortable and supportive (when I first sat with it in the factory position – it was terrible and next to useless). Now, the deep seat pan and the back band form an almost continuous bucket, a lot like I have in my surf ski – and this is a very nice feeling if your bottom fills it well. With the seat all the way back, I can now enter seat-first and get one leg in at a time. Most people should do much better than me, but with 36" inseam I'm happy to be able to do that and not have to slide-in with straight legs from the rear deck as I have to do with the seat in the middle position (wet exiting is easy either way).
The hip pads on mine are attached rather poorly – I drilled some guide slots in the seat bottom for the pads' ribbons and now they stay put. For me they are just about a perfect fit (you can add minicell foam behind them if you like, to make the seat narrower).
The rear deck is higher than ideal and too close to the seat (especially after I moved the seat back to the last notch). With the seat forward I can do a layback. With the seat back – no. So, no layback on the rear deck to take a break or to do a layback roll... This, and the relatively low front deck with limited foot room are two of the drawbacks for long-legged/big-footed paddlers that there isn't anything one can do easily about. The main use of this kayak should be day touring and rough water play (of the tidal race variety or wind and waves, not one that requires turn on a dime maneuverability) and in these scenarios layback rolls are not ideal anyway, so most will not miss that aspect.
The thigh braces are almost useless without some additional paddling, however, the cockpit is shaped such that they are not needed. I padded the knee areas under the cockpit rim and they function perfectly for good contact with the boat with no need for thigh braces.
So, if the RM has any weakness, it is the cockpit ergonomics, which requires some personalization mods to make it comfy and as functional as what you get in other boats right out from the factory...
In terms of feel on the water, I think the Nordkapp RM (and the LV) have achieved a great balance between maneuverability and tracking. For someone like me who has paddled truly maneuverable kayaks like the P&H Delphin and short whitewater boats, the RM feels like it tracks much better without being "stiff". With edging it is probably about as maneuverable as a WS Tempest 170 and seems to like a bow rudder more than a stern rudder for making edged turns.
Without the skeg, the RM weathercocks (turns against the wind) quite a bit, just like I felt the LV did. With the skeg it can be trimmed to be neutral or to leecock (turn downwind). This is the desired behavior for open water paddling, where you want to use the wind to your advantage to help you turn, rather than fight it.
I am 185-190lb before gear and with perhaps 5-10lb of gear on me I feel I am at the sweet spot for the RM. The front deck is low - the previous owner had woman's shoe size 10 or so and she complained it was too tight for her with her preferred bulky footwear. I am probably 10" taller than she is and with size 15 men's shoes my feet are at the limit of the rails and a bit cramped barefoot with the seat in the center position. With the seat moved to the last notch to the rear, I fit fine barefoot with one or two clicks on the rails to spare. For a tighter fit, I pull the Klepper foot pegs towards me a couple of notches back from the last one (i.e., for white water or very rough water I want more immediate contact). For relaxed paddling I push them forward to the end of the rail and I have an excellent fit barefooted. I can't, however, paddle with even relatively light whitewater shoes, similar to how I fit in the WS Zephyr 15.5. So, neoprene socks is the best I can do comfortably. In contrast, in the Tempest 170 I can paddle with my whitewater shoes, and I can do it in a pinch even in the P&H Delphin (although there too I fit better barefoot, but shoes are possible for short paddles).
So how does it paddle? Valley has somehow engineered the hull to be very smooth cutting through wind chop, while managing to stay on top of the waves and not throw spray up in your face. The bow is relatively thin yet it does not go under in normal paddling. Nor does it bob-up and down annoyingly over each wave. The slim rounded hull moves efficiently and the V shaped front and rear cut smoothly through the waves without splashing. Perhaps, being 65 lb or so has something to do with it too - the kayak is heavy for such a skinny craft, but that gives it a very calm behavior on the water (a 40lb version might be a lot livelier and more affected by winds)... Stability for me seems just about perfect: it is enough to not require attention, but low enough to be easy to edge to make effective course corrections. It is very secure feeling to me, meaning it is not twitchy in any conditions that I've tried it in. I am used to paddling whitewater and intermediate surf ski (Epic V10 Sport), so I suppose to an experienced paddler with good balance skills it will be great. However, a novice will probably be somewhat uncomfortable with the light initial stability and the not tremendous secondary even on flat water initially. They should be prepared to capsize initially a few times when searching in the day hatch or paddling in side chop. Then they will find the stability limits, learn to stay centered, and the boat will feel great
So far, on open water on the Chesapeake Bay, I have had it out in small (1') wind chop with 10mph winds and lots of boat wakes and rebounding wave action near Annapolis Naval Academy, with up to 2' clapotis from intersecting boat wakes. Feels great there, stable and reassuring, speed seems virtually unaffected by the choppy conditions. The RM is quick for its length and can catch smooth boat wakes well, once it is up to speed. It is not like the Delphin or a surf ski that would lurch forward and almost automatically surf anything - the RM needs speed to start surfing, but once on the wave it does it well and is controllable in following seas.
I also had it in class 2-3 whitewater, in the same rapids where I paddle the P&H Delphin, the WS Zephyr, and short (7'-9') white water boats. In moving water the RM behaves much like a "conventional" kayak would. In fact, it paddles very similar to the WS Zephyr, which I have also paddled in the same waters. Of course, the Zephyr has higher final stability and is a bit more maneuverable, but the feel and behavior on moving water is very similar. See this video to get an idea of the rapids: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atEmffsx97s. The Delphin is a different boat altogether in moving water (planning hull works like a white water boat) and I did not expect the RM to be nearly as good as the Delphin in moving water. It was not, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised by the RM's behavior in these same rapids at exactly the same level as in that video. Yes, it is harder to maneuver than the Delphin, and yes, it's bow and stern are a lot more affected by the current. But it is also faster and it is easier to attain to the playspot on the river to surf the waves or to paddle over features that I need to go around in the Delphin. I expected it to also be more unstable, given what I've heard from others - not so. I only flipped once in that wave train and that's normal for me there in any boat. In fact, the reason I flipped was that I was overcompensating in anticipation of the wave smacking me in the face from the side – I expected to have to lean in to it more than necessary: the RM did not get pushed about as much as I expected so I just high-braced in the water too low and aggressively and that transitioned into a roll. So, stay centered in that boat – it will help keep you upright well. After I found that, I paddled for half an hour there and never capsized again in the pushy water. The RM was surprisingly reassuring in the waves from just about any direction and it was not tossed about much. The video does not show it well, but these are solid 3' breaking waves (a kayak surfing will disappear from view between them) in a fast and changing current. The current is easily 10-12 mph there, with some rather lively eddy lines and boils forming on the side. The waves also reform quite a bit and sometimes peak-up to over 4 feet. The RM's nose does dive a bit more compared to the Delphin in these waves, but is controllable and does not stall the boat too much when underwater. It does not throw much spray in your face either. Further downriver, I got side surfed in a small hole and the kayak took care of me and paddling out to the side was uneventful. Obviously, whitewater rapids are not what Valley had in mind for the RM and a kayak like the Delphin (are there others, besides the Aries?) is much better suited there. But these waters are similar to big tidal currents and the standing waves behave much like ocean surf: so good proving grounds for the boat and the paddler to improve their skills. If the RM and I can handle the rapids (and have fun in rather than hold for dear life), I think I'm satisfied with its rough water prowess.
In summary, if the rear deck was lower, the cockpit a couple of inches longer, the front deck a bit higher, and the thigh braces a bit more aggressive, this would be a perfectly fitting day trip boat for me. For a shorter person with normal sized feet, it might be perfect as it is...
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