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The cockpit is very narrow, even in the HV model which is presumably intended for the more, erm, amply-proportioned paddler. My big thighs only just fit under the thigh braces. the seat curves a bit too deeply and I initially found my backside constantly slipping forward, having to push hard against the footrests to stay in position. But after a lot of paddles, a lot of dead leg, and a lot of adjusting the footrest and backrest positions, finally I can sit comfortably in the boat all day.
The cockpit, then, leaves a bit to be desired, but the boat itself is hard to beat for ease of handling in a range of conditions: only the Capella comes close. The Aquanaut tracks with minimal or no assistance from the skeg, yet turns very easily for such a long boat, making it equally at home on long straight crossings or nosing around bays and skerries. On a recent 2-week trip to the Outer Hebrides, my skeg jammed, but I didn't miss it: this kayak feels like it doesn't really need a skeg at all. Out in the rough stuff, it stays reassuringly dry up front - unlike the Quest in particular.
Maybe not the fastest of boats, but if you're content to mosey along and enjoy the scenery, it covers a lot of distance with very little effort, and the docile response to course corrections and the like makes it one of the least tiring to paddle.
I find the Aquanaut a very stable hull with solid initial and secondary stability (compared to more rounded/narrower hulls). Initially this kayak was hard to manage in breeze conditions and would lee cock (point downwind) on beam winds. I removed the seat and fabricated a composite one to then place it more forward to adjust the trim and make it more neutral. I only use the skeg in following seas with decent waves, otherwise it tracks solidly enough to not need any skeg.
The rear deck is not low enough to allow me full laybacks to the deck for rolling (I am not very flexible) and the thigh braces are just high enough to fit my rather thick legs. Myself and others find the stock plastic VCP seat not suitable for paddles of more than an hour: dead legs are a common complaint.
I find the cockpit one of the best, second only to Tide Race, for my body shape. Others have a bit more wiggle room then me but still engage the legs perfectly under the deck for solid contact with the boat. The layup is a carbon/Kevlar hull and deck making this boat substantially lighter than standard Valley composites. I found no defects on this kayak but several others paddling buddies have experienced lay-up faults with Valley boats.
I believe the Aquanaut is a very capable rough water handling craft and probably less suited for just mild water cruising; it doesn’t seem to glide as effortlessly as some other kayaks of mine when the seas are calm. The initial stability allows me to take easy photographs even when the water is textured. Turning by edging ad sweeping strokes is reasonable while I find tracking still acceptable with corrections needed only in following seas.
I would recommend this kayak to a beginner that wants a performance boat but doesn’t risk stability or to the advance paddler that wants a solid craft when the going gets rough.
Unfortunately I found the kayak, as set up from factory, not well-balanced and I and other paddlers experienced substantial lee cocking. Adding about 10-l5 lbs. to the bow compartment helps to correct that.
For a video of surfing in small waves watch:
However, when I went into my local kayak and canoe retailer (The Complete Paddler in Toronto), they had the Valley Aquanaut Club on sale for $1,059 Cdn plus tax. The Tempest was $1,700 plus tax. Except for the Tempest's day hatch and a much more comfortable seat, there did not seem to be much of a difference. So I went for the cheaper option. For $1,500 WITH TAX, I had a new sea kayak, a touring spray skirt, a paddle leash and a carbon touring paddle! Talk about a great deal!
As the snow and ice have just recently melted, I've only had two opportunities to take it out on Lake Ontario, without being having to be hard-core. First off, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the seat is still quite comfortable after a couple hours. It took me a bit of time to find the right setting for the back-band. The kayak was also very stable for a 22" width and at no time did it feel tippy.
I was also very surprised how well it tracked with the skeg up. Even with cross winds and waves, I prefered to have the skeg up. Coming from a surf rudder kayaker this is quite a compliment. Speaking about the skeg, I'm surprised how far down it goes...almost 90 degrees. On my second time out, I brought my GPS and averaged 7.5 km/hr....without much effort...so quite good speed.
I also want to mention that triple layer poly construction of the hull is super strong...with almost no flex.
Now the no so bad.
The skeg rope block has a pointed end placed at the front-right side of the cockpit. My neoprene glove caught on this while doing a stroke and ripped apart my glove. I had to drill and fasten the block farther back down the side when I got back home. That solved that problem.
The other issue I had was that the deck rigging bungee cords were not very tight and the pattern was awkward. Another easy fix...I just undid the knot, stretched the cord and re-patterned it to my liking...using the existing hardware in place.
Once it warms up more and my skills come back to me I will try some more challenging conditions. I also plan to do some island camping in Georgian Bay, this should give me an opportunity to rate storage and full-load handling.
In the end it's two thumbs up...given the modest investment.
The Aquanaut is very lightweight for a boat of this size, Valley seems to be doing a good of minimizing dead weight by controlling the cloth/resin ratio. At 5'8" 190 lbs. I am comfortable in the cockpit, and have put a wide variety of paddlers in the Aquanaut with success. Larger paddlers will need to check out the HV Aquanaut, which since late 2009 had a totally redesigned cockpit, large enough for bigger paddlers to get in butt first - feet second.
Nicest point about the Aquanaut, it is a thing of beauty that paddles well in the rough stuff (open water, rock gardens, tidal streams and races, as well as surf). We have been using this boat in our fleet since 2004, and it is very popular among experienced kayak trippers that come to use our boats for their Alaska tours.
The Aquanaut is not a bad looking boat but a lot less attractive than the glass one. The construction is good. Better hatches than the Current Designs Storm GT and the plastic 17" Necky. Primary stability is acceptable. Secondary worked out OK. I am not very use to boats this narrow but I felt secure. Unfortunately I did not have a GPS to check the speed but I think it was reasonable for its size and weight. I think it handled very well with the wind in the main water way of Mission Bay. It did not roll it but it edges nicely too.
I have two observations.
1- The back band is attached to the side of the seat frame just half way up. It is supposed to be a low back support but there was no way that I could keep the back band up. It felt like an upper butt support and this was painful for my back. I think that Valley could learn from Necky. Necky's back band is fixed in place ( on new models ) at a higher point and it wouldn't come down when you enter the boat from a deck.
2 - The second observation was that my feet did not fit. I know that kayaking is a small people sport but with a boat this big I was expecting that 6' tall and 12.5 feet will be OK. It is not the LV. Why don't the think paddlers with big fit have the right to paddle something other that the HV Queen Mary. I do not know if my feet will be OK in the glass model which is a little longer (17'7" vs. 17' 1").
Hope this was useful for people with big feet. I am sorry for that my review was not better because I enjoy looking at Valley’s web site.
Several trips in various conditions have affirmed my preconceptions and priorities for this purchase. I wanted rough water abilities for trips across open waters as is difficult to plan for all weather imposed the challenges and the Aquanaut's rough water behavior is impressive. It is very well behaved in confused seas as well as in following seas and I can be comfortable in conditions that caused some concern in the past.
While I contemplated rough water capable kayaks with a relatively tender primary stability (read a bit tippier). The primary stability of the Aquanaut is great making it is easy to relax, take photos, retrieve items from the day-hatch or have lunch on the water in fair weather conditions. Secondary stability is also very good making for easy edging as needed for sharp turns. There is no sudden tipping point and the transition to horizontal body position can be smooth. The Aquanaut is also an easy boat to roll and re-entry rolls does not trap much water in the cockpit, another very important safety consideration.
As you approach apparent top speed with the Aquanaut you cause a noticeable wake to form and further speed increase is difficult. That said top speed is at least on par with other kayaks in its class and more than adequate for club paddles and other group trips.
I have not felt a need for improvement in maneuverability or tracking as the Aquanaut strikes a great balance between the two.
The relatively low profile is a benefit in windy conditions. Space is adequate and comfort is excellent, my size 12 (US) thick neoprene boots just fit under the relatively low foredeck. Although easy to reach, the (recessed) skeg control is located such that the bump inside the cockpit ends up where most paddlers would keep their left knee.
The composite construction is very sturdy (read not light weight) suggesting durability and causing a bit more muscle effort for out of the water handling (a light weight version is available). I have not seen any blemishes in the finish and construction is first rate.
Last but not least and strictly subjective but honest: While the Aquanaut is a great looking kayak, Nordkapp and perhaps a couple of other classic kayaks are even nicer looking.
I am only giving the kayak a 7 because of the local dealer’s performance in repairing a small gel coat blister. The dealer had the kayak for six weeks and finally lent me another kayak to use. The kayak still wasn't repaired at the end of 6 weeks. The dealer made the gel coat blister problem worse by excessive sanding in the blister area. I finally had the kayak dealer at my request return the kayak to me. The dealer gave me $75.00 to cover the cost of fixing the problem. I repaired the problem myself in a half hour. The job is not perfect but at least I have my kayak back.
The second problem is that the kayak came with an external control for the skeg. The skeg does not have the internal slider which is standard on the kayak. The exit in the deck for the control is a plastic flange with a sharp internal edge. I hand to sand this edge so that the rope didn't wear prematurely and also allowed the line to move freely. The small turning block to lead the skeg line forward is poorly placed and of not very good quality. The result is that when I do use the skeg I don't have the smooth and easy control that one gets with an internal wire control with a deck slider adjustment.
I like the kayak but I wouldn't recommend the dealer or the external skeg control to anyone.
The Aquanaut is an absolutely confident boat in challenging conditions. It feels as if it can handle anything with aplomb. It has very smooth transitions through the water. It likes being on its side. I find I’ve dropped the coaming into the water with the slightest lean.
A neoprene deck and tunnel skirt should come as standard equipment. Not only is the coaming in the water on a moderate lean, but the bow cuts through much small to moderate chop resulting in water hitting the cockpit and paddler more often than in most boats. The boat tracks very well. I believe it tracks better than the Explorer. It has much less rocker than an Explorer and handles following seas the best of any boat I’ve tried. It turns easily and is fine with either inside or outside lean – though it does prefer outside. The Aquanaut has a very active hull with rock solid secondary stability. It also seems to have very good glide. It is a pretty fast boat. It is noticeably faster than an Explorer and only slightly initially slower than a Nordkapp.
The joke that it should have been named the “Nordnaut” is apt (though I think Aquakapp would be more entertaining) as the general feel of the Aquanaut is very close to that of the new Nordkapp H2O. The Aquanaut has a longer narrower waterline than the Nordkapp. The Nordkapp has higher decks, is quicker, and has a bit lighter initial stability. The Aquanaut is very responsive without feeling quite as tender as the Nordkapp. My preference is for the lower decks of the Aquanaut.
The build quality and finish on my Aquanaut is beautiful. The new Valley backband is very good. The new Valley plastic seat is not. If ordering composite Valley boat, I suggest specifying the ‘old’ glass seat. Sea Kayaker put it best: “Fast, yet maneuverable. A top choice for the adventuresome intermediate to advanced paddler.”
I have been paddling for almost 30 years and owned other Valley boats, other high-performance boats and several I built myself. I was looking very forward to paddling the Aquanaut but it has not measured up. The boat was delivered with an out-of-alignment skegbox. Strangely, it tracks well with the skeg down, which slows the boat significantly, but pulls to the left with the skeg fully retracted. Though it does not track well with the skeg up, it is a slower boat to turn than it should be. Additionally the skeg control cable conduit allows water to leak into the aft compartment continually. The dealer has been unwilling/unable to address these issues. The seat pan was shortened up and does not provide enough thigh support, though I understand Valley is scraping that seat and returning to the older design.
On a positive note, the boat handles rough conditions very well, the finish is excellent, it is fast (even when it does not run true), and very stable when leaned. I am keeping it as a loaner for undemanding friends, but caution demaning paddlers to really check this one out before buying.
My current main boat is an Elaho, and my ideal is the snug fit and responsiveness of that boat in a boat with better glide, tracking, and greater volume. The Aquanaut came the closest of the many of boats I paddled.
Valley's workmanship and QC is more consistent than NDK's and the attention to detail seems excellent. VCP hatch covers also work better than NDK. I am having the front bulkhead moved in (a no cost option from VCP)and a rope skeg (rear deck cleated) installed instead of the slider skeg. Having the boat customized in its manufacture, as a matter of course, is a very positive aspect.
I am giving it a 9 rather than a 10 because the back band is pretty weak. I am having the VCP band replaced with a Bomber Gear band. Impex uses IR back bands, my Elaho came with a Bomber band, it seems that VCP could easily use either.
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