I just traded my 2004 Valley Avocet RM for a 2007 Valley Aquanaut LV. This is an initial review based on a good going over of the boat in my workshop and its maiden voyage in Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay. I'm 6'1"/225# with a 33" inseam.
FIT & FINISH
Upon first inspection, the workmanship of this boat appears superb. The triple-layer poly has a roughened finish that makes it much much easier to grip (i.e., planting your hands on the rear deck when exiting the boat without sliding off) and I assume will hide scratches a bit better than the old glossy-finished poly Avocet RM I previously paddled. Sharp edges on the insides of the cockpit and oval hatch coamings were easily knocked down with a sheet of 180 grit sandpaper.
The new seat and backband arrangement are much nicer than previous models. Though unchanged itself, the backband allows better adjustment due to Valley's choice of fittings. After my first paddle, I reluctantly removed the contoured seat pad to lower my center of gravity and take pressure off the back of my thighs in an effort to prevent my legs from falling asleep. I very much like the new seat pan that is contoured to provide support up to the paddler's tail bone.
I don't know why the foot brace rails were positioned where they were (who has a 20" inseam?), but when the pedals were moved fully forward, I still didn't have enough stretch in my 33" legs. I removed the braces, drilled new holes 2" forward of the originals, and reinstalled them. I was a bit disappointed to find that one of Valley's holes was improperly drilled, requiring a second hole to fit the brace. Shoddy.
I was dismayed to find a fair amount of water in the rear compartment after my first paddle, and by filling it with water and rolling the boat over on a pair of sawhorses, found the culprit to be a leaky skeg box. Upon closer inspection, the cap nut covering the skeg pivot retaining nut was improperly sealed. I smeared a large dab of silicone over it in hopes of curing the problem.
Deck lines and fittings are typical of Valley's usual excellent quality to detail and materials.
My first paddle with the boat was a three mile (each way) crossing of Little Traverse Bay on a fairly calm day with light breeze and waves 1'-2'. Several large pleasure yachts in the area, however, provided wakes up to 3' which I purposely took at varying angles to rate the boat's handling. In all cases, it performed extremely well, albeit a bit boring (in my opinion, a good quality in an expedition boat). Definitely not as playful as my Avocet, this boat should make an excellent platform for expedition photography and comfortable tripping.
As previously mentioned by other reviewers, this boat is quite stable and tracks very very well. Turning requires a bit of effort, but I found she responds very well to leans and carves for a 17' boat. Speed is quickly attained and seems easy to maintain, though I forgot to bring my GPS receiver with me to objectively rate its speed performance.
All in all, she feels easy to paddle, stays upright with little effort, and goes where you point her.
I'm a bit disappointed with Valley's QC but and very impressed with the boat's handling. With a bit of effort, I've overcome the former, and am looking forward to paddling this boat loaded to interesting destinations. I'll post a follow-up review after my upcoming trip to the Apostle Islands and some more cockpit time.
Overall first impressions: 8