IntroductionThere are many dozens of beautiful high-performance sea kayaks on the market today, but for the larger paddlers amongst us the available range is far more limiting. Play-boats are getting smaller and with less volume, leaving the less-than-playful expedition barges as the main option for the more robust men and women on the water.
Some manufacturers however are heeding the call of different sized paddlers. From Valley in the UK to Boreal Design in Canada, there is a new breed of boat on the market that comes in different paddler sizes. The Valley Aquanaut HV RM is one such boat.
About the Test: Paddling Conditions and PaddlerI’ve now paddled the Aquanaut HV RM for most weekends over the past 12 months. Conditions have ranged from glassy mornings on lakes and rivers to gale force winds and 3 metre ocean swell, with much in between!
As a paddler I weigh in at a hefty 290lbs, at the high end of the Aquanaut’s capacity guide, and would consider myself at an intermediate skill level. I have had serious injuries in the past, including a shattered pelvis, that make kayak comfort imperative.
Manufacturer’s SummaryA contemporary vision of the British-form kayak, the Aquanaut design harnesses over thirty years experience from prominent paddlers & instructors. Its modern lines, with less bow and stern overhang and more flare above the waterline, combine to give the kayak high performance with a confident feel. This is ideal for paddlers requiring a fast, comfortable, all-round sea kayak.
With a slightly lower overall volume than the Composite HV, the PE model is ideal for paddlers requiring a fast and comfortable all-round sea kayak. Ideally suited to average sized paddlers and above, it can carry substantial loads for overnight trips and maintains a reassuring feel.
DesignDespite the fact this version of the Aquanaut comes in Tupperware, it is a strikingly beautiful boat. Its lines reflect those of traditional Greenlandic boats, with distinct upswept bow and stern profiles, low rear deck and a narrow beam. The flared bow does a better job of deflecting waves than its composite cousin and helps keep the nose buoyant when plunging through waves, whilst the raised upswept stern works beautifully in following seas and houses the Valley skeg system .
The hull maintains a shallow-V shape which gives the boat excellent secondary stability and reasonable primary stability. The cockpit is relatively small for an HV version but the front deck is high enough for the tallest of paddlers to house their feet comfortably. The back deck is nice and low and well suited to Greenland rollers.
Construction, Finish, Fitting and ErgonomicsThe foam-core Triple layer Polyethylene is not the sexiest of finishes, but it is extremely stiff and strong, and holds its shape brilliantly. I specifically chose this boat over the composite because I often paddle into rock gardens, along cliffs, and over Sydney’s many oyster beds, and have no fear about putting a few scratches in the plastic hull. So far I’ve abused the hull by scraping it across rocks, barnacles, oysters and even ship-wrecks, and haven’t looked like getting close to putting a hole in her.
The Valley seat system is excellent – it comes with seat padding, hip padding and an adjustable back-band. The comfort level is excellent but the design of the back-band needs further development. During a commando self-rescue in the middle of the shipping lane of Sydney Harbour I discovered the back-band has a tendency to fold under the paddler on the way back into the cockpit making a full re-entry impossible. I’ve since removed the back-band, finding if more comfortable to use without, and making layback-rolls far easier.The skeg system is solid and has not caused me any problems. It is a little stiffer than other systems but that does mean the paddler knows exactly what position it is in. The placement to the front left of the cockpit does lead to occasional knocked knuckles when paddling with a high angle though, it could be better placed further near the hip to avoid this problem.
The front and rear hatches on the Aquanaut HV RM must be the most water-right in the world, because they are almost impossible to open and close manually! The day-hatch however is easy to use, although does seem to let a fair bit of water in during rolling.
The adjustable foot pegs are solid and easy to adjust. The bungee set-up on deck is good and works well to hold spare paddles, safety gear and more. The front and rear carry handles are easy to use. The Aquanaut also comes with a recess for a Silva compass which I had installed and find its position suitable for referencing whilst paddling amongst rough stuff.
PerformanceOn flat water the boat is easy to paddle, but really comes into its own when bouncing around in lumpy seas. The shallow-v hull digs in well when on edge giving this boat an excellent level of comfort when the waters are dynamic and foamy. For big paddlers stability can be a real problem with other twitchier sea kayaks, but the Aquanaut feels easily controllable even when the conditions get rough. Edging is comfortable enough and extremely effective at shifting boat direction when required.
There’s a fair bit of rocker with the design which means tracking is not its strong point. With any wind a decent amount of skeg is required to maintain any tracking whatsoever. Whilst this is a weakness for the long-distance speed paddler, the manoeuvrability is perfect for close-in rock gardening.
Surfing is fairly easy with the Aquanaut. The flared bow keeps the nose from submarining too much when racing down waves and the stern profile works well to stabilise the boat when buried in a wave. Likewise the Aquanaut is excellent at picking up runners at sea and can gather considerable speed when running from wave to wave.
Rolling the Aquanaut is a breeze, even for a heavy paddler with limited flexibility like myself.
ConclusionThe Valley Aquanaut HV RM is an excellent boat for the larger paddler. It is a performance boat designed for sea conditions and not ideal for the occasional recreational paddler. It is a nice looking boat with a rock-solid construction begging for abuse amongst rocks and cliffs. It surfs well, rolls well, and is a good play boat for us bigger people. For lighter paddlers, Valley offer a standard size aquanaut and the Aquanaut LV (low volume). There is also a ‘club’ version as a lower cost, entry-level boat.
On the downside, there are still some improvements required with some of the boat’s fittings, particularly the seat back-band and skeg-slider position.
But these tweaks aside, this is a quality product from Valley, which will promote good paddler habits and an adventurous spirit, and I expect to be paddling it for a while yet.
Length: 536cm (17’7″)
Width: 57cm (22.5″)
Approx Capacity: 165-295lbs
Weight: 26.5kg (58lbs)
Construction: Triple layer Polyethylene
More information: www.valleyseakayaks.com
About The Reviewer:
Sean Smith, known to many as Fat Paddler, hails from Sydney, Australia. In a short space of time he has become extremely well known for his paddling exploits and charitable work via his excellent website www.fatpaddler.com which has one of the best tag lines going:
Fatpaddler.com :: Paddling Australia’s waterwa…..Hey Sausages!
If you’ve not experienced the Fat Paddler phenomenon I would encourage you to head over the www.fatpaddler.com and take a look.