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Having paddled about 40 miles in cold water temps and one pool session with this new acquisition, I can not write a review but will offer some first impressions. It seems that very few of the composite version of this boat are out there; most posts are for the RM version with different measurements, perhaps with different behavior. I've paddled with several folks that participate here and we were all pondering with the LV's shorter 17-1 length, if the rocker and turning maneuverability are proportionately the same as the regular Aquanaut or if the boat is less tracky, with a higher percentage of rocker. While I could really edge this boat way over on its side and roll it easily in one pool session, local 45 degree water had me being too overcautious and conservative on edging it well on several outings (personal worries of cold shock perhaps). I could get over easily for a sculling brace but thus far, not a static brace as I can now do in my OI.
As often mentioned, the Valley fit, finish, and construction are fantastic. The gelcoat finish overwhelmed an NDK Romany along side it in the store. As obtained, the skeg, cockpit coaming, foot pegs, deck lines, and bungees, fittings, and bulkheads were perfect.
For my 5-7 158 pound size, the cockpit fit and thigh brace locations are perfect. Good contact but not tight. Better for me than an Avocet composite I tried which was more roomy.
Paddling in some returning wind and chop on Lake George, the LV seems to offer the same great confidence that posters here mention about the regular-sized Aquanaut. Plenty of primary and secondary stability without a need for much bracing in the conditions I paddled in thus far. The boat seems to offer all the desired speed I could want. I did not feel any disappointment compared to my Impex OI speed per equal paddling effort. The Avocet felt way slower than an OI.
It seems that smaller people who end up in full-sized Aquanauts, Explorers, and Caribous may be much happier in LV sized boats like this one. When not doing extended camping trips, it is less boat to propel, lower windage impact, and less to put on the car racks. I am thinking that this LV will fulfill my needs as a day boat and a boat for weekend trips, with more than adequate storage when going like a backpacker and leaving the kitchen sink at home.
An internet check found plenty of Aquanaut LV RMs out in the retail market. I just don't know how easy it is to find and purchase this composite version. If that is the case, too bad because I believe the composite LV may be the perfect compromise between well rockered dayboats like the Avocet and longer boats. It all depends where you paddle of course. I do not paddle rock gardens and twisty coastlines where loose boats are desired; mainly larger inland lakes and rivers. At 17-1, it seems to be a great length where maneuverability, speed, and storage are desired for my objectives. Other boats in this category seem limited. The Explorer LV I tried had too tight a cockpit for me. Likewise the Force 3 which may be more tracky and is longer, Maybe the Tempest 165 is within this category.
In summary, pleased with very initial paddling in this boat. One of the more important questions on this boat might be, what is the looseness rating, between an Avocet and regular Aquanaut? Looks like I need the water to warm up to feel totally at ease playing with the boat and seeing.
The initial stability is touchy at first entry, but after a few strokes you realize it has good to moderate stability. I have come from a stable folding kayak (Feathercraft Kahuna) so I notice the stability a little more.
The fit and finish is good, the cockpit is snug (I'm 6'1" 190lbs), but once in, it has a good feel and is a good fit. My only complaint is the room for my size 12 feet. On the foot rests they just fit under the low deck. The seat is comfortable though it took some time to get the back rest just right. Thigh and hip bracing is quite good.
Since this is my first boat with a skeg, I have enjoyed learning how it works best in the different conditions. In winds from different directions the skeg gives an instant reaction and is easy to adjust. It gives you confidence under way as does the boat in general. I don't miss my stable, ruddered folder much as it is like stepping from a family sedan to a classic British sports car.
Besides the foot room, I guess the only other complaint is the weight. I think the trade off for that is the three layer construction. It is much more solid than most other plastic boats.
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
It is extremely maneuverable. It turns very easily with a slight lean. It is suitable for both big water and narrow rivers. Both primary and secondary stability are excellent. It is very quick and gets up to speed very rapidly. The plastic is very firm (triple-layer) and the boat is well-constructed and thought out (deck rigging, hatches, etc.). It is reasonably well-balanced when carried (although I believe it weighs more than the catalogue listed weight of 55 lbs.) It excels in waves- I have used it in waves up to 3'-4'. The hatch covers are outstanding and the bulkheads are solid. The skeg is easy to use although I choose not to use it much.
Although Valley claims they have improved the backband, I found the backband uncomfortable and the straps and velcro shift when I paddle. I will change it out for a new backband this year. I found the thigh pads uncomfortable and restrictive (even though they are adjustable) and could not find a suitable position. This may just be my build but I removed the thigh pads.
One of the positives may also be a negative. The boat is very sensitive to even the slightest of movements or wind so at times I have to make small adjustments to keep the boat tracking straight. The dealer indicated that you have to actively work a Brit boat which is the tradeoff for maneuverability and stability. Incidentally, the tracking seems much better in textured than in flat water. I'd much rather have a highly maneuverable boat than one that always tracks dead straight but is difficult to turn except with an extreme lean.
All things considered, I am very pleased with the performance of the Aquanaut and purchased it realizing that I could make the sundry comfort modifications.
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