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...I've had my Nordkapp RM for a few months now. I'm lucky enough to live on the east coast of Australia surrounded by a wealth of beautiful paddling. Lakes, rivers, wetlands, mangrove swamps, open ocean and surf. We’ve got the lot, although it has to be said that tide races are somewhat lacking here. I'm 5'9", weigh 180lbs and have been paddling flat water and estuaries for about 5 years with a bit more exposure to open water and surf in the last year. Consider me a sea kayaking novice who is transitioning from a shorter, wider estuary boat with solid stability.
I was looking for a longer boat with a bit more carrying capacity, and quicker acceleration but still with enough liveliness and responsiveness to be a fun day boat. The Nordkapp RM was really love at first sight for me, it is probably the prettiest plastic boat on the market. It is beautifully made too. Luckily it fits me like a glove. I have no issues with the cockpit fit out, the backband or the foot braces. It works for me. If you try this boat, do make sure that you shim the seat pads out for a good fit on your hips, it makes a big difference to the feel of the boat. Other people have described the boat and it's handling, I won't dwell on it. I would like to mention stability though.
I was concerned that it might be too tippy for me, but I have been pleasantly surprised. On calmer waters there is no problem stopping to take pictures or rummaging around in the day hatch. The stability is certainly less than in my last boat, but you get used to it very quickly. This boat is very easy to edge into breaking waves and just drops naturally and effortlessly into a low or high brace. Funnily enough, I only notice the lower stability in calm conditions where there’s a little chop. As soon as there’s some waves happening it just feels solid.
I'm very happy with this boat, it suits me very well. 9/10 because all boats are a compromise and no boat can possibly do everything perfectly.
“I just love the Nordkapp. It’s the best boat ever made. It’s very narrow—21 inches, 18 feet long. It’s not the fastest boat, but when it comes to rough water it performs. It’s so stable,” wrote seasoned expedition kayaker and scientist Stanislav Chladek (Canoe and Kayak, June 2007). I couldn’t agree more.
I have seen some reviews mention leaking hatch covers on Valley boats. If the hatch cover is leaking it probably isn't on properly. The hatch cover should sit right down into the recess on the deck. It is a snug fit. They can be a little stiff when new. A little Armour All will help. Once properly seated, these hatches do not leak.
The Nordkapp Rotomolded, unveiled in 2006, was purchased by me new in red for this review in spring 2007. I was seeking a long, sleek low volume boat with speed and the ability to handle rough waters. I own, for comparison, the extremely tender Prijon Barracuda, and the Valley Avocet RM playboat (see separate reviews). This review is based on stroking the Nordkapp RM for only about three months on inland waters (not ocean) by me, an intermediate paddler of 5 foot 8.534 inches and 161 lbs. I have expedited this review as there is a paucity of information about this particular boat online.
The Nordkapp RM, the legendary flagship of the British Valley brand, is a low volume vessel meant for big water. The RM (triple layer rotomolded polyethylene, very tough plastic) is based on the hull design of the Nordkapp LV with only slight modification, and thus requires a sit-in test for fit. A larger paddler, perhaps 200# and over, would truly need to determine if the volume is too sparse for their frame, particularly their feet in what is a low front deck. The graceful lines of this boat are the prettiest overall that I have ever seen; the Nordy is not only upswept stem to stern but is also extended and thin, reminding one of a sultry blonde screen siren stretching across a lounge chair beckoning to her photographer. You will need to ride her to determine if you fit the role of her Tinseltown suitor, however. She is fetching, but is not the fastest pussycat. The Prijon Barracuda, who can be a bitch in heat on textured water and punish you like a disobedient shrew — a swimming shrew, that is — pays off in speed. If taching on the GPS is your mission, try the blowmolded Prijon 'Cuda. The Nordy, conversely, can still bang out reasonable speed, but will caress it’s passenger in chop rather than serve as a diving board. The Nordkapp is forgiving, and if your goal is specifically big water and waves, skip the Cuda and buy the ‘Kapp.
The stability of this boat is less than the playful Avocet RM, yet it still edges for responsive directional control in chop, and this is the strongest virtue of the Nordkapp—it may well be the fastest kayak that still excels in the soup, with more surfski-like boats being faster but being more likely to jettison their paddler in angry seas. The ‘Kapp behaves like a reliable cocoon in windy turbulence. Although I’ve not paddled it laden, expedition gear will raise the waterline but probably not affect performance adversely, if the Nordkapp’s acclaimed lineage is any indicator. If one were a frequent camper/expedition paddler, a careful investigation of the packing volume to assure its ability to suit your needs is recommended for this generally low volume boat.
The cockpit of the Nordkapp RM could use refinement. Peter Orton, director of Valley Canoe Products, is aware of the miserable reputation of the Valley backbands and is in the process of modification of the band on newer models. The backband is simply insufficient in support of the lumbar spine, particularly as it is set back on the seat pan and encourages a slouching posture. Adding a one inch thick minicell pad to the backband helps immensely. I have additionally Dap Weldwooded contoured minicell under the stock thigh pads. The flat “meatless” thigh pads are woefully insufficient for any locking during directional control, but minicell can accomplish a fix. Valley might take a lead from the aggressive thigh control of their Rapier, and might consider a similar hook option for the Nordkapp. The ill-designed cockpit outfitting mandates the subtraction of one point on any review.
The Nordkapp RM at 56 lbs without hatch covers is not an easy portage, but for twice the price you will save only 7 lbs as the Nordy LV composite is 49 lbs. I prefer the polyethylene boat for its indestructibility, and the Valley triple layer plastic is flexless. The coaming features a lip more prominent than Mick Jagger’s, and readily sucks onto even a wet sprayskirt. The deck fittings are standard Valley; I find the rear deck bungie cords to be too far back to be useful on the water. The foredeck bungies are ideal for your spare paddle. The Valley hatch covers will keep your gear dry, and the day hatch is useful on the water only if you have a feline-type sense of balance. The toggles are bungied down to prevent flap, and the skeg control is at the left cockpit and not as prone to accidental bumps as the Avocet due to the more curved deck. Skeg deployment is less frequent than on the more rockered Avocet.
All in all, the Valley Nordkapp RM is the single most versatile kayak this intermediate kayaker has paddled. It is the consummate blend of rocker for soup, svelte beam for speed, and length for tracking. Bring your camera when you demo this “looker” and you’ll find yourself stealing glimpses of Nordy’s trim waistline on your laptop and in your dreams.
High five to Stanislav: indeed, this boat rocks!