Monday, 12 September 2011

60 Minutes with the Valley Etain

I can usually sneak an hour so on the water every Friday arvo, with an alignment of a late kids gymnastic class pick-up & proximity to the sea.
I've been keen to get the Valley Etain out on flat water to find out empirically how fast it can go, and also to play around with the edging, manoeuvrability & general nuances of this rather different Valley sea kayak.
After about 6 months of the demo living exclusively at Mercer's house it turned up at the warehouse last week so I commandeered it for a spin around at Dolls Pt, at the southern end of Botany Bay.
I set my GPS & took it for my own special speed test, to determine the speed I can hold a boat at over a 12 minute stretch. I like this test because it's pretty hard to go flat chat for that length of time, and even though you can push hard you tend to find a sea kayaks' hull speed in the averages. There was about 10kn on my nose & no discernible current or flow, and over the test period I averaged 9.8kmh. Top speed was about 10kmh with a very flat line on the trace. This was faster than I thought & puts it alongside the Nordkapp & Rockpool GT in our crop of sea kayaks for the 'exercise pace' hull speed. I don't think I could have made it go much faster so my guess is that the terminal hull speed would be somewhere around the same mark.
Next up I ran back with the tiny little wind waves, trying to hold the boat in the troughs & make it glide along with very little paddler input. A typical loose-tracking British boat will tend to slide around in these sorts of conditions, a feature which actually makes them such a joy to paddle in rough water. The Etain has a similar downwind feel to the other Valley boats, but with a little bit of skeg it tracked hard, in fact very hard. Extrapolating this to bigger & faster seas I reckon it would be a great downwind runner in much the same mould as my old Aquanaut, but plainly it has a much higher hull speed than the Aquanaut could hold. I haven't had a go in these conditions yet because my business partner keeps all the fun stuff to himself.
Finally I indulged in a little bit of fart-arsing around, doing my best to find the tipping point of the boat, dropping it on edge, low-brace turning, rolling & sculling. This playful madness has method, I was trying to find out the subtleties in the design, in comparison to the more traditional 'Valley shape' which is fish, rather than Swede form (the fat part on a fish form kayak is around your thighs, on the Etain it's slightly aft of the cockpit).
Valley designed this boat with user-friendliness in mind, hoping to conjure a rough water kayak that looked after the paddler, without sacrificing too much of the responsiveness that frankly makes Valley boats such brilliant performers in the dynamic water of the sea.
So how to achieve this lofty goal? Well a good start is bucket loads of stability. Not stability in the sense of that reassuring lounge chair feel that you get from some 'ol buckets of kayaks with 60cm+ beams. Rather stability as a very solid feeling that the boat is at one with the water. On edge the Etain is absolutely rock solid, with a lovely bouncy & predictable secondary point that is going to be identifiable to even the most inexperienced of paddlers. It rolls with the same snap that the Aquanaut has, and doesn't rest in the upside down pose as comfortably as some other more radical Swede form boats with flat rear decks.
I had to modify my mechanics a little to get the boat to turn off the bow, but soon worked out the small weight adjustment required to make it do what my old Aquanaut could do. 
The boat feels nimble, with the narrower foredeck giving the impression of a much more sporty boat than it actually is, and the stability gives you huge confidence to throw it around & play.
I reckon this boat is a winner for paddlers new to skeg paddling, perhaps looking to ditch the rudder for a few years & learn some good boat handling in a boat that won't crucify them for a mistake. I haven't paddled it laden so can't comment on the loaded performance, but I now have my eyes fixed on the smaller Etain 17'5"if I can sneak it out of Mercer's backyard. Unfortunately there are only a handful of Etain's left in the next shipment, two in standard glass & two in the infused carbon-kevlar layup. Check our stock page for more details.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for such a detailed account. I am at the point of purchase and your article has tipped the balance in favour of the Etain. By coincidence the kayak I've had the most experience with is the Aquanaut which I really liked so it was great to read about the comparisons. Thanks again. Richard in Scotland.

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  2. G'day Richard,
    If you are used to an Aquanaut then the Etain is a logical next step. I also owned and loved my Aquanaut, but it was more stacked towards the play end, and quite a different boat with a decent expedition load. The Etain has that rare capacity to accept a big weight and not affect performance, in fact it seems to go straighter and faster. It's a slightly different paddling experience, especially downwind, where you steer the fish-form Aquanaut with your thighs, you tend to crank the Etain around with your feet. It took me a while to get in in the Etain but it's now my boat of choice.
    Good luck with it!
    Mark.

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