Valley Nordkapp

Who’s gonna ride your wild horses?
Who’s gonna drown in your blue sea?
Who’s gonna taste your saltwater kisses?
Who’s gonna take the place of me? – U2

Saturday after coaching an introduction to sea kayaking class at Rutabaga in Madison, WI., I had the opportunity to test paddle a beautiful “almost new” fiberglass Valley Nordkapp.  Apparently the story behind this sharp black and red kayak is that the owner only had it for a short time before deciding was a bit too much horse.  I can see that…

The Valley Nordkapp is a classic among the classics of sea kayaking.  It was originally designed by Frank Goodman for the British Norway expedition in 1975. It was also the first sea kayak around Cape Horn in 1977.  In addition it was the kayak Paul Caffyn used to circumnavigate Australia in 1981-82. I could go on, but you get the point…  The Nordkapp holds an important place in sea kayaking history. It can handle anything, anywhere, anytime. It’s no wonder someone would buy one without a second thought.

The Nordkapp is much larger in volume than I had imagined. It’s 14″ deep but feels deeper.  You’d easily carry a couple weeks worth of gear beneath it voluminous oval hatches.  I should note here that Valley’s oval hatch covers are easy to get on or off. That’s becoming a real bonus these days considering the giant oval covers going on the back of P&H and other kayaks these days that frustrate even the most passive of paddler.   With a Valley you’ll still get big oval hatches, but you won’t have to spend 30 minutes performing all sorts of satanic rituals to get them to seal properly.

On the water the Nordkapp shines.  The 18′ foot long, 21″ inch wide kayak is fast in the water, maybe the fastest expedition sea kayak I’ve paddled. It’s nimble and rolls like a charm.  I had it out on a calm day with just a bit of wind and chop so I couldn’t judge it in any sort of wind.  The shape of the Nordkapp suggests the wind will push it around if it’s not loaded and the skeg is not down.  But again, until I get one out in some conditions it’s hard to tell.

For someone new to sea kayaking the Nordkapp is going to feel a bit unwieldy and yes quite “tippy”.  It’s the nature of the beast.  The quicker and more nimble a kayak is, the more skill you’ll need to control it.  It you are new to kayaking and are considering buying a shiny new Nordkapp, be prepared for a sharp learning curve!

Personally,  I really enjoyed paddling the Nordkapp.  I’m not sure why I’d never paddled one before.  It only had two real drawbacks for me, both are part and parcel with today’s approach to building kayaks and not specifically Valley or Nordkapp issues. Since it seems most manufactures are following the same paths here I’m obviously wrong, stupid or picky.  But let me share those anyway. 😉

First off, modern sea kayaks are made to be light.  A new Nordkapp comes in around 51lbs (Notice manufactures statements about weight always end in “bs”).  In order to make the boats lighter, they make them well, “flimsy”.  You don’t dare stand on the hulls of most new fiberglass sea kayaks or even sit on them without fear of starting nice new spider cracks or worse.  In fact most new kayaks have layups so light you can see the fiberglass weave through the gel-coat. Between you, me and the tea cup… I think kayakers are getting boned in this whole “light is better” meme….

Before anyone leaps upon me to say “light” is everything and we should not stand on our kayaks anyway… I got the memo.  Thing is, I can jump up and down on my 1996 NDK Explorer.  I’ve also been dropped hard on break walls and performed rough water rescues in that boat.  Not to mention dragging it over everything at one time or another. Yes it’s heavier, but it’s still around.  I cannot see the logic in buying a fragile kayak for $3000-$4000 bucks or whatever, just so I can spend my time treating it like crystal.   Yeah, I know I’m in the minority here, but I’m not ready to spend that sort of cash on the boat of my dreams only to have it begin to disintegrate in 3-5 years.

Here’s an experiment: Find a mid-nineties NKD Romany or Explorer and put it beside almost any new kayak (even a new Romany for that matter!)  Turn them upside down.  Press on the center of the hull (under the cockpit) with an open flat hand.  Notice how the new boats bend and flex very easily.  The old NDK will hardly move. How soon will that thin hull begin to spider?  How hard of a hit can it take?  How deep of a scratch will cut into the fiberglass itself?  Now go to the bows.  Put a hand on each side of the bow about 10 inches or so from the tip.  Now press  your hands together, squeezing the hull between.  Most new kayaks will give easily whereas the old NDK will not.  Is flexibility always bad?  No of course not.  However, I don’t think there is much disagreement that newer boats must be treated with more care than older kayaks.  For some paddlers this won’t matter, but if you can only buy one $4000 kayak in your lifetime, you deserve one that will stand up.  For what it’s worth here, I’m not particularly advocating NDK boats.  They’ve had their own share of quality issues over the years. Thing is, while we might pick on NDK for whatever reasons, the boats last forever which means a lot when we actually have to pay for them.

The second issue I had with the Nordkapp is with the seat, and it’s another common issue with a variety of sea kayaks out there.  In the Nordkapp I felt like I was sitting 10 feet in the air.  I paddled it empty which does not help, but truth be told most of us do paddle empty kayaks most of the time.  If I were going to buy the full sized Nordkapp, (I’d lean toward a low volume version myself.) the first thing I’d do is cut out the seat and replace it with a valley foam seat or a bit of mini-cell.  Just getting my bum down about an inch or so would do wonders to stabilize the craft, while only slightly effecting the ability to roll.  Is the seat comfortable?  Oh, yes.. of course. Sure.  Thing is, I think this addiction to show floor, lounge chairs does new paddlers a real disservice, but that’s a whole other blog!

Before I ended my day I brought the Nordkapp back to the pond behind Rutabaga for a bit of rolling.  It’s a great roller from my experience.  I got out my Greenland paddle and worked through a series of rolls without a problem.  The sticking point was when I tried to do Norsaq and hand rolls.  There the high seat got in the way again.  I could feel the boat wanting to roll but my center of gravity was a bit too high when compared to my NDK or my Rockpool.   I think with a bit more time I could work through that and hand roll it easily enough but I do love it when I can jump in a kayak right off the floor and hand roll without a thought.

Of course the Valley Nordkapp is a fantastic kayak.  In my opinion it’s easily one of the most beautiful sea kayaks ever made.  It can carry a ton of gear, and moves like a rocket through the water, and turns on a dime.  It’s everything you’d want in a kayak, and at the same time it’s everything that can make an inexperienced kayaker nervous.  The hatches are the perfect compromise between standard round, rubber hatches and those big floppy things that should never have been invented. As I said, I’d cut out the seat to add some initial stability, and I’d go for a heavier layup as well.  If I were going to buy a Valley Nordkapp for myself, I’d probably choose the low volume version.

The black & red kayak I test paddled is lightly used and currently for sale at Rutabaga in Madison, WI for around $2400.

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13 Responses

  1. It’s all about compromise Derrick. My fibreglass Alaw Bach is 25kgs or so, my Explorer HV is about the same. Both tough boats. But my Rockpool GT is 21kgs. I believe it will be just as tough as it is vacuum bagged ,epoxy resin, fibreglass and diolen with carbon kevlar reinforcement so the end result is a light tough boat. And yes, I can see the fibreglass weave through the gelcoat when the light is right. On the water, light doesn’t matter so much but before and after the paddle the lighter boat is a relative joy to carry. From memory the Valley kayaks are vacuum infused which is even more high tech than vacuum bagging so potentially lighter AND stronger.


  2. Right. I understand that. Thing is, my Alaw Bach for example is a normal layup.. It’s now about 3 years old. It’s been through some ah… trials.. but honestly it’s beat to heck. I’ve put more gel-coat and new glass on that boat than you can imagine. I love the kayak, but it’s just not capable of surviving the sort of wear and tear that a couple trips and regular coaching puts on it. Yep, it’s a trade off, but again for the price of a kayak these days it seems to me that heavier and stronger is a better value.

  3. Very nice article!

    I have paddled a Nordkapp HS with ocean-cockpit for some years now…after I bought it and paddled it for the first time my first thought was…wasted money! Now I just love it.

    I think that Valley could do some improvement on their keyhole-cockpits. I paddled a Calypso from NorthShore (pre Valley take over) before my Nordkapp and that was a good keyhole-cockpit.

    Totaly agree with you regarding hull and “layup”. There is a NDK Romany at my club and the hull feels rock solid…and that’s quite a nice feelning. I’m satisfied with my Nordkapp tough but I have not compared it with the new versions

    I agree with you regarding the high seat. I got the old style version in fibreglas, so no “lounge chairs” style. Had some thought about cutting it out but the thing is that the ocean-cockpit is a bit higher at the back on older versions so I’m afraid that it would be harder to roll. Now I’m quite used to it so…

    Anyway…lovely boat…and beautiful!

    Again a great article!


  4. Are you kidding me? a heavy kayak just does not rate in my part of the world.
    It seems that everybody is just obsessed with the thin eggshell offerings that remind me more of surf skis than real sea kayaks.
    Lifting you boat over your head with one hand seems to be the goal… for most, but not for me.
    Needless to say that those that love a superlight kayak also baby them and never use them in rough conditions (like 3 ft waves) or attempt any T-rescues.
    I have stopped counting how many decks I have repaired (some mine, some of friend’s kayaks) because they failed when doing an assisted rescue over the rear deck.
    I realized that a serious kayak must have a certain heft or just can’t handle the conditions it should be designed for.
    Ah, one more: skimping on fiberglass tape that result in split seams seems a regular problem on light boats too.
    But hey, it gives you bragging rights at the boat ramp: “… my kayak is so light that a child could lift it on top of my Hummer…” :-)
    The Nordkapp LV I have is the heaviest kayak in the fleet and certainly the sturdiest.

  5. Hmmmm, Gnarlydog is not being entirely honest here. The Nordkapp LV is not his, it is his partner’s and he himself from memory paddles a carbon kevlar Chinese Seabird North Sea that is claimed by Seabird to be 19kg …..
    In his part of the world (not too far from mine :-) there are a lot of British boats in standard layup, light is not necessarily ‘de riguer’.

  6. that’s right Geoff, I do have several (3) carbon/Kevlar sea kayaks in my garage and some are the ones I can fit in and paddle.
    The Seabird that you mention is indeed a light boat and very strong (full foam core construction) but the clear coat can take less abuse than a thick gel coat job (and harder to cosmetically fix).
    You might forget the c/K Impex Assateague in gel coat finish (rather light though).
    Never really trashed that boat on rocks so I can’t say if it can stand up to abuse.
    It works OK for surfing though (no hard impact there…)
    Not as sturdy as the gel coat expedition lay-up Impex Currituck I had (sold it: too small for me).
    The decks on some of my boats unfortunately have not been great (a few cracks caused by my non-slender figure :-) that needed repairing).
    Those decks are simple thin chopped strand and can’t take much weight/flex.
    The Nordkapp LV is part of the ever growing MEI fleet (I paid for it), even if Adventuretess paddles it…
    I paddled it occasionally (nice roller) but it’s really too small for me.
    I believe that the Nordkapp LV is way stronger than any other boat I have/had.
    Then there is the folding boat… well that does not count :-)
    What I often see locally on the water is Mirage, Raider or Seabears.
    Seen enough of cracks in those.
    The sturdy British boats are slowly gaining acceptance by discerning paddlers but nowhere near the numbers of the thin shelled ruddered ones.

  7. Russ

    I’ve never weighed my 04′ Nordkapp, but most paddlers are shocked to feel how heavy it is. I hate carrying it, but I’ve never found another boat I would rather paddle.

    I think Valley started vacuum bagging in 06′- the same year they switched to the plastic seat.

  8. Roy

    Instead of a Latte…should have ordered a double Depth Charge and then gone looking for some steep 3 to 5 foot waves with that Nordkapp….You would have been grinning from ear to ear:) (about time you tried one)

  9. My 1998 NDK Explorer weighs 70 lbs and has more gel-coat spider cracks in the hull and deck than my grandmother’s antique china. I’m not convinced that weight equals durability. My husband’s 1988 Current Designs Solstice is in much better shape and weighs only about 55 pounds.

  10. John Tatro

    My son and I have been repairing kayaks for an kayak outfitter and ourselves for the last several years. I must agree that manufactures quest for lighter boats has created more business. Unfortunely, repairing the newer boats often includes more fiberglass repair than in the past. Vacuum bagging creates even distribution of resin in the glass and thinner layups and also more flex in the boat. Thinner gel coats make simple scratches that now get into the glass and require more extensive work to repair.

    I recently ordered and received a new Anas Acuta. I had to fight with Valley to get an “expedition” lay up. This boat is heavier than other Anas’s, but it also has much less flex to it. I have a tendency to take my boats into rock gardens and other areas and they often are being repaired (mostly gel coat but sometimes more). Despite the “expedition layup ordered” this boat is still not the same quality of my earlier pintail and Q boat. My older pintail has seen much service and is still in fair shape. It has to have the keel strip refinished each year and some gel coat repair but it keeps coming back for more. The new Anas although quite pretty is not of the same quality.

    Perhaps this is just a transition period in the boat building industry and in the end we will see a workable compromise between heavy layups and the newer lighter layups. I do feel empathy for those newer paddlers buying boats now never knowing the older layups and the abuse they could endure.

  11. JimRichardwilson

    I have a 2004 Pro-Lite Aquanaut and a 2008 standard layup Nordkapp LV. I love both boats. The Pro-Lite Aquanaut weighs notably more than the Nordlow and has survived years of use including BCU trainings, rock gardening, many sessions of bumper boats, and drops onto pavement. It has many gouges and scratches but no spider cracking or structural damage… The Nordlow is more prettily made but flexes much more and has gel coat cracks.

    However, the Nordlow is a bast to paddle!

  12. JohnA

    Hi Derek,

    thanks for a very entertaining read shame I recently found your blog. I have one comment for those who want their Nordkapp tough, go and get the RM. Triple layer foam core HDPE, welded bulkheads, stiff enough that I can’t pick the difference and only slightly heavier than a standard glass layup. Gel coat cracks ? None on my boat. Stand up in it ? Happy to, if only my balance was good enough ! :)