For Sale – Valley Nordkapp


Valley Nordkapp

The Valley Nordkapp that is for sale. (Image taken Feb 2012)

Since acquiring the smaller Avocet, Alan hasn’t been using his Valley Nordkapp anywhere nearly as much as such a pedigree kayak deserves. He has therefore decided to sell it.

Nordkapp description from Valley:

“A genuine evolution of the kayak that initiated the design trends most Sea-Kayaks now follow. Continued development ensures it remains the benchmark expedition-capable sea kayak.

The current Nordkapp is an evolution of the design used for the original Cape Horn and Nordkapp expeditions of the 1970’s. Indeed the original prototype was produced with the needs of the Nordkapp expedition in mind, hence the name! The first production versions even incorporated developments due to feedback from these early expeditions. This process has continued ever since, each generation of paddlers pushing the boundaries and providing feedback that is then incorporated into this, our flagship, expedition capable sea-kayak. Since its launch it has proven itself in almost every sea and ocean around the globe. Whilst the current Nordkapp shares many of the handling attributes of the original the design has evolved to meet the needs of the modern paddler resulting in a fast, comfortable and user friendly expedition capable sea kayak.”


Details are:

  • White deck over white hull with black decklines and trims.
  • 3 1/2 years old – one careful owner. Rarely used in past year and 1/2.
  • Fully functional (Valley) skeg
  • All hatch covers, hatches, foot pegs, decklines, seat etc. in pristine condition
  • Minor surface abrasions on hull (as to be expected)
  • Very minor spider crack to gel coat in one very localised area (< size of 1 pence piece).
  • Fitted Silva deck compass
  • Excellent condition
  • Length: 18’(548cm)
    Width: 21”(53cm)
    Depth: 14”(36cm)
    Weight: 51lbs (23.5kg)
  • Location : West Coast of Scotland (Clyde Area)
  • £1350

Photos below.

Contact me here or by leaving a comment.

Photography from your sea kayak

DSLR waterproof bag

Canon d10 waterproof compact

With the overwhelming popularity of digital cameras, more and more of us are taking photographs on dry land. For some of us that may involve using a cheap compact camera, whilst at the other end of the scale it may involve a professional DSLR camera with several lenses and filters.

In order to take better photos while on the water, we are placed into a predicament, with only a few options open to us –

  1. Take a non waterproof pro-sumer/compact or digital SLR out without protection
  2. Take a non waterproof pro-sumer/compact  or digital SLR in a water-tight bag , or perhaps custom plastic waterproof housing
  3. Take a waterproof compact camera

Nikon D70 SLR waterproof housing

The majority of us will end up making the compromise of convenience and ease of access of the waterproof compact cameras over the other two options. Let’s face it, if we are spending time faffing about with large cameras and/or camera enclosures, including their storage on deck, we are not spending as much time enjoying kayaking! There is also the risk that we may also be spoiling  our paddling companions’ enjoyment of a trip.

Having said that, it is always desirable to be able to take DSLR quality images while we are out on the water, even if we only have a waterproof compact to achieve this! Obviously there are many compromises and limitations with using compacts over DSLRs from a photography perspective the following table compares the tradeoffs:

DSLR / Pro-sumer/Compact
Waterproof Compact
Risk High risk of water damage, even damp hands on buttons will eventually cause corrosion or salt buildup. Used in housings this may be better, but the tradeoff is size. Low risk of water damage.
Features Access to full features if not in waterproof housing.Only a subset of features are available if in housing. Full set of compact features available. Obviously this doesn’t equate to a full set of DSLR features!
Size/ Weight Bulky, heavy, cumbersome. How do you store it? On deck? In cockpit? Compact, light and easily stored and tethered.
Housing Housing can be a bag with a transparent lens ‘window’. What is the optical clarity/ quality of this window like?Housing can be a custom hard plastic casing that has buttons that access a subset of the cameras features. Really optimised for diving – very bulky. Self contained, small, fits into BA/PFD pocket.
Accessibility Slow to access, may miss a shot. Easy to access.
Image Sensor Larger image sensor per megapixel count. Bigger sensor. Smaller image sensor per megapixel count.Image sensors lack quality, they are usually smaller and capture far less light and tend to be far noisier than DSLR sensors. 

Auto focus may be slow due to image sensor’s small size.

A good article on image sensors can be found here

Optical Quality Larger lenses, better optical quality. Small lenses, lesser optical quality. Small lenses can vary considerably in quality and will never match DSLR camera. Distortion will be present.
Filters Ability to use filters, although anything more complicated than a polariser may be a bit of a task in a kayak! Very few possibilities for filters.
Lens Options Would you want to change lenses in a kayak? You can certainly pick from a wide range of lenses before setting out. Stuck with single lens that comes with camera. Limited focal lengths
Lens Speed/ Quality Wider lenses = more light entering camera = faster lens in lower lighting conditions = good autofocus. Smaller lenses = less light entering camera = give poorer autofocus and noise performance in low lighting conditions.
Zoom Capability Bigger zoom lenses are an option Limited zoom capability.
Image Stabilisation Only sometimes available, housed in certain types of lenses. Widely available, housed in camera. IS is arguably a necessity in sea kayaking.
Auto Focus Better focusing ability in low light, user controlled. More limited focusing ability esp in low light, no/limited user control.
User Control Manual control over everything. Primarily automated control, minimal manual control.
RAW Images RAW files + high quality jpegs both an option. Only jpeg files available – at mercy of manufacturer’s JPEG compression algorithms.
Movie capability Limited, although more models are supporting movie modes. Movies are supported most likely on all models. Not all compacts record movies of great quality.
High ISO performance Acceptable higher ISO performance. Higher ISO shots can be very noisy, which shows up as coloured speckles on images.
Turn on time Acceptable power-on times. Variable power-on times, some have quite a lag
Shutter response time No shutter release delay. Variable shutter release delay, some models have quite a lag!
Viewfinder type Optical viewfinder. No viewfinder, just screen. Can be hard to see in bright light. Screen being on is also a drain on batteries.
Write Speed Fast writing to memory, can use bursts (rapid sequence of shots). Slower writing to memory, can be a problem with fast sequence of shots.
Exposure control Better auto exposure, less blown highlights. Auto exposure biased toward producing overall bright pictures, blown out highlights can be common.
JPEG Quality Less compression of jpeg files. Jpeg files can be more compressed to optimise memory card space.
Power Larger battery size, potential longer duration, depending on lens type and IS usage. Small compact batteries, shorter duration of shoot times, typically 1 day at 150 shots a day.
Intangibles/Enjoyment Factor Can you still enjoy a kayak trip with an unprotected DSLR on board? Or even with a protected one on board? Are your paddling buddies prepared to wait while you stop and take your SLR out all the time? Camera is out and used so fast and with peace of mind, and minimal delays for paddling buddies.


Expensive DSLR

So how do we get the best out of a waterproof compact on the water whilst living with the above compromises?

  1. Go for a high pixel count compact camera so that we can at least downsize the images and iron out small visual imperfections
  2. Limit the ‘Auto’ ISO function to be a max of 400-800 range (many compacts are noisy/grainy at ISO > 200). Changing this setting is a compromise between image quality (grainyness) and blurred images (too slow a shutter speed) at lower ISO.
  3. Underexpose by 1 to two stops eg -0.3eV to -0.7eV. Most compacts allow you to do this by switching to a more manual mode. Compensate for underexposure by adjustment on computer at a later stage. You can always brighten an image up, but you can’t ever get back blown highlights!
  4. Switch your jpeg settings to highest quality available. A lot of manufacturers default to a setting that has less jpeg quality so as to increase the number of shots storable on a memory card.
  5. Switch off face recognition priority for auto focus. When out kayaking, faces may not be the priority of the camera, and there’s no point in wasting processing power hunting for them.
  6. Power down when not taking shots in order to save battery power. The screen view finders eat lots of battery power.
  7. Turn auto flash to ‘off’. Sometimes to compensate for a dull scene, the flash will go off, which is pointless for anything > 10 ft away.
  8. Make sure Image Stabilisation is always turned to ‘on’
  9. Turn off  ‘digital zoom’ there really is no point, you can just crop your images later.

Nion Aw100 waterproof compact

There really is no comparison between pro-sumer/DSLR cameras and waterproof compacts, but the waterproof cameras’ versatility, storability, readiness  and associated peace of mind will always win me over any day out on the water.

Life in balance

Yoga balanceIt started off with yoga class. Each week, our teacher designs a sequence of asanas to address a specific focus, for example: back bends, forward bends, hip openers, twists or, as was the case last week, balance. When Jude informed us that we were about to embark upon a balancing adventure (or words to that effect), I readied myself for the voyage of inward discovery that this usually entails.

The thing about balance is that it is not a given. It could go either way. It takes effort and concentration and, as our teacher pointed out to us, when you are balancing – be it in tree pose or crow or eagle or whatever – you are not thinking about anything else. After arriving at yoga class with a head full of chatter, stress and judgements, it is no bad thing to empty it all out whilst tottering on one’s tippy toes (or hands) and quite possibly, in the process, discovering previously unknown capabilities. Even so, the prospect can cause some pre-asana anxiety, perhaps because we aren’t very good at handling uncertainty and balancing is, in a way, a state of sustained uncertainty.

With this in mind, the following day I set off to do some rolling practice. I’ve recently been working quite diligently on norsaq and hand rolls, but on my previous outing, I lost my hand roll completely and my norsaq roll seemed a bit of a struggle. This left me with a sense of unfinished business which is quite a distortion really. I mean, if I were to get hung up on unfinished things, there would be rather an endless list to ponder (the other 30+ Greenland rolls, learning to speak French, the housework …). But still, the thought of having lost my hand roll  irritated me like velcro underwear, and I had to address it.

Balance BraceAt some deeper level, I intuited that there was a missing link in my versions of those rolls that don’t involve a paddle. I’ve mentioned before how a Greenland paddle acts as a teacher and, certainly, rolling with this ancient technology is a bit like grasping a hand from the past. When the paddle is there, I have found that it can guide you through the water and allow you to position your body appropriately, without struggle,  if you let it. Without the paddle, the rolls were all down to me and seemed to require a lot more exertion and striving. After starting off badly, oomphing my way through yet another failed attempt, I reminded myself of the advice given to me by Mackayak in Orkney which was to focus first and foremost on the balance brace. I also recalled being inspired by this particular video which clearly demonstrates effortless hand rolling up into, indeed, a balance brace. I had only ever experienced this before with the help of my paddle as part of a butterfly roll. I therefore realised that it’s not all about desperately competing for success on the back deck, so much as simply reaching a state of  balance.

I proceeded to practice slipping on and off of the deck of my kayak with the aid of my paddle, then letting go of the paddle whilst maintaining the brace. I then focused on getting back on to the back deck in one swift move as this essentially constitutes the last part of the roll. Next up, I tried a full norsaq roll. For the first time, I did not aim for glorious success in one movement, but rather I sought to simply reach the surface of the water and stay there. To my delight, it was a quite achievable thing, and then purely a case of getting from there to the back deck as I’d practised. Next, I tried it with my webbed rolling mitts, with the same result. A breakthrough!

Just like in yoga, balancing in Greenland rolling is all about clearing out distracting thoughts (of anxiety, success, failure, unfinished housework) and simply concentrating on holding a steady bearing right in this very moment. In many respects, it is a Middle Way, a path of moderation and equilibrium between the extremes of hopeless defeatism and questionable triumph. Perhaps in times of uncertainty, it’s the best path to take.

Rolling With Sticks

Rolling With Sticks

Rolling With Sticks book at the ready

As Alan and I go out to practice our Greenland rolling, a scenario unfolds that might resonate with other paddlers of the skinny stick variety. Picture the scene: you have arrived at your favourite rolling spot, you go through the repertoire of rolls that you’ve mastered then you proceed to the ones that you are working on. One of two things happens then – you can’t quite get it right and can’t remember all the tips you tried to memorise from the DVDs and videos you’ve watched previously. Or, you nail it and are ready to try out a new roll, but can’t think which one or where to begin.

Sadly, out on the water, it’s not possible to take along a laptop, or even to readily fire up a mobile device, so it can leave one at a loss as to how to proceed. At worst, one could inadvertently start using bad technique which could lead to injury.

Rolling With Sticks

So that's how it's meant to be done!

Some of you might already be familiar with the Qajaq Rolls Website, which has been carefully put together by rolling aficionado Christopher Crowhurst in the US. It is a terrific free resource, documenting all the Greenland rolls (and others) in video and text, as well as employing useful stick figure diagrams. Branching out from this, Christopher has now created a book containing a first volume of rolls illustrated by said stick figures and accompanied by descriptive text. The book is called “Rolling With Sticks” (what else!) and is published on “Xerox premium NeverTear water resistant polyester paper.” In other words, it’s bombproof (just like your roll will be).

Alan and I received our copy last week and took it out to test in saltwater. Firstly, I can confirm, it really is waterproof. It’s difficult to imagine anything “paper” that wouldn’t become a soggy, mushy mess in saltwater, but it truly doesn’t. It’s hard to tell it’s even wet! And so, we were happily flipping through the contents and rolling with the book under our decklines. I was working on my hand roll and Alan on his storm roll and it was extremely useful (and somehow comforting) to have a handy reference right in front of us. It also acts as inspiration to get started on a new roll that we might not even have considered before. The stick figures work well as a quick visual reference (and I appreciated that they are smiling, reminding us to have fun!).

Rollign With Sticks

Alan looks up something new to try ...

This is quite a pioneering  book, being that the very nature of Greenland rolling is such that the skills have been passed down via elders and mentors, and have not been committed to paper to any large extent. Even although the activity is growing in popularity, it has still been quite niche. Skills sharing in this digital age has occurred via Internet sites and videos (as well as elders and mentors, of course), but I have not come across a lot in the way of guidebooks, and certainly not waterproof ones – a definite first!

I do have a tiny criticism. In the instructions for at least one roll (hand roll, forward to aft), we are guided to look up at the “sunlight”. This did throw me, being that the West of Scotland hasn’t seen sunlight for most of the “summer”. Perhaps “sky” would be a better word for us sun-deprived folks. But now I’m just being bitter picky.

To get your copy of Volume 1, go to the Rolling With Sticks Website. You won’t be disappointed!

Hurricanes and supernovas

Surface pressure chartWe appear to be living in interesting times. Tuning into the news lately, I’ve learned:

*(remnants of)

We’ve had our fair share of man-made crises too in the past year, from oil leaks to nuclear meltdowns. And, of course, the usual wars, alerts, and political and economic upheavals.

Stormy dayIt’s enough to make you anxious.

What’s this got to do with kayaking? Well, the common denominator is: fear. We live in a fear-filled world. The mainstream media likes nothing better than to amp up the fear factor (as well as the X Factor). Before you know it, you’re anxious about everything, even your leisure pursuits.

I realise that everyone is different and perhaps many of you braver, chilled out individuals can’t relate. But I would wager that a few of you have danced with anxiety in the great céilidh of life.

In particular, in sea kayaking, there’s a lot to potentially be anxious about:

  • big, scary waves
  • tidal flows
  • failed rolls
  • barnacles
  • jellyfish
  • looking stupid

If like, me, you bore yourself to death with such thoughts and their paralysing tendencies, there comes a point when you very much want to be free of them. And that’s when you realise – well, they’re just thoughts. They are 100% in your head. Just because you’re fixated on encountering big, scary hurricane-powered waves in a 12 knot tidal flow whilst failing your roll and being swept into a bay of jellyfish (after your GPS fails due to a solar storm) before crash-landing on top of barnacles (and looking very stupid), doesn’t mean it’s actually happening, or going to happen. It’s all a (bad) dream of yours and is no more pertinent than the one you had about public speaking whilst naked (you had that one, right?). Afterwards, you wake up, reflect with alarm/amusement/embarrassment on your crazy old mind, then get on with the reality of your day.

And that is the tack I am now taking. But it’s not a case of ignoring my crazy old mind – au contraire. Instead, I am inviting it to come in and take a seat while we have a little talk. What’s this fear thing then? After I’ve shone the spotlight on it for a bit, it starts looking rather like my bank account after a visit to the kayak gear shop – empty. It has no substance. It’s no more than a feeling. The other shocker for me has been to discover how much of that fear relates to appearances – not so much how great I look in my neoprene hood, but more whether or not I can maintain that norsaq-wielding, rockstar kayaker image I’ve been working so hard to build. I know, I laughed too. It is much easier to let all that go, to escort fear out of the building with a polite handshake and a thanks for the insight, and to return to being – well, nobody.

Here’s a quote that’s inspired me recently:

It’s actually wonderful to see that you’re nobody and that all the fear you’ve had all your life was in relation to this self you thought you had. You have one less thing to promote, protect, maintain, dress up and present to the world.

Radical stuff! It’s from Larry Rosenberg, in his book “Breath by Breath”, in which he also says:

We see that fear isn’t something we own or have any control over. We’ve been living as if we do, as if we should be able not to feel it. But all we can do is meet it skillfully.

And then we just go kayaking and we see what’s out there. We might even have fun. We might pick up skills and, funnily enough, have less to fear afterwards. We might have some failures (and I don’t mean the ones involving unnecessary risk), but that’s part of learning. One person’s failure is another’s first step on the ladder to acquiring an awesome skill.

With that in mind, hurricanes permitting, I am off to the Falls of Lora next weekend. I’ll be taking my old pal Fear with me, but firstly we’ll be sitting down for a little chat, and then he can watch me from the shore.

Up here in my tree, yeah
Newspapers matter not to me, yeah
No more crowbars to my head, yeah
I’m trading stories with the leaves instead, yeah

In My Tree, Pearl Jam, No Code

Debugging a Sweep Roll

Post By Alan

I’ve had an ‘offside’ (or less reliable) side when rolling my kayak for a long time. Historically, it came about as a result of various rotator cuff strains whilst learning to roll. I have switched sides several times in the learning process, but my left side roll has always been the most reliable and strong. The lesser used right hand side (offside) has appeared and disappeared then reappeared in a different forms from time to time, and I have gone through the associated highs and lows.

I have mainly debugged my offside roll by analysing video footage, quite often on location for immediate feedback on what worked and didn’t work. Through this, I have a better understandings of some of the mechanisms that can lead to a sweep roll failing. Sometimes it is the exact same thing that I do wrong time and again, which shows that it isn’t always a straightforward process to learn from your mistakes when rolling!

My findings are based on rolling a sea kayak, with dry suit, buoyancy aid and a crankshaft Euro paddle. Again, the assumption is that you know the basics of a Euro paddle sweep roll, but you may be experiencing inconsistencies with your roll on one side or another. The following are things that I have determined whilst trying to debug my own less dependable ‘offside’ roll.

Debugging Alan’s Sea Kayak Offside Roll

  • On setting up underwater, I often find that I over-reach upwards and, as a result, I am holding the paddle and sweeping the blade out of the water at the start of the roll. Unfortunately, you don’t get any leverage out of sweeping fresh air, so bringing the paddle blade down to be in contact (or almost) with the water surface is a must before starting a sweep. The amount that you have to reach up or bring the paddle blade down will vary considerably depending on whether you are rolling with a buoyancy aid and dry suit, or not. For example, in a swimming pool rolling session, likely with no dry suit or buoyancy aid, you will have to reach a lot more to get to the water surface.
  • If you are uncertain of blade angle on the water surface, you can use your hand to reach up and feel what angle the blade is at before you start your sweep and make corrections to position it flat on the water surface.
  • A climbing blade angle results in adding too much resistance to the sweep, which limits it and results in a failed roll. A flat to soft declined blade angle is the best angle to sweep with. A declined blade angle of 30 degrees or more will make the paddle dive and most likely lead to a failed roll.
  • The blade angle changes as you sweep due to your body position changing, therefore, the sweeping wrist angle needs to bend back as the sweep reaches the mid to rear of the kayak in order to keep the blade flat and to stop it climbing. Failed rolls can happen even after starting the sweep with a flat paddle if the wrist is kept in the same position during the entire sweep causing the blade to climb, ie resistance. This is a common finding in many of my failed rolls. I find that at the start of the sweep my wrist is neutral to slightly bent forward, but by the end it needs to be bent back to maintain the desired flat blade angle. This action had become so automatic on the left hand side that I barely noticed I was doing it and it took me a while to realise that it was missing entirely on the right. When I introduced it to the right, the roll started working again!
  • Get someone to video your rolls so you can easily debug them later, or play back the video on site (if you have a waterproof camera) for extra quick visual feedback. Remember if a picture paints a thousand words, then a video must paint a whole lot more!
  • Different sea kayaks vary in how they capsize and, as a result, each will feel different to get into the set up position. Higher volume kayaks will have more buoyancy to drag round. If you sometimes feel like you are stuck before getting round to set up position, learn to tug on the paddle a couple of times to pull yourself around.
  • Keep your rolling practice to sensible durations. It’s better to do 3 days of one hour training sessions a week  rather than 3 hours, one day a week.
  • If you are doing rolling practice for a while and you start to feel your rolling is getting worse, a few other things can come into play –
    • Dizziness (affects me after about 3 rolls)
    • Water leaking from your spray deck into the cockpit filling it up and changing kayak/rolling dynamics
    • Fatigue from muscle weakness, which could lead to bad technique and injuries
    • Are you wearing the correct clothing? Dry suit and under fleece are essential at minimum for rolling in Scotland anyway!
    • Even with a dry suit and fleece, cold can become an issue, especially if you’re rolling outdoors in northern climes. Intersperse rolling with some forward paddling just to get the blood circulating again.
  • If you make progress during a rolling session, stop and feel good that you did so. Don’t keep repeating a roll until it fails. It’s better to leave with a sense of enthusiasm and achievement in your mind rather than dwelling on how you managed to fail miserably after a good start!

Rockpool Isel, how do I love thee?

Rockpool Isel

Rockpool Isel

Let me count the ways!

It’s been almost 2 years since I became the proud owner of a Rockpool Isel kayak. I think it was Fate that brought us together as, quite simply, I don’t believe I could have found a kayak that could be more perfect for me.

I am a 5′ 5″ (1.524m) tall female weighing 8 st 4 lbs (116 lb, 52.6 kg).  The Isel is designed for “the smaller paddler” and features a “snug fitting cockpit”. This sounds highly appealing to smaller paddlers, however, I admit to having a little, er, flirtation, with another brand of kayak “designed for the smaller paddler” that left me less than convinced of the suitability of such models. The Isel, however, is a quite different animal and I knew immediately upon testing it that I could trust it.

First of all, it is an excellent fit. With correct footplate and seat positioning, I can sit relaxed in the kayak and my legs are in constant, comfortable contact with the thigh braces. This affords a feeling of real control and, combined with the stability of the kayak, I simply feel safe and secure. I also added a thin layer of foam into the conveniently located hip pockets.

All this safety and security doesn’t make for a boring kayak. Indeed, the Isel is manoeuvrable and nippy and I am able to turn it in high winds without difficulty. Because of its harder chines, it sticks nicely when edged and I get instant feedback on how far to go. It loves to pick up waves and, although I am not the bravest of surfers, I have had fun scooting along on a following sea.

Two Isels on the water

Two Isels on the water

Other features that have particularly impressed me include, firstly, the adjustable footplate. I am not a fan of foot pegs, although this is a very personal preference. I developed sore feet when paddling kayaks with foot pegs and this simply isn’t an issue any more. I know people comment on not being able to stretch their legs when a footplate is present, but I find that I can do so simply by straightening my legs out. I dare say that I have found the ideal positioning of the plate and seat in order to allow good contact along with a little room for manoeuvre. Secondly, lower back pain used to feature quite regularly when I paddled other kayaks, but no more. This could be because of the adjustable (and removable) glass seat design and the lumbar support provided by the back rest (and/or because I have toughened up a bit since my earlier kayaking days – yoga helps). Thirdly, I love Rockpool’s unkinkable wire skeg design. On those inevitable occasions when the kayak is plopped on the beach and the skeg is down, it is no longer a potentially trip-ruining event.

I have frequently received comments from fellow paddlers as to how much happier I look in rougher water since acquiring the Isel. I went through a bit of a rough water confidence setback a couple of years ago after a good trashing in the aforementioned unsuitable “smaller paddler” kayak. The Isel has helped me overcome this, such that I believe I am now at an appropriate proficiency level for someone of my experience on the water.  For me, it has taken a great deal of the fear out of paddling and I now find myself seeking out and enjoying conditions that used to fill me with trepidation. I have been out in up to F6 (F7 if you count gusts) mostly in the Cowal/Clyde area, and various tidal conditions elsewhere, and have had no issue with control, windage, tracking or speed. I use the skeg minimally, really only in cross-winds and downwind when surfing.

The kayak is excellent for rolling and, importantly, for self-rescuing too. When practising self-rescues with other kayaks, it has often felt like wrestling an alligator. In comparison, the Isel practically lays out a welcome mat and offers you a leg-up to get back in.

Alan balance bracing in Isel

Alan balance bracing in Isel

Just when I thought I’d realised and appreciated all of the Isel’s good qualities, I recently discovered another major bonus – it makes for an excellent Greenland rolling kayak! As I mentioned before, the harder chines, the lower profile and lower rear cockpit rim are perfect for Greenland style (layback in particular) rolling.

It might seem like I have nothing bad to say, which is true. The closest I can come is that, naturally, being a smaller, low volume kayak, there is not a huge amoung of room for gear in the hatches, although it is possible to camp out of it on short trips if you pack as if you were backpacking, say.

As Rockpool point out on their Web page, the Isel doesn’t have to be used by smaller people only, and Alan has proved this by sneaking into mine for Greenland rolling practice. He might not be able to load the kayak, but he can certainly roll it.

I wouldn’t swap my Isel for anything. It is a wonderful kayak that has brought out the best in my abilities and has made my kayaking journey a real joy.

Valley Avocet Review

Reviewer: Alan

The reviewer is a 5′ 11” (1.524m), 165 lb (75 kg) male paddler.

Valley AvocetI have owned and paddled a composite Valley Avocet for a couple of years now. It has been my everyday kayak, ie the one I use for day trips. At only 16’0” long, it is a short, low volume kayak. It is extremely responsive to edging, and very easy to control in all kinds of conditions, with minimal windage.

Valley sea kayaks are extremely well built. They tend to be some of the heaviest kayaks that I have lifted on and off of roof racks, but they do have solid glass lay-ups, for which Valley are renowned. There is no flex on any surface when leaned upon.

Valley boats have a traditional feel with rounded edged hulls in the centre, which allow them to be edged easily, and the Avocet is no exception. This is accompanied, however, with a very good level of primary stability. The rounded chines also allow the kayak to handle larger conditions well, with the kayak riding over waves with great ease and paddler security.

Valley Avocet load stability chart

Valley Avocet load stability chart

Paddled empty, I sit bang in the middle of the stability specification that Valley publishes, so my experience is one of optimal stability for this kayak. This, however, does really make it a day trip kayak only. At 280 litres (of estimated capacity since Valley doesn’t release volume figures) it may well be a bit small for anything but very short camping trips. The extra weight of camping gear also pushes the kayak into the non-optimal range for stability, and makes for a wet paddling experience, with the deck riding so low with someone of my weight and size in it.

Valley AvocetFor me, the standard cushioned Valley seats are very comfortable, and I can easily sit in them for long days out without experiencing pain or numbness (although I do recognise that this will not be the same for everyone). I have added in some extra foam padding for hip connection and a snugger fit, and the sides of the seats have adjustable ties that allow you to easily strap the foam in. I have had no problems with the seat despite frequent use for the last two years, so my experience is that Valley seats are very robust and comfortable.

The paddler’s physical thigh/knee connection with Valley kayaks has often been the subject of debate on paddling forums. I have read some critiques of the lack of thigh braces in Valley kayaks (especially when compared with some other kayak manufacturers), and can confirm that the thigh braces on Valley kayaks are placed where either the knees or, if you are lucky, the thighs actually make contact with the inner hull/deck or where the hull/deck meets the cockpit coaming. Valley provide 5 mm self adhesive foam with each new kayak for the owner to customise the comfort and fit, and the foam is required in my experience. The Avocet, being a smaller kayak, has a lower deck than some other Valley models, and as such offers better thigh connection for someone of my size. Having said that, my connection isn’t as secure as in some other manufacturers kayaks with more aggressive thigh grips, but it is enough to feel secure when rolling.

I have used the Avocet in many kinds of conditions, from dead flat calm to F5/6, following sea, beam seas etc, and can honestly say it is one of the most pleasing, stable, responsive, fun-to-paddle kayaks I have come across. I have been told that I always look happy when out paddling in the Avocet, and there is good reason for that –  I feel in control of the kayak, and not the other way around!

All in all, I really enjoy this kayak and look forward to hopefully many more years of paddling it.

Laidback and reckless

In my experience, there are several stages of evolution when it comes to kayak rolling. They are:

  • Acceptance that, if you’re serious about kayaking, you will need to get your hair wet.
  • Observation of kayakers who can roll proficiently, accompanied by frequent utterances of, “I’ll never be able to do that.”
  • Pool sessions, starting with lots of poolside hip flicking (usually surrounded by river paddlers doing ridiculous acrobatics).
  • Developing familiarity with eskimo rescues. Increased presence of the “hand of God”.
  • Discovery of the joy of floats.
  • First pool boat roll.
  • First sea kayak roll, in the sea.
  • Work on off-side.
  • Robust, dependable roll on both sides.
  • World domination.

Well, that’s the general idea. Along the way, of course, are many, many hours of hand-wringing, soul-rending, excruciating, intricate analysis of ever minute detail of the technicalities of the roll, carefully documented via blog and forum posts. (Or is that just me?). Let’s just say, things can get a bit “uptight”.

Whilst working on my off-side roll, it occurred to me that it felt like I always seemed to need a checklist before setting up. This list would include items such as: direction of wind/waves, location of nearby rescuer, sea temperature, nose clip, venting/buoyancy of drysuit, positioning of hands, blade angle, positioning of head, adequate sweep, lucky white heather etc. I’ve seen the Space Shuttle commander go through less before lift-off.  Yet I also knew that my best rolls were achieved when I abandoned all thought and went by feel.

Which brings me to the next stage in my personal rolling evolution. For quite some time, I’ve been aware of that strange breed of kayaker who can be found in sleek, black craft (called qajaqs actually), who employ wooden sticks and clothes lines, dress up as seals and speak in a secret, encrypted code involving a confusion of vowels and consonants that would make an Icelandic volcano proud. Most of all, they demonstrate grace, ease and calm in executing their elegant rolls. They have intrigued me and I have secretly longed to join their cult (not just because black looks cool). You might be familiar with some of their names, such as Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson, Helen Wilson and Dubside. I have also been following Lesley in Orkney, who went over to the dark side some time ago and whose progress has been hugely inspiring. I speak, of course, of Greenland paddlers.

And so, with a view to freeing ourselves from the tyranny of Euro-blade checklists, Alan and I acquired a Greenland paddle, a beautiful red cedar Anglesey Stick in fact. Being that there are 35 Greenland rolls to learn, it is apparent that an entirely different mindset would be required in acquiring these skills, but nonetheless one that we hoped we could transfer over to our Euro paddles when needed. By a stroke of good fortune, I have also discovered that my Rockpool Isel makes a wonderful “Greenland” kayak, being of low profile, having harder chines and a back deck that’s entirely conducive to lay-back rolling. Yet another reason to love my Isel.

The first thing I notice is how much Greenland rolling relates to body movement and awareness. The paddle itself will scarcely let you fail in a standard roll (although you do get style points), inspiring confidence and motivation to move on to the more complex moves. Ironically, much of the Greenland technique teaches reduced dependence on the paddle and more on body positioning. The paddle becomes the teacher who sets you free.

Balance braceThe Greenland paddle is, of course, ancient technology and I find it interesting to compare the relaxed, (literally) laid-back rolls that it induces with the obsessive-compulsive efforts that often result from learning to roll with a modern Euro blade.  I feel like I am letting go and working in harmony with nature (what could be more natural than water and a wooden stick?), as opposed to being a carbon-fibre wielding control freak.

My repertoire is short at this stage, extending to the balance brace, the standard Greenland roll and the butterfly roll. I have attempted a norsaq roll, but am not quite ready (it’s a mind thing – I tend to find myself hanging upside-down thinking, “What am I doing here, and why am I holding this lump of wood?”). The thing is that I am in no rush. I know that, with practice, it will come one day. Greenland rolling has turned an activity I used to fear into something I look forward to, plus already I see improvement in my Euro-blade off-side.

Most recently, in an effort to make better contact with the back deck, we dispensed with our buoyancy aids (or PFDs if you’re in the US).  We have been accused of demonstrating recklessness, but I might argue that rolling in 3 feet of water in 2 mph winds, with 2 radios pre-tuned to Ch 16 and mobile phones to hand surely can’t be called reckless. Anyway:

reck·less (rkls) adj : Indifferent to or disregardful of consequences.

Well, that beats being scared! A good approach to rolling, if you ask me.

After each practice session, Alan and I return home feeling buzzed. Time disappears as we lose ourselves in a place where every moment is now. Why does something so inconsequential to modern life create such a high? Could it be because we are connecting with something that is inherent to human nature – an ancient physical skill that engages our senses, places us firmly in the present, inspires our confidence and allows us the opportunity to overcome fear and other demons in our heads? And – allows us to relax. What’s not to like?!

From now on, I may just have to qajaq across the water …

A day trip to Mull

Having only ever thought of Mull as being somewhere you go on holiday via car and ferry, an invitation to join friends and go there by kayak immediately captured our imagination and interest. We needed little persuasion to sign up for a day trip with a difference.

Our friends emerged off of the water to meet us at Ganavan Bay, north of Oban, and we all then set off on a west northwesterly route, precisely the direction of the wind. Fortunately, it wasn’t too great of a slog initially, although the breeze made its presence felt a little more by the time we reached the Lismore area.

Lighthouse on Eilean Musdile on the south tip of Lismore

Lighthouse on Eilean Musdile on the south tip of Lismore

As usual in this vicinity, a little wind goes a long way in relation to the tides, and the sea state became a bit more interesting than what Alan and I are used to nearer to home. Happily, as I may have mentioned, this spells one thing to us now – fun! Back in the dark old days, I remember expressing fearfulness at the concept of rougher water. Our friend, Magda, assuaged this fear by asking me how many times I’d actually fallen in in such conditions. The answer, to my continuing relief, is – well, not too many! Apart from that one time. Oh, and that other time … (but training doesn’t count). Since acquiring my Rockpool Isel, I feel increasingly confident that I can keep the capsize incident count low, depending on how “interesting” the sea state gets, of course.  And, I suppose I could always try rolling (as radical as that sounds for someone who’s been practising that very skill for ages).

Duart Castle

Duart Castle

After a bit of bobbling about in the chop, we reached the east coast of Mull and made our way around Duart Point to land at the small  bay beside the rather majestic Duart Castle, the ancestral home of Clan MacLean. The bay was filled with small moon jellyfish (rather sadly for the many who wouldn’t be washing back out), but we were especially impressed by the kayaker-friendly “Welcome to Duart Castle” sign posted there. We proceeded to the castle tea room where we enjoyed some sustenance before returning to our kayaks.

Mull to Oban

Photo courtesy: Lewis Smith

Heading back towards Oban, a rare thing occurred – the tide and the wind were behind us. Ordinarily, if you have spent an outward journey paddling against wind, you can pretty much guarantee that, in a fit of mischief, the weather gods will reverse the wind to defy the forecast, such that you get to paddle against it all the way back too. They especially love to do this when the tide is also running against you. But this day the weather gods appeared to be distracted and we were pushed back in a bumpy, following sea.  The outward journey had taken 2 hours and 45 minutes, and the homeward voyage a mere 2 hours.

Ferries kept us company

Ferries kept us company

During the course of the day, the wind was not the only thing that was increasingly making its presence felt. Oban is a hub for ferries going back and forth across the Sound of Mull and the Firth of Lorne to the various islands (including Mull, Lismore, Colonsay, Coll and Tiree and the Outer Hebrides). Some of these vessels are quite large, and it seemed like every 10 minutes we were seeing one or another looming ahead or behind on a direct course towards us (just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean the ferries aren’t out to get me). Most kayakers are acutely aware that they cannot out-paddle a big, muckle ferry, and so it is a question of trying to guess whether or not the ferry will turn and in which direction. Any notion of the usefulness of carrying a Calmac timetable with us was abandoned after our encounter (fortunately not close) with ferry number 7.

Ferry dodging

Ferry dodging

Strangely, not a single seal was seen that Sunday (and no-one was selling seashells either), but we did see and hear many common terns squabbling overhead.

Soon, we were back at Ganavan Bay reflecting on another wonderful day out. I heard Lewis summarise the trip as “very dodgy” and, just as I was swelling with pride and amazement at being able to handle conditions that even Lewis found “dodgy”, it was clarified that he’d actually said, “ferry dodging”. Indeed, that was quite a prominent feature of the day.