Read and submit reviews for the Aleut Sea II.
After having spent a great summer holiday with my spouse in a rented Boreal Esperanto, we decided 4 years ago that we wanted to have our own tandem sea kayak. Fortunately our kayak trainings and our experience with the rented thing in real circumstances - including 7 Bft wind and 2 m high waves on an overfall - helped us to formulate a (long) list of requirements. It had to be a real sea kayak, suitable for expeditions of at least 2 weeks away from any civilization. It had to be carried in/on our small car: a Suzuki Alto. It had to be strong enough for rough circumstances, because we wanted to use it on shallow waters with rocks; not only on local Dutch waters with mud beds. The distance amidst both paddlers had to be long enough that we could paddle independently without interference of the paddles. And of course it needed to have good behavior and a good 'feeling'. And last but no least, the price wouldn't be an obstacle.
Soon it was clear that it should be a sectional (take-apart) kayak, limiting the choice significantly, although instructions are available to change any kayak to a sectional one. After a web search for all available options, we determined that a custom built carbon/kevlar sectional Valley Aleut II came closest to what we had in mind. The Dutch Valley dealer (A. Bloem) could bring us in contact with an Aleut II owner who was willing to let us make a test ride, and it felt fine, although we still had many ideas for improvements. But as I am pretty technical and skilled, I knew I could do many desired modifications myself. We ordered the sectional (2 parts) Aleut II with a 'traffic yellow' deck and a 'natural' (=carbon/kevlar) hull. The bulk heads would be placed on custom positions, to have as much as possible luggage space. The compass, being normally placed in front of the foremost paddler, would be in front of the rear paddler, because she is the one to keep the right direction. No pump was ordered because I would determine later if there would be pumps, and what kind. Nor did I order rudder pedals, because we did not like the standard Zölzer ones, and the maker could/would not equip it with other ones. I had some discussion with the makers about the system of attaching both halves of the kayak, because I think the Valley system is pretty clumsy and unnecessary heavy. Fyi. the systems that Rockpool or the Komodo doubles have are much more elegant. But Valley saw no possibility for such an option, so it had to be the system with two very thick fiberglass plates bolted together.
After several months, the kayak was ready. A disappointment was that 'yellow' turned out much more orange than as shown in the folder, and we strongly disliked it. It cost us a lot of work and money to get it resprayed in a beautiful yellow color. We called our kayak 'Melyn'; Wiktionary can tell you why. A second problem was that the 6 heavy stainless steel bolts and nuts that keep the kayak together, could not separate: they were galled together, and I had no other choice than to use an angle grinder to carefully cut the heads off all bolts without damaging the bulk heads, in order to separate both parts. The factory-made system that is used to lift the rudder out of the water is not very practical: the groove along which the cable is wound has a pretty small diameter, so that a strong rubber band is needed to turn the blade 135 degrees round from the deck groove into the water, and that's why a pulley system is necessary to get enough torque to counteract that rubber band as well as for lifting the long rudder blade out of the water again. I designed and milled a new blade from LDPE plate with a bigger and eccentric 'wheel' around the axle, so that I could get rid off that complex pulley system. Now everything works much better and easier.
Another problem was that the cockpit keyholes were too narrow for an easy entrance and exit, especially for my wife who has bigger legs than I. Fortunately, the parts of the keyhole edge that point inwards, are made of massive plastic, so I could mill them away, grind and polish the remaining surface and paint it with black DD coating so that it shows as if it has ever been that way. The large center hatch has a large neoprene cover, and that cover can be optionally covered by a fiberglass hood that is not waterproof but prevents high waves from accidentally opening the neoprene cover. I have equipped the edges of that fiberglass hood with the rubber from the rear door of a scrapheap car, and that makes it perfectly watertight, so that we don't need the neoprene cover anymore at all. On flat water it is - with some effort - possible to open and re-close it, although we rarely will do that. The bolts that connected the kayak and that I had to destroy, have been exchanged by cam levers and knob nuts attached to the boat with rubber strings, so that we don't need any tools and cannot lose anything. Instead of the standard one, I placed a Sea-Lect Rudder Control system. It was not easy to mount it on exactly the right place to the inner walls with fiberglass & polyester because I had to work into a claustrophobic space with only my head and one arm in it, and I had to use a vacuum cleaner during the job to continuously suck away the poisonous polyester vapors. But now it works fine, and it is very easily adjusted to the leg length if someone else want to sit in the rear cockpit.
Apart from this, I did many smaller other modifications, such as a changeable keel strip, Railblaza star ports for attaching a small Dutch flag and a GoPro camera, stainless steel eyelets for attaching it to a lock cable, small eyelets inside the cockpits to attach small things, a waterproof solar panel on the rear deck with a PowerBank and USB connector inside, and small clips to hold the paddles in place. I made my own kayak trolley, as most ones are not strong enough for this large kayak with all luggage in it. A thing that still has to be done is the seats: the high bump in the middle is indeed, like other people already wrote, not comfortable. And it makes it impossible for women to pee @ sea. I'm thinking about replacing the whole seats, and meanwhile adding back supports that are a bit higher, as the standard ones are pretty low. And maybe I will add foot operated bilge pumps, like the one from gurneygears.com in both cockpits; I'm still thinking about that.
I have made a simple but comfortable child's seat that we can put in the center hatch, and I have sewed a sleeve on the neoprene cover that - as I wrote above - we didn't need anymore for the purpose it was made for. My nephews and nieces (<8 yrs old) love to join us on day trips. NO, not only in a swimming pool, but also on lakes and rivers, where freight boats make waves that can sometimes splash over our decks; no problem! Of course they may only go with us if they have a swimming diploma.
So far about the modifications. Now about the behavior on the water.
The Aleut II is very long, and it is clearly designed to be used on big water. It doesn't turn easily on f.i. small canals; it really wants to go fast forward! The fact that there is a large luggage space that separates us, makes the distance big enough to be able to paddle independently. That's a big advantage when there is high swell, and both paddlers want to adjust their rhythm to the rhythm of the waves. It is a real expedition kayak, and it is designed to carry lots of luggage. When empty, it is high on the water, making it more unstable and sensible to the wind. If you don't have luggage to carry and if you have to paddle on waves in the wind, you can best load some 30 kilograms of boulders into the hatches.
The luggage space is enormous: 285 liters in the 3 hatches and then even more space in secret places like behind the seats, under the knees and so. We have enough space for food for 2 weeks, 11 liters of water (two 4l water bags under our knees, 2 bottles in the front hatch), tent, mattress, clothes, towels, camp stove, pots & pans & cutlery, first aid & repair sets and whatever you may need. We have never luggage on deck; everything fits inside the boat. It is a very stable and fast boat, even on a pounding sea. I have been able to compare it with some other double kayaks that I could borrow or rent, and I've not seen another one that can cut so sharply through the waves. I have felt very uncomfortable in another (rented) double sea kayak on a sea that would be no problem at all with the Aleut II. I think it is because of the very long and sharp nose, combined with the relatively round bottom.
We have a WindPaddle sail, and sometimes use it on quiet water with tail wind, but it never feels secure. Here the round bottom of the kayak is a disadvantage, I think. We had bought the biggest one ('cruiser') that is designed for tandem kayaks, but I would other people advise the smaller 'adventure' version that can be used easier, and with a little bit more wind. Or simply use an umbrella...
As I wrote, the seats with the center bump are not the best part of the kayak, and could be better with flatter ones.
We have been paddling on seas where there is shallow water (in Åland, in Finnish Kvarken, along the Swedish east coast, on Swedish lakes and along the Scottish Atlantic coastline at the Outer Hebrides), and unfortunately we have many times hit rocks that were just under the water line. Our Aleut II has got many superficial scratches but it is very tough and never gave any crack or leak.
Both parts are just short enough to fit on the roof of our car (we had a Suzuki Alto, now we have a Celerio), while the longest part goes well over the hood of the car, of course. It is not so easy to lift the largest part on and off the car, but I made a small handle that fits with wing nuts on the connecting bolts, and with that handle it can be easily moved. I think such a handle should always be supplied to the kayak; it is very practical.
Have I forgotten to tell you something? I think so. But I hope this review can help you to determine if a Valley Aleut II is something for you.
I like the boat's speed and tracking and have found it to be very seaworthy even in good swell. It is difficult to maneuver though--very rudder dependent. Still, I haven't found a tandem that I prefer so I give this boat high marks. My curmudgeonly comments follow:
The boat will not fit anyone that is much over 6' tall. I am 5'11 and find the front seat more comfortable than the back seat as there is a bit more length in the legs. The back cockpit, though shorter, is roomier--so much so that you should outfit it with foam supports so that you can edge effectively.
I have the built-in hand pumps which I would only recommend for those who are likely to encounter serious swell, open water crossings etc. They add quite a bit of weight and with two people, emptying the boat out before re-entry + hand pumps is probably sufficient for casual coastal kayakers. Additionally, they take up some space in the cockpit. On one occasion, the hose from the pumps got caught in the steering mechanism and disabled the rudder which was a nightmare. On the other hand, they are nice to have if you need them...they move a lot of water fast.
I find the center hatch to be less than ideal--the fiberglass cover + neoprene cover is awkward. I had hoped it might be possible to access this space while on the water but that is nearly impossible--even off the water it is a bit of a hassle. I've had slight problems with the coaming on the hatch lid coming unglued and have had to reglue it several times. This is the only weak spot in the boat that I've encountered and it is more of a nuisance than a real problem. The things that matter (safety lines, pumps, rudder) are very solid.
I can't imagine putting a child or dog in the center cockpit except under the most serene conditions (like a swimming pool?) It is a nice big space for camping equipment though.
I do not like the seat backs that came standard and have replaced them. I also wish that the seat were flat rather than having "butt definition" as it interferes with body rotation (at least for me). It also creates an unnecessary incumbrance when trying to er...use a pee device (for women). Clearly this seat was designed by a man or a woman with a very large bladder.
The steering pedals are a bit mushy for my taste. I've jerry-rigged footrests at the front/bottom of the pedals so that I can use my feet effectively for more powerful paddling.
I didn't find the initial stability to be as tippy as others suggest. But this boat is definitely more of a secondary stability boat.
I think it's a beautiful boat. The fit and finish and thought to detail is outstanding--VCP through and through. It really stands out in a tandem crowd and gets lots of positive comments until the paddler used to the stability of most North American doubles gets in it and capsizes due to the lower initial stability.
It's solidly built but heavy to carry--mine weighs about 105 pounds with the built-in pumps--a price I'm willing to pay for it's toughness. It has a solid wood rudder blade which is very durable (unfortunately, I've tested this many times...) and milled very nicely with great detail (touch is up with varnish after hitting rocks as this rudder does not "pop-up" and it's very long to keep it in the water in the rough stuff). Most rudder systems seem so dainty. I think this is the most solidly built rudder system I've seen. This rudder system seems like that it can take a bit of a beating with huge stainless steel through bolts and heavy nylon castings. When stowed, the rudder is partially nestled into the deck making for low windage--another of many VCP details. The rudder system on my boat has the butterfly steering system allowing you to brace and steer simultaneously and I have had few complaints with it after many miles. It weathercocks without rudder deployed, especially if it's not loaded so it is fairly rudder dependent--but this is an expedition boat and the hull is designed to be heavily loaded. On ocean trips I take along a complete spare rudder system. It rolls fine if you can coordinate with your partner.
I've heard a lot of complaints about VCP backbands from this vintage boat, but I don't have any.
The front and rear oval VCP hatches are 17" x 9.5", they are easy to load and unload and remain DRY. The rudder controls are solid and allow for bracing while steering, the seats are minimalist (probably the only weak point on the boat). We've seen this boat rolled, which we can't do yet, but it is easy to self-rescue in. This is a heavy boat (hey, it's a tandem), the only things we would do differently are to order it in the kevlar layup and to not order the built-in pumps (I want a foot pump in the front cockpit, not a hand pump).