An amazingly versatile kayak, popular with paddlers who appreciate it smaller dimensions but also the weapon of choice for those who enjoy tidal races and surf were its predictability and size are also benefits.
Ideally suited to small paddlers, the Avocet is compact without compromising performance. Also a playful and fun day boat for the average sized paddler, it was developed from the popular Pintail but improved to provide better tracking and more forgiveness yet retaining it’s original lively handling.
I love the Avocet. I've only been kayaking about 5 years. I've owned the Avocet for 3 and it may be the last kayak I buy. It's a joy to paddle and only weights about 47 lbs so as a woman and small paddler, it's perfect for me. I'm 71 so weight matters to me. I not only keep up with everyone, I actually lead even with much younger kayakers.
It tracks so well and is so responsive. Best thing I ever bought.
As far as fit and finish goes, the Valley hatches are unmatched in the industry and provide a great water-tight place for storage. The Avocet has a handy day hatch that's easy to access while on the water. The hatch covers are a little tough to get on, but that's the price you pay for dry storage. The deck lines and bungies are good, and the skeg control is conveniently located at the front left side of the cockpit. At 5'7" and 165 lbs., the cockpit fits me like a glove. At first I thought things were a little tight, but that's because I had paddled some barges before getting the Avocet. The thigh braces fit me well, and I can really feel the boat when I edge into turns. The seat and back band are minimal, but I feel comfortable and my back is supported, so I don't miss the more elaborate seat.
I've had my boat for four years now, and I still get compliments from people who like both the design and the granite color of my Avocet. Apparently, the granite color is quite rare. I've seen several other rotomolded Avocets and they aren't as nice looking as my boat.
The only negative to report is the set screw on the skeg control knob. While paddling off the Isle au Haut in Maine, my skeg cable got kinked when I got caught up on some seaweed while trying to land. Back home I tried to replace the cable and found that the set screw was frozen inside the plastic knob. Apparently, the material used for the screw reacts chemically with the threaded portion of the control knob, making it virtually impossible to remove. With much difficulty, I ended up cutting off the knob. The Kayak Centre of Rhode Island had both the cable and control knob in stock, so I bought a couple of them. The cable replacement went easily, though I did have to borrow a special cable cutter from the local hardware store in order to cut the cable without shredding the strands of wire. The skeg works good as new, and I haven't had any problems. I only deploy the skeg in windy conditions, as the Avocet does weather cock a bit.
Initial and secondary stability are amazing, tracks very well, but will weathercock. I have found the sweet spot on the skeg which helps with the weathercocking without additional drag. Hatches are actually watertight, and for me, can be packed out for a few days. I look forward to many years of paddling enjoyment with my Avocet.
I chose her on the recommendation of a kayak guide I respect, and on the fact that the internet is filled with reviews where instructors say that this is the boat they use when they want their moves to look crisp and impressive.
My only complaint (hence, the 9 rating) is about the skeg. The cable kinked early on because the design (no way to sugarcoat this) stinks. A repair has been difficult to effect mainly because the screw which secures the cable in the knob has fused to its socket (apparently a galvanic reaction due to a bad matching of metals). Otherwise, she is solidly constructed and has survived me dropping her from the car roof to pavement (more than once; yes, I apologized).
She is a joy to paddle, and I cannot imagine another boat could have been better at getting me "out there." And, now, with a lot more experience, she's still consistently fun.
The build quality is excellent with no defects and despite a fair few nasty scrapes, bangs and drops it has held up well with people asking if its new still. The hatches are as watertight as the day I bought it. It does come in quite heavy and seems to weigh more than most other plastic kayaks I carry.
The Avocet turns brilliantly on edge and is perfectly stable at all points. It is reliably predictable without any surprises once you have been paddling it for a while and rolls up very easily when you do something silly. It is really maneuverable in rock gardens and caves able to pull off tight moves and quick turns that are needed in surging water around the rocks. It comes in to its own in rough water and its nice to be the one going faster in the group when it is the other way around on flat water! The Avocet isn't badly effected by the wind and the skeg isn't needed as much as on other kayaks I've paddled, the slider button could do with being smaller as it sticks out and I've bashed my fingers off it a lot.
The only let down for me would have to be the standard seating arrangement and thigh braces. The seat is uncomfortable and doesn't promote a good posture and the back band is pretty much useless. Valley really should have sorted this out a long time ago as its the most common valid complaint about their kayaks.
I have recently complimented the Avocet with a faster composite kayak for long distance paddling and crossings which isn't the Avocets strongest point however I have kept it as my day to day paddling and playing boat and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting a fun kayak that you can have total confidence in. I may replace my RM Avocet at some time in the future though, but only if I see a composite Avocet for sale at a decent price!
When I first paddled the Avocet I was surprised at the lack of speed difference between it and Nordkap HS. There is a distinct difference though and I could feel how effortless the glide in the Nordkapp was at a pace where Avocet hit the wall.
I was very pleased with the stability profile which I found to be more similar to my Nordkapp than to a boat in Avocet's class--NDK Romany. The Romany has a distinctly stronger primary which beginners relish. I found that Romany fought my attempts to put the boat on edge. Avocet is more stable on the edge than Nordkapp HS. However rockered the Nordkapp may be, 2' difference in length makes a huge difference in tracking and maneuverability. Avocet turns on a dime!
I absolutely loved the boat in surf! In the Nordkapp, I slide off the face of the wave broach and the ride is over. In the Avocet I can steer! Makes for much longer and controlled rides. At 16' it's not a surfing boat but at least I have a shot at some control in it.
The cockpit fits me well. I miss the ocean cockpit of the Nordkapp but not the getting in and out of it part :) Thigh braces are not as fool-proof but I have not gotten to installing the extra padding--have not found the need for it yet. In the Nordkapp I did that promptly after a 4-5' breaking wave sucked me right out of the OCEAN cockpit! I added about an inch on the sides in the upper thigh area for better contact with the boat. In the case of the Avocet, I am at the top of the fit bell curve and the fit is tight enough. Can't complain about the back band--it's small and could be much improved but for my paddling style it more than meets the requirements.
The boat is Pro Kevlar but weighs about as much as my light layup fiberglass Nordkapp. I don't quite understand how this is possible but a clue may be in the 1/2-inch thick layer of gel coat on the foredecks. I can see the thickness where the foot pump outlet exits on the top deck. It's thick! Could probably take a full tsunami!
In summary, a perfect day boat and play boat. Distinctly slower but much more maneuverable than Nordkapp HS. Fast enough for casual paddling. No shortcomings--I gave it a 9 because no kayak should get a 10. They are all compromises of one kind or another.
Not as fast as the Aquanaut lv or Capella 160, but not far off. Little less rocker than the Chatham 16, but a drier ride and almost as maneuverable. Tracking really isn't bad at all in lower winds, and with some skeg it does quite well. I'm not sure if they've replaced the wire skeg with a rope design, but despite the worry of running it aground my wire version operates very well.
The older hatches require a little muscle to fully fit on, but haven't let a drop of water in after numerous tests. Plastic is as good as any other boat I've paddled.
My backband isn't great, and it's worn out, but a small cushion makes it perfectly acceptable, and even good for lounging in the shallows.
Foot pegs are a the type you can pull back towards you with only your feet, and using both feet I don't need to use my hands to push them back either.
Overall a great boat. A compromise as any other boat, but a great compromise for me.
The Avocet keyhole cockpit requires some refinement, not in quality of finish, but in function of backband and thigh braces. The stock thigh pads are adjustable, yet more than one paddler I know has removed them completely on Valley boats, finding them useless. I find them to be flat and provide no “hook”, so minicelling may be desired (I have done this already on my larger Nordkapp RM). The backband is too far back on the seat pan, requiring one to lean back to contact seat pan and back band, but adding a wedge of foam or a pad over the backband helps comfort. Peter Orton, director of VCP, has stated that a modification to the backband is upcoming for Valley boats which might rectify the issue. I am 5 foot 8.5 inches and 161 lbs, and find the cockpit size on this 16 foot boat to be ideal with adequate foot and thigh movement/space, yet a firm feel for being in contact with the boat when upside down. The Avocet benefits also from adding a small amount of minicell on the hip pad area, and one could consider removing the seat pad and replacing it with customized minicell; I plan to do this for the ultimate fit. The skeg control is front right of the cockpit, and perhaps this is an issue with all skegged craft, but with Valley boats, it is fairly easy to strike the skeg control during a paddle stroke and pull it back (i.e. drop the skeg) unintentionally. This is more frequent in choppy water due to the errant nature of paddle control. A skeg control that, in my opinion, was even 3 inches further back than this one would likely not be as affected by the paddle stroke and yet be in a practical position. The skeg itself, plastic, works well, and seems to stay in place for partial deployment, allowing precise trim control. The Avocet features Yakima brand footpegs, which are slightly too small in size, but easy to slide (sometimes too easy, and should be locked in place my adding a cotter pin or cutting down the loosening level to prevent unintentional kick adjustments).
I should add a comment about speed in particular as there is likely a kayaker out there considering an Avocet for its size and fit, but wondering if they can keep up with the Jones’s in their paddling group. In short, yes, it is reasonably fast. It is not a high performance speed shark, like the 21 inch beamed Prijon Barracuda (see my review of that boat), which is likely the fastest plastic boat available, but the Cuda’s rockerless design is merciless on choppy water where it can be very unstable. The 21 inch beamed Valley Nordkapp is less speedy than the Cuda, but is plenty forgiving in chop and even on flatwater feels stable to this paddler. It’s size is medium, as it was based primarily on the Nordkapp LV, and thus you would want to compare this boat for fit before choosing an Avocet; it might better suit your needs if speed is the concern. The Avocet is not slow, but adding rocker does have it’s disadvantages in water speed. The Avocet is roughly 10% slower than the Nordkapp, which is 10% slower than the Prijon Barracuda, in my opinion.
All in all, I find the Avocet RM’s superior plastic, 22 inch beam, exceptional stability, and playful nature that can be tamed with the skeg (necessary in extreme wind or for making dedicated forward progress in highly textured water) to be a winning combination for it’s intended purpose. It is a sublime vessel for day tripping, playing in soup, and rolling. It would not be my first choice for long crossings, keeping up with a fast paddling group, or expedition paddles—the Nordkapp RM is superior for those purposes. I will add a review of the Nordkapp RM when I have spent more time in that boat, but if I could own only one Valley kayak, it would be the Nordkapp, which possesses the ultimate blend of rocker, narrow beam and waterline for tracking; it is fast. But, if shear fun is the name of the game, and a paddler is smaller sized, the Avocet RM is king. Coupled with the extended bracing and maneuvers available with a Greenland paddle, the Avocet RM becomes a ballroom dancer on the water. Valley Canoe Products is a top notch company and provides support for their line of legendary sea kayaks. They make only higher end sea kayaks (no recreational models) and seem to always push the limits of improving hull and boat design and function. Like a fine European auto maker, VCP is always vying for the next tweak to even better establish their name as the penultimate brand in sea kayaking. Take a Valley Avocet out for a spin. I think you’ll appreciate its playful nature—like a Labrador pup, always yanking at the leash to get you to romp with it. Email if you have further specific questions.
A very smooth handling kayak without the vague handling of the Skerray RM, tracks well with only a slight tendancy to weathercock, Feels a bit slow compared to my Foster/Rowe boats, but is the best plastic sea kayak I've used.