Now that I had more confidence in it's downwind / going with waves handling, I took it out in 2m waves and had a blast. It surfed very very well.
I had a lot of faith in the designers at Valley and knew some of my doubts would come to pass and boy was I right. What a difference moving the seat back 1" made.
The skeg is a bit vague and really less effective than the one I had on my Aquanaut Club RM. Running with the wind/ waves even with the skeg fully down does not stop weathercocking completely. I'm not sure if this is due to the swede form design or me being at the low end of the recommended weight (I'm 175-180lbs). In short I have to do a lot more edging and sweeps in certain conditions.
As for speed, it's slower than the 'Naut but not by much. It also feels more porky. I've also surfed some small waves and it was ok. As this boat handles completely different than the 'Naut, I'm still taking my time to figure out it's handling characteristics before venturing out on some real nasty stuff.
Overall still happy with my purchase.
As a previous Aquanaut RM owner I found the Etain familiar but different. The triple layer poly was rock solid and can take major abuse. The low point is that at close to 60lbs there is a bit more heft to carry from car to launch point. The new Valley seat is a huge improvement over the old and I cannot find any fault in terms of comfort. The new back band is better but I still replaced it with an Immersion Research lounge back band with the pro straps installed ( I can't say enough good things about this set-up!). The original thigh pad placements were uncomfortable. I moved them forwards, drilled some new holes and rebolted them in place. Easy fix. The rubber hatches work well and are easy to put on and off. I fitted some bungy cords with plastic snap clips to secure the hatches to the deck rigging. I also bolted the day pod/4th hatch to the hull and used rubber washers to keep it watertight. I did this because I saw a video on Vimeo that showed the pod blowing off in surf as well, the pod easily moves out of place when you remove the hatch. Another easy fix.
I have only taken it out once for a 10km paddle in calm conditions as it is still cold on Lake Ontario in March. The primary and secondary stability were just awesome compared to my previous two 18ft kayaks....I can't wait to go out in white caps! I also find the Etain is more responsive to turn than the Aquanaut. As some pebbles jammed the skeg in the up position I can't comment on it. The good news is that even though the wind picked up the tracking was still very good. I still think the rope & cleat system was more robust and reliable than the slider system as I never had a skeg jam with it. I did not bring my GPS but I was probably doing 6-7 km/hr (I still need to build up my endurance after my winter break from kayaking).
All in all a very nice kayak that should complement my requirement for a kayak that is good for day tripping, multi-day camping and handling rough conditions. I also wanted something that could take the abuse of hitting rocks and being dragged out of the water. So far this boat is a home run! I gave it a 9 because I still needed to do a few modifications to make it perfect.
To call this kayak crap is an under-statement.
I bought the kayak as it was on-sale for $1,000 less than the msrp. There are very few reviews and at best they are mildly positive. I watched and Aussi video and the guy said "This is the kayak other kayaks run from"... that's because they don't want to be associated with it. The company's website has all this propaganda about being of Swedish manufacture but that is a lie....it's from China!
No matter what the price I cannot recommend this boat. I knew I had been fooled after two short outings.
However, when I went into my local kayak and canoe retailer (The Complete Paddler in Toronto), they had the Valley Aquanaut Club on sale for $1,059 Cdn plus tax. The Tempest was $1,700 plus tax. Except for the Tempest's day hatch and a much more comfortable seat, there did not seem to be much of a difference. So I went for the cheaper option. For $1,500 WITH TAX, I had a new sea kayak, a touring spray skirt, a paddle leash and a carbon touring paddle! Talk about a great deal!
As the snow and ice have just recently melted, I've only had two opportunities to take it out on Lake Ontario, without being having to be hard-core. First off, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the seat is still quite comfortable after a couple hours. It took me a bit of time to find the right setting for the back-band. The kayak was also very stable for a 22" width and at no time did it feel tippy.
I was also very surprised how well it tracked with the skeg up. Even with cross winds and waves, I prefered to have the skeg up. Coming from a surf rudder kayaker this is quite a compliment. Speaking about the skeg, I'm surprised how far down it goes...almost 90 degrees. On my second time out, I brought my GPS and averaged 7.5 km/hr....without much effort...so quite good speed.
I also want to mention that triple layer poly construction of the hull is super strong...with almost no flex.
Now the no so bad.
The skeg rope block has a pointed end placed at the front-right side of the cockpit. My neoprene glove caught on this while doing a stroke and ripped apart my glove. I had to drill and fasten the block farther back down the side when I got back home. That solved that problem.
The other issue I had was that the deck rigging bungee cords were not very tight and the pattern was awkward. Another easy fix...I just undid the knot, stretched the cord and re-patterned it to my liking...using the existing hardware in place.
Once it warms up more and my skills come back to me I will try some more challenging conditions. I also plan to do some island camping in Georgian Bay, this should give me an opportunity to rate storage and full-load handling.
In the end it's two thumbs up...given the modest investment.
First thing I notice is that the cockpit is a bit harder to get into than on the 15. Once in though, there's plenty of leg room. Also the new Phaze3 seats are a huge improvement over the old ones and you can stay on the water for many hours without having leg cramps or ass aches.
On the water, I initially found it a bit more tippy but got used to this very quickly once I realised that there was plenty of secondary stability. Tracking is not as good as the 15 with the rudder up, I think the 17 has more rocker, but on a positive note it's real easy to turn. With the rudder down, cross winds and surfing is a breaze. I thind though that the rudder system on the 17 is more sensitive to slight adjustments from the pedles than on the 15. Something else to get used to!
I took it out a few times on Lake Ontario around Toronto in what are rough conditions for the region: 60 kph winds and 1-2m waves. It is a much drier ride and almost no water gets into the cockpit or hatches.
On average I can manage 6-7 kph without having to strain myself, so it's quicker than the 15.
One last thing, I'm happy that WS offered the kayak in orange because now I am a lot more visible to traffic (unlike my grey-white 15 that blended in with choppy waves).
The only thing that could be improved upon is if they used a rubber hatch system like that on the Tempest 170.
Quite frankly all the hype about this kayak is true: it's super fast, quite light, great hatches that don't leak and although narrow, it's quite stable. I also like the fact that it comes in Blaze Orange, which can be an important safety factor when traveling in congested waters. The Phaze3 seat is really good too, save for the lack of a cup holder. Basically you can go and go and go and never get tired!
I really wanted to like this kayak but the one thing that put me off over time was not having my surf rudder to control trim. I must admit that the skeg works fine. I guess I'm just not big on turning by bracing & paddle strokes. Yes, I can do it but it's annoying in cross winds and choppy water, I much prefer to drop the rudder and concentrate on other things. For much the same reasons I moved to a Cape Horn from a Manteo. A good analogy for this kayak is "it's like a great TV with no remote". You'll leave other kayaks in your wake but you won't do circles around them either.
For me this makes it one point away from 'absolutely perfect' so I give it a 9 out of 10. So, no sale either! I think I'll try out the Cape Horn 17' (longer and slimmer than mine too but with a surf rudder to boot).