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Unfortunately, reader and potential buyer beware, even when a review is about Nordkapp HS, there are several different kayaks with this name in existence. I have no experience with the current "Nordkapp Classic" with 'HS' designation; however, based on some earlier reviews in this section, I strongly suspect that even the "Nordkapp Classic HS" handles quite differently from the original Nordkapp HS.
I have paddled my 1987 Nordkapp HS for the past 2 seasons. The way to recognize this older model and to differentiate it from the new "Classic HS" look for:
- round rather than oval stern hatch,
- absence of a day hatch,
- non-recessed cockpit coaming in the back,
- molded gelcoat rather than screw-in plastic recessed deck anchoring points,
- skeg control box in front of the cockpit rather than behind it, and
- skinny triangular plastic skeg. My HS has a thick long rectangular fiberglass skeg.
- the older HS also had a hand chimp pump behind the cockpit.
From what I understand, the hull shape of my 1987 Nordkapp HS is the same as the original Nordkapp but it has a skeg which the original lacked. I have seen HS applied to the original Nordkapp multiple places so, if you are looking to get one on-line, make sure it has a skeg at all. Look here (http://www.ukseakayakguidebook.co.uk/nordkapp/art_nordkapp.htm) for an excellent coverage of the confusing Nordkapp family tree.
I hope this will clear some of the confusion about the model. That being said, I had a chance to compare my HS to a 2000 American model with Jubilee on the deck and H2O on the manufacturer sticker. From what I understand, the original Jubilee had a round front hatch and '2O' in H2O stands for two oval hatches. Story goes that American distributors applied Jubilee stickers to boats that should have been designated as H2O. In other words, the comparison boat is most likely H2O.
These two Nordkapps are very different boats. It is not easy to see the difference when they are on the ground or in the water. However, once hoisted on top of the car, the differences in hull are quite apparent. The newer boat has longer waterline, less overhang on both the bow and the stern, and considerably more volume toward the ends of the boat. The bow on the new boat does not rise up quite as much as on the old Nordy. Front deck in front of the cockpit is a bit higher and aft deck is lower on the H2O. H2O has less rocker—especially at the stern.
What is very hard if not impossible to see, is that the hull shape under the cockpit is also different—H2O is a bit wider and has a more pronounced chine, while HS is skinnier and rounder.
Not surprisingly, HS and H2O paddle and quite differently. Stability wise, HS is has substantially lower primary and virtually no secondary. Taking pictures in the HS in anything but flat water is tenuous. HS is very easy to put on edge; however, there does not seem to be any point at which the boat starts to resist the capsizing momentum and locks in that edge—it will just keep on going and capsize if you let it. I agree with previous posters who claim that HS has no surprises in rough water. Surprises from the boat come when you expect that the boat will keep you up and it fails. With HS you are always in charge of staying upright—the boat will not keep you up. Some may consider this as a negative; however, consider this—when broached sideways on when current hits from the beam, there is no chine to grab onto and trip you over. Stability profile of the HS is neither good nor bad—it’s just unique. Some people will like it some wont; some conditions will reward it while others will punish.
At nearly 18' Nordkapp is considered a fast boat. Unfortunately, with all the overhang and extremely low volume at the ends the effective waterline of HS is noticeably is shorter than H2O. HS has more rocker which further reduces its cruising speed. It gets worse, in waves, paddling side-by-side HS tends to bury the bow when going down wave much quicker and more frequently than H2O which translates into further loss of cruising speed. In calm conditions, I can cruise at 4 knots all day in my HS, maintain racing speed of 5 knots for a marathon distance, and push the boat to a maximum speed of about 7 knots for a couple of seconds.
I have not noticed much difference in tracking and turning performance of these two boats. Nordkapps in general are quite bad in beam winds and require skeg. I would not recommend the original Nordy without the skeg for paddling in any wind. Manufacturers quickly noticed the problem and produced HM with a molded skeg. HM is a beast that requires a lot of edge and effort to be turned and sacrifices all the benefits of Nordkapp’s rocker for maneuverability. I much prefer the original hull design with an optional skeg. You would think that HS would be easier to turn and more vulnerable to windcocking than H2O and it may well be that way. The reason for this difference between HS and H2O being small is, perhaps, in the fact that H2O is more comfortable on the edge and, due to its higher volume around the cockpit, may lift the ends out of the water more effectively when on edge.
Ocean cockpit is a thing of the past, in my opinion. I am 6’ and under 180lbs and I used to have to wiggle quite a bit to get in. I added the recess to the back of the cockpit and lowered it by about an inch (see photo blog: http://picasaweb.google.com/Karovaldas/NordkappHSUpgradesJulyAugust2009#). Still, if I wear any boots, I need to wiggle to enter. Keyhole cockpits are much easier to enter and exit and, with modern materials for spray decks, they are just as watertight and reliable as the smaller and much less comfortable ocean cockpits. Ocean cockpit is a potential hazard when you need to get out of the boat fast. Capsizing is the only option. Re-entry repertoire is limited to re-enter-and-roll in all but the calmest conditions (unless you have a paddle float to stabilize yourself during a scramble). Efficient forward paddling is limited by the inability to bend the knees. Some people worry about getting stuck in the small cockpit after capsize. Fear not! Staying in is a much bigger problem :) I've been sucked clean out of the boat by waves as small as 4'.
It gets worse, the original HS cockpit is only 15" wide. For me this means that my edging ability is limited by the side of the cockpit hitting my ribcage on extreme edge. C2C and hand-rolling is similarly hampered by this lack of space around the hips. As far as rolling goes, the back of the cockpit is also too high for layback rolls. Even after I lowered it by 1", I still need to lift my butt of the seat for laybacks but I can now perform a hand roll. With narrowness limiting your ability to do C2C and high aft coaming interfering with laybacks, forward-finishing roll is your best option in this boat.
My HS did not have a day hatch or a third bulkhead behind the seat. It’s very convenient to have one for items you may need to access while on the water. Beyond comfort there’s a safety issue—since there is no bulkhead immediately behind the seat, in case of capsize the boat will take on an additional 5 gallons of water! Not helping is the fact that there is at least a foot of empty space between my footpegs (33" inseam) and the front bulkhead — that's another good 3 gallons of water and wasted gear storage space.
In place of the third hatch, Valley has installed an optional hand pump. Mine worked just fine even 20 years after the boat was manufactured. Unfortunately, its placement behind the seat made it quite useless in rough water. Balancing while pumping with my right hand behind my back is quite precarious in this tippy boat. It may be possible in the ocean where one has time between the waves; however, short wave periods of the Great Lakes' storms prevent it.
Skeg control box on my HS is behind the cockpit. Same issue as with the hand pump—in rough water, where you are more likely to need the skeg, balancing the boat becomes very interesting; especially if the skeg gets stuck. I have capsized once while trying to adjust the skeg and promptly moved the controls from the back to the front of the cockpit. The old-fashioned skeg is very nice, works well and does not vibrate at high speeds the way the skinny modern plastic skegs do; however, there is a price—the skeg box in the rear hatch is enormous and takes up quite a bit of storage space. Getting to the space behind the skeg box is difficult.
So there you have it, my honest assessment of the Nordkapp HS. It was my first real sea kayak and it was an excellent teacher. Before I knew better, I was an ardent advocate for this craft. My skills went up faster than they would have in a more stable boat, I am sure of that. The old HS is a great tripping boat with sufficient bracing recovery and balancing skills. It also gains substantial stability when fully loaded. You will need to pack everything in small dry bags to fit through the round 7.5" hatches but I don't really see that a drawback. HS is great training platform for rough water and behaves very well in it. It will teach you balance and self-reliance. It will amply reward skills and, when it does not, you will only have yourself to blame. It is considerably less stable than most other boats in this class as well as its younger Nordkapp brothers. HS is also slower and less convenient than the modern models. On the positive side, you can snatch one for under $1,000 on the used market which is hard to find for any other fiberglass kayak model. For that price, it’s a good deal as long as you realize what you are getting and are willing and able to put up with the requirements that this boat imposes. It's not the boat I would choose if finances were not an issue.
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.