by Sarah Hartman
The Valley website describes the RM as an expedition capable kayak and compares it to the Aquanaut. It was designed to be more contemporary in style and paddling feel than the other boats in their line up; being neutral to slightly Swede form with the widest point of the boat behind the cockpit. They additionally describe it as having a V in the cross-section for stability and moderate rocker for tracking yet providing a lively ride. The website further promotes the removable deck pod as being an advantageous feature.
Specs: (from Valley website)
Length: 17' 7"
Weight: 51 lb. (w/out hatch covers)
Volume: Not given
Load Range: 160-300 lb. with 180-280 lb. ideal range
On calm days, the boat had no problems keeping up with the mix of other boats in the group. On windy days, I slowed down but attribute that to my personal capability for paddling into headwinds – not to the characteristics of the boat.
It didn't feel as heavy as some plastic boats that I've tried but was heavy enough that I did not feel able to balance it adequately for a solo carry. Guys would probably be able to carry this boat without a problem.
The deck height and hull configuration yields wasted space as compared to what I consider to be the gold standard of packability – the Explorer. I carried no more personal gear than I normally do for a week out, but found it difficult to pack the boat efficiently. If I had been on a self supported trip, I would have been pressed to fit stove, fuel, and food without leaving some of my creature comforts, such as a camp chair, at home.
In the back hatch, the skeg section was just small enough (and the skeg box large enough) that miscellaneous items would not wedge completely under the tent poles and camp chair like in other boats that I've paddled. The camp skillet was a tight squeeze getting into the rear oval hatch although the back hatch is supposed to be standard size. The space behind the seat would have been adequate for carrying a small dromedary of water or fuel bottles. The space between the front bulkhead and foot pegs is designed such that "stuff" that is placed in that space does not stay in place as with other boats that I've traveled with. I do not know if this is due to hull shape or foot peg design. The front hatch provided a second oval for easy access and seemed adequate enough although 5 liter dry bags were not able to be stored upright resulting in wasted space.
I would describe the boat as average. I was able to edge it adequately for turns and rock gardening. Rolling was easy. The boat responded reasonably well to directional paddle strokes. It didn't seem to want to surf though. In its defense, I do a slow, dog paddle style take off when surfing and rely on the wave to catch the boat. If I had been doing the correct, short powerful take off strokes that allow the boat to catch the wave, the Etain may have responded better to surf.
The seat was comfortable but held excessive water. The other Etain paddler in the group felt the seat did not have the proper slope for correct paddling posture. I found that the back band was angled away from my back and did not provide support.
The removable deck pod was small but seemed adequately sized for the items it was designed to carry: keys, snack, small first aid. I found the pod annoying as it did not stay secured under the bungees and the security string (to keep the pod from being swept away in waves) interfered with placement of the items I like to keep on my deck such as charts and water bottle.
The day hatch leaked. The hatch cover did not seal properly even on our flat water days and the day hatch would take on an inch of water over the course of the day. On our 1' day, the day hatch would have an inch plus of water at every stop and on our 3' day, it took on 3"+ of water between stops. The other Etain user in our group had a similar experience. The gossip in the group was that Valley intentionally changed the day hatch cover design to save on costs.
Both Etains experienced a failure of the right side railing that supports the foot peg. The screws came loose and allowed the entire railing to detach from the boat. These were brand new boats and we were not in tough conditions where excessive force was being applied to the pegs. If it happened to one boat I could chalk it up to being a problem with that particular boat. Having happened to both boats, I suspect Valley has a quality issue.
The boat felt neither snug nor loose. The foot peg adjustments were simple to work. The cockpit area is somewhat narrow and I found that a small adjustment in bringing the pegs closer to the seat would put my knees up against the hull. The Valley website mentions a re-design of the thigh grips to make them more ergonomic. I did notice the thigh grips fit well.
This boat would be fine for trips of less than one week in duration on flat water. It would also be fine for recreational paddling or to have as a river (rock gardening) boat.