A couple of odd things happened yesterday. I had a lesson with a student I have worked with before who is prepping for a paddle trip on the Yukon. We were working on skills, but this time he also wanted to paddle my Delta and a Delta 15 that I had access too, he still needs a boat. At the same time a friend offered up his brand new Valley Etain (plastic) for a test paddle. I thought I would take the opportunity to give you feedback on it. I paddled it for about an hour and half. I used it during the lesson, and for a few minutes afterward.
My first impression is that it is a beautiful boat, with a gracefully upturned bow - it should ride over waves, instead of punch through them. Soft chines, and very smooth lines. I couldn't find a sharp edge anywhere. It is rotomolded plastic, but looks to be multiple layers with an inner layer and an outer layer. A beautiful and simple finish. The boat I was paddling was outfitted with a skeg, a stern hatch, a rear day hatch (both bulkheaded) and smaller day hatch in front of the cockpit (as seen in the picture above) and a bow hatch. It also has a recessed compass point.
The handles on front and back are secured with bungies that have a lot of spring. If you use them to lift the boat, which you shouldn't, they will quickly wear and break. Sliding into the cockpit it has a very nice seat with a low profile seat back. just enough support in the seat back, but it stays well out of the way. For this paddler, 5'7" and 170, the rear deck height is a bit too tall for me to do a layback roll - the owner is a much bigger person than I am. The cockpit was incredibly comfortable, with all those smooth edges. the thigh braces were placed well, but were hard plastic with no padding. By the end of my hour my right knee was already sore.
The hatch covers are rubber, and pop over a lip, or coaming and do so easily enough - which concerns me that they leak, or will with wear when they are even looser - though the do have a very solid and secure feel. They are a much nicer cover in both design and use than the similar Wilderness systems covers, but not as nice as on my Delta Seventeen.
Paddling this boat was a joy. It wasn't the fastest seventeen foot (17.7 in fact) boat I have paddled but even with the skeg up it tracks better than most. The soft, rounded chines make it roll onto edge very easily, but those round chines make it a little harder to hold there. On edge it turns readily enough, if just a little bit slow.
The water was still a bit cold, and I chose to paddle without my drysuit, so I didn't roll the Etain, but I am sure it rolls easily with those rounded chines. It had slightly lower initial stability compared to my Delta but I got used to it very quickly. I had no problem spending the hour in it for the lesson I was doing, and didn't feel hampered in the normal movements that I would do in my familiar boat with this now unfamiliar boat around me.
We had a fairly heavy wind on the small lake we were paddling, which made for great teaching opportunities, and the boat performed well. Just once I put the skeg down during a particularly bad cross wind that was causing a weathercock, but it was no more than I would have to do in any other boat.
Speaking of the skeg, it is a solid feeling mechanism that both deployed and retracted with ease. I generally don't like skegs for the single reason that I do long trips and need every cubic inch of space in my stern hatch. I don't like giving up space to the skeg box, this one, thankfully is very small, with the cable pretty much completely out of the way.
All in all, this is a great boat. Fun to paddle, and I am sure awesome on short trips. It doesn't offer enough dry storage for my long distance needs, but still an awesome paddling kayak. If I were looking for a second, 'just for fun' kayak this would be a good option.