Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Vintage Valley Nordkapp HS review

There is a lot of confusing information in reviews of this boat on paddling.net! Nordkapp is one legendary name.  That one name covers several quite different models of kayak. When reviews below are talking about Jubilee or H2O it is easy to see that they are not describing Nordkapp HS. Jubilee or H2O are quite different from the original HS!

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 4 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,
- no recessed cockpit coaming in the back,
- molded gelcoat rather than screw-in plastic recessed deck anchoring points,
- skeg control box behind the cockpit rather than
in front of it, and
- hefty long square composite 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 that was used for Cape Horn expedition.  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. Best I can tell, HS stands for 'Hatches + Skeg,' not 'Hull + Standard.'

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. Way to go Valley--keep the nomenclature clear!  From what I understand, the original Jubilee had a round front hatch and '2O' in H2O stands for two oval hatches. The 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 a purebred H2O or the most current version of the full-sized Nordkapp.

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—the difference is especially pronounced 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 (albeit still soft) 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 touchy. 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 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 do that for you. Some may consider this as a negative; however, consider this—when broached sideways or 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.  I would describe it as smooth and gradual tipping profile without any peaks or abrupt changes.  Some people will like it some will not; 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. Unfortunately, it gets worse for racing fans: in waves, paddling side-by-side HS tends to bury the bow when going down a 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 skeg permanently molded into the stern. 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. HM has a cult following of its own.  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’, with a 32" waist, and under 180lbs.  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 practical ocean cockpits. Ocean cockpit is a potential hazard when you need to get out of the boat fast--during landings on dumping beaches, for example. Capsizing is the only option for a quick exit. Re-entry repertoire is limited to re-enter-and-roll in all but the calmest conditions when you have a better than 50% chance of a successful scramble with a paddle used as an outrigger (unless you have a paddle float to stabilize yourself during a scramble).

Efficient forward paddling is limited by the inability to bend the knees but in this regard HS is probably little different from the H2O. 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' and installed substantial additional padding around the hips and thighs to have good contact with the boat.

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. 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 finally perform a hand roll. To be fair, my seat is only about 1" off the bottom.  Adding some to the seat height would provide better clearance for the hips.  As it is, 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.  Ocean cockpit provides excellent contact for the knees and will help with the hip snap.

My HS did not have a day hatch or a 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 or so! 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 at least 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 don't make it easy.  The end of the hand pump came when the straps of my PFD got caught under the handle when I was trying a layback roll.  I was stuck to the back deck.  Off with the hand-pump.

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 in the first place, 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 has good hull speed and is very maneuverable for a boat of it's length.  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 predictably 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 including its younger Nordkapp brothers (Nordkapp LV may be an exception but I have not paddled that boat recently). 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 a good boat, worthy of it's legendary name; however, it's not the boat I would choose if finances were not an issue.


  1. Excellent write-up and as the author of the Nordkapp article you mentioned, I'll link to it if I may.

    Regarding the designations Valley used, HS originally stood for Hatches / Standard (hull)- some early examples of which were produced with no drop-down skeg. HM is for Hatches / Modified (hull), that being the one with the longer, very pronounced keel line. This has been the subject of lots of happy debate round many campfires, but is clarified in the historical catalogs linked from my article.

    Kind regards, Mike.

  2. Link away, Mike. Happy to hear you find it useful even with all the research you have done on this historic craft!

  3. Excellent article!! I am looking at two Nordkapps at the moment: a 1980 HS with no skeg and a 1990 HM. Both have no day hatches, pumps behind the ocean cockpit, (1980 model pump is on left and 1990 pump is on the right) and are in PRISTINE condition. Funny that the '80 model had no tape on the deck/hull seam on the exterior - just painted gelcoat. The owner did have a fg seam put on with a matching full keel strip. However, the 1980 is priced at $1600 and the 1990 at $2200 - though for a composite boat (with "historical value") I still think them a decent deal.

    Now armed with information from both you and Mike I can at least make a better-informed decision as to which boat to go after. (would prefer the 80' model) Have owned a 2004 Jubilee, 2010 Classic, and 2011 Nordkapp LV at this point so feel like I am ready for the "plunge"!! It will be like owning a classic roadster!


  4. Hi, I have an 85 ish Norkkapp in great condition.......can i post a pic here? https://www.flickr.com/photos/rawprints/27148757872/in/dateposted-public/
    It feels like a bit of history.