I was recently very fortunate to be lent a Valley Gemini SP, by Valley in Nottingham. As you can see from the pictures below it is a lovely looking boat with a blue glitter top and a funky white stripe. The Gemini SP is at the opposite end of the length scale to my normal boat, a Valley Etain 17-7, as it measures just 14 feet 10 inches (or 4.52m in napoleon).
So why, I can hear you ask, am I trying such a short boat? Well, the answer is fairy simple in that I am working on my 5 star or I should say advanced sea kayak leader and I want a boat that is a little quicker to turn than the Etain when performing rescues etc. The Etain has fantastic straight line speed and I have learnt to stick it completely on edge when performing turns quickly, but the idea crossed my mind that a shorter work platform may well make things just a tad easier.
Having now paddled the Gemini SP in lumpy messy swell, in and out of the wind, rock hopped, surfed it, taken it through Penrhyn Mawr, North stack, South Stack and had to perform a "real" rescue, I thought I would share my thoughts.
As you can see from the picture above, the Gemini SP has quite a rocker and being short (14 ft 10 inches) it turns really easily.
Surprisingly, for such a short boat it has really good forward speed. With the group I was paddling with, I kept finding myself at the front of the group and had to constantly slow right down to let them catch up. The central stability initially felt quite loose compared to my normal boat, but as I put the boat on edge to turn, the stability increased, boosting confidence in those tight turns. I put this secondary edge stability down to the rocker, as you edge the boat more, the rocker comes into play, giving you that stability in the turn. I also put the amount of rocker on the Gemini SP down to a certain amount of liveliness in the bow. This was most noticeable downwind with a following swell. Most boats want to cock into the wind and I guess this was what I was experiencing down wind with a following swell. Why at the time I didn't stick the keg down, I really can't recall as I am sure this would have helped matters enormously. Of course, when it came time to head back into the wind, tide and swell, the Gemini SP was exceedingly well behaved. Coming from a 17 foot 7 inch boat with little rocker, I am always going to find the Gemini SP a lot more livelier.
However, it in the surf, where the Gemini SP comes into its own. It turns so well you can carve up those waves all day long or as long as your arms will let you. And when you do catch that edge, the Gemini SP rolls easily.
It was also really nice arriving back at the beach, to be able to pick up the boat, still loaded, on my own and shoulder it up the beach to the car. The Gemini SP is nice and light! All in all, the Gemini SP is a brilliant little kayak, which is great fun to paddle.
However, coming back to the reason for trying the Gemini in the first place, I have to say did have some very minor niggles. This is why it is so important to try boats out before spending your hard earned cash, to find what is right for you.
My first niggle: I found the seat width ever so slightly too small on my hips. It was only at the end of the day I noticed this, so I am literally talking millimetres. The opposite view to this comment is that I have a large backside... fair comment. I could live with this and I am sure with some fettling I could sort this out. However...
Niggle number two: The Gemini SP has, compared to the Etain, a straighter leg position. This does cause me issues with my right knee replacement, although three years on, my knee now is very much improved. However, my knee problem was the biggest reason for selling my Valley Nordkapp Førti a couple of years ago. I simply couldn't walk after paddling the Nordkapp for more than a couple of hours! Consequently I am still very wary of this.
Niggle Number Three: With the cockpit being ever so slightly short width wise (for my fat**** bottom), cockpit length wise is also shorter. I found it very difficult to get my feet out of the cockpit whilst still being sat in the boat. My right knee restriction comes into play here. When coming into a rocky landing or even just to a sandy beach, I like to be able to get both feet out of the cockpit, so I can use them as "landing gear", before hitting land. As your feet are effectively a few inches deep in the water, with your bum higher, it is much easier to stand up from this position. It looks pretty cool too! Or so I have been told.
And my final niggle, number four: The day hatch opening is small. I had to repack my first aid kit to get it to fit though the small opening. So in terms of getting kit in and out of this hatch when on the water with a group whilst leading is not ideal.
So, as much as I enjoyed paddling the Gemini SP, I cannot see it being completely right for me, at the moment. If however, I lived on the coast, say close to a nice surf beach, the Gemini SP would definitely be a boat to buy and I would be grinning from ear to ear.
Many Many thanks to Valley for the loan of the Gemini SP.
In can you are wondering, all opinions are my own. I have no association with Valley in anyway, other than knowing Jason Buxton of Valley Canoe Products. As I live near Nottingham, Valley are my local Sea kayak manufacturer and in my opinion, Valley produce some excellent well designed and well made, classy kayaks!