“At 37.5lbs (17kg) the first thing you’ll notice about the ST is how light and easy it is to handle. Whether carrying the kayak on your shoulder or loading it on your car, it takes the chore out of getting to the water. On the water it handles like a longer kayak; moderately rockered, good stability, long waterline and a fine bow ensure the ST tracks well and gives it a touring speed better than many longer kayaks.” – Valley Sea Kayaks
Material: Composite (Dolien)
Class: Light touring/transitional
Deck Height: 12.75”
Weight: 37.5 lbs (stripped)
Optimal Load Range: 100-190 lbs
At long last, the 2013 sea kayaking season has arrived and I finally had the opportunity to demo the Valley Gemini ST at the Kayak Centre of Rhode Island’s annual demo weekend! Here’s what I thought…
The Gemini ST (Sports Tourer) represents the touring-adapted version of Valley’s new line of transitional touring kayaks: the Gemini Twins. Its dimensions and lines remind me a lot of the Impex Mystic which is one of the nicest of the smaller touring kayaks that I have ever paddled! I had the chance to demo the Gemini ST for about 20 minutes in moderate ocean conditions (waves 2-3ft, winds 15+mph) and I was very impressed with how it handled. It tracked well even without the use of the skeg, maneuvered nicely thanks to its mild-moderate rocker, and responded well on edge with excellent secondary stability! The Gemini ST comes loaded with a ton of great features including a fully outfitted deck with deck pod, cable operated drop skeg, and top-of-the-line cockpit outfitting. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Gemini ST is a great choice for the small to mid-sized paddler who is interested in day tripping or quick overnights!
The thing about the Gemini ST that surprised me most was how well it handled in the rough demo conditions! I had expected the tracking to be at least decent and found it to me excellent for a 15’ kayak! Holding course through the tight wave sets required surprisingly few corrective strokes while aided by only ¼ skeg. I was especially surprised by the exceptional maneuverability of the Gemini ST given its superb tracking. Maneuverability is the hallmark of its twin sister (the Gemini SP, an ocean-play adapted version) yet I had no trouble turning the Gemini ST around between wave crests or navigating amongst a small rock pile in the demo area! I also had the chance to surf the Gemini ST back into the beach on some 2-3ft sets. It accelerated nicely to get up on the wave face and set in without broaching. Furthermore, the Gemini ST was a fairly dry ride considering that I was launching through the surf and wasn’t wearing a spray skirt. The Werner Paddles rep was quick to complement my paddling skills when I got back to the beach but I must say that the Gemini ST helped to make the conditions look easier than they were!
One of the factors that had me the most excited about this kayak was its weight; Valley lists the composite Gemini ST at only 38-40lbs (minus the seat, hatches, and deck fittings). This seemed particularly impressive given that the Gemini ST is nearly 15feet long and that Valley is notorious for using a heavy layup on their composite kayaks for strength and durability. The actual weight of the Gemini ST was probably the thing that I was most disappointed about after getting the chance to carry it down to the water. There’s no doubt that the fully outfitted Gemini ST weighs in closer to the 45-48lb range which is much more than the +2-3lbs that they claim for the outfitting. This makes the Gemini ST comparable to kayaks such as the Current Design Vision 150 (48lbs with rudder) in terms of weight and thus takes away from the lightweight allure that captured my attention. I will say that Valley stayed true to form with a solid and thick layup. This probably explains where most of the “extra” weight is hiding and at least we can be confident that it was spent on quality construction!
Cockpit fit was definitely the thing that I was most concerned about after my initial assessment of the Gemini ST this winter. I’m not especially flexible (I have never been able to touch my toes) and I’ve found many of the Valley boats to be excruciatingly uncomfortable to sit in on extended paddles due to their characteristically low decks. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case for the Gemini ST what-so-ever! The cockpit was generously sized with a keyhole that was large enough for me to quickly slip in between sets. The thigh braces and foredeck are slightly raised to provide for a “diamond” position that remained comfortable over the course of the 20+ minute demo. I was so excited to get on the water that I forgot to adjust the foot pedals. There was no way that I was going to be able to make the adjustment on the water given my inflexibility and the swell. It hardly mattered as I locked my heels together and put my trust in the thigh braces to lock me in. I wasn’t disappointed as I was able to edge and control the Gemini ST as if it were an extension of me! This is a testament to both the excellent cockpit outfitting and the supreme secondary stability of the Gemini especially considering that I had left my spray skirt in the car!
The Gemini ST features a cable-operated drop skeg. This style of skeg is prone to jamming as the cable can become kinked if the skeg is forced back into its box. They can be difficult to operate as the cable tends to bend a little bit and cause friction at the skeg control slide. Valley attempted to address the later of these issues by installing a metal rod that extends from the control slide thus eliminating the region of the cable that is most prone to bending. I found that the skeg on this new demo operated smoothly. The conditions dictated that I paddle with the skeg retracted for most of the demo as I favored the responsiveness of the Gemini over tracking. However, it tracked fairly well despite the heavy conditions and I’d venture to say that one wouldn’t need to use much skeg unless faced with a heavy cross or quartering wind.
The deck pod was another interesting feature; it’s large enough to fit a few essentials. Within easy reach of the cockpit, and the entire unit can be removed from shallow well molded into the foredeck. The deck pod is a nice idea in concept but I would have much rather seen a traditional day hatch on the Gemini ST. I noticed that the Gemini SP has a day hatch and I feel that it could benefit more from the deck pod when you consider the conditions that one would be paddling in. Maybe we’ll see a realignment of these features in the future!
In summary, the Gemini ST is an exciting transitional touring kayak and would be a great choice for the smaller paddler who is interested in near-coastal day trips or a quick overnight. The Gemini ST displayed an incredible balance of tracking and maneuverability despite the challenging demo conditions. The one real put off was how much heavier the Gemini ST was than it was advertised although this extra weight probably translates to increased durability due to a thicker layup. I was thoroughly impressed with the cockpit fit and general outfitting although I’d rather see a day-hatch than a deck pod on this particular model. Little qualms aside, there’s really no way to get past the fact that I had my mind blow by how well the Gemini ST handled on the water! To be frank, I was more than a little tempted to take home the Gemini ST from the showroom and it didn’t help that it had the most magnificent, emerald green deck that I’ve ever seen on a kayak!
Pros: Excellent cockpit fit. Great balance of stability and handling.
Cons: Much heavier than advertised. No day hatch. Expensive
Demo Notes: The Valley Gemini ST was demoed in moderate ocean conditions. Winds were 15+mph. Seas were 2-3ft with whitecaps and breaking surf.