Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Rockpool Taran - Put to the test

Chris James in the Rockpool Taran, off the Hornby Light.
OK, we've heard all about the record ocean times that John Willacy in the UK has been managing on the new Rockpool Taran, we know that when you paddle 8 hours on the open ocean you're gonna get some confused & rough water & varying winds which will invariably slow you down etc, so we've been gagging to get our hands on our demo Taran to see just what this thing can do.
Rob & Chris James took the Taran out last week in some steep & confused water, trying to take it outside the comfort zone for which it was designed. Chris is a very skilful kayaker, who regularly paddles a variety of designs, including his Aquanaut, the Rapier 20, as well as K1's & Ocean Racing Skis. He's no mug, and he is a great guy to put in a boat like this & get an honest appraisal. Chris put his GPS on the foredeck, while Rob rode shotgun in his Aquanaut as a safety boat in case it was a bit demanding in the real rough stuff, & they headed out the heads & south along the cliffs towards Bondi. There was a steep 2m sea running on top of a long-period southerly swell, and 20 knots thereabouts blowing out of the south.
Rob reported busting a lung trying to keep up as Chris darted in & out of the rebound, racing down the oncoming head seas, & turning occasionally to smirk & yell out '9kmh into the wind!'.
They ploughed their way down to Bondi then turned for the real test of any boat designed to be paddled in the ocean, the downwind, down-sea run.
Chris running down the back of an oncoming wave.
I have become a convert to the ski-rudder & it's positioning a good metre forward of the stern. It hardly ever swings free of the sea surface & gives a hugely reassuring ride down sea especially in steep water, in comparison to the traditional flip-up, stern mounted sea kayak rudder. The Taran has a Smart Track 270 degree rudder, the same as our latest Tahe boats, and I figured that once things got steep it would wave free & make the stern skid, producing a broach, in these sorts of edgy conditions. Just before Bondi Chris turned tail & paddled hard back with the conditions, taking advantage of the strong stability curves offered by the Taran's hull shape. The boys shot back into the heads in no time, with Chris whooping & hollering as he tracked straight & true down the face of the waves, clocking up ball tearing speeds on his GPS. I won't post them here because it will sound even more hyperbolic than usual, suffice to say the Taran has some very serious wheels. There is a quite revolutionary feature on the hull which keeps the boat planing & tracking hard in the following stuff, regardless of what the rudder is doing, and the little secrets of the design slowly reveal themselves as you push it harder.
The foredeck is narrow, with the widest part of the boat only 51cm just aft of the cockpit, so you can drive high & hard in your forward stroke. The seat ergonomics favour good posture & a dynamic power stroke. The stability is palpable, this is no Rapier. While it's not as fast as the Rapier, it isn't hugely slower & you can certainly be more aggressive in rougher water, which is always going to give you a speed advantage over someone who's battling to stay upright.
This morning was my turn to give it a go, after Mercer got another turn of course. I took out my Epic V10S so I wouldn't have to suck in the big ones to keep up & we went out from La Perouse to have another go in a southerly driven sea. As usual I saw a lot of Rob's head bobbing around in the foreground as he raced along in the following seas, while I hung in there on the ski in some tricky multidirectional stuff. When I got brave & aggressive on the bigger waves I got to a higher running speed than the Taran, but Rob was able to go harder at the stuff I wasn't game to push onto, and he smoked me like a Kawai….

The video above shows Rob riding some of the steep following waves I mentioned earlier, & thought the Taran incapable of riding with it's stern mounted rudder. Take a look & see if you can see any sign of a broach. I sure can't. In the first run sequence, watch how Rob jumps over two or three runners, flying along.
When it came to my turn I was immediately taken by the aggressive seating & thigh braces. Very typically Rockpool. Our mate Max Walker says you can tell how fast a boat is going to be by feeling how strong the surge is when you have the paddle shaft vertical in your stroke. He likens it to getting all your weight 'over' the paddle & driving hard through the stroke. On Max's principle, the dynamism of the Taran is obvious. There is a lot of hooey written about how fast boats are. A guy in a shop in WA last month looked me in the eye & said a skeg boat he sold with hull like a North Shore Atlantic could cruise at 15kmh! I'm loathe to start talking numbers but can definitely make the claim that with the exception of the Rapier, this is the fastest true sea kayak we have seen by some margin. 
On the downside, while it's not as rudder dependent as some touring boats, it's definitely more fun when you can just go for it with the rudder trailing, like I do with my ski. You would be paddling defensively in challenging water without the rudder, but an intermediate paddler would get home without too many problems. It will turn well on edge & has a big bouncy secondary stability line, but it's no Aquanaut or Zegul 520, & nor is it designed to be.
I consider it to be a supreme long distance tourer if the object is to turn your long crossing into a not-so-long crossing. Stand by for a more detailed review in coming weeks, after we've done some mileage with an expedition load. The Taran is also a great fitness sea kayak that actually gives you a terminal hull speed that rewards effort, instead of walling up at 9kmh or less.
The demo boat is here for anyone game, there is one left in stock & three on order from the demo paddles we've done in the past week. Make sure you're up for some speed…...


  1. Geez Mark, you'll sell a heap on that video alone :-) Looks awesome. Of course, I'm not biased.....


  2. Looks good and scoots along; now to get a downwind match race with an 18X.

  3. Both excellent boats mate, it would be an interesting comparison. We have one of each in the warehouse so we will find out!

  4. I had the opportunity to test paddle the Taran in yesterday afternoon's Nor'easter out of Patonga. This boat smokes! However, it is uncannily stable when just sitting still, but rolls easier than my Avocet. Some may say it is pig dog ugly, but I couldn't give a toss; performance (in every facet) is what this boat is about. It sure delivers.

  5. I love my Menai, and for sure I like the shape of the Taran. But this purple, It's not the first Rockpool of this particular color (very diplomatic...) I see, someone should love it.

  6. Does your reference in this article refer to a Rapier 18 or a Rapier 20? I find my Rapier 18 is fairly stable though not as fast as the Rapier 20 in the flats.

    How would this boat do against the Rapier 18? I suspect they would be pretty close!

    Scott in Connecticut

  7. I'm referring to the Rapier 20. The Taran's strength is its rough water speed, and the volume in the bow makes it a far superior sea boat than the Rapier 20. I suspect on open water, especially big following seas, it would smoke the Rapier 18.....


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