Thursday, 27 February 2014

Greg Simson - Tassie's First Taran

Tassie paddler & mate Greg Simson sent us his thoughts on over a year of paddling his Rockpool Taran in the rough waters of his home state.
Well. The Taran has been my go-to kayak for a bit over a year now. After a trip to Wales I put in an order for one with Expedition Kayaks as soon as I was back in Australia.
Back in 2012 I visited Anglesea on the way back to Oz from Greenland and as well as visiting the Rockpool factory and yarning with the owner, Mike Webb, I had the good fortune to paddle with, and talk with the Taran’s designer, John Willacy. I got to paddle his Taran in its home waters and hear how the Taran came into being and why it is the design it is. I was sold.

A few months later and a Taran bought in to Australia by Expedition Kayaks was in my hands.  I didn’t want to wait to place a custom order and ordered a standard layup and configuration from their stock at the time. Thanks to Mark and Rob for putting up with endless questions prior to choosing a particular kayak and for the excellent service associated with the purchase. 
So how has it stood up after living with it for a while? I find the Taran comfortable and capable, far more than I am, but I’m getting there. I have used it for fitness paddling, day trips and a few shorter extended trips, even done a few races.  I live in southern Tasmania and have paddled the Taran in conditions varying from calm to 30kn winds and messy seas.  I still enjoy paddling it and as a consequence my other kayaks (5 to choose from) are left hanging in the shed.  They haven’t seen much water time since the Taran arrived. 

The Taran is responsive and forgiving and encourages me to improve my skills. In some ways it makes me look a lot better than I am, it edges well and rolls easily, it is a kayak that will reward you if you want to extend yourself. It has the most comfortable cockpit fit for me of all the kayaks I have tried, it enables a straight leg , high knee stroke for power and easy solid engagement with the thigh braces when required. 

The only minor niggle is that the cockpit doesn’t drain completely when inverted because of an internal lip but I can live with that, it’s only one or two sponges worth.  It responds to the rudder quite differently to other kayaks I have tried. With a bow and stern that are relatively free of the water it seems to rotate around the flat mid section of the hull and so can turn quite quickly rather than carving a long arcing turn like most other sea kayaks I have tried. 

I paddle with a club that has regular fitness paddles and when I put my mind to it, the Taran is always up the front of the pack and when the conditions are downwind I think it is fair to say it leaves the others for dead.  Maybe I should just say that it excels downwind. Just last night I was out in a 17kn  gusting to 30kn tailwind and in front of  all but one fellow paddler who had their sails up.  I have paddled quite a few kayaks and owned a Valley Rapier for a while but for me the Taran is faster and much easier to paddle in the more varied, real world conditions of wind, waves, and swell. The hatches have remained bone dry even in rough conditions and after rolling and rescue practice.
Because I have been enjoying the kayak as it is, I haven’t made any modifications to it yet, there has been no need.  No electric bilge pump , no sail etc. The Taran has established a reputation as a fast expedition craft and whilst I have undertaken a few month-long trips in other boats I am yet to use the Taran on an expedition. 

I have no reason to doubt it will suit me in this role as well,  I just haven’t done many longer trips since the Taran arrived. I will fit it out accordingly when the need arises. I have used it on several multiday trips though and paddled it well loaded. It swallowed my gear effortlessly. It’s performance characteristics didn’t change substantially. Still fast, manoeuvrable and responsive to the rudder. 

On my last trip I managed to hook onto a point break and had the best surf run I have had in my paddling life so far. The kayak was loaded with camping gear, unused firewood, and a full complement of safety gear, but while the rest of the group was paddling back with a 10-15kn wind on the beam I was playing, catching wind waves at right angles to the direction of travel for most of the morning and still keeping up with group progress. As we rounded a point, a pair of open water swells unexpectedly passed through and stood up. The first passed under us and broke ahead, I ramped up the speed and caught the second swell and was rewarded with a long run that pushed me about 500m ahead of the group on the smooth, clean wavefront until it dissipated. No-one else caught the free ride. The Taran had accelerated well and once on the wave I couldn’t get the paddle in fast enough to keep up with the speed of the wave and so just sat the zone, stable, no fuss, no spray, just a lot of speed and a certain amount of elation. Even from that distance I’m sure they could see the grin on my face when I turned around to see where everyone else was.  

I was impressed then and I am still pleasantly surprised whenever I take it out and get a good downwind session.  As with all craft, there are compromises and let’s just say there are other kayaks more suited for photography at sea. I feel more comfortable keeping at least one hand on the paddle when there is a bit of chop about, but that said, it suits its design brief admirably.
I will be keeping the Taran for quite a while yet, it still excites me to get it out and go for a paddle and that is something I do regularly at least twice a week, year round in all conditions. I think I have found the right craft to keep me happy for quite a while yet. 

Greg Simson, February 2014. 

Greg has been paddling the cool & turbulent waters of his home state for many years, and has some big trips to his credit, including a crossing of Eastern Bass Strait, the rugged Tasmanian West Coast, and a Greenland Expedition in 2012. He's a strong, technically sound sea paddler, former Commodore (yes, quite brilliantly that's what they call it down there instead of 'President') of the Tasmanian Sea Canoeing Club & an allround good fella!

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