Thursday, December 06, 2012

Rockpool Taran 16 review.

Yesterday was sunny but a chilly north wind was blowing in the Firth of Clyde. The snow capped mountains of Arran stood out in the cold clear air.

 We trolleyed our kayaks down to the low water mark at Seafield in Ayr Bay. We were bound for the distant Heads of Ayr where we hoped to find some bumpy water kicked up by a north going tide over the basalt dykes that radiate out from the headland and by the tide against wind conditions.

 What a day to try an interesting new kayak: the Rockpool Taran 16!

 We wasted no time in launching into the sheltered waters of Ayr Bay.

 We had hardly got through the shore break before we realised that...

 ...there was going to be plenty wind not to...

 ...mention swell. Phil would climb each crest then...

 ...slowly dip...

 ...out of sight before...

 ...reappearing as the next wave lifted him out of the trough.

 The sails drove us on a fast broad reach all the way to the Heads where...

 ...we crashed through the white water which was breaking over the ledges. The Taran really flew as soon as the bow was pointed down wind.

We took a breather in the shelter of Bracken Bay before continuing for some more fun off the next headland.
 We were exhausted by the time we got back to Ayr just in time, as the wind started to drop then...

...veered easterly as we were packing up. The Taran had the legs on Phil in the Quest on this last leg.

Another fine winter day!

So what of the Rockpool Taran 16? It is perhaps unfair to judge a kayak when conditions are windy and rough during a first paddle but I am going to anyway, it was an absolute hoot! The acceleration when paddling downwind is perhaps the most defining experience of my first day with the Taran 16. I have now edited this review to take account of later paddling in F0 to F3 conditions.

The Taran 16 like the Taran was designed by John Willacy of Rockpool. This is John coming back from a trip round Ailsa Craig. The day before he had crossed from Portpatrick in SW Scotland and back! John has proved the seaworthiness and speed of the Taran by circumnavigating Britain in only 72 days paddling against some very adverse winds!

The Taran 16 had a faultless finish and looked particularly smart in all white with a black seam. On the beach its appearance is deceptive. It is much shorter than it looks. It carries its volume well forward and aft, giving a long waterline for its short 5.08m overall length (The waterline length with a paddler on board is greater than a Quest!) It has a surprising amount of keel rocker especially aft of the cockpit. It looks narrow and at 51.5cm, it is narrow. In comparison a kayak like the Nordkapp LV (which is often thought to be narrow) is a beamy 53cm. Despite its shortness, it packs in a total volume of 369 litres, which is 4 litres more than a Quest and 43 litres more than a Nordkapp LV.

                       Bow                                                                             Stern
The next surprise is the bottom of the hull: under the cockpit (and stretching well forward and aft) the hull is completely flat. Care will need to be taken on rocky landings but this promises fantastic planing performance downwind in waves.

The GRP seat is comfortable and mounted as low as possible. The narrow back band gives the ideal amount of support. The thigh braces are an ideal compromise between control and comfort. They are much less aggressive than those fitted to the first Tarans and are the best I have found in any GRP kayak. The overall seating position is very comfortable, you will be able to cover huge distances in comfort in the Taran 16.  The only downside for me was the cockpit length, which was not easy to enter with my bad knees. It is only 5cm shorter (and a bit narrower) than a Cetus MV cockpit but those 5cm are critical if you have knee problems! Four of us who paddled the Taran 16 are all about 60y. Unfortunately three out of the four found the cockpit just a little tight to allow easy access. The youngest paddler in her thirties had no problems getting in our out. This is a pity and for two of us would be a deal breaker. Older paddlers also like to go fast!

Mike Webb of Rockpool has told me that they are "currently changing the way we attach the cockpit rims. Ours join with a flange turning down which leaves an edge that hits shins when getting legs in and out. You mention that this happens to you as well. Would removing that vertical flange and making the joint flush make enough difference ?" 

Looking at the edge of the flange that projects down and back from the inside of the deck I think removing this would give about 2.5cm more length to the cockpit, which would make a real difference. If you are thinking of buying a Taran but have stiff hips and knees it would be worth asking the dealer and Mike about this new development.

A small SmartTrack rudder hangs off the stern and like its larger sibling there is no skeg. A strong carrying handle is situated just forward of the rudder. There are the usual neat Rockpool flush mounted deck fittings to retain the deck lines and elastics. There is a security/tow line point just behind the cockpit. The cockpit rim is low profile so some heavier neoprene spray decks might not fit. The footrests and rudder pedals are linked together, adjust easily and the rudder cables adjust in tension automatically. The rudder worked faultlessly throughout the test and it was very easy to adjust the footrests/pedals while afloat. A narrow oval Kayaksport rear hatch cover gives access to a huge rear compartment. It swallowed a kayak trolley frame and wheels. There is no rear day day hatch. Several friends have commented about the lack of a day hatch. Well I certainly didn't miss one in the conditions of the day!  Later while loading all the gear required for a week's camping expedition, I discovered just how practical and easy to load the rear compartment is. There is no day hatch bulkhead or skeg box, so the free space is unrestricted and very easy to load with big or small dry bags. The forward mini hatch has a good amount of space without being too long. With a 29" inside leg I can get my toes in front of it when I need a stretch.

There is a small round forward hatch cover which is surprisingly good at loading long items (like a sail and two piece mast) as the forward compartment is so deep. There is no compass recess, the foredeck is steeply pointed for water shedding. There is a standard rope toggle at the bow.

Which paddle?

I paddled the Taran 16 with Lendal Kinetik Wing paddles, which suited it very well. Both myself and another tester felt our Werner Cyprus paddles did not suit the kayak so well, especially when cruising at a high speed, due to their higher stroke rate. I did not try my Greenland paddles with the Taran 16 as their stroke rate at the Taran 16's speed would have been even higher than the Werners'. However, in the summer I experimented with 3 carbon fibre paddles in a full sized Taran. I tried Lendal Kinetik Wing, Werner Cyprus and Superior Kayaks GP. On flat water the Kinetik Wing gave the highest sustainable sprint speed, 7% more than the Cyprus and 22% more than the GP. The differences were greater when the Taran started planing downwind in waves. It's horses for courses, I much prefer paddling an Anas Acuta with a GP than with a wing!

On the water.
The Taran 16 has a surprising amount of primary stability, it is more stable at rest than a Nordkapp LV but less stable than an Alaw Bach, Cetus MV or Delphin. It also has a very surprising amount of secondary stability, which builds progressively as the kayak is edged (unlike the Nordkapp LV). Unloaded and at rest, it has more secondary stability than the Nordkapp LV but considerably less than a Cetus or Delphin. I was less likely to take my DSLR out paddling in the Taran in marginal conditions than in the Cetus MV or Delphin. However in F2-3 conditions I was happy to take the camera out of its waterproof bag. When edged it is surprisingly manoeuvrable for such a fast kayak. It turns in a similar circle to the Alaw Bach and Nordkapp LV, more tightly than a Quest but less tightly than a Cetus MV.

It was initially used in wind against tide conditions in short steep waves in shallow water with clapotis off a headland. It inspired confidence but you do get thrown about much more in these conditions than in kayaks like the Nordkapp LV or Cetus MV, which both have low volume ends. The acceleration down wind is just about the fastest I have experienced in any kayak. The small rudder gives perfect directional control down wind when travelling fast (even with a sail). The Taran 16 was consistently about 20% faster downwind than the Quest (which itself is a good downwind kayak). Upwind in short steep waves the Taran 16's flat bottom tended to slam killing speed and then the Quest was just a little faster. In these conditions the Taran is a dry kayak, much dryer than the Quest, which tends to dip its bow. My friend Jim has a full size Taran and in similar conditions he nearly capsized as the bow and stern were supported by two waves and the cockpit was above the trough.

His paddle caught air and over he went. An expert high brace avoided a capsize. I too experienced this on one occasion with the Taran 16. Between two waves the trough fell away and there was no water for my paddle to pull against. I have paddled this coast many times in these conditions and have not experienced this with kayaks like the Alaw Bach, Quest, Nordkapp LV or Cetus MV, which have much lower volume ends.

Crossing the bay away from the headland, there were larger smoother swells, which had built up during the the previous night's F7-F8 wind.  Paddling upwind In these conditions, the Taran steadily pulled ahead of the Quest. Don't expect to use the rudder upwind in winds of F4 and above, in these winds it is a downwind tool. Dropping the rudder upwind will cause the Taran 16 to lee cock. With the rudder up, the kayak will gently weather cock in fresh winds. This is easily controlled by a combination of edging, paddle strokes and using the waves.

On later paddles in light winds and smooth seas we discovered that the rudder is highly effective and...

...the Taran 16 can be put into surprisingly tight turns. It almost makes me want to have a rudder on my other kayaks!

Swapping backwards and forwards with the Cetus MV (my current favourite "all round" kayak) was very illuminating. First of all the large Cetus cockpit makes getting in and out far easier. Du to bad joints, I found it awkward getting in and out of the Taran 16 cockpit especially when trying to avoid damaging the flat hull on a rocky shore. The Taran 16 cockpit is about the same length as a Quest cockpit and Phil, one of our Quest paddlers, noticed no problems. Once in the comfortable cockpit and underway, the Taran felt very different to the Cetus MV. The Cetus MV is a fast kayak but it felt very sluggish in comparison with the Taran 16. The Taran accelerates to its top speed in about 1/3 less paddle strokes. It also has a higher sprint speed. Back to back on flat water, I found that with the Kinetik Wings I was sprinting at 12.0km/hr in the Taran 16 and 10.4km/hr in the Cetus MV. The following photos in very calm conditions show what an efficient hull shape the Taran has as it generates very little wake.

Photo by Philip Toman. Taran 16, at this point the GPS recorded that the Taran 16 was gently cruising at 10.4km/hr. 

Photo by Philip Toman.  Taran 16 at 9.5km/hr.

Photo by Philip Toman. Taran 16, speed 10.5km/hr. Note the bow waves moving back along the hull but how level the kayak remains and how little disturbance the wake leaves.

Photo by Philip Toman. Taran 16 wake at 10.2km/hr.

In comparison, Alaw Bach wake at 5.8km/hr!

Taran 16, speed 11.2km/hr.

When sprinting on flat water, it was very noticeable,  that the Taran 16 did not squat on its stern as much as the other kayaks, especially the Alaw Bach. As a result the Taran 16 has a very clean wake, which contributes to its paddling efficiency.

Although on the second outing we were paddling in benign conditions, at one point wake from a coaster came in from the side and it was interesting to compare the Taran 16's response to these sudden waves with that of the Quest and Cetus MV. I was paddling the Cetus MV at the time and it just bobbed gently up and down. The Quest cut through the waves hardly noticing their presence (though it took water from the bow up to the cockpit cover). In comparison, the Taran threw its bow high in the air and noticeably rocked  as the waves moved diagonally back along the hull. I suspect that both the volume distribution of the Taran (more volume carried into the ends) and the flat bottom  give it a less comfortable ride in short steep waves than a conventional British style sea kayak. However, these features also contribute to its great speed and, as mentioned above, its larger sibling has proven itself on a UK circumnavigation in the windiest summer for a century!

The Taran 16's suitability as an all round tourer.
Further testing took place on 11th, 18th and 21st December 2012. Up until now we had looked at the Taran 16's performance from the point of view of travelling as fast as possible, with and without as sail. For this part of the test, we wanted to assess the Taran's practicality and suitability as a general day touring kayak. Two of us set off at dawn (one in the Taran 16 and one in a Cetus MV) and paddled south until the sun was at is peak in the sky. Then we switched kayaks and turned back arriving at our launch spot at nightfall. During the day we had winds from F3 to flat calm. Phil set off in the Taran first. He has been paddling for 4 years and instantly felt at home in the Taran. He particularly liked the seat and the relationship between the thigh braces and the pedals. He thought he could paddle it all day but I was not letting him do that, I wanted a turn! Phil particularly liked the acceleration, high speed and manoeuvrability of the Taran. He was very surprised how effective the rudder was in these lighter winds. At the end of his half day with the Taran 16, his only negative comment was that he would have liked a slightly higher back rest. On the return leg I shared all of Phil's findings but, perhaps because I am not as tall as Phil, I found the back rest was perfect.

 Although Phil and I set off together at a gentle cruising pace...

 ...he consistently pulled ahead...

...and needed to stop at each headland to let me catch up.

The Cetus MV (I was paddling) is fast in terms of most touring kayaks but I was really having to work to keep Phil in sight. When the breeze picked up and we started kayak sailing the difference in speed became even greater. Phil stopped paddling and used the sail alone but even paddle sailing I could hardly keep up. As we discussed the Taran 16's cruising potential over lunch, we both came to the same conclusion. The Taran 16 is an ideal tourer. As Phil said it's faster than his Quest, more manoeuvrable than his Quest and more ergonomic than his Quest. It also has just as much space (more when you consider it has no skeg box). While the Taran 16 is not as stable as the Cetus MV, it is very similar to the Quest and does not require an advanced ability to  paddle it securely. Being able to cruise more quickly has many benefits. It allows less expenditure of energy if you are so inclined, or perhaps less fit when you are older.  It allows you to cover greater distances. It's speed also provides a safety margin as it allows you to get home more quickly if conditions change, for example on a long open crossing. As it began to get dark on our return we upped the pace and I was glad it was my turn in the Taran 16.

We have not yet paddled the Taran 16 on a camping expedition. However, I have loaded it with all the gear that I normally take on a week's camp. This barely fits in my Nordkapp LV and needs to be loaded in a very specific way to maximise use of space. Despite the Taran's small hatch openings, the whole load went in (in no particular order) with room to spare. Not only is the Taran 16 fast on the water, on expedition it will be fast getting to the water!

Under sail.
Several of my kayak sailing friends have been sceptical about whether a narrow kayak like the Taran is suitable for a sail. However, I have wanted to try the Taran with a sail for a long time and I was not to be put off. A Force 4 to Force 5 day (as measured by a hand held anemometer) sounded an ideal introduction! I can now tell you that the Taran 16 sails very, very well indeed. We rounded the Heads of Ayr both with and without the sail on our first gnarly outing. I preferred the feel of the Taran 16 with the sail in these difficult conditions, it steadied the kayak. Like other recent Rockpool kayaks, the deck is quite lightly built so Geoff of Kari-Tek positioned the mast foot just forward of the fore hatch. Due to the moulding of the deck in this area, this is the strongest part.

Downwind with a sail, the Taran 16 set off like a scalded cat. It was so much fun and the rudder provided just the right amount of directional control. My GPS showed several peaks of over 20km/hr. Although I have kayak sailed the Delphin faster than this,  that was in more favourable conditions. As it was, the Taran 16 was overtaking the waves in front. Its buoyant bow resisted perling and white water was shed by its peaked deck.

Some sea kayak sailors are using Greenland paddles when kayak sailing. However, though I have both wood and carbon fibre GP paddles, I find wing paddles suit stronger wind sailing better. Sailing downwind in a fast narrow kayak like the Taran 16 in strong winds, you will want to reduce the force of the wind on the sail as much as possible. To do this you want to travel as fast as you can to reduce the apparent wind on the kayak. A Greenland paddle is not capable of doing this as it is just not possible to get the the stroke rate high enough at planing speeds approaching 20km/hr (unless you are like the Duracell Bunny). There are many photos on the internet of kayak sailors with GPs giving up actively paddling and resorting to long trailing low braces in fresher winds. Doing this, the kayak slows, the apparent wind builds up and puts the paddler at risk of capsize. My experience of stronger wind kayak sailing is to be active and paddle very strongly  downwind. For this wing paddles are the best tool. My experience of sailing extends back to 1959 and of windsurfing to 1977. It doesn't matter whether you are in a 38 foot yacht, an 18 foot cat, a mono-hull with an asymmetric rig, a Laser dinghy or a windsurfer, if you want to survive downwind in stronger winds, you need to travel fast and in the Taran 16, you can and will!

Upwind in F4-F5 conditions, I sailed the Taran 16 with the rudder up. In rough water it was a bit more of a handful than the Quest and went about the same speed but in flatter water it pointed higher and paddle sailed faster than the Quest. Having used the Taran 16 with the mast foot in this position near the fore hatch I found it sailed very well in lighter winds. However, for use in winds of F4 and above I would prefer it mounted further forward. When close hauled, my paddle was hitting the clew of the sail and I also think the kayak would sail better balanced upwind with the mast foot further forward, ideally about 200cm in front of the back rest, which is about 45cm in front of the centre of the fore hatch. This would require some stiffening under the deck or, as several people have developed for the Taran, an external saddle, which is now also available from Rockpool. With regard to sailing the Taran I would say that it is perhaps not for the newcomer to kayak sailing but for anyone who is keen on kayak sailing, the Taran 16 will reward you with the ride of your life! It really is exceptional.

What the others think.
The Taran 16 has now also been paddled by four other members of our little group.

One paddler preferred his Alaw Bach and Cetus MV.

One Quest paddler (who has been paddling since he started in SOF kayaks in the late 1950's) loved it, especially for its speed and rudder.

The other Quest paddler, who is the fastest in our group, simply drooled over it.

Jennifer, who is in her early thirties, liked everything about the Taran 16, apart from one little reservation about its looks when she first saw it. Despite that, she tested it and now she would swap her Alaw Bach for a Taran 16... like a shot!

Overall my first impression of the Taran 16 is incredibly favourable. It is a pocket rocket! First of all, if you have a storage problem its great: it fitted in my mother's small garage and an Alaw Bach does not! Its downwind speed in wild conditions (both with and without a sail) is simply awesome. It is more of a handful upwind in F4-F5 conditions with short steep waves than a kayak like the Nordkapp LV but with skill, will still be faster in most sea states. Obviously it will have appeal to fitness and competitive paddlers but I think its appeal is much broader than that. I think it is ideally suited to any intermediate to advanced paddler whose priority is going fast (with or without a sail) and is careful of his or her gear.  However, as we have also discovered, this is no simple straight line speed machine. It's manoeuvrability, comfort and general usability gives it a much broader appeal as a fast tourer. A little care of its flat bottom landing on rocky beaches will be rewarded by a fast, lively experience on the water. I think anyone in the market for a composite touring kayak should test paddle a Taran 16, with an open mind. Don't view it as a simple speed machine, don't think that a touring kayak has to vaguely resemble a traditional Greenland kayak to be any good... just go out and paddle it. You will find that it does not just go fast, it is also manoeuvrable and comfortable and no more difficult to paddle than any other kayak. Whatever else it is, the Taran 16 is also an ideal touring kayak. I can't wait to take it out again, preferably on a very long downwind shuttle run!

I am 5'8" in height and weigh 14 stone. The other paddlers vary from 5'9" to 6'1" and 10 stone to 15 stone. I have paddled about 1,500 to 2,000km/year since 2002 the others have paddled from 4 years to 54 years! The Taran 16 was loaned by Geoff  and Ann Turner at Kari-tek and is part of their large demo fleet.

Rockpool Taran 16: length: 5.08m, width: 51.5cm, back of seat to inside front of cockpit; 68cm, height inside front of cockpit: 29.5cm, weight (standard construction, no keel strips, inc. hatch covers): 24.9kg (all measured), volume: 369l (manufacturer figure), price: £2,445. Demo Rockpool Taran 16 kayak supplied by Kari-Tek.

Review first published 6/12/2012 and last updated 7/1/2013.