Updated: Jun 27
My Kayak of choice is the Taran 18 from Rockpool. When going in a multi week kayaking expedition, there will be a lot of things that need to be carried which even though they may be used infrequently will need to be accessible when needed.
Conditions will also at times be challenging; there will be headwinds, swells, breakers, confused seas, temperature extremes, and vast distances that must be covered to reach the intended destination at a reasonable times. For this reason, the expedition kayak should have a lot of gear space, but not be slow like a barge. It should be a stable fast kayak that tracks well in rough seas, but also maneuverable. It should be light weight, but also sturdy and resistant to take a beating from the waves, hard landings and the occasional rough treatment.
These can be tough requirements to adequately full concurrently within a single boat, but I believe that the Taran does a very reasonable job.
At 18 feet long, the Taran is close to the longest sea kayak you will find for a one-person boat. The most prominent feature of this kayak is the fat elevated bow design, which reminds me of a sperm whale; at first I thought it was rather ugly, but the shape’s uniqueness and its benefits have grown on me. It is like meeting your girlfriend while working in an oil rig, she isn't pretty, but after a month with her everyday you start to like her for her personality.
At 20.5 inches wide, it is quite narrow for an 18-foot-long kayak, however, I have not found it to be tippy, and it is possible to edge quite far to either side without the need for a corrective brace.
The hull is a blend; the bow is V-shaped, but in the middle section under the cockpit and seat it is flat and chimed. That makes it different from most expedition sea kayaks that have rounded torpedo shaped hulls.
The stern section is also V-shaped but it tapers from the bottom up, like the tail of a velociraptor. This results in a boat that when laid on flat ground will have the stern hull rest slightly higher above the floor than the bow and appears to have more stern rocker than it does. It resembles an elongated tear drop (just like a sperm whale).
The Taran has a lot of room, particularly in the bow section. A paddler can easily fit enough supplies to last two weeks, if water can be obtained along the way. Usually I am never more than three fourths filled with cargo.
The round hatches are, however, quite small, and any dry bag larger than 6 liters will be difficult to squeeze through, particularly in the front hatch which carries the majority of the cargo.
Still, you're once used to this hassle, you'll become quite practiced on being organized with the many small bags, making sure that related items are packed together and color coded. Smaller bags also pack more tightly leaving little wasted space.
The unavoidably large items such as the kayak dolly and tent poles can be packed in the stern compartment which has an oval hatch that fits this purpose.
Speed and Tracking
The elongated tear drop shaped hull of the Taran gives it considerable speed downwind but also some measure of stability when catching ocean swells.
During my journeys, it became apparent that long green waves is where this boat's performance is best, as a few strong paddle strokes will quickly accelerate you into the wave from where it can ride the swell face with enough speed to catch up the wave in front of you. In ideal conditions, this can be done with multiple swells in succession, and the paddle strokes can even be leisurely.
Boat tracking is quite good, and the kayak will go straight like an arrow on calm conditions with minimal need for any edging or corrective strokes. In strong cross winds, however, there is some weather cocking that can be corrected with edging, however, the rudder will also easily correct for this.
Maneuverability and Surfing
As I noted previously, the Taran is made for covering long distances which naturally will come at the expense of some maneuverability and quick turning. However, these limitations are significantly mitigated by combining the edging and bracing strokes with the use of the rudder.
For model comparison purposes in the sea kayak maneuverability spectrum, the most maneuverable kayaks I have ever paddled are the Sterling Reflection and the P&H Aires (both of which are much shorter) which can turn on a dime, but barely move in a straight line without a skeg, while the least maneuverable kayak I have used is be the 17-foot Tide Race Explorer which tracks like an arrow in the roughest sea, but turns like a battleship.
The Taran is about as good as the Tide Race for tracking but has enough maneuverability to be a little more than half as good as the Sterling Reflection while edging with ruddering. It takes about 6 strokes (3 forward, and 3 back) to turn a full 180 from a standing start.
My comparative scenario would be the situation where I am parallel to the shoreline while waiting to catch as surf wave. How many strokes would it take for me to be in position to catch the wave once I see it coming?
With a Sterling Reflection, 1 to 2 forward strokes and a good edge would be enough.
On the Tide Race Explorer, probably 3 forward and 3 back strokes, with vigorous edging (I almost always missed the wave on this boat).
With the Taran, probably 2 forward and 1 to 2 back strokes and a lot of edging. The rudder can make the backstroke ineffective if it is angled it in the wrong direction (push the foot pedal opposite to the backstroke).
When surfing down a steep breaker the rudder will initially be useless, as it will most likely be out of the water. However, once you fall down the face of the wave the rudder will give some measure of fine tuning to keep a straight heading and avoid broaching. In some cases, with sufficient initial speed (and vigorous forward strokes, it may be possible to outrun the foam pile and not broach.
The video below from John Willacy is a good example of what someone with good maneuverability skills can do on a Taran surfing a Tidal Race.
The video below from Surf Kayak Coaching is a very good example of what someone with good kayak surfing skills can do with a Taran.
Anyone with a decently solid roll will find that rolling the Taran is easy.
The boat is narrow, so the turning moment is reduced, and the back deck is low enough that laying back is not difficult.
However, I have found that when the boat is fully loaded with gear, the initiation of the roll becomes is more forceful as the extremely low center of gravity requires effort to roll past the midpoint due to cantilevering.
The recovery phase of the roll, however, will be even easier as the lower center of gravity will be more forgiving to not keeping one’s head down or other poor technique issues. I found that having the paddle flat against the side of the boat will help to reduce drag on the roll. You may find yourself only doing a half roll where you go down and back up on the same side.
This is an area where I found the Taran to be somewhat lacking.
This, however, is not an issue specific to the Taran, but of British boats in general. The British are minimalist masochists when it comes to their personal comfort. More than once I have read blogs of British kayakers on some incredible adventure, and yet they often complain about how they suffered from bottom blisters, bad backs, and hand calluses (gloves exist for a reason).
Well, it hardly should surprise anyone that sitting for 24 hours on a hard-plastic frying pan with a flimsy backband may cause considerable misery.
I ordered my Taran with a performance seat which made me feel I like I was being pocked in the butt with a fishing rod, and I often needed to pamper by swollen moon face with soothing creams.
The issue was primarily a result of a sharp edge the seat has just below the lower back which chews into the skin and even cut a hole in my wet suit. I had to cover the seat edge it in duct tape mitigate the issue more than once or I would have surely butchered my tail bone. The default Taran seat, which is fiberglass rather than carbon fiber, does not have this issue (it was the seat I did my demo ride before deciding to buy the boat).
On the comfort scale, if a Wilderness System Tempest kayak seat is a 10 (which pains me to ask why every kayak isn't like it) and an unglycerined suppository up the third eye is a 1, the regular Taran seat would be about a 6 and the performance seat would be a 3.
Update on this item:
Recently I have upgraded my Taran seat with a foam based seat from Redfish Kayak which is much more comfortable.
This was the first foam seat that Redfish Kayak has made for a Taran 18, so I gave them the specific measurements which required some cumbersome steps, including removing the existing seat to have an accurate measure of the cockpit cross section (they now have the measurements so anyone else who orders one for a Taran 18 should be covered).
The final product was above my expectations. It is a perfect fit, and I can now paddle for 12 hours or more in comfort. I have not noticed any issues or difficulties rolling with this new seat. The only disadvantage of this is that the space behind where the backband used to be now has a foam piece so it is no longer available for storage, but the Taran 18 has more than enough storage to compensate for that.
If you have the electric bilge pump installed behind the seat however, then this type of foam seat will not work unfortunately. The pictures of the old and new seats are shown here.
The Youtube Videos below from Joseph Greenly do a very good job showing how to make the template for a the Redfish Kayak seat and how it is fitted into a kayak.
If you have a Taran 18, you can also give Redfish my seat measurements and they should be able to make a seat for you:
Back of Hip Pad
Front of Hip Pad
When I ordered my Taran I requested a few additional bells and whistles which are worth noting here.
3 PIECE CONSTRUCTIOIN
Rockpool makes a 3-piece version of the Taran (it was an additional $700 when I got it, but I have been told that Rockpool isn't making them anymore, because it is a lot of work, so if you really want a 3 piece Taran, you'll have to reach out to them a ask nicely).
I ordered this feature because I keep the boat in my living room and sticking an 18-foot beast through a door, maneuvering it around furniture, and finding a long enough corridor and not block the door to the bathroom would be very challenging.
Additionally, I find that carrying a kayak on the roof of my vehicle is extremely stressful especially when driving at 60 miles per hour on the highway. My car is a Prius, and the Taran easily sticks out past the front and back, but chopped into 3 sections it just about fits inside.
Lastly, although I have not flown with it, it will be expensive but more doable with 3 oversized luggages, than convincing an airline that what I have with me is a giant surfboard.
One disadvantage of the 3-piece construction is that it adds a lot of weight to the kayak.
I would say that the three piece Taran 18 is at least 70 pounds for the fiberglass layup. I have a plastic Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 which I can carry on my shoulder easily and it weighs 60 pounds, but I it’s a lot of effort with the 3-piece Taran.
The reason the 3-piece is so much heavier is because the bulkheads need to be made of fiberglass, be thicker than the hull itself, and you need 4 of them (one per junction), which means you have two double reinforced bulkheads.
The 3-piece kayak also has a few other unavoidable complications. These the are cables which have connector pieces needed to pull the sections apart, and hinges to hold the sections together.
While I have never had an issue with the sections coming apart in the water, there were two hinges on the stern under my hull that required additional tightening as they seem to have developed some stretch (the issue seems to be with the monkey paw of the hinge which is a somewhat soft metal and started to open up). If you buy a 3-piece Taran, I would recommend asking Rockpool to use heavier duty hinges than the ones they currently employ.
Boat Outfitters have hinges that are a lot better and the monkey paw will fit in the hinges used by Rockpool.
Lastly, one last thing to note when you order a 3 piece kayak; ask Rockpool to NOT glass in the hinge screw nuts inside the hatches.
The reason is because if you ever have to replace a hinge, turning the screws will likely force the glassed nuts to break, and it will be a bitch to tighten them. The reason Rockpool glassed nuts was to make sure there are no leaks in the hatches and they assumed no one would ever need to replace a hinge.
I replaced all 12 of them, and it was much easier seal the screws using rubber O-rings. 4 O-rings per screw (2 on the outside and 2 on the inside) and a metal washer were more than enough. Make sure that any metal parts you use are made of 316 stainless steel or are labeled as marine grade steel.
COLOR SCHEME AND STICKERS
Rockpool has a great selection of color schemes, with almost any color under the sun and custom design from the customer is available. They did a very good job with the stickers of Maori art I traced for my kayak, and they have neither faded nor peeled.
I have both front and rear crash guards on the hull to protect against rocks and scrapes. The Kevlar material that Rockpool uses is very robust, and I only wish I had been more insistent when asking them to apply continuous strip from end to end as it would have prevented some ugly scrapes I have tearfully inflicted under the hull. Rockpool told me it wasn’t necessary because the Taran has a flat hull, but I would have liked to have it and would have paid extra for it.
I asked for my boat to be made with an additional layer of fiberglass along the bow hull and deck for extra rigidity to support the downforce from the sail. To be honest though, I don't know for sure if Rockpool actually did this; there was nothing visible on the kayak to indicate that there was any reinforcement in the area where I indicated the sail would be mounted, and I noticed that after coming back from my journey around Florida, that there were a few very fine fractures around the base of the mount.
This shows that if Rockpool did put any reinforcement, it was not enough. I subsequently had the fractures repaired, and added an additional layer of carbon fiber cloth both above and below the deck to give it extra strength and rigidity. You can see that in the pictures below the Hairline fractures on the base mount and how I repaired them.
I asked that the entire hull in my Taran be made with an additional layer of fiberglass. This of course adds weight to the boat but takes weight off the mind. Given that downwind my boat will reach 9mph fully loaded, I don’t think I am sacrificing much. With that said however, the bottom of the hull under the seat feels rather wobbly compared to other kayaks, and I don't think it adds any value for the additional weight.
With regards to the hull, it is important to know that it is the weakest part of the boat. Most kayaks have a keel like shape, or are rounded , which gives some measure of structural strength. The Taran, however, is completely flat under the seat. While that will help with control in the surf, it does not provide any structural rigidity against hard knocks on submerged rocks.
I would not advise going rock gardening with a Taran, especially hopping over boulders on a wave crest.
If you have to gorilla crawl down the beach, clear the way from any big rocks first, and if possible avoid slide landings.
If you have to land on a boat ramp, get off the boat first, then pull it up the ramp while using the stern in the water as a pivot point so you don't drag the boat. You can then lay it down carefully to unload.
The Taran uses a Smart Track Rudder system which has interchangeable parts with other rudders of the brand. I replaced the original 13-inch rudder with a larger 16.5-inch version intended for tandem kayaks. The reason for this was to have additional control under sail and to minimize some drifting during cross winds. I will admit that I cannot feel any difference from the smaller rudder, though that may be because I did not compare the two options immediately one after the other.
CARBON FIBER COMB
You don't really need this. Spend on it only if you are getting a carbon Kevlar boat.