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 by making sure that related items are packed together and color coded. More 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 I have found that when initially at the wave crest, the rudder will be useless, as it will most likely be out of the water. However, once I fall down the face of the wave the rudder will give me 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.
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, becomes 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 what having the paddle flat against the side of the boat will help getting under the hull. and reducing drag on the roll. You may find yourself only doing a half roll where you go down and back 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 with 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 the cause considerable misery. I ordered my Taran with a performance seat which made me feel I like was the lead actor in an R rated movie (and not in a good way), and I often needed to pamper by swollen moon face with soothing creams. The issue arose from the sharp edge the seat has just below the lower back which chews into your skin like a knife cutting a stake. I had to cover the 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, the best seat I have ever used is a Wilderness System Tempest kayak seat which if I gave it a 10 (why every kayak isn't like it I have no idea) and an unglycerined suppository 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. I found this seat to be much more comfortable. This was the first foam seat that Redfish Kayak has made for a Taran 18, so I had to give 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 hour with 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 below: