Rockpool Taran 16 Maiden Voyage and First Impressions

“Racing is life. Everything else is just waiting.”
-Steve McQueen 

In sea kayaking, if you want to go fast and far go in a Rockpool Taran.

In just over a decade since its debut, this game-changing hull design has broken nearly every record in expedition sea kayaking including crossing the Irish sea circumnavigations of Ireland, Britain, and Vancouver

Now I have one.

These are my first impressions after a week of paddling. 

The luckiest kayaker in Ireland 

I had been thinking about moving to a fiberglass boat from my plastic one for a while. They’re faster, lighter, easier to repair, and better for the environment. The problem is, they’re also in high demand as Covid has inspired many new or newly serious sea kayakers to become more committed to the sport, and the American market is finally catching on to high-performance British hull designs. 

Waiting lists for every manufacturer are months-long and growing. 

As I made calls and browsed forums and classified ads, I narrowed my obsession to one boat.

ROCKPOOL KAYAKS – its all in the detail

A short video made by Greg Dennis on the Rockpool Taran, manufactured by Mike Webb and designed by John Willacy. The Taran comes in 16 and feet lengths and c…

The Taran had carried my heroes on long expeditions in record times. She was clearly the best vessel money could buy for the kind of paddling I’m training for (and at roughly the same price as her competitors). 

But there was something unapproachable about her. To me, the Taran represented the total commitment to the most ambitious trips. With that thought came all the imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and that nagging voice of the starting-line heckler who would have me get a normal boat and do normal distances at normal speeds. 

I had practical concerns too: 

Would a Taran be too big for everyday paddling? 

Would I regret buying an expedition boat when 99% of the time I won’t be on an expedition?

The only way to find out was to demo one. 

Thank you, Jon 

I reached out to Jonathan Hynes, who was kind enough to let me try out the Taran 18 he paddled around Ireland in 2017 with Sean Cahill–as seen in this phenomenal documentary of their trip. 

Sea Kayak Around Ireland – 1500km Epic Journey – Full Documentary

Winner of Best Sea Kayaking Film – Reel Paddling Film Festival 2017——————————————————————————————…

Jon and I met in Schull on an unseasonably calm and sunny winter morning. We carried his boat down on the slipway at the sailing school and he said, “work away.” I set out past the end of the harbor and got a feel for the rudder, following a bearing for the little harbor on Long Island. I was there in no time. After practicing some tight turns and edging in the harbor, I paddled around the corner and out into the Irish sea where a pod of dolphins greeted me. 

Charles Daly paddling a Rockpool Taran 18 sea kayak in Schull, Ireland
This photo made it clear that the Taran was a good fit. I had been worried about swimming in the cockpit.

The conditions were too calm to get a sense of how she might handle on a lumpy day, but I could tell by the way she felt in a winter groundswell that this is a sea-going hull. 

Demoing the Taran settled two questions for me. One, she wasn’t too big. Nothing about the boat felt high-volume. Just the opposite. This is a sporty, high-performance hull that happens to have a lot of cargo capacity (more on that in a second).  Even empty, she tracked and turned like a dream.

Paddling a Rockpool Taran sea kayak off Long Island, West Cork
Long Island, the Irish one

The other thing I realized is that I should go with the scaled-down Taran 16 over the 18. The 18 didn’t feel too long or hard to maneuver out on the water, but I really noticed its length when I tried more nimble moves inshore among the rocks.

Sacrificing a little maximum boat speed seemed worth it to get a more playful craft that’s easier to get on and off the water when I have to carry it myself.  

Starman

With my heart set on the iconic Taran as my next boat, I resigned myself to a 14-month waiting list. This would mean doing my upcoming 100k challenge in a slower plastic boat. Fine. But by the time she would have arrived–Spring 2023–I would have just a month or two to get used to a new boat before departing on a much more ambitious trip I have planned for next year. Not ideal. 

One morning in March, after I got off the water from a training session, I got a text from Taran’s Irish rep saying, “You’re the luckiest kayaker in Ireland.” 

A Taran 16 had become available after a customer refused delivery over some minor cosmetic issue. He would be able to get it over on the ferry in a few weeks. 

Taking this boat meant I got someone else’s design: complete with a glittery metallic blue deck and hand-painted orange starfish. I never would have picked this livery, but it’s epic. Way better than the more subdued paint job I had in mind. 

Rockpool Taran 16

First impressions

I’ve had the Taran for a week so far and taken her out every day. The conditions have ranged from flat calm to badly confused chop and winds up to Force 6 with stronger gusts. 

I’ve done a few slow distance paddles of around 20K and a couple of intense interval workouts of Performance Sea Kayaking’s “core boat sessions.”

Since I’m training for a long-distance event, coming up in 10 weeks, I mostly focused on forward paddling and didn’t do much maneuvering beyond just getting a feel for her balance.

Speed

Rockpool claims the average paddler can cruise at 4 knots and achieve 5 with some effort. One ‘round-Ireland paddler claimed 4.5 knots average in all directions, with only moderate decreases into the wind. Based on my GPS, that’s about right. It might not sound like a lot compared with the expedition standard of 3 knots, but it’s significant over the distance you can cover in a long day or a multi-day trip. Over ten hours, that’s 45 miles vs 30. 

Stability 

Coming from the super stable P&H Scorpio, I found boarding the Taran to be a much more tippy experience than I’m used to.

Twitchy, excitable paddlers, might be uncomfortable in those vulnerable moments like reaching for gear on the deck or opening and closing hatches. 

That said, I found the primary stability to be solid once I was underway. I could eat, drink, take photos and… relieve myself out in confused, choppy seas without feeling tippy. Like a high-performance road bike, the Taran is much more stable when in motion. 

Her secondary stability is a pleasant surprise. The point-of-no-return is way farther over than you might think. Just as it feels like you’re about to roll, the volume she carries higher up engages at the waterline and has a stabilizing effect. 

As with everything about the Taran, stability is part of going fast. Speed is useless if you tip over or have to slow down in rough water. To that end, Rockpool drew design inspiration from wild-water racing boats for a hull that’s as stable as it needs to be without sacrificing speed. 

Handling in chop

As the saying goes, “​​A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” This boat comes into her own out in a lumpy sea. I haven’t taken her out in anything too rough yet, but when I did get out in some chop and modest groundswell, I found the hull had an ocean-going feel that inspired confidence.

Rockpool Taran 16 in gusty conditions on Bantry Bay

The stability of any boat comes down to the paddler. In rough water, the Taran’s hull design encourages good technique and a responsive paddling style. 

Tracking 

This is a boat that wants to go straight. Rudder up or down, she tracks well.

Another lingering concern I had about the Taran’s volume was whether the bulbous bow might catch the wind and make her uncontrollable.

In theory, a high bow is bad news in the wind. But in practice, the wind forces on the bow are counteracted by the low, long aft section. Paddling in crosswinds or following seas, the stern locks in and prevents weathercocking. However, this does mean you have to work hard to turn an empty Taran around in a significant headwind.

Rockpool taran 16 sea kayak on Bantry Bay 

Turning

I wouldn’t say this is a “nimble” boat, but she’s maneuverable enough for exploring a rocky coastline. I’ve taken her in and out of coves, through a narrow gap in a headland, and into a cave. The rudder helps but isn’t essential. 

For anyone choosing between the Taran 16 and 18, maneuverability is one area where they differ. The T16 is noticeably more maneuverable and less reliant on the rudder. 

Out in open water, the rudder makes it so much easier to follow a bearing and put all your energy towards moving forward. Over a 20K trip down the bay, I noticed my legs and core were a lot less tired than they would be in a skeg boat that requires edging. 

Comfort (isn’t the point)

The cockpit is appointed with a glassed-in, unpadded, high-performance seat with a backstrap that encourages a good paddling posture.

The footpegs, with integrated SmartTrack rudder pedals, are easy to adjust and seem like they would fit a range of shoe sizes. I’ve used them in neoprene booties, old sneakers, and barefoot without any control issues. 

The glassed-in knee braces have a wraparound design that allows you to maintain contact whether you’re in a more traditional position for maximum control or have your knees up to paddle more like a surfski. This is handy when taking a break or adjusting your posture. My longest paddle so far has been just over four hours, and at no point did my legs fall asleep. 

The Taran is comfortable, but she’s not built for comfort.  Like a racing bike saddle, the seat isn’t designed to accommodate slouching. It’s most comfortable when you’re doing work with good form. 

If you’re looking for a comfortable cockpit with a sofa-like seat and a Nalgene-sized cupholder, there are better boats out there for you. 

Build quality

I can’t speak to durability, as she’s brand new, but the build quality is out of this world.

Designer John Willacy and builder Mike Webb thought through even the smallest details and positioned everything for maximum paddling efficiency. Little design choices like the smaller bow hatch give the impression that this is a vessel made for open water and serious conditions. 

At 24.9KG, she’s only slightly lighter than my 25.5KG P&H Scorpio. But the Taran feels easier to carry. This could be because of the narrow beam or the more even weight distribution in a fiberglass hull. 

Volume is relative 

The Taran is a high-volume boat. At 369 liters overall, she’s more voluminous than the leading expedition classics: the P&H Cetus MV (332L), the Nigel Dennis Explorer (313L), and the original circumnavigator, the Valley Nordkapp (291.5). 

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Taran may be a high-volume boat, but she doesn’t paddle like one. The narrow beam and sporty cockpit feel made-to-measure, and a smaller paddler should have no trouble maintaining contact and control. 

While high-volume models are generally designed to accommodate larger paddlers, most of the Taran’s volume is in her cavernous storage hatches. She has a lot of space in the bow which helps make for a dry ride by punching through chop. 

Coming from a low-volume hull, I found the Taran to fit me just fine. The extra space encourages good rotation and drive through hips and gives me room to adjust my knee position (critical after a couple of hours), and at no point did I feel disconnected from the hull. 

The T16 has all the volume you need 

Volume doesn’t have to be the tie-breaker for expedition paddlers choosing between the Taran 16 and 18, since either boat will give you more cargo space than almost anything else you could paddle. 

For a deep-dive on the Taran 18 vs. 16 question, check out John Willacy’s post. I agree with his conclusion that you should go with the T16 if you can’t choose between the two. 

This video comparison is also helpful. If you’re interested in seeing the two Tarans side-by-side in the wild. 

Rockpool battle: Taran 18 vs Taran 16. /English voiceover version

Short comparison between Taran 18 and Taran 16. Original in Swedish and this is the same video only with english voiceover. More or less the same information…

16 and some change

A longer hull is a faster hull. The theoretical hull speed of any boat is a function of her length at the waterline. The Taran 16 has a length overall of 16’ 8”. But unlike traditional hull shapes–with upturned bows and sterns that put much of the boat’s length out of the water–the Taran’s entire length is engaged at the waterline. So, even the shorter of the two Tarans is longer at the waterline than most sea kayaks. 

Oh, the places you’ll go…

The real speed test won’t be shattering a personal best on my Garmin app or averaging an extra knot on a 3-mile crossing. What speed means for me, as a weekend warrior, is exploring more coastline and going farther in less time. With the Taran, I can put in 20K before work, and I can fit a longer expedition into a vacation. For a lap around Ireland, it means being home to my family a week earlier. 

Rockpool Taran 16 sea kayak in Bantry Bay

It also means having more to write about and more sea stories to tell.

This June, I’m paddling 100K in 24-hours to raise money for the Bantry Lifeboat. You can read more about the challenge and make a donation here.