The idea of ditching a traditionally shaped sea kayak for a contemporary designed fast touring boat would have had me laughing all the way to the shore-line on December 14th 2012… But not anymore! I've been paddling a Rockpool, Tarran-16 since Kari-Tek's Etive tour, December 15th last year. My regular boat is a SKUK Standard Explorer. This year I'll replace the Explorer with a Tarran-16.
It all started when I took the Stanley knife to the T-16's protective overcoat; as the plastic peeled away I couldn't help but stand back in admiration.
Naked the Tarran-16 looks good. The finish is superb! No less than paddlers have come to expect from Mike Webb's, Rockpool stable of course. But that doesn't stop you from taking a moment, or smiling as you watch everyone else taking a moment, to admire the boat you've brought with you. I let the moment linger before getting on with the faff of prepping and packing an unfamiliar sea kayak.
For me it always starts with the foot rests. My legs are very short; I have difficulty finding 'off the peg' sea kayaks with foot rests that can be adjusted short enough to suit them. This results in a loss of connectivity, leading to the loss of power transfer and edge control a correctly fitted sea kayak delivers. My Admiration meter spiked again when the foot rest adjustment range more than catered for my tiny legs. And just to keep the record straight I've had a couple of long legged six foot friends paddle the Tarran-16 since: no foot rest issues there either.
The actual foot rest adjustment procedure is the best I've come cross. You adjust from the sitting position, there's no twisting or turning you just gently push the adjustment arm up, pull or push the foot rest into position and let the arm fall back into place. The foot rest is then locked … simple.
Kari-Tek's, December, Etive trip is an overnighter. The year before (2011) Loch Etive had frozen as we slept. Gill and I were leaving nothing behind as far as kit was concerned in 2012; the Tarran-16's Tardis like stowing capacity was turned out to be more than up to the job. The oval hatch at the rear makes access to the 108 litres beneath it easy-peasy; as does the lack of skeg housing (I'll get to the rudder later). I didn't miss the day hatch at all and haven't missed it since, so no further comment needed as far as day hatches and me are concerned. The biggest bag I put through my front hatch when camping contains our tent (Hilliberg: Stakia). It dropped easily through the 8”/20cm hatch into the 110 litres stowage space below. Poles next, always packed separately, they disappeared with surprising ease. Extra sleeping mats, clothes, cakes, stoves, food and fuel followed no problem, until all that was left was the two extra bags of peat fire blocks Jim couldn't fit into his boat - front hatch, still oodles of room. And, Geoff's family sized, weighing an expletive ton, tent poles – cockpit between the legs. Looking around I found myself ready ahead of almost everyone, despite starting last with an unfamiliar boat still wrapped in plastic. I'd packed more than I'd brought in less time than it usually takes to pack my regular boat. T-16 prepped and packed no faff at all.
Curtsey of the expletive poles the brand spanking Tarran-16 was now heavier than a 16 year old Sumo Wrestler! However, getting the heavy boat onto the water turned out to be easier than I expected. You can get your hand comfortably underneath the Tarran-16's contemporary bow and hold the boat close to your body without worrying about cold, damp December hands slipping forward and up along the curvature of the hull. A nifty stern carrying handle, negates any chance of hand slip at the back or the stern hull shape offers an equally positive and comfortable carrying position should you choose to place your hand underneath. Small point's, but unexpected and very welcome extra's as far as I was concerned.
I float my boat before I get into it. Looking at the hull on dry land I thought I may experience a little initial instability when entering the T-16, I didn't… Straddling the cockpit and dropping my bum into the seat, I've had no initial stability 'events' at all in fact and I've yet to find myself dropping into the cockpit only to end up sitting on top of the back strap. At about 76cm the interior cockpit length of the Tarran-16 is 6cm shorter than that of my regular sea kayak. Bearing in mind my very short legs the shorter cockpit length is not an issue for me and as yet my taller buddies have felt no need to pass comment. My advice with regard to choosing a sea kayak these days: pre-paddling beats reading specs or just looking and making assumptions (Check out Kari-Tek's Demo days).
With a light wind behind us the Tarran-16 moved through the water easily. I chatted with Gill and Pete as paddlers pushed ahead of us. I took photographs with my paddling floating in the water beside me. Once we were firmly established at the back of the field, I mooched off to do my own thing without using the rudder.
Despite its sumo wrestler weight the T-16 maintained a ninja like agility on the water. Whether it was to correct or turn the Tarran-16 edged well in every respect. The sitting position provides good connectivity, power transfer and degree of edge control. The hull shape responds quickly and accurately across the board from small adjustments to full on 360 degree turns. Crossing against a light stern quartering wind and swell I found I still didn't need the rudder. Turning to run: no rudder needed, executing 360 degree spot turns into and away from the wind: no appreciable distance lost to drift. I was about level with the back of a fairly strung out group when I began to move forward.
The Tarran-16 is fast. When Gill and I have paddled together in subsequent trips: if I am in the Tarran-16, I pull away easily. This is not unusual, it happens when I paddle my regular boat although the speed at which we part is noticeably slower. When Gill is paddling the Tarran-16 however and I am in my regular boat Gill leaves me behind. If we sprint against each other, with Gill in the T-16, Gill pulls away from me noticeably over the first 200-300 metres and I can't catch her. The day on Loch Etive was a bit of an eye opener. The Tarran-16 allowed me to move to the front of the pack very easily. When I finally did drop the Rudder it allowed me to concentrate solely on my forward paddling to finish at the campsite way ahead of the leading paddlers.
The next day was pretty much the same, only we were paddling back into wind. In calm water the Tarran-16, turned three hundred and sixty degrees in its own length, out in the light wind I could smoothly move the Tarran-16 its own width sideways using draw strokes on the move. The acceleration and optimum travelling speed the hull delivered allowed me to cut through the group, move from back to front, move off to the side, drop back, catch up again and finish ahead feeling no more tired than if I had puddled my way back down the Loch in my regular boat. It was the most fun I'd had paddling all year.
The only faults I can find are small cheese: water pools around the rear hatch because of a lack of drainage off the deck and the deck pod is about an inch too short and half an inch too shallow to get my parachute flares out easily. The flares do fit and they come out without major fiddle but I can be finicky. Water used to pool in the seat but a couple of carefully drilled drain holes took care of that.
Since December 15th the Tiny Tarran-16 is my boat of choice for day trip journeying, it'll go with me to the Shetland's this summer. When packed for multi or single day journeying I have found no issues with either initial or secondary stability in winds gusting up to F5, in fact I prefer the amount of secondary stability offered by the Tarran-16's hull shape and the ease with which it glides from one edge to the other. Paddled empty the T-16 feels a little light on the water to me but I always carry a standard amount of kit in my boat and never paddle any boat empty. In the F3-5 winds I've paddled the Tarran-16 in it runs extremely well and when I've made the choice to drop the rudder to concentrate solely on forward paddling or catching and surfing swell it's a dream.
So! What about the rudder? A lot of people condemn sea kayak rudders and I 'used to be' one of them. Key words, 'used to be.' If a paddler has taken the time to build solid skill sets up to intermediate level, I now think they should look at a rudder in the same way we look at a skeg: as a tool to aid and assist. A rudder is definitely not a crutch and you should definitely not be to be dependent upon it every time you take to the water. Exactly the same can be said for a skeg. There are times when you will choose to use the rudder to get the best out of your boat, taking into consideration the prevailing weather and sea state. Similarly there are times when you choose to use a skeg to get the best out of your boat, taking into consideration the prevailing weather and sea state. Since last December using the rudder tactically has allowed me to make distance, surf, run with F4/5 winds more efficiently and end the day feeling fresher than I would have in my regular boat. Call it a paradigm shift, an epiphany or just a plain old learning curve; I'm no longer anti-rudder thanks to the Tarran-16
The Tarran-16 is defiantly not a beginner's boat. But it is not marketed as a beginner's boat. It will perform best for intermediate and advanced sea kayakers who have already established their personal skill sets. At intermediate and advanced skill levels, the Tarran-16's is fun in boat loads … Welcome to the future of sea kayak touring!