Best N American Touring Sea Kayaks Like UK's NDK Explorer and Rockpool Taran?

The UK-made fiberglass Nigel Dennis Explorer and Rockpool Taran are high-quality expedition touring sea kayaks, but in N America you’re going to pay a premium for them due to shipping and tariffs - I’m guessing that premium is at least US $1000 of the price of a $4000 boat. Which has me wondering - which N American fiberglass kayak makers make comparable quality and design fiberglass sea touring kayaks for long day trips and multi-day expeditions?

[Note that US-based Wilderness Systems used to make a fiberglass Tempest 165 and 170, but they stopped production due to supply issues years ago (not due to the pandemic). They say they may resume at some point, but they have no specific plans yet]

Right now is probably a bad time to try and forecast. I am in the midst of switching to a new car and the result may be that I have no way to get a car on the roof until later in September because of supply chain issues on the mounting parts I will need. From Thule, hardly a minor player.

The kayak makers have to be facing even worse difficulties.

Might be worth revisiting this topic towards December, when companies can maybe look ahead better.

Celia, of course there will be supply chain issues in nearly every area due to the pandemic. However, that’s not my question, which is: what are the best N American made expedition touring sea kayak models that are similar in quality to the NDK Explorer and Rockpool Taran, which are two well-known quality sea touring kayaks available in fiberglass.


OK. I thought that you were asking not just what boats but when they may be available as well. The note you have in parenthesis.

That said, it may be difficult to untangle the two. A company still has to be in existence in somewhat near its original form when we can see daylight again. And some of these companies, like WS, are part of a much larger company that could make some disruptive decisions. Rockpool and NDSK are still smaller companies, for that matter so is Valley, that probably have a better ability to chart their own course than subdivisions of a bigger one.

Current Designs.

Check out their Danish designs as well.

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I’m only trying to learn which N American kayak makers have produced in the last 5-10 years, or currently produce, fiberglass expedition touring sea kayaks that are similar in function and quality to the NDK Explorer, Rockpool Taran and similar kayaks made overseas.

@Celia, I imagine you’re trying to be helpful, but I’d respectfully ask that you stop focusing on current or future supply in this thread, as that’s not what I’m asking about.

Thank you @Rookie. Is there a particular model that’s similar to the NDK Explorer and Rockpool Taran? What’s their best fiberglass expedition sea touring kayak?

Probably Current Design’s closest is their “Prana” model, a 17’ Danish design…

They also still produce the Derek Hutchinson designed “Sirocco”, but currently only in poly. Up to a few years back they also made this design as a “Gulfstream” model in fiberglass (kevlar optional).

They also have several American style touring kayaks in fiberglass. These boats are roomier and have rudders. Look at their “Solstice” and “Nomad” models.

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I’ll agree with Rookie on Current Designs.
If we’re discussing strictly sea kayak design, I think most would argue with me if I tried to say the Rockpool Taran and NDK Explorer were similar, so that throws your question for a loop. A Current Designs Prana may be more similar to an Explorer, although I would say the Prana is sportier in performance. The Nomad would be more similar to a Taran. A fast ruddered design. But not a plumb bow. The Explorer may behave more similar to the Nomad overall, without the overall efficiency of the Nomad. The Solstice series is in there too.
There’s Seaward Kayaks, with the Nigel Foster designed Legend and Shadow, among others.
The Taran has a bow designed for speed. The Explorer has a bow designed to prevent diving with forward efficiency taking more of a back seat. Sure, you can mix in the same water, but I would say you’ll find a few design priorities that are quite different when strictly comparing sea kayak design. Explorer: concave curvature at the ends. Taran: fair convex curvature all the way to the ends. The hope of the former likely to keep the bow and stern more locked in paddling in waves - directional stability. The latter for reduced turbulence, better speed.
Impex Currituck and Force series I think are still made in Canada.
Boreal Design Ellesmere and Baffin series.
Lots of great paddling options.
The Epic 18x and Stellar S18 are probably closer to the Taran, but they’re built overseas, and will come into the same issues you mentioned.
Did I mention Sterling kayaks? Made in USA.

I can personally attest to the long-term quality and durability of a Current Designs Nomad, a Seaward Nigel Foster Legend, a Boreal Design Ellesmere. I own these 3 that are all around 15 years old. I have had a Prana to demo, and have owned a Sisu for over a year, and the quality seems first rate. I’ve covered thousands of miles in the Nomad, with surf launches and landings the norm for me. So they are all well-tested in conditions.


Ok, on boat models.

Having owned the Squall, a CD Solstice series boat followed by an NDK Explorer LV, the only thing l would say that is similar between the two is that they are both expedition level boats. Little similarity after that except for maybe one Solstice series boat that was quirkier than the rest. Note the Squall was plastic, but all the Solstice boats regardless of material were fish form and tended to be trackers.

If l had to pick one that had similar handling characteristics to the Explorer, would probably go to other suggestions per above.

In terms of use and capabilities, the old WS Sealution is within the range. But it is also trackier, older ruddered design. Are there features you consider to be in or out?

Gulgstream is an oldie but a Goldie for big water capability. Have not tried any of the more recent CD designs indicated by Rookie.

Saw a mention of Impex. I think they belong here, especially the Force 3 and Force 4.

I have a glass Tempest 170 in excellent condition that I’m thinking of selling.

Thank you @kfbrady, @CapeFear and @Celia for the helpful suggestions, really appreciate it. It’s hard to find a variety of good kayaks from different makers in one place, because there aren’t that many kayak dealers out there, and they typically only rep one or a few brands and only carry limited models.

Even in kayak clubs the variety of boats tends to be limited to ones represented by regional dealers. It also seems to me that American-made fiberglass expedition touring models aren’t that well represented in the Northeast, and seen to be better represented on the West Coast.

I should clarify that I wanted to know the best quality N. American-made fiberglass expedition sea touring kayaks, and was using the NDK Explorer and Rockpool Taran as examples of quality European fiberglass models. By function I meant expedition sea touring.

I’d 100% agree the Explorer and Taran are different boats, and that the Taran was built for speed and for use with a rudder.

1) @CapeFear, would you say the Current Designs Prana is sportier than the Explorer in that it turns and surfs more easily, and would you say the Explorer tracks straighter?

2) I’ve heard good things about Sterling Kayaks. Would the Illusion and Grand Illusion be their expedition touring models?

3) Do you think the build quality of Current Designs, Sterling, Seaward Kayaks, Boreal Design, Impex, etc. is as good as that of top European fiberglass makers like NDK and Rockpool?

4) How would you rank the best N. American fiberglass touring makers for build quality? Not necessarily 1, 2, 3 in series, but the ones who belong be in the top group, followed by second group.

5) What are the main characteristics of a Danish design, versus an American, British, etc. design? Do you have a link to a site that does a good job comparing these?

6) Celia, if you don’t mind my asking, what’s your weight, height and shoe size and does the Explorer LV feel like a good fit for comfort and handling?

Check out Lincoln, made in Massachusetts. I’m guessing the Isle de Haut is the model you’d be interested in.

No problem.

The NDK Explorer LV was about the only boat when it came out that at least tried to fit smaller paddlers. But volume was the same as regular Explorer, they just lowered the deck and made a keyhole version of an ocean cockpit.

So with me in it l was pushing too much volume, and given that it is already a loose bow design a portion of the bow was not really seated in the water. Loose got looser. In wind l had to do the same as in the Romany now, load the bow a bit to make it behave. 5 ft 4 inches, at the time 125 pounds. Add 10 or 12 pounds now but 17 years too. Shoe size ontne small side, 6.5 USA then and my feet spread to 7 since.

Boats since then that say LV have tended to have hulls tuned for lighter paddlers, not just resized cockpit. From NDK the Pilgrim and now the Echo, but across all manufacturers.

The hallmark of the Explorer and it’s kin the Romany, as well as Tiderace and any boat with Allen’s hand in it, is a boat with tremendous generosity for mistakes. The damned boats will be on their sides and still give you a moment to recover. I have been in that position multiple times and managed not to capsize. Much as l would love to claim great skill, what really happened was the boat gave me a smidge of time others would not have.

The same generosity makes them easy rollers, you can screw up some in the upper half of the roll but the boat will still try to give it to you. After a couple of years of failure, l got my roll within a month of having the Exploder.

I use my husband’s Romany as my safety boat now for paddling solo in Maine. Even with my roll currently in quite shaky condition, with the virus and other things l didn’t have the focus this season, one way or another l can get back into the boat. If l go over in the first place, which is possible but takes a lot of mistake in judgement.

All that said, the hull is slow and that wandering bow can be great to maneuver as well as a bit to control depending on what you want it to do and conditions. But it remains one of the all time solid boats to handle anything and get you home safe.

A coach we knew said he liked it because, if he had students out and they were having trouble, he could switch boats with him in his Explorer and the student would make it home.

Everyone has forgotten about it over here, but my husband had a Valley Aquanaut and found it had similar generosity. Just a much stiffer boat, you have to fully edge the boat not just kinda sorta like you can get away with in the Explorer/Romany.

Now one thing that has to be mentioned, for many years there were running jokes about the quality of the NDK boats. The were hand laid, chopped strand glass. Some felt the chopped strand was a weak layup. Just about everyone hoped they got a boat that had been completed BEFORE the guys went to lunch at a pub across the way from the factory. My Explorer was a B+ quality and you still don’t want to look too closely at the hull cut where the cockpit coaming goes in. My husband had to heat the rear of the coaming in the Romany so it was high enough to get a skirt in w/o a fight.

This is all past history, different process etc with NDSK. But someone is going to mention it if l don’t. Just be aware that for many years the quality that people got Explorers for was their behavior on the water, not the layup details. Valley by and large managed more consistent build quality during that era.

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My DSL has been out (plus I was out paddling), but see that CapeFear has given you his expert opinion.

When I was looking for my ultimate sea kayak for fast cruising in all sorts of conditions, I settled on the 19’-2" NC Expedition. If I had it to do all over, it would still be my first choice. When I’ve got a long ways to go and know it’s going to get nasty at times, I know the NC will get me there–fast and without a lot of drama. These boats are custom built near Tacoma, Washington. Yeah, I know that’s a long way from the Northeast, but the Sterling boats were mentioned and they are built out here too.

Other boats worth considering would be the Current Designs Prana, Valley Norty, P&H Cetus HV and the 18’ Stellar Intrepid.

I think you are overthinking this. Just get a boat and paddle! There are plenty of used touring boats out there, from everywhere.

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Danish design is hardly a well-established type as there is only one manufacturer offering them and there are only 3 models (with low volume variants of each). And while I like that manufacturer (Current Designs) their website doesn’t go into design parameters much at all.

These boats seem to be very similar to British kayaks; snug-fitting, sporty and maneuverable boats with a fair amount of rocker, hard chines, skegs and backbands, but with a somewhat roomier foredeck.

Here’s an article that might help…

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I guess depending on what you are used to a boat comes along now and then that just feels right almost from the first paddle stroke. For me, that was the Current Designs Prana. No, I didn’t buy one, but the Prana, no matter what design designation is a boat that didn’t have any hidden glitches as far as performance goes. I didn’t get to try it in big conditions, but my impression was that it would be just fine.

I guess it is like letting children get away with doing something naughty because it was also funny:
1 time is funny. 2 times is a habit. 3 times is a tradition.

So Jesper got away with his 3 kayak designs, and now we danes have a kayak design tradition.

(He has actually designed several other kayaks. I paddle one of them.)

By the way, I find it strange that your link doesn’t mention Swede design. I consider that a more well-established design definition than North-American design.