Rockpool Isel, how do I love thee?

Rockpool Isel

Rockpool Isel

Let me count the ways!

It’s been almost 2 years since I became the proud owner of a Rockpool Isel kayak. I think it was Fate that brought us together as, quite simply, I don’t believe I could have found a kayak that could be more perfect for me.

I am a 5′ 5″ (1.524m) tall female weighing 8 st 4 lbs (116 lb, 52.6 kg).  The Isel is designed for “the smaller paddler” and features a “snug fitting cockpit”. This sounds highly appealing to smaller paddlers, however, I admit to having a little, er, flirtation, with another brand of kayak “designed for the smaller paddler” that left me less than convinced of the suitability of such models. The Isel, however, is a quite different animal and I knew immediately upon testing it that I could trust it.

First of all, it is an excellent fit. With correct footplate and seat positioning, I can sit relaxed in the kayak and my legs are in constant, comfortable contact with the thigh braces. This affords a feeling of real control and, combined with the stability of the kayak, I simply feel safe and secure. I also added a thin layer of foam into the conveniently located hip pockets.

All this safety and security doesn’t make for a boring kayak. Indeed, the Isel is manoeuvrable and nippy and I am able to turn it in high winds without difficulty. Because of its harder chines, it sticks nicely when edged and I get instant feedback on how far to go. It loves to pick up waves and, although I am not the bravest of surfers, I have had fun scooting along on a following sea.

Two Isels on the water

Two Isels on the water

Other features that have particularly impressed me include, firstly, the adjustable footplate. I am not a fan of foot pegs, although this is a very personal preference. I developed sore feet when paddling kayaks with foot pegs and this simply isn’t an issue any more. I know people comment on not being able to stretch their legs when a footplate is present, but I find that I can do so simply by straightening my legs out. I dare say that I have found the ideal positioning of the plate and seat in order to allow good contact along with a little room for manoeuvre. Secondly, lower back pain used to feature quite regularly when I paddled other kayaks, but no more. This could be because of the adjustable (and removable) glass seat design and the lumbar support provided by the back rest (and/or because I have toughened up a bit since my earlier kayaking days – yoga helps). Thirdly, I love Rockpool’s unkinkable wire skeg design. On those inevitable occasions when the kayak is plopped on the beach and the skeg is down, it is no longer a potentially trip-ruining event.

I have frequently received comments from fellow paddlers as to how much happier I look in rougher water since acquiring the Isel. I went through a bit of a rough water confidence setback a couple of years ago after a good trashing in the aforementioned unsuitable “smaller paddler” kayak. The Isel has helped me overcome this, such that I believe I am now at an appropriate proficiency level for someone of my experience on the water.  For me, it has taken a great deal of the fear out of paddling and I now find myself seeking out and enjoying conditions that used to fill me with trepidation. I have been out in up to F6 (F7 if you count gusts) mostly in the Cowal/Clyde area, and various tidal conditions elsewhere, and have had no issue with control, windage, tracking or speed. I use the skeg minimally, really only in cross-winds and downwind when surfing.

The kayak is excellent for rolling and, importantly, for self-rescuing too. When practising self-rescues with other kayaks, it has often felt like wrestling an alligator. In comparison, the Isel practically lays out a welcome mat and offers you a leg-up to get back in.

Alan balance bracing in Isel

Alan balance bracing in Isel

Just when I thought I’d realised and appreciated all of the Isel’s good qualities, I recently discovered another major bonus – it makes for an excellent Greenland rolling kayak! As I mentioned before, the harder chines, the lower profile and lower rear cockpit rim are perfect for Greenland style (layback in particular) rolling.

It might seem like I have nothing bad to say, which is true. The closest I can come is that, naturally, being a smaller, low volume kayak, there is not a huge amoung of room for gear in the hatches, although it is possible to camp out of it on short trips if you pack as if you were backpacking, say.

As Rockpool point out on their Web page, the Isel doesn’t have to be used by smaller people only, and Alan has proved this by sneaking into mine for Greenland rolling practice. He might not be able to load the kayak, but he can certainly roll it.

I wouldn’t swap my Isel for anything. It is a wonderful kayak that has brought out the best in my abilities and has made my kayaking journey a real joy.

A weekend with a Rockpool GT

Guest Post from Alan

Rockpool GTThere’s not a whole lot of information or reviews on the Internet about the Rockpool GT, so I thought I’d offer my findings based on my short experience of paddling it. I am a 5′ 11” (1.524m), 165 lb (75 kg)  person.

I had been visiting Karitek in Ayrshire to test out a P&H Cetus and a Cetus MV that for various reasons I really didn’t fit (but that’s another story!) and decided to try out the Rockpool GT. In a short 20 minute test, after adjusting the Rockpool seat and footplate a bit, I convinced myself that I could fit into the kayak and was ready to go. A trip around the small loch near Karitek doesn’t afford adequate testing upon which to base a decision to purchase, but initial impressions were that this kayak was quite voluminous, very, very easy to edge and to hold on edge and turn in a really tight circle. I decided that it was worth trying out for longer and in more realistic conditions, so I hired it for the weekend.

On arriving back in Cowal, there was a small F3 WSW wind blowing and creating some wave activity on the Clyde, so I quickly launched and spent 30 minutes trying the GT out in a little chop. Once again I was quite impressed at the kayak’s ease of control. I could edge it with large degrees of comfort, and turn very easily (there is a nice sweet spot on edge that it sticks on and provides maximum manoeuvrability). Again I was quite impressed by the GT.

The GT is marketed as a large boat that has good primary and secondary stability, and handles like a much smaller kayak. This is indeed very true, and certainly as advertised.

On Saturday we went for some rolling practice, and I found the GT to be a very easy kayak to roll (considering the large volume), however, I did find that I had to pull myself around under the kayak sometimes before starting the roll, which I attributed to its volume. The back deck on the GT is low enough to do lean back rolls, but these may be impeded slightly by the freeboard when unloaded with someone of my weight in it.

Rockpool GTI really wanted to take the GT out in more challenging conditions and paddle it for longer, so on Sunday we went on a trip down Loch Fyne from Strachur to Castle Lachlan and back (22 km) expecting the forecast F3/4 SE winds to give us some wave activity. Much to my disappointment, and highly out of character for the weather in this region, it calmed down to F1/2 and even less on the way back . The 5 hour paddle did, however, serve its purpose in terms of finding out that the GT fit was not a comfortable one for me, despite my having played around extensively with the seat and footplate positions. Paddling for short periods of time, I had no discomfort but, after about the 2 hour mark, my feet were aching from their positioning on the footplate (and my inability to stretch them out), I had sore thighs when engaging the thigh braces and, most noticeably, a very achy lower back from the backrest which was much larger than the one on the Alaw Bach/Isel seats that I’ve seen. I decided to make some changes to the seat position at lunch and see how much comfort I could achieve on the return trip. I still didn’t fit the thigh grips without really tensing up, so I moved the seat forward further to make a better connection. (One point of note about moving the seat forward so much is that it creates a lot of space behind the seat, and also makes it that much harder to clamber into to begin with). I certainly felt much better connected when I climbed back in after lunch, but only managed about 1 hour of paddling before my back was starting to spasm once more forcing me to see if anyone else wanted to paddle the kayak for the rest of the day!  It really is true that you have to  paddle a kayak for at least a day (preferably longer) to see whether it is the right one for you.

In terms of size, the GT is a large volume kayak (17′ 10″ (5.44m), 380 litres, 21″ (53 cm) wide), which has a lot of its volume above the waterline. The cockpit is an extremely large one but, with the adjustable footplate and seat, can be made to fit just about anyone. I did, however, feel quite small inside this cockpit. I think perhaps this kayak is geared towards a 6’+ 80kg+ paddler with lots of gear to carry.

Rockpool GTYou certainly notice that, paddled empty, the kayak sits quite high up on the water with quite a few inches of freeboard. At my size, I feel like I sit deeply inside the cockpit (my hips were about 2-3 inches below the cockpit rim, which is really too far). Quite a few fellow paddlers remarked on how high in the water I looked. They mentioned that the bow was often sitting above the waterline. They also remarked at how the kayak looked very ‘big at the front’, which is indeed where much of the volume lies. I tried to block out mental images of the A300-600ST (Super Transporter) ‘Beluga’ plane when they mentioned this!!

My impression is that, if you are a 80+ kg paddler, at least 6 feet tall, and you are looking for a stable, manoeuvrable but voluminous kayak, then the GT is well worth a look. If you are under 6 feet and less than 80 kg, you will struggle to fit the cockpit and the kayak may not make enough contact with the water at the waterline.

What Rockpool have done, however, is produce a kayak that does what the label says ie a large kayak with a small kayak feel and, if they ever produce an ‘LV’ version (I thought that it could do with shedding at least 1” of deck depth), I’d be very interested in trying it out, but perhaps with a different backrest!

Photos courtesy Julia Darby