The Tarpon 120 replaces my circa 1993 Sea Lion 17′ 6″ Aquaterra seakayak that I can no longer use because of spinal problems. Also, at age 65, I can’t safely enter an enclosed sea kayak of any kind from the wooden ladder on my seawall. Getting into the SOT Tarpon 120, however, is not the slightest problem.
I’ve paddled the Tarpon 120 about 60 hours so far, and it certainly lives up to all the rave reviews regarding secondary stability, rock-solid tracking, and maneuverability. Although it’s called a “flat water” kayak, I use it on Long Island Sound where conditions can go from flat calm to three-foot waves just a few minutes.
Compared to the Sea Lion, which cuts through waves and chop, the Tarpon 120 is more like a cork that bobs up and down when conditions get rough. I have to be a little more careful about anticipating tide changes and wind shifts, especially when paddling out to Great Captains Island which is about 2 miles offshore. But so far, I’ve always managed to get home, even if it’s taken an hour longer than I had planned.
I find that as long as I paddle into the wind and waves, the Tarpon 120 performs surprisingly well in winds up to about 15mph (with some higher gusts) and waves of up to 2 feet (with a few taller waves).
Here’s the GPS summary from my most recent trip which was 6.59 miles. Winds were light at about 5 mph and I departed almost exactly at high tide, so the tide was running the same direction (out) during my paddle, which lasted 2 hours and 19 minutes. My average speed was 2.8 mph and my highest speed was 4.6 mph (which doubtless happened at a point when I had both the wind and tide behind me.) This is certainly slower than the 3.6 mph that I hear is the average speed for a sea kayak. Still, given all the advantages the Tarpon 120 SOT offers, I’ll happily give up 0.8 mph in speed.
The biggest advantage, of course, is safety. I like to paddle in the open Sound and at some points I am more than 2 miles from the nearest land. Even at 45 years old, re-entering and pumping out an overturned seakayak was difficult. At 65, it’s probably impossible.
The second biggest advantage is the amazing Airpro seat, which is incredibly comfortable. My longest trip has been about 4 hours without any lower back discomfort. A can’t even sit at a desk that long without significant back pain.
On the con side, I’m not sure were it’s coming from, but I do collect some salt water whenever I go out. I’ve solved the problem with a couple of Swoosh bailing sponges that absorb 1 quart each. After three or four trips, I squeeze them dry. I’ve never actually measured how much I squeeze out, but I’d estimate it’s about 1/4 to 1/2 quart.
The main reason I’ve shaved off one point on this review, is because while the Tarpon 120’s “high-density linear polyethylene” may be maintenance free, it’s not all that tough. Sure, my Tarpon 120 gets dragged across rocks, barnacles, oyster and clam shells – but that’s inevitable when the tide drops almost 1 foot per hour and a kayak that was at the water’s edge when you land, may be 15 feet from the water after a 45-minute lunch break. At any rate, while my Sea Lion would scratch slightly after being dragged over rocks and shells, the Tarpon 120 actually gouges.
After a month’s use, my hull is covered with scrapes and gouges that are perhaps 1/16 to 1/8th of an inch deep and leave little pieces of dislodged plastic hanging from the hull. It seems to me, that the Tarpon 120 hull is far softer than the exceptionally durable polypropylene hull of the Sea Lion.
Bottom line: the Tarpon 120 is no sea kayak, but it’s fine substitute.