Excerpted from an article by Neil Schulman, published in Adventure Kayak Magazine.
The year was 1993... and one of the most enduring kayaks ever made paddled onto the sea.
The Romany was produced by Nigel Dennis Kayaks - now Sea Kayaking UK - in Anglesey, Wales. It was designed to be easy to handle in rough conditions, neutral in wind, fun in the surf, have enough speed and gear storage for several days, and be strong enough to withstand a good whack on the rocks. The Romany introduced keyhole cockpits, day hatches, and skegs to North American seas.
While other British "classic" kayaks have been replaced by newer models, the only changes to the Romany have been the height of the cockpit combing and the shape of the compass recess. That's like taking a 1993 Land Cruiser, changing the stereo, and calling it good.
"Hulls that perform well in water will always perform well in water," notes Nigel Dennis. The laws of physics are the same today as they were in 1993. "If [you're] going to have one boat, [you] want a boat that is user-friendly in lots of situations."
But a quarter century AR (After Romany) we don't have just one kayak. We are now in the era of the full kayak garage: whitewater kayaks, rock gardening boats, and kayaks for fast touring and rolling competitions. The Romany's burly, simple seaworthiness, well-suited to Great Britain and other rough-water arenas, may be overkill for paddlers in protected waters. Yet saying the Romany is dated is like complaining about Mick Jagger falling behind in today's musical trends.
While Dennis is quick to acknowledge today's inclination toward specialization, the Romany's sales are still strong. Recounting a cautionary tale from his windsurfing days, he says, "When it went from having one board to three or four, and different masts and sails for different conditions, may people felt it was too complex and expensive. The sport as a whole ultimately suffered."
Almost everyone has or has heard a Romany story: the Romany that was surfed headlong into a rock wall making a gut-wrenching sound, but not a mark was found on the boat; the Romany that got caught in the rocks, stern broken off behind the bulkhead, and was still paddled back home; a special-ordered "Guinness Romany" in custom colors to match the paddler's favorite beer...
In another quarter century, maybe the Romany will be retro-chic, like listening to vinyl today. If Nigel Dennis has anything to say about it, expect the Romany to be shaped the same, feature the same utilitarian outfitting, and be built to handle the test of time.