Offshore Winds [26]

Those Deceptive But ‘orrible Offshore Winds

By Paul Caffyn

Wind is the curse of sea kayakers. It generates the bulk of problems that arise, choppy seas, capsizes, wind chill, weather tide effects, surf and so on.

There is however an exception; a following breeze, or one quartering from astern, can be a real boon in aiding progress through surfing rides. A breeze on the beam requires continuous corrections for drift and more concentration on balancing the boat. A breeze on the nose, or quartering from the bow, generates soul destroying, tiring, very wet, slogs.

The most deceptive and horrible wind blows offshore. Deceptive in that conditions may appear flat calm against shore with a light breeze wafting offshore, but with increasing distance offshore wind strength increases dramatically. Cliffed coastlines or those with marked topographic relief such as dune ridges, or swathes of forest, are particularly deceptive. Lurking sea kayaker traps are wherever those continuous cliffs or dune ridges are broken by gorges, fiords, steep sided valleys and narrow entrance bays.

Recently I received a swag of E mail messages from Sandy Ferguson relating to a party of New South Wales sea kayakers who were subjected to the deceptive but ‘orrible offshore winds at Jervis Bay, south of Sydney. I can sympathise with the N.S.W. paddlers’ predicament, for yours truly was caught during the Australian trip a long way offshore immediately south of Jervis Bay by a sudden, dramatic wind shift, that left me with such a struggle against an offshore wind that I felt like throwing in the towel and abandoning the trip. Limping into the lee of St. Georges Head I coined the phrase, ‘Wind was definitely the curse of the canoeing class.’

An article on offshore winds is pertinent, particularly after the article by John RamweII in the last magazine on the Lyme Bay tragedy.

Wind Strength

Above an altitude of 500 to 600m, wind has an unobstructed flow over the sea while below that height, there is increasing frictional or drag effect between the air and the surface over which the wind is blowing, resulting in a diminishing of wind speed as the ground or sea is approached.

The amount of wind strength reduction depends on the nature of the surface; over forested hilly terrain the air flow will be less than that over open sea because of greater frictional drag.

Approximate values have been determined for frictional drag: over open sea a wind 500m above the sea reduces by about 33% at sea level, while over land the reduction is 66%. Thus a 30 knot wind at 500m will produce a 20 knot wind over the sea and 10 knots over land.

There is where the ‘deceptive’ description for offshore wind applies, for a factor of 50% can be applied to wind when it blows from land out to sea. A gentle breeze of 6 knots inland becomes a moderate wind of 12 knots offshore and a 15 knot wind inland becomes a near gale of 30 knots at sea.

The height and nature of a coastline govern the zone width of calm, sheltered water in offshore wind conditions:

a. a long beach with a low sand dune ridge providing minimum relief, dictates a minimum width with the offshore wind felt at the water’s edge.

b. a continuous line of vertical cliffs will provide a maximum width of calm, sheltered water, naturally depending on the height of the cliffs which govern where the offshore wind hits the sea

The obvious problem with offshore winds is being blown offshore. Where there is no off-lying shelter, such as a reef or island, and the next continent is thousands of miles away, the chances of survival without a radio or batphone are zilch. I maintain that once a wind rises over 30 knots, paddling progress into the wind grinds to a halt.

Any misadventure such as a dropped paddle or capsize, both occurred with two paddlers off lervis Bay, resulting in instant seawards drift and a greater distance to reach shore after recovering from the misadventure.

By way of example to those who have yet to experience such conditions, I struck diabolical offshore conditions during my first day in the Bering Sea, on the northern side of the Alaska Peninsula with a gale force wind blowing offshore over a low dune ridge and flat tundra inland. The sea was flat calm, a low surge against a gravel beach, wind ripples close inshore and an increasing density of whitecaps with distance out from the beach. Deceptively good paddling conditions, but bear in mind the 50% increase in wind strength from land to sea, and conditions more than 10m offshore were well beyond my limit to reach the beach. I spent many hours crabbing my way along the beach, the kayak at a 45 degree angle to the line of the beach to check offshore wind drift, the bow rising and falling against the beach with each surge. I was fully aware of the risk, realising the next stop offshore was the ice pack and unbearable polar bear country.

At the base of a long continuous line of cliffs, excellent shelter is afforded in strong offshore winds. Steep hillsides close to the coast, continuous dune Adges and tall forest also offer shelter dose to a beach.

But wherever that continuous line of shelter is broken abruptly, for instance by a narrow fiord, narrow bay or harbour entrance, gorge, river or stream valley, the offshore wind is funnelled through that break with unbridled force, causing williwaws and violent gusts or bullets of wind. And it is the violence of the turbulence that can cause the loss of a paddle or a capsize.

Manye sheltered bays and harbours have narrow entrances which open back into broad areas of calm water. Jervis Bay in New South Wales is a classic sheltered bay, which has a narrow entrance with tall cliffed headlands on both sides and we have many such examples in New Zealand. Offshore winds funnel through such narrow entrances with double or triple the wind strength of that inland.

Also where a continuous line of cliffs of steep coastline is broken by a headland or cape projecting seawards, increasing wind strength must be expected often accompanied by williwaws and strong gusts or bullets of wind.

What to Look For

An increasing density of whitecaps with progressive distance offshore are the best indicator of strong offshore winds, along with spray fanning seawards off breaking wave crests.

White spray dancing over the water, indicates a wind funnel with bullet like gusts of wind lifting spray off the sea.

Suggestions for Remedial Action

  1. If an offshore wind is blowing at the launch site, be prepared to abort or shorten the length of the trip.
  2. if caught in a sudden or gradual change to an offshore wind, turn tail immediately and run for the beach or nearest shelter. Sea conditions will deteriorate as the wind continues to blow offshore.
  3. When faced by a wind violently funnelling out of a harbour or fiord etc., either return to the launch site or attempt to land and wait until the wind strength abates.

    Patience is the order of the day. If there is any doubt, it is better to wait.

  4. When caught on an exposed coast by a change to offshore wind conditions, hug the coast intimately, even if this adds considerably to the distance paddled for example by paddling around the curve of a bay.
  5. Do not make straight line crossings of the narrow entrances to bays, fiords or harbours. Paddle upwind into the feature far enough before kicking out on the crossing. This is to combat ensuing wind and chop drift during the crossing and ensure reaching the far side safely.

Weather Forecasts

Marine forecasts relate to powered vessels and not paddler powered kayaks. Offshore winds commonly knock down the sea state, diminishing swell size and generating reasonable fishing conditions for powered vessels. Listen to the marine forecast and if the stated wind direction is offshore in your area, be extra wary before commencing a paddle. We know forecasts are not always accurate, hence a final decision to paddle or not must be made at the launch site.

Points to Remember

  1. Offshore wind conditions are deceptive, with calm water and light breezes against the beach. Always look for whitecaps offshore.
  2. Wind strength increases by 50% when passing from land to open sea.
  3. Narrow topographic features funnel offshore winds, with dramatic turbulence.

(With reference to the now infamous Jervis Bay incident – wind speeds measured at the airbase on the south west side of JB at 4pm on that day averaged 27 knots gusting to 35. This wind then travelled over a fetch of 12 km before meeting up with our paddlers (and I was one of them) as they rounded Point Perpendicular. Paul Caffyns factor of 50% would mean we faced gusts of up to 70 knots – veritable supermen! Comment from our experienced sea paddlers who wish to argue with the sea-kayaking legends theory are welcome and should be directed to the Dear Editor page – Ed.)


Workshop Reviews [26]

Setting up Your Kayak

By David Winkworth

One of a series of workshops which were presented at the Club ‘s Annual Rock ‘n Roll weekend

You stand astride your shiny new kayak – spinning power drill in one hand, sealant cartridge gun in the other! “Where to start” you wonder.

Cease, … Desist, … Halt!

There may be a better way.

Setting up a kayak is something very paddler has to do. That is every paddler who is serious about ocean paddling. Let’s think about it because what we’re doing here is equipping a living room cum kitchen cum bathroom on the ocean. It’s pretty cramped I know but it is where you ARE when out on the sea. It’s also a survival capsule when things get tough.

How much time and effort you put into it depends on how you see yourself, your boat and what sort of paddling you intend doing.

I don’t intend in this article to give you all the answers (because I don’t have them ) but maybe you can pick up a few hints. Let’s get started:

If you already have a boat that’s what you’ll be working on. If you are still looking around for a suitable craft my advice is to try as many as you can – either at the shops or at club paddles but preferably at both. Sit in all of them, twist around, stretch forward, lean far back, try a few rolls. Ask lots of questions be a real pest but don’t worry because you’re the one spending the money. YOU have to be happy.

It’s rare that any of us make modifications to the hulls of kayaks we buy (unless they meet rocks at speed) but the cockpits and decks are a different matter. That is where we make the changes and additions. Obviously some mods are easier to make in the manufacturing stage – things like seat heights, flush deck fittings etc. If you know what you want when purchasing a boat, ASK for it! Manufacturers want your business. If they can’t or won’t accommodate your wishes, go somewhere else.

Now, put your boat out on the lawn and hop in. Lean as far forward and as far back as you can with an outstretched hand. This then is your limit of influence out at sea. Everything that happens outside of this is beyond your control. Now, of course you say “Well, I can hop out of the cockpit, slip over the side and get a chocolate bar from the front hatch” ….Of course you can but better you than me in the middle of winter in 30 knot wind!

As I sit here at the typewriter arguing with myself in print, I should also mention that it’s probably not wise to depend on a fellow paddler to fetch items from out of your reach on your boat. You MAY be in conditions where this is quite difficult.

So, you should look at having everything you MAY need within reach. Let’s look at some examples – there will be others but these are basic;

Water: On a long hot day with no landing, you’ll need a few litres. Where are you going to put it? Can you get the bottle lid off easily. Can you get at the bottle easily AND confidently in a choppy sea? If your storage area is a day hatch, does it matter if vour storare area is a day hatch, does it matter if the hatch fills with water when the lid is off? Is your storage area wave proof. DO NOT underestimate the power of surf!

Food: Where do you put it? Can you eat it in rough conditions? Can you store enough for a full day.

Extra Clothing: Obviously this will be thermals or fibre-pile right? Where will you carry it…Equally importantly, can you put it on if you have to at sea? (Better practise this one.)

Paddling Jacket or Cag: Comments as above.

The little bits: such as compass, knife, rope, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen. There are probably a few others – all the items that seem insignificant until a big wave sweeps them away. They can then assume monumental importance when needed Perhaps we could also add torch, parafoil kite, fishing gear, tow rope. Building up quite a list now but it is all needed at various times. At other times, it’s nice to know it’s there IF needed….a couple more items: flares, radio, EPIRB perhaps.

As I see it, there are 5 storage options for this stuff – let’s go through them:

  1. Day hatch – behind paddler. See comments above re water container
  2. Rear deck – you’ll need some sort of netting or a bag. Some gear stored here is difficult to access and can also roll around possibly de-stabilizing your boat. Bulky items such as PFD’s stored here can increase weathercocking. Rear decks are the location-of-choice for spare paddles. Are they surf-proof? It would be nice if you didn’t have to remove them to get into the rear hatch. Norm Sanders and Mark Pearson have solved this problem by locating their rear hatches ON the rear bulkhead. Clever.
  3. On your Person – obviously there is a limit to what you can stuff into the pockets of a PFD and still paddle comfortably.
  4. Cockpit – the location-of-choice for 1ots of stuff. You can reduce cockpit volume by storing items in there but make sure that everything stays where you put it – ie well secured, and that the gear does not hinder you in a rescue re-entry. Also, can you replace the sprayskirt quickly before the next wave hits!
  5. Foredeck – a useful storage area for small items. The limit here is that items are exposed to waves and care must be taken that bulky items do not force a change to your paddling stroke clearance of the deck.

Let’s have a quick look at safety items in your boat set-up, How are you going to get all the water out of the cockpit after a rescue? Hand pump, footpump, bailer perhaps. Look at all the options. Some pumps are pure junk because they move such low volumes with each stroke. Something for you to investigate and maybe the subject of a future article Mr Editor? You may also think about pumping out a front hatch that is leaking. That’s a bit more difficult!

Decklines are a necessity as are some form of bow and stern grab loops or toggles. An interesting point here and one worthy of debate around a campfire: If decklines on a boat are continuous: ie passing up either side of the cockpit, and the paddler had the misfortune to snap their boat in two at the cockpit, would it be better that the two pieces of boat are still connected even if they will hinder the paddler during an unglorified wet exit OR would it be preferable to terminate decklines forward and aft of the cockpit and so have two separate pieces of boat bobbing on the ocean?

An important point from the above article is that whatever system or set-up you choose, it MUST work in rough conditions. Almost anything will work on calm seas but when the wind is blowing hard from the west and the seas are rising and you are still a few hours from home, small problems become BIG problems very quickly. I’ll let you get back to the drill now.

Secretary/Treasurer’s Report [26]

By Arunas Pilka

I’ve still not heard from C. Brett, who is a paid up member with no address details. So, if anyone sees an unknown male paddler on the water please ask if he is C. Brett. I also have the wrong address for P. Chidgey, so if anyone paddles with Phil, please ask him to call me.

South Coast News [26]

By David Winkworth

Well, it looks like I’m doing the South Coast News again – come back Nick, all is forgiven! If anyone would like to write this column or send me some interesting news items, please give me a call. Actually that is what this column started as – just a news column from some of “us south coast paddlers’.’ Alright, lets see what’s in the folder for this issue…..

Firstly I suppose it’s the recent “Crash and Burn Spectacular” ….the Pancake Paddle at Mystery Bay. Three boats were badly damaged on the Saturday…all on the rocks. Two of these rock connections were easily avoidable. We hope you guys (neuter gender) will be at the upcoming skills weekend at Honeymoon Bay in April! It was funny last weekend….there were a lot of guys looking at the plastic boats there muttering things like..”Yep, that’ll be my next boat” or “plastic might be OK after all “

Seriously though, the paddlers with damaged boats and maybe a few others too should look very carefully at the sea conditions next time me and ask themselves 2 questions..

  1. Do I have the skills yet to handle these conditions? (forget the “maybe I can sneak past in a lull” approach. Consider your skill level when a big set is upon you.)
  2. Do I need to test my skill level in this hostile environment (ie proximity of rocks and reef).

Sick of being ripped off for sleeping mat foam to pad your cockpit out? Yes? I’ve found a place where you can get seconds of various thicknesses of foam in 8’x 4′ sheets for about $15.00 each. There is a slight catch though. If you want them to post it to you, you’ll have to order a few sheets and cop postage charges too. If you go there in person, you’ll have pick of the pile.

The place is

Thermoplastic Foam Industries
18 Dignity Cres.
West Gosford NSW 2250
Phone: 02 4323 2993
Fax 02 4323 1925

Ask for Anne Germon.

Where has summer gone this year? It’s not that it’s been cold so much… We seem to have missed out on heatwave conditions. Also, the nor ‘easters don’t seem to have been as strong for as long as in previous years. What do you reckon Norm! Can we pin this 1ot an the French in the Pacific?

President’s Report [26]

By Dirk Stuber

Our congratulations to Mark Pearson and team for a superb magazine. The results from the survey show a high level of satisfaction from members. So keep up the good work. Our appreciation should also go to Patrick Dibben, previous president and editor, who set the standard in the early years for the magazine. The standard of the contributions continues to be excellent. I don’t think anyone could claim that they are not getting value for the $20 membership fee.


I’m enjoying Mark’s sense of humour even if it is borderline slander. I must rush to my defence regarding his crack about steroid abuse and racing. He obviously hasn’t seen me in a race: struggling along in a violently tippy K1 at the back of the pack with the old and the infirm. I also enjoyed the joke about the Tuross guest house. We all had a chuckle thinking about Norm being invaded by tired paddlers.

Mystery Bay Weekend

What an eventful weekend, three boats damaged (including mine) because of huge seas and another encounter with a cranky ranger on Montague Island. One lesson for me is to think more seriously about plastic sea kayaks ( I’m sick of the Triumph motorbike syndrome: ride it for one day and then spend the rest of the week fixing it). It could be argued that the problem is not the kayak but where I choose to paddle and my skill level. Fair point however I love the action zone and I’m seeking a kayak that can be bounce around and come out laughing. In the last couple of years I’ve done some white water touring. I enjoyed being in a plastic kayak and not having to worry about the odd intimate encounter with a rock. This brings me to the point, I’m seeking as much info as I can get about plastic sea kayaks. I know about the Spectrum, Skerray, Puffin and the Apostle but I’m seeking more info on the Seayak from Prijon and any others I’ve not mentioned. I’m particularly interested in boats that could be classed as expedition sea kayaks.

Camping Etiquette

The old hairy chest nut reared it’s ugly head again at Mystery Bay. | have been to a number of weekend trips and its obvious that some people like to stay up late, make a bit of noise and partake in the 4 deadly sins: have a smoke, a joke, a beer and a steak and others like to retire early and enjoy some peace and quiet. Luckily most places where we camp are big enough to cater for all preferences so my suggestion is that we designate an area for the noisy ones and an area for those who like it quiet. So ideally as people arrive we can sort ourselves out into the two areas and thereby all needs will be met.

Access to Wilderness Places

The other issue that came out of the Montague Island paddle is access to wilderness places. We know that Montague is a wild life refuge and a historical site and that access is strictly regulated. However we thought that landing on a very small beach and basically staying below the high tide mark (thereby not going near any habitat) would be OK The ranger In formed us that this was not on and if we did not leave straight away he’d fine us S150. John argued that he just wanted a short break and something to eat but the ranger was adamant, no landing is permitted.

I wrote to the NPWS in an attempt to get permission to land but again no luck (letter has been reproduced below). So as a club what do we think about this? You know that the Tollgate Islands are also a no go area. There are not many islands of the NSW coast and to be excluded from some severely limits our options as sea kayakers. Should the Club adopt a policy and lobby for change or should we accept the status quo? Your responses are sought for future discussion.

“Dear Sir,

In regard to your letter concerning your group of sea kayakers landing on Montague Island Nature Reserve, the following is provided for your information. At present, two commercial charter vessel operators are licensed by the Service to land passengers on the Island for the purpose of guided tours. The Montague Island Nature Reserve Plan of Management guideline only allow persons who are participating In an official tour to land on the Island. The tour Is conducted from the port of Narooma and is supervised by a uniformed, National Parks and Wildlife Service guide.

Montague lsland is a gazetted Nature Reserve which is a statutory title that reflects it’s high conservation value. This title also establishes management guideline that are designed to eliminate any impact on the Islands very delicate fauna and flora. To this end, the existing official tours are subject to very strict guidelines that allow maximum participant numbers, when and where the tours can be conducted and the quality of the tours.

Given the above, your request to land on the Island from your kayaks is not approved. However, you and your party would be most welcome to participate in any of the day or evening Island tours conducted from Narooma. For tour bookings please contact the Narooma Visitor Centre on (044) 762881. If you require and further Information, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours Faithfully Ross Constable Ranger, Narooma District NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service”

Poets’ Corner [26]

Courtesy of the brilliant Leunig – this poem speaks for us all I think

Ode to a Jet-Ski person

Jet-ski person, selfish fink.
May your silly jet-ski sink.
May you hit a pile of rocks,
Oh hoonish summer coastal pox

Noisy smoking dickhead fool,
On your loathsome leisure tool.
Give us all a jolly lark
And sink beside a hungry shark

Scream as in it’s fangs you go
Your last attention-seeking show
While on the beach we all join in
With “three cheers for the dorsal fin”

AGM Follow-up [26]


For those of you who missed the recent AGM and the very important and controversial proposal that was put forward – Jim Croft has been monitoring developments and reports the following:

In the beginning was the plan …

And then came the assumptions. And the assumptions were without form And the plan was completely without substance And the darkness fell upon the face of the sea kayakers.

And the Sea Kayakers spake among themselves, saying:

It is a crock of shit and it stinketh.

And the Sea Kayakers went unto their committee members and sayeth:

It is a pail of dung, and none may abide the odour therof.

And the Secretary of the Committee went unto the Vice President and sayeth unto him:

It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong, such that none may abide it.

And the Vice President went unto the President and sayeth unto him:

It is a vessel of fertiliser, and none can abide its strength.

And the President went unto the NSW Canoe Federation and sayeth unto them:

It contains that which aideth plant growth, and it is very strong.

And the NSW Canoe Federation went unto the Australian Canoe Federation, and sayeth unto them:

It promoteth growth, and it is very powerful.

And the Australian Canoe Federation went to the Minister, and sayeth unto him:

This powerful new plan will actively promote the growth and efficiency of the sport of sea kayaking, and your office in particular.

And the Minister looked upon the plan and saw that it was good. And, in time, the plan became policy.

So… Watch out…