Training Notes [42]

By David Winkworth

Sea Instructor Weekend

In January of this year, John Wilde and I held a NSW Board Of Canoe Education Sea Instructor Training and Assessment weekend at Currarong.

Doug Fraser, Wayne Langmaid, Bruce ‘Stumpy’ Payne and Tony Miller (from Victoria) presented for assessment and thirteen other paddlers, mostly NSWSKC members, attended for the training part of the award.

We commenced on the Friday night with introductions and outlines of the proposed new award structure. Saturday was the day we needed some surf but unfortunately not much was to be found – the sea was pretty flat. We did get enough though. Some theory and stroke/rolling work took up the rest of the daylight hours on the water. Saturday night was short presentations by the assessment candidates and then their written exam. The training candidates meanwhile looked at log book issues and we also discussed factors leading to disasters we never want to have!

In contrast to Saturday, on Sunday we had a good stiff southerly kicking up a sea off the cliffs. These conditions were perfect for a couple of scenarios and some towing exercises. No doubt about it – put some wind and a sea into any scenario and set tasks can become much more difficult to accomplish. We were in two groups for the day and John and I agreed that everyone performed really well out at sea.

Ashore in the late afternoon it was time for debriefs and making plans for the next weekend course. More on this in a moment.

Doug Fraser and Wayne Langmaid, both skilled paddlers, were successful in attaining the Sea Instructor Award. Congratulations to you both. ‘Stumpy’ Payne and Tony Miller, also skilled paddlers, have a couple of bits to finish off and they too should attain the award. Club members can look to any of these paddlers for any assistance in sea kayaking. I’m sure they would be only too pleased to share their knowledge with you. They have some impressive expeditions to their credit so please do seek them out at future Club gatherings.

The standard of the training candidates was right on the money. John and I both remarked that it is great to see Club members raising their skill level in sea kayaking by seeking to become Sea Instructors. Club paddling, as opposed to commercial trips, offers paddling in a much wider range of sea conditions. This, I believe, keeps skill levels high and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to improve sea kayaking skills. My experience in leading commercial trips is that you can get ‘stale’ and interest in sea paddling can wane. Doing the ‘guide stroke’ (virtually up and down only with the paddle) day after day is not stimulating! So, if you are a commercial trip leader, make sure that you do have regular breaks from trip leading and get out with your peers and challenge yourself. That way, I think, you can remain fresh… and present exactly that feeling to your clients.

Assisting John and I on the Sea Instructor Weekend were Sea Instructors Andrew Eddy, Norm Sanders and Dirk Stuber. Their presence and help made the weekend flow much more smoothly. Thanks guys for being there with us. We really do appreciate it.

Sea kayaking in NSW is in good shape – no doubt about it. We have some highly qualified Sea Instructors and thirteen really keen candidates preparing for assessment. If any commercial sea kayaking operators out there need qualified staff they should have no trouble in finding suitable instructors. Not only are we in good shape with instructors coming through, but if predictions of global warming are correct, we’ll have more ocean covering the planet in coming years in which to paddle!

The next scheduled Sea Instructor Training and Assessment weekend is 27-28 January 2001. If you would like to attend this weekend, please call me and I’ll put you on the list. I have also had 2 recent requests for a Sea Instructor Training weekend sometime this year. If there are any other paddlers who would like us to arrange a training weekend this year, please give me a call.

I had an Advanced Sea Award weekend listed in the Calendar in the last magazine for Easter. For a couple of reasons, I had to postpone this event to some future date. I haven’t set a new date for it yet but if you think you’d be interested in attending please give me a call or e-mail me, and I’ll send the award requirements out to you. I hope to have South Australian Senior Sea Instructor Phil Doddridge come over to assist with the assessment. These are challenging weekends for skilled paddlers and we usually manage to have a good time!

High Support Stroke Exercise

Here’s a little high support stroke exercise for you – sitting in your boat with plenty of depth under you, hold your paddle vertical with the back of your upper hand against your forehead. Bracing well in the cockpit of your kayak, capsize to the right if your right hand is your upper hand (vice versa for the left) and DO NOT move your hand from contact with your forehead until your upper blade has hit the water. Using a hip flick and perhaps a sculling stroke, see if you can recover. OK? Try it on the other side. If you have some difficulty, lower the angle of the shaft and try again. When you reach an angle at which you succeed 100% of the time, start working back up to the vertical position. Hint: keeping your head low, either forward or back, will aid your recovery.

Sea Kayak Deck Lines

We’ve had a letter from Peter Carter, Secretary of the Australian Board of Canoe Education regarding deck lines on sea kayaks. Peter mentions the Current Designs ‘Storm’, an American designed rotomoulded sea kayak which is built in New Zealand and sold locally.

The Storm has 4 mm diameter deck lines and several people have commented to Peter that these deck lines may be a potential hazard. Peter has contacted the designer and raised the issue. To say that he upset the designer is putting it mildly! Peter also quoted instances of the bow toggle pulling free of the boat. It would seem that some simple modifications are required here.

Peter has recommended that they look at raising the deck line size to 6 mm, a recommendation with which I agree. I once had to perform a rescue of a big paddler – his boat (not a Storm) was equipped with 4 mm deck lines. I got him back in OK but at the expense of a fair amount of skin on the inside of my fingers. Holding onto thin lines in a good sea for a rescue is painful. I hope you don’t have to find out the same way I did.

The Storm has proved to be a solid performer among sea kayaks but I think it needs fitted deck lines of at least 6 mm for safety. A small matter in flat seas it may be, but it becomes quite important as conditions worsen and rescues are needed.

Peter seeks your comments on this issue. If any member would like a copy of Peter’s letter, please give me a call. If you would like to reply to him direct his email address is

Rock ‘n’ Roll Weekend 2000

At the Club Executive Meeting in Canberra on 08 April we organized a few details for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Weekend & AGM for this year. The weekend will be similar to last year’s event which was held over 3 days. We will, however, more tightly structure the skills sessions so that everyone will have a chance to work on ALL the basic skills on the weekend. We won’t be doing the meal we were going to try last year – it’s just too difficult to organize. We will though encourage members to gather in the shelter area for dinner and get to know each other!

We will have some entertaining slide shows on the Saturday night. So if you’re planning a trip soon, load up your camera with slide film!

Activities for Sunday night are yet to be planned. Any suggestions? The Monday paddle venue is also yet to be planned. Stay tuned.

Turning a Kayak

In Training Notes in the last issue I wrote a few lines about rudders. I thought in this issue I’d go through the basics – the first steps – in turning a kayak without the use of the rudder. I’ve found that coming to grips with this subject is difficult for some newer paddlers, so we are just going to take it easy in this issue and then move on to more aggressive turns and turning in strong winds in the next issue.

Look, I really think this is a most important skill for all sea paddlers. I think sea kayakers should get to feel what their boat is doing in a sea and why it is doing it. The only way I know to do this is to actually practise boat control with the rudder retracted. Don’t throw your rudder away… just do some paddling each time you go out with the rudder retracted. Over time you’ll find you can paddle further and further in a more relaxed fashion without using the rudder. It follows then, does it not, that you must be acquiring some new skills?

I can remember reading about 10 years ago – can’t recall the text – that rudders were designed to balance a kayak in a beam wind and that the boat should be steered by leaning it. Here, in the year 2000, I think you’d have to agree that that statement is pretty obscure and basically now the instruction is: if you want to go right, just push on the right rudder pedal! Steering a kayak without a rudder is a subtle blend of body movements, foot pressure, paddle angle and a heap of other inputs. When you can co-ordinate them all well, it’s like riding a bicycle… that is, you hardly even think about it.

A few things before we start. Firstly, rudders should be up or off. Secondly, as you develop these skills, you’ll see that all sea kayaks will turn at different rates and angles of lean. Factors like waterline length, beam, hull profile, etc will all play a part in this. As you improve, you should measure your skills against yourself or a friend in an identical kayak. It’s pointless trying to compare the turn rates of a Dancer and a Greenlander. Thirdly, you should fit your boat well – feet firmly against the pedals or bulkhead, backrest supporting you, some firm hip support and thighs braced under the deck.

Incidentally, it should be your quadricep muscles on your thighs touching under the deck and not your kneecaps. If your kneecaps are your point of contact, it’s easy to make up some foam supports with a clearance hole for your kneecaps. Look around at club paddles and see what other paddlers are using. Lastly, try to practice these turning exercises for now in fairly calm conditions. Early morning is ideal. We’ll build up to winds later.

Let’s go for a paddle!

Now, as we’re paddling along well braced in the sea kayak, we notice that with each right hand stroke the bow wave on the left increases in size momentarily. Similarly, when we stroke on the left, the bow wave on the right does the same. In kayaks with shallow keels and shorter waterlines, the bow will actually ‘hunt’ right and left. So why is it doing this? Well, when we make a paddle stroke we are propelling the kayak with an OFF-CENTRE force. If you like, there are 2 components to that paddle stroke – one propelling us forward and the other trying to turn the boat.

We’ve been paddling along with alternating off-centre strokes (our normal paddling action). These forces have been conveyed to the kayak through our bodies, balanced and centered in the boat. The kayak may have ‘twitched’ a bit but has basically stayed straight. Thus the net turning force has been zero.

Now we’re going to ‘connect’ ourselves to the kayak off-centre so that the paddle stroke on one side will have a greater turning moment than the other and the boat will turn. OK, paddling along again with even arm action… now relax ALL your foot pressure on the right pedal and put ALL the foot pressure on the left pedal. Keep paddling evenly and the kayak will turn to the right. Easy! Keep the boat flat in the water at this stage. We should practice this, turning 360 degrees in both directions, and then doing some Figure 8’s.

Notice that the radius of the turn is not too tight. We’ll come to this soon. These simple foot pressure actions are the basis for all non-ruddered turns. Our feet are the only parts of our bodies with which we can exert alternating AND forward pressures.

Now we’re going to tighten up that turn a bit. We’ll do this by leaning the kayak OUT of the turn. That is, lean left when we turn right. Before we do this, let’s look at why it works.

Sea kayaks have relatively long waterlines, typically around 5 metres or so. If we could shorten that by even half a metre AND change the underwater profile of the boat, we could make it turn much faster. When we lean the boat, the underwater profile is no longer in equilibrium and a turn will result. There are a few other things we can do to further tighten that turn radius which we’ll cover shortly.

Paddling along again, we put ALL our foot pressure on the left pedal and relax with the right foot. Now, we lift our right knee hard up under the deck to tip the kayak slightly to the left, pivotting our torso at the waist to keep it as much as possible over the centre of gravity. This is important. If we lean out with the lean of the boat, we risk a capsize so swing those hips. Keep paddling evenly on both sides at this stage. Notice that our turn is now much tighter.

So, it’s left foot pressure/right knee pressure for a left turn and vice versa for the other way. You may need to practice this until it becomes automatic. Don’t forget to pivot at the hips. This becomes more important when you use this turn method in choppy or rebound conditions.

As we lean the kayak progressively we notice that it becomes less stable. It is of course approaching capsize. You may find that your boat turns quite well long before you reach your capsize angle. If that is so, it’s pointless to take it to the limit. The hull profile of your kayak at a lean angle approaching capsize will determine how stable the boat feels in this region.

As we practice this lean or ’tilt’ turn, we can use sweep strokes on the outside of the turn only, to further tighten the turn. Feather the blade back for each sweep if you’re at maximum lean – you may need a reflexive brace if you go too far!

One more bit to finish this up for now: kayaks swing their sterns around when they turn. To the paddler they appear to pivot around the front hatch area. If we were to lean well forward when doing a lean turn, it would lighten up the stern and the boat would turn just that little bit tighter. You bet. Give it a go. More in the next issue.

Sea Kayak Fault

Three club members have just returned from a Tasmanian expedition. David Whyte, one of the paddlers, was paddling a boat I built. During the trip he lost half of his spare paddle when the quick release let go as a dumping wave pushed the spare paddle halves sideways. The fact that his spare paddle half then sank is immaterial. It should not have self-released.

In future I will fit small plastic paddle-locating angle pieces to the rear deck to cure this problem. Current owners of the boat will also be supplied with the pieces.

Safe Paddling.