Discussion Following the NSW Sea Kayaker Vol. 43 [43]

By Matt Broze

Matt Broze, of Mariner Kayaks, Seattle, USA had some additional comments to David Winkworth’s Training Notes on turning a sea kayak

The Mariner Kayaks web site is an excellent resource for all things to do with sea kayaking. Besides excellent kayaks and some unique paddling gear, Mariner Kayaks offer well-written, free on-line manuals on aspects of sea kayaking: safety, rescues, the use of a paddle float, secondary buoyancy (flotation), rudders. The site is well worth browsing.

I really enjoyed David Winkworth’s tips on turning a sea kayak in high winds in issue 43. It is the best description of what really works in high winds that I have read in the last twenty years. It is obvious David has really been there and worked out what works for him and has also analyzed why it works and shared it with his mates. Inspired by David’s article I’d like to add a couple more tips and offer some possible improvements to these techniques for your consideration.

Regarding turning up into the wind, David wrote:

What we need is speed! We need water moving past the kayak’s hull so that any steering stroke we initiate will have a greater effect in countering the wind.

Let’s paddle hard straight across the wind. Get that boat moving. Let’s use the boat’s tendency to weathercock to our advantage. Now, using the outside-of-the-turn foot pressure with inside-knee-lift we’ll initiate a turn. We can help the boat to turn more forcefully by leaning well forward to lighten up the stern (remember the stern needs to swing out) and making our paddle strokes on the outside of the turn wider for more turning moment.

We can also slide our hands along the paddle shaft to make that outside stroke into a genuine sweep stroke. Keep those paddle strokes going on the inside of the turn too. We need the speed. The boat will come around.

Great advice that’s not often stated. I’d like to suggest trying one change, drop the upwind strokes altogether once speed across the wind has been achieved.

I find that once up to speed across the wind, turning using only sweep strokes on the downwind side works best for me. Those sweep strokes, combined with the wind holding the bow from turning, maintain plenty of forward speed across the wind (needed to get the benefit of weathercocking) but with all the (sweep) strokes on one side every stroke is also helping me to turn the way I want to go without any strokes on the other side working against me (even if only slightly). Not stroking on the upwind side frees up the paddle for some other beneficial techniques here as well.

David already mentioned shifting the hands over towards one side on the shaft, if you’re not stroking on the upwind side you can shift the paddle over even further for better turning leverage. This also shortens the lever arm you offer the wind (to use to jerk you around) on the upwind blade of the paddle. But I think the major benefit, of not taking strokes on the upwind side, is that while swinging it forward for the next stroke the downwind blade can be kept in a position where it is ready for a quick brace (low brace during most of the blade return, or a high brace, when the downwind blade is well forward, ready for the next sweep stroke).

By having a brace immediately available I can confidently lean the kayak even further up on edge and more comfortably keep it strongly leaned throughout the turn (even between strokes). Both leaning and sweep strokes make the turn tighter and quicker. Leaning more raises the keel higher and further angles the stern keel to one side to better shed the water, allowing the stern to swing around quicker.

Keeping it leaned throughout the turn allows for a continuous turn that is not slowed as the keel snags (when the kayak is straightened back up somewhat during the upwind side stroke). Practice these extreme lean turns using a bracing blade return in calm water. I often let the returning blade just barely skim across the waters surface during the return phase. Build your confidence with this technique in calm water and then give it a try during the next real onshore blow. Compare it to your other techniques for turning into the wind.

Time yourself to see which is quicker. Quick is very important when you are arm wrestling the wind.

David wrote about using waves to help turning:

Our strong wind has of course generated waves which are slapping against the boat as we paddle across the wind. We can use the waves to our advantage in turning the kayak. You’ll need to time an outside-of-the-turn sweep stroke with the bow section of the boat being out of the water over a wave. Get this right and the boat will move onto your new course very quickly.

When the wind gets so strong that the bow is blown back significantly as it rises off the crest of the wave, the waves ability to free the ends of the kayak from the waters grip give the advantage to the strongest. Of course at some wind speed the strongest force will shift from your stroke to the now much “stronger” winds force.

I think the timing technique David recommends above is still the best technique in this stronger wind situation it is just that now the stroke timing technique’s job is to resist the wind mightily so it can’t use its strength advantage to make too large a gain against you as your bow becomes full exposed to the wind at the wave crest. During times like this it is even more paramount that you turn the kayak quicker in the trough of the wave when the wave crests serve to protect your bow somewhat from the wind so hopefully you can regain a little more angle than the wind won when your bow was hanging out over the crest.

You turn quicker by leaning more, leaning longer and using only big sweep strokes (with a bow push and strong stern draw component) on the downwind side.

David wrote:

Right, the boat has come around towards the wind but your course is not quite bang-on upwind… perhaps 10-20 degrees off. What can you do to help hold the boat on this course without using the rudder?

The answer is: use your bodyweight to change the weight distribution in your kayak. How well this works will depend on various factors but it is another thing that you need to work out for yourself in your boat. So… heading upwind, perhaps 45 degrees off the wind: if the wind is blowing you back to that beam-on position, lean well forward, well forward, whilst paddling. This will lighten the stern and force the bow in. Use the wind here to change your course.

Again, great advice. I might add that you can use this weight shifting technique anytime you want to turn quicker (or track straighter by moving back), including, as Dave mentioned earlier, when you are struggling to get the bow turned up into the wind. Some of the kayaks my brother and I design incorporate an instantly adjustable sliding seat/footbrace unit to magnify this weight shifting effect greatly.

Note: my experience is that the only way a rudder helps you turn into a strong wind is by lifting it into the air at the stern and using it as a sail back on the stern to increase the weathercocking tendency. Oops! Can I get the lid back on that can of worms. Slam. Twist. There, can is all closed up.

Regarding turning downwind, David wrote:

Similarly, if you want to turn off the wind, lean well back to force the stern in and lighten the bow. These two manoeuvres should be accompanied by degrees of boat lean – use everything you’ve got – don’t make your paddling too hard.

Turning downwind from that position of equilibrium is not too difficult but remember that your kayak may suddenly pick up a wave as it comes onto a downwind course, so be ready. Again, paddle hard across the wind. Now, initiate some upwind boat lean by lifting the downwind knee and also pushing hard on the upwind footrest only. The other thing you have to do is lean well back. Get that keel well into the water and lighten the bow as much as you can. Keep the lean-back position until the bow turns downwind. The boat may turn very quickly when the waves pick it up so be ready. On ANY downwind heading, all your turns should be made while still in the lean-back position. Try it.

If you find yourself in a position (or kayak) where turning downwind is difficult I agree with David on all his points above except for this. Direction! Both the direction of the lean and (even more important) the direction you paddle. Just like you used weatherhelm to your advantage to turn upwind, by getting up speed across the wind first, you can use weathercocking again to help you make the turn to point downwind. You do this by shifting your direction into reverse.

Get up a little speed going backwards across the wind and your bow will blow more downwind than your stern (what we call weathercocking) leaving you pointed in the direction you wanted to go downwind. But you will not risk being surfed off wildly (a possibility Dave warns of using the forward paddling turn). Not that I have anything against surfing off wildly on the steep following waves, I love that, but by backing up to turn downwind I can choose my own wave and launch window.

Matt Broze

Matt and Cam Broze build Mariner Kayaks in Seattle in the Pacific North West of USA