Skills and Drills [45]

By David Winkworth

Nadgee Wilderness

Talking with Larry Gray recently, we got onto the subject of the Nadgee Wilderness and Gabo Island down on the NSW/VIC border. This really is a nice area for a paddle – it can be challenging but when you’ve gained good sea kayaking skills, you really should do a paddle down there. Anyway, Larry says that this piece of coastline was the very best of the whole east coast of Australia on his Mallacoota to Thursday Island paddle! It is also one of only three areas of the NSW coastline which is undeveloped for a length of 10 km. Do you know where the other areas are? Check your maps.

Recently, Parks Victoria, the Victorian equivalent of our NPWS, issued a discussion paper on Gabo Island. It’s really about future management options for the island, balancing eco-tourism against heritage values I suppose.

Anyway, as some of us paddle down that way occasionally, I thought I’d get a copy. It’s a fairly brief document – about 12 pages but there are some interesting snippets in there. For example, the island has quite a number of cattle on it and kikuyu grass grows pretty thickly there which the cattle eat. There are a number of ‘cattle exclusion plots’ and as you’d expect the kikuyu just goes berserk in these plots with no animals to eat it down. Now Gabo Island is also the largest Fairy Penguin rookery in the southern hemisphere and while not scientifically verified, it appears that the penguins prefer the cattle grazing areas for their burrows because the trampled kikuyu doesn’t impede access to their burrows. Apparently the penguin numbers are holding well in this seabird, introduced cattle and introduced grass environment. I think there must be a few penguins though with dirty big hoof marks in their foreheads!

Tourism on Gabo Island seems to be getting the big push with all sorts of local tourism based groups getting a mention. There is brief mention of some options to increase visitor accommodation, the largest numbers discussed being 30 accommodation, 10 commercial tour visitors and 10 private. Even though the island is about 150 hectares, that is a fair number of people on an island being promoted as a ‘wilderness escape destination’.

Last time I was there I found a really nice little flat rock shelf cove on the eastern side. There were flat tent areas, a freshwater soak (might be full of cattle wee though!) and reasonable landing/launching over kelp in any westerly wind conditions. If you want a copy of the paper, call Parks Victoria.

The Very Last Words On Turning A Sea Kayak

After the last piece I wrote on turning a sea kayak, we received the following letter from Matt Broze in Seattle (the new Shaky Isles?), USA. Matt and his brother Cam are Mariner Sea Kayaks. They produce an innovative range of boats and have a website well worth visiting. Matt has been writing for the American Sea Kayaker magazine since its launch in the mid ’80s. Matt makes good points in his letter and I’d take his advice over mine any day. Read on:

Matt Broze wrote:

I really enjoyed David Winkworth’s tips on turning a sea kayak in high winds in Issue 43 of NSW Sea Kayaker. 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 water’s 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 wave’s 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 fully 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

Rolling, Rolling Rolling

In Issue 43 of NSW Sea Kayaker I wrote about rolling and a couple of articles which appeared in the American magazine Sea Kayaker on the subject. I received the following letter from Peter (no relation to OSD) Sanders, one of our American members. It makes interesting reading;

In the most recent NSW Sea Kayaker there is a comment concerning Americans attempting to make a science out of rolling and treating rolling as an advanced manoeuvre.

You have to think like an American in order to understand one. Hmmm… that didn’t come out right. Please let me continue.

Sea kayaking in the USA has been made popular by the working professional (that’s lawyers, money managers, business owners). Another way of saying popular is PROFITABLE. Someone who will drop $2,500.00 US for a fiberglass kayak, $300.00 US for a paddle and about $500.00 US for the balance, especially if lessons are attached to the sale. These same people will expect to know everything about kayaking in a 2 day seminar with 3 hour private lessons. These are expensive as well.

Rolling cannot be purchased. Usually it takes some time to develop. Check out the American Sea Kayaker magazine for all the different devices Americans have invented for these professionals to purchase. Why develop a skill when security can be purchased. If they’re very unhappy, everything is resold at the end of the year – and they take up golf or another sport. The object is to keep the professionals happy so they continue purchasing.

The occasional poor American (myself) purchases used kayaks and equipment. I have a couple of reliable rolls, with and without paddle. And yes, I happen to agree with you.

Just realise we (in the US) do not bite the hand that’s feeding the sport.

Peter Sanders

Paddles, Paddles, Paddles

Recently I’ve been hearing some stories about paddles – leakages and breaks, etc.

When you buy a paddle there are a couple of things you can check;

Firstly, have a close look at the edges of the blades. Glass fibre blades are made in two halves and joined before the resin cures. You should not be able to see any evidence of the join around the edges. I’d be suspicious of any visible join mark, especially where the shaft enters the blade. Any squeaking or creaking as you flex the blade may mean that the bonding of the shaft to the blade is insufficient or incomplete.

Secondly, find out if each end of the shaft has been plugged. It should be. Your supplier should be able to find out and tell you. The purpose of the waterproof plugging is to make sure your paddle will always float… even if you break your shaft in two. Another advantage is that a leak in one blade is quarantined to that blade so you won’t get water rushing up and down your shaft with each stroke.

If you prefer to use ‘split’ paddles, or routinely carry them as a spare, there are a couple of things you can check with these too:

The ferrule in the centre of the shaft – the male/female join – should have an overlap of at least 100 mm. I prefer a 150 mm ferrule but certainly anything less than 100 mm is asking for trouble if there is any real bending force applied to it. A small but handy tip: If you’re getting a set of splits made up, ask that the join be offset so that both sections are of equal length when stored on your deck.

With splits there should be 4 shaft plugs fitted – one at each shaft/blade join and one on each side of the ferrule. That will ensure that all your bits will float, whether broken or not. Plugs are easy to make. I cut a circle of closed cell foam, push it into position and put a small amount of five minute Araldite around it.

Of course you can always make up your own paddle. All the items are available – blades, shafts, heatshrink, etc.

The Pawlata Roll

At the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend last year there were quite a few of us in the water teaching rolling but we still had a queue. One thing I found which slowed us all down was that paddlers were NOT fitted into their kayaks firmly. A ‘walked through’ roll would see the paddler rotate and the boat remain stationary. Result: paddler comes out of the boat… right the boat… drain the water… and try again.

This was very time consuming and meant that we could not get to help everyone enough. So please, if you need help with rolling, have a good look at your cockpit. Most boats, especially plastic kayaks, are not supplied with firm hip pads and you do need to customise your cockpit yourself. Your boat will not come ready-to-roll off the showroom floor. Ideas on how to do this are always available from members.

Your kayak should move with you at all times – you and your boat should be one unit on the water. There should be no ‘hinge’!

Now, let’s have a look at the Pawlata Roll.

We are teaching the Pawlata Roll to first time rollers in the Club for a few  reasons:

  • The leverage is unsurpassed – even if you muck something up in the roll, you are still likely to succeed,
  • Your grip on the non-working blade will control your blade angle – this is a help at night or in the surf when you can’t see your blade.
  • No hip flick is necessary with this roll. You should develop a hip flick most certainly but let’s get you home first.

I recommend (and so do others) that you do not move on to other rolls until you have mastered this one.

The Pawlata Roll will not save your life… it will keep you upright in problem conditions but remember: each time you roll up you are back in the conditions that knocked you over in the first place! So, it is important that you finish the roll in a ‘braced’ position. That will give you time to think about your predicament and hopefully stop you going around again.

When you practice this roll, do so with exaggeration! That is, lean well forward, sweep wide and lean well back. You may not need to do it to this extent to succeed in your roll but it will give you a ‘fall-back’ routine which you KNOW will succeed when your quick slash at a roll fails in big surf. Back to basics always works!

I consider this roll to be the ballet-roll. It is slow and graceful. As with all rolls, it is technique, not strength that gets you up. If you have to muscle up… you’ve mucked it up!

I have a few photos for some of the common faults. You may need someone to watch you as you practice – preferably a skilled paddler. If you continue to fail, DO NOT keep at it – you will ingrain the faults and success will be harder to achieve.

The Set-Up Position

Well braced in the cockpit, thighs on the thigh braces, feet firmly against the footrests… lean well forward. Note the position of my hands on the blade and shaft. If you’re using a feathered blade, the rear blade will be gripped edgewise. Paddle is against the boat and STAYS here until ready to sweep. If you let the paddle stray from the side of the kayak, you risk having it whipped out of your hands in surf. This is the safest position you can be in if you ever ‘go over the falls’. Remember… back to basics!

The Start

Here I’ve rolled right around… and yes, my paddle is still there right against the boat. I’m maintaining my forward crunch so that I can get my paddle up to the surface. In surf, this is a good position to be in while waiting for turbulence to subside. My hands are still in the same position, the paddle angle looks OK (flat) and most importantly, my working blade is at the surface ready to sweep. That is where you blade has to start from. From here it will get maximum effectiveness. Wear a dive mask when you practice, and watch your blade.

The Sweep

This is where a few paddlers have trouble. The sweep needs to be OUT from the boat and not DOWN to the bottom. See that my blade is moving out from the boat pretty much along the surface. Remember when you rolled over in a lean forward position? You need to maintain that position underwater by holding your abdominal muscles tight. Hang down vertically like a rag doll and you will surely fail! As you start to sweep, keep your abdominal muscles tight and curl towards the surface beside the kayak. Come around with your paddle. Remember: Sweep out, not down.

The Lift

Look at this! My blade has probably only travelled half a metre out from the boat and already my head is about to break the surface! There is a lot of leverage in this roll.

The Brace Position

This is how you need to finish your roll – in a safer position than when the wave knocked you over. Back to basics, remember? Not only is my body well back but my head is too and my hands are locked hard to the paddle. The blade is not very deep either. My paddle is now acting as an outrigger stabilizer. Not getting your head well back is a common fault in this roll. Heads weigh a lot of kilograms! Help yourself to succeed by exaggerating this movement!

Draw Strokes

Draw strokes are strokes which paddlers seem not to practice too often… I guess because they are not strokes we use on the move at sea. Just the same, they are important strokes used for manoeuvering your kayak and their importance in correct execution increases with the strength of the wind!

Draw strokes are used to move your boat sideways, up to a jetty, up to a raft of fellow paddlers, dispersing from a raft of paddlers, etc.

There are two draw strokes that I use: a basic in/out draw stroke and a sculling draw stroke. Let’s look at them both.

Basic Draw Stroke

Draw the blade back towards the kayak …

Practice this in calm flat water before heading for the waves! Turn your body to face the water on the side you intend to stroke on. Use your normal paddling grip. Keep your paddle near to vertical with your upper arm forward of and framing your face. Reach out with your lower arm at full reach to place your working blade in the water out from your kayak. Keep your boat level throughout this stroke by using your thighs against their braces. Pull the blade back towards the kayak but before it reaches the boat, rotate it 90 degrees and slice it back out for another stroke. Be smooth! You may need to move the stroke fore and aft of your body if one end or the other of the kayak comes in first. Of course you can also use this stroke to bring in the bow or stern as you desire.

…then slice the blade back out and away from the kayak

This stroke works well in moving the kayak sideways but I’ve found it can be slightly unnerving if you catch the blade against the boat. The sideways moving boat can lock it in momentarily and you feel as though you’re going for a swim!

Anyway, practice it often and see what you think.

Sculling Draw Stroke

Note the arc of the paddle – at least a metre

This stroke is probably also called an ordinary sculling support stroke but it works well as a draw stroke so I thought I’d stick it in here! I find this stroke more stable than the Basic Draw Stroke, probably because there is constant pressure on the paddle and… well… it really is a support stroke. The hand position is the same as for the Basic Draw Stroke. Keep the kayak level and proscribe an arc with your paddle. Use your lower hand to change the angle of the working blade so that it is continually pulling on your arm. Practice is the key here. Vary the angle to find what works best. Your arc of movement with the paddle should be at least a metre in length. This is important. Any less and your paddle will continually be changing direction. Remember, the blade is NOT working on the turns… only on the run between turns. There is no need to scull too quickly either if you have the blade angle correct.