Little things that make a big difference
Let me introduce my idea for putting together this report. Almost two years ago, I had a skeg put in my Pittarak. It was such an improvement from having nothing at all for directional stability. And by that, I mean, the only input I had prior to the skeg for steering control was traditional leaning and edging.
Dave Winkworth was also working on an idea to put a skeg in his Nadgee. He installed it in the Pittarak for a test run to see if all the bits and pieces worked. To Dave’s credit, it worked well except for a few small things that he improved on before installing them in my new Nadgee.
The skeg is a small piece of equipment that I think has two advantages over rudders:
- It is adjustable up and down unlike a rudder that is either down all the time (Mirage style) or up or down (like 99% of other rudders).
- Unlike many of the rudder users, who just use the rudder as a means of steering, the skeg still encourages the traditional edging and leaning aspect of boat control. Let’s face it, a kayak is designed to have paddler input for boat control, rather than just relying on the rudder.
Personally I like having the option of being able to adjust the trim of the skeg to suit conditions. Having trialed the skeg for some time now, in moderate conditions, I have it approximately 1\3 down. In a howling (20+ knots) wind with a following or quartering wind and swell, I have it down another third. While the Nadgee does not need the skeg fully down, the Pittarak sometimes needed full skeg in similar conditions.
You can see in the diagrams what a difference a skeg can make and the impact it has changing the central lateral resistance. For the not so technically inclined, like me, I would say that in following winds and sea the skeg helps slow down the overtaking movement of the stern over the bow. When you use a skeg, you can actually feel the back of your boat try to overtake the bow (yawing) and then feel the skeg bite in and stop that movement. Depending on the size of wind and or swell, you can adjust the depth of the skeg to suite the conditions, unlike a rudder that is up or down.
A skeg is a simple device that can help a lot more than a rudder, that is if you still like to have the old edging and leaning movements as part of your skill repertoire. Really, it’s a bit of both worlds as far as directional stability is concerned. You have a fin that keeps you straight and it still leaves you with the process of edging and leaning to keep your boat under control. And most importantly, you don’t have to press left and right chasing your course line all the time with that Rudder!
The popular Pittarak with its skeg set up, which is becoming quite popular amongst Pittarak paddlers, is shown in the photograph with the skeg fully down and the skeg control box is in the inset.
The other two photographs are of the skeg setup in the Nadgee with the skeg about half to two thirds down along with the control box.
The two boats are similar but have completely different handling characteristics. They behave quite differently with no skeg or rudder and both handle well with the skeg down.
Wing (Propeller) Paddles
I did a trip with Andrew McAuley two years ago and have seen him in action many times since. He uses a wing or propeller paddle. I have watched him and others using wing paddles and the benefits of it have played on my mind. I wanted to give a paddle a go and was quite lucky to borrow one from Rob Mercer (Thanks Rob!). Since then I have picked it up and tried it, thrown it away saying, “definitely not for sea kayaking” and finally given it a fair dinkum go. It was not until I had paddled with it for some time that I became convinced of the advantages of using a wing paddle on the sea. I took the ‘wing’ on a 90km training paddle in preparation for my Bass Strait crossing and learnt the technique required to get the best out of it. Easier to use than a straight paddle and efficient through the water, it was to my liking and, from that moment, I was a convert. Now I won’t use a “straight” paddle, even if you pay me.
Now for a few guidelines on what makes a wing or propeller paddle different from a “straight” paddle.
Every one knows the physical difference between the wing and straight paddle but there are two different types of wing:
One type is parallel and more symmetrical. It is the “older” design or wing blade and lends it self more to sea kayaking as it can do sculling and sweep strokes. Although, it is a bit harder than with a “straight” paddle; but with practise it definitely is achievable. The ‘newer’ design is more teardrop shaped. This is the propeller and is much harder to scull or do sweep strokes with. It lends itself more to the racer and is great for forward propulsion.
I use a wing paddle. It is easier to use for most strokes and for surfing. But I must say, I have dedicated a fair bit of my paddling time in the last year to improving my forward paddling stroke and using this paddle correctly. I believe if you do not use the wing paddle correctly, you can do all sorts of damage to shoulders and other bits needed to paddle. Before you pick one up spend some time making sure that you have good forward paddling technique.
In the surf, the paddle can let you down as the cupped lines of the paddle do not lend themselves to stern or support strokes, but with practise and a little bit of “corrective technique”, this is not a problem. After a few months of getting used to my wing paddle, I now have no problem in the surf and don’t even notice the difference these days. One big advantage, other than forward paddling of the wing or propeller paddle is rolling. I have heard that they are harder to roll with than a straight paddle. I was surprised to find how much easier they were. I have never had the best left side roll but with the wing paddle it has helped me so much that I am up every time on my left side. How’s that, eh?
In summary, wing and propeller paddles are more efficient at holding water, which makes for faster paddling, easier rolling and encourages much better forward paddling technique, which is something we all try to achieve with our paddling, whether it be recreational or racing. There is a place in the sea kayaker’s arsenal for a wing or propeller paddle. So don’t be put off by the old school. Give it a go. You won’t be disappointed. BUT don’t just pick it up and use it when you are trying to go fast on flat water such as on the Wednesday night time trials, use it all the time and really get used to it!
See you on the water with your new wing or propeller paddle!