Skills ‘n Drills [57]

By David Winkworth

Let me start with this question: How Well Do You Know Your Kayak?

Gee, there could be some interesting answers to that question! However, I’m being serious on this occasion, so I’ll continue. Because we often spend a long time in our boats I think it’s important that we all know how our kayaks perform in as many different wind and wave combinations as possible. That knowledge can’t help but make us all better sea paddlers.

Wind is universally regarded as one of a sea kayaker’s enemies. Paul Caffyn once said “wind is the curse of the kayaking class” or something like that. Sure, it often is our enemy but we also use wind and the waves it creates to help us on our way. So, if wind is our enemy on the ocean, and also our friend, then shouldn’t we know just how it affects our kayaks?

Wind will affect all kayak designs differently. Some of the many factors affecting wind influence on sea kayaks and their paddlers are:

  • Length and beam of kayak
  • Hull profile and shape
  • Deck profile and shape
  • Load being carried
  • Fore and aft distribution of load
  • Fore and aft lean of paddler
  • Seated height of paddler
  • General size of paddler
  • Gear on aft and/or fore deck
  • Rudder parked on deck
  • Rudder in water
  • Skeg deployed or retracted

There is a simple way you can test some of these factors for yourself and the influence they may have on your kayak in beam winds. All you need is a compass, an expanse of water away from ocean swell (such as a coastal lake) and a very windy day.

Secure your compass to the foredeck where you can read it easily – a bushwalking compass will do if you don’t have a marine compass. Paddle out into the lake away from wind shadows such as trees or buildings. Turn your kayak beam on to the wind, lay your paddle along the deck and sit there very still. Note the compass reading after a minute or two. Now lean well forward in your cockpit as far as you can and check the compass reading again. It may take a few minutes for the kayak angle relative to the wind to change, so give it time. Now note the difference between the two readings. See, your weight distribution does change the angle! Try it leaning back too, and with your rudder or skeg up or down. Do a combination of all these. Fill a few water bottles and try it with these in your hatches. Compare your results with your friends. See if you can account for any differences – it’s a good exercise.

You can use this knowledge to help trim your boat for a day’s paddle. Above all, remember that some movement of your torso is a valuable tool in catching or dropping off waves and turning or tracking your kayak in wind.

You Know You’re a Sea Kayaker When:

…you sit around in the pub trying to check out calluses on other people’s thumbs…just to see if they’re as big as yours! (Thanks Margot. Hmmm…..anyone got any more?)

Care of Gear

I heard recently of a sea kayaking hire and guiding business where all the paddling gear – PFDs, spray skirts, cags etc is soaked in a water and Armor-All solution after each use. I’m told that it works well. Anyone ever done this?

I do know that hanging a salt water- soaked spray skirt out in the sun to dry is probably the worst thing you can do to it. The salt crystals that form in the fabric will eventually cut up the surface covering. It is nice on a trip to slip on a dry skirt the next day but the best care for the skirt is to rinse it, fold gently and store it wet up in your cockpit out of the sun.

The Surfboard Launch

Ever watched board riders launch out into the surf off the rocks or off the beach? They just put the board down, leap onto it in a prone position and they’re off. It’s a bit more difficult for a sea kayaker, who has a paddle, a cockpit and a sprayskirt to contend with but we can certainly learn from that launch style. The aim here is to lie flat on the kayak and paddle out with your hands to where an easy cockpit entry can be accomplished. Occasionally we all have to launch from rocky or muddy shores and if we have a strong current or wind to contend with as well, it can all get a bit messy. An option here is to use this surfboard launch. I’ve used this launch style in a surging flooded coastal creek and, by launching in a brief lull, I even got through a nasty shore dumping surf once without even getting wet!

You only need one small piece of equipment – a short length of shockcord and an olive to secure your paddle to the deck. Using this little cord will mean you can concentrate on hand paddling and your paddle will be there when you reach for it. It also means you can go walking around looking for a spot to launch from with your kayak on your shoulder and your other hand free for balance. Slide one paddle blade under the fore deckline, secure the shaft to your deckline near the cockpit with the shockcord and you’re ready to go.

You can either push your kayak out in the water, jump in, swim over to it, climb on the deck and hand-paddle to where you want to enter the cockpit OR float the kayak and lie on the deck as you push off and hand-paddle. The latter method is the one to use if the water is really cold or you’d like to stay dry.

Experimenting is the key to deciding what works for you. Like many sea kayaking skills, you do need to practise this to make it work. A few points:

The aim of this launch is to get you and your kayak to a place where you can most easily get into the cockpit. For example, if I was launching from a rocky oyster encrusted shoreline, I’d use this surfboard launch…..not much joy in a possible capsize in the shallows as you get into your boat and put your hands down onto the oysters!

As you launch out, keep your weight low – lie right down on the deck. I lie right over my cockpit opening with my chin over the coaming. It’s a bit uncomfortable but it’s not for very long. Try to keep your legs out of the water and you’ll be surprised how fast you can hand-paddle in this position. Paddle out to where you’re going to enter the cockpit and sit up on the deck behind your cockpit. If your kayak has a large cockpit opening, the next bit is easy – just slide forward and slip your bum into the seat followed by your legs. If your cockpit is too small to do this, you’re going to have that wonderful moment of instability to contend with as you bring up one leg and then the other! You could try using your paddle in an outrigger position to help stabilize the kayak but if you’re going to do it without paddle support speed is the essence! When you lift up your second leg do not stop! Slip straight into the cockpit – you may find that what you thought was going to be a capsize as you entered the cockpit, does not eventuate – the rapid lowering of your CG has saved you!

This last element of the Surfboard Launch is more easily done with a loaded kayak. If you’re tipping over a bit, put some gear in the boat and try it like that. Good luck!

You Know You’re a Sea Kayaker When:

… you go to the Sydney Motor Show where Playboy Playmates drape themselves over millions of dollars worth of sexy macho machines….and you came to look at roof racks!

Enjoy your paddling!