Q: Hi Greg,
I use both Greenland style kayak (hard chine,low deck, low volume) and Brit style kayak (round chine, generous freeboard). What I get frustrated about Greenland style boat is that it is really hard to keep it tracking straight in a [rear quartering] sea. I have no problem with my Brit boat even without using skeg (yet), but with my Greenland style boat, I have to really work on corrective strokes and it slows me down. Is it just the nature of this kind of kayak? Or is there any technique that I can use to make it easier? I don’t see any article about Greenland style technique regarding to that subject (boat handling in wind) except extended strokes. It is hard for me to think they (the Greenlanders) did not have that kind of technique to pass on when they had to use the kayak which is very very sensitive to what the water does to it. So far I am learning to adapt Brits technique to use with Greenland style gears just because I can’t find anything from “Greenland side”. Thanks! Setsuko
A: Hello Setsuko,
Many classic British sea kayaks have a strong West Greenland influence. While I like the control afforded by hard chines, the overall shape of the kayak is much more important than just hard-chined or round bilged, when it comes to tracking, weathercocking and broaching.
Greenland kayaks, even from the same general area, can behave very differently, so it’s impossible to generalize. I have paddled kayaks in West Greenland, built in the same town, that weathercocked viciously and others that tracked strongly. I find that the kayaks that exhibit the most weathercocking often have very low volume and very “pinched” ends (when viewed from above), combined with strong rocker. While this often gives superb maneuverability (and a certain aesthetic appeal), it can make the kayak quick to weathercock/broach.
Weathercocking is the tendency of most kayaks to turn into the wind when on-the-move. It’s especially pronounced in beam and rear quartering seas.
To help visualize why this happens place your kayak on a sandy beach and create a small mound of sand on either side of the bow to emulate the bow wave (high pressure) that forms when you are moving forward (imagine a tug boat plowing through the water). Acting as the wind, if you now push on one side of the kayak, the bow resists movement but the stern has much less resistance and slides away from you. The result is that the kayak pivots near the bow and the stern “blows downwind”. Note that weathercocking only happens when you are moving forward (or reverse). If you aren’t paddling no bow wave/pressure is generated and your entire kayak is blown sideways.
The reason that you probably haven’t seen anything specifically for G-style technique for dealing with wind is that, except for using paddle extension, the techniques used are virtually identical to what is taught in “mainstream” kayaking. The only major difference is that I have never seen bow-rudder strokes used in Greenland and my informants have said they were not commonly used. Perhaps they are/were used , if anyone knows, please drop me a line.
Other than using a skeg or rudder (to help anchor the stern), a very effective way to deal with weathercocking is to edge the kayak into the wind and apply a stern draw or sweep. Edging the kayak into the wind helps to anchor the stern and creates an asymmetric (curved) underwater hull shape that helps the kayak to turn away from the wind.
To edge the kayak it’s often advised that you ”hang a knee” (lift the opposite knee). For example, if the wind is coming from your left, you lift your right knee and hip (putting more pressure on your left butt cheek) and edge the kayak to the left. While this works, due to the active use of your hips/legs to edge the kayak, it makes it difficult to pump your legs for power, and can become uncomfortable if held for long periods.
Greenland competition veteran Pavia Lumholt (Qajaq Nuuk/Qajaq København), taught me a simpler technique; to just shift your butt laterally, a very small amount in the seat to windward, to lean the hull. This technique doesn’t inhibit your leg drive and is much more comfortable. Please note that this may not work if you use thick hip pads at the sides of the seat. Greenland-style paddlers don’t usually use thick hip pads, because they prevent you from getting your body weight low to the water during techniques such as side-sculling, static braces and rolling.
Now that your kayak is edged into the wind, you can perform a strong sweep or a stern draw on the windward side. I often prefer a stern draw. The logic is that since it’s the stern of your kayak that is “loose” (moving downwind) and the bow is ensconced in high pressure, it makes more sense to control the stern rather than fight the bow. To perform the draw, take a forward stroke on the windward side, but at the point where you would normally extract the paddle, slice the blade slightly away from you, drop your elbow to your hip and push your top hand gently away from you. You don’t need to draw the blade right up to the hull, finish with about a foot of room. The effect will be to draw the stern and correct your course. If you prefer to perform a sweep instead, then you may wish to maximize your effort in the latter part of the stroke, where it functions similar to a draw.
You can also perform a sliding stroke on the windward side, or simply hold the paddle so that it is longer to windward. A stern rudder works too, but will cost you speed. For more information on this and other directional strokes I highly recommend Nigel Foster’s Sea Kayaking Series (Volume 3 deals with Directional Control including turning in the wind).
Note the tied-on skegs in these Greenland kayaks (2000 Annual Kayaking Championship Photo by Greg Stamer).
Most kayaks in Greenland have tied-on skegs to aid directional control by adding pressure to the stern. This was originally done for hunting, to prevent the kayak from
veering off, when the paddle was lifted from the water, while a gun was retrieved from a waterproof bag. Most kayaks used today for sport in Greenland, including “racing kayaks”, have skegs (see photo above). Loading more gear in the stern can also help (see illustration). A downside of this method is that if the wind conditions change, your stern heavy trim might become a liability. Because of this I usually strive for a balanced gear load, with the heavier items closer to the cockpit.
So far this discussion has centered around weathercocking, however if you are surfing a breaking wave near shore, or a large swell, you might experiencing broaching. What happens is that the bow of the kayak buries, the stern continues to move forward, and the kayak quickly, sometimes violently, turns broadside to the wave. This is a common cause of capsizing. To help prevent broaching you can lean toward the wave, rotate your torso away from the wave, and place a stern rudder on the side of the kayak opposite from the wave. This is a “diagonal run” and lets you achieve surfing speeds much faster than going straight down-wave. Eventually however, if you don’t pull-off the wave, and the wave continues to steepen, the kayak will broach. It’s often best to initiate this action, and broach in control, rather than be surprised and have to react. Lean into the wave and now brace into it (low brace works and is safer for your shoulder). This will let you “bongo-slide” sideways in control. You can move the paddle toward the bow or stern to adjust your course. Please note that this technique can be can be hazardous to swimmers and anyone in your path as you are cutting a six meter swath toward the shore. If you lean away from the wave at any point you will capsize instantly.
This topic is much deeper than I can cover in this short post, to do it justice. Seek out additional information in books and on-line, and find good instruction, particularly if you are seeking the challenges of the surf zone.
Many thanks to Duncan at Solent Sea Kayaking for the use of the illustrations in this post.