the website of Greg Stamer

Greenland Kayak and Weathercocking

Posted by Greg on April 22, 2012

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.

WeatherCockingWeathercocking 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).

Skegs on Greenland Kayaks
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 Technique: Using A Skeg
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.

  1. Bill Burton Said,

    Hi Greg, SO much good info in this answer! Can you tell me what is meant by “pulling off” the wave (is it letting the crest pass under before it breaks?) and the best way to do that? Also, my boat is a Tahe Greenland T, very hard chines, very fast, it tends to run down to the bottom of the wave, bury the bow and broach like crazy. But, it also has a massive retractable skeg. I’ve heard one should surf skeg-up for maneuverability, but the skeg does help hold the line. What do you recommend?

  2. Greg Said,

    Hello Bill, glad you found the post useful. Pulling off is getting off the wave before it goes critical, allowing you to stay in the zone and wait for the next wave (rather than getting swept into shore and having to battle your way out again). Pulling off is possible if you are still ahead of the break; you lean away from the break and your kayak pivots sharply up and over the shoulder.

    I’m leary of too much skeg in the surf zone. I have seen plenty of broken skegs and rudders (sea kayaks). I sometimes leave a little skeg down on my Greenlander Pro. When moving in/out of the surf zone with a loaded kayak I raise the skeg/rudder. That said, I haven’t surfed the Tahe Greenland, but if it handles anything like my Anas Acuta, I enjoy diagonal runs and its maneuverability (no skeg), but it broaches in a heartbeat if you make a mistake. Of course no sea kayak surfs like a wave ski or surf kayak, but that’s a post for another day…

  3. Greenland Kayak and Weathercocking » Kanotnytt Said,

    […] via KayakVagabond […]

  4. Bill Burton Said,

    It’s nothing like an Anas. AA is notoriously slow; Tahe is stupid-fast. Very maneuverable on edge, great in a following sea, but in breaking surf it’s like riding a hooked marlin. For me at least. Not that I would ever hook a marlin.

  5. Setsuko Cox Said,

    Thanks Greg. Those techniques ( stern draw, trim, sweep, edging etc) are what I’ve been working on.
    I paddled those in mind yesterday in small waves, wind was around10knot or less( I did not see much white crests, wind waves was maybe 1foot -1.5 or so and that was steep enough to surf sometimes.
    I needed constant coreective strokes to go downwind, although I was able to surf ocasionally, because of the constant corrective strokes, my overall average speed was less than my speed on calm water:(. I did not use stern rudder (pry), mostly I did sweep and some draws.
    When I paddled with beam wind, I did not have any issue. I still needed to edge some into the waves but can hold the heading with little effort. My boat behaves well in beamwind even when I have same amount of load ( just day gear) in front of feet.
    Should I make it some more heavier at stern?

  6. Greg Said,


    For the conditions you experienced, try adding a sweep/draw component to your regular forward stroke. The trick is to learn to correct BEFORE things get out of hand (performing small corrections at the right time, rather than BIG corrections that strain your body/paddle and slow you down). Once the stern breaks free and you start pivoting rapidly into the wind, a strong stern rudder can often help.

    If you expect consistent downwind conditions, then certainly experiment with loading the kayak slightly stern heavy, you can also experiment with a strap-on skeg, like the kayaks in the photo I posted (they are easy to make and remove). Sometimes it doesn’t take much adjustment to make a big difference.

    In time, your speed should improve significantly going downwind — and it’s a thrill to link wave after wave. Usually it is when you are surfing that your kayak broaches due to your increased speed and how quickly the stern can break free.

    When paddling downwind in bigger conditions, ensure that you are applying power efficiently. Assuming that the waves are good for surfing, don’t tire yourself out trying to power up the back of a wave. Instead reduce power, and when you feel your stern rise, then apply power, start surfing and be fast to correct. That said, you really have to WANT to be on the wave. Until comfortable surfing most kayakers will hold back just enough that they miss the wave, perhaps because the prospect of flying down the wave (and maybe losing control) can be intimidating. It’s just part of the learning process!

  7. Setsuko Cox Said,

    Thanks Greg for the encouragement and coaching. I’ll keep practice those. Beside, I like surfing and it is super fun when it happenes.

  8. Jöns Said,

    Hi Greg,
    about the “bow-rudder”: I can’t comment on what inuits or people in Greenland do for turning. What I’ve found out with my Greenland style “Fragrance” kayak is that the combination of flat bottom and greenland paddle turns quickly with a lazy sweep stroke. Bow rudder gives minimal advantages even if it is cool to use in narrows. I would use the bow rudder if bending inches close around a rock and effectively move sideways to avoid the stern sliding against a rock on the opposite side of that narrow passage. I imagine Greenlanders having iceblocks to circumvent rather than granit rocks. Bow rudder in a narrow kayak may be a risk (capsize?) if the fairly long blade is stuck between the kayak and an iceblock (handroll agains a thin sheet of ice?).

  9. Greg Said,

    Hello Jöns,
    I use bow rudders heavily when turning the kayak into the wind. The kayak wants to turn into the wind anyway, so this amplifies the effect. This is in keeping with the principle of working with the kayak/wind, instead of fighting it.

    While a “regular Duffeck” style bow rudder works fine, I prefer a cross bow rudder with a Greenland paddle. A cross bow rudder takes more flexibility and has the disadvantage that your working blade is on the wrong side of the kayak, should you need a quick paddle stroke, but I like the stability and the “locked-in” feeling that it provides. You can use this stability (something to “hold on-to”) to increase your lean for a tighter turn.

    There’s also another method you can try. While it’s a bit of a trick, and can lead to a capsize, a one handed bow pry works great with a GP. For this technique, imagine that you are paddling broadside to the wind, and the wind is coming from your left. You need speed, so take a few strong strokes, edge the kayak to the right, sweep on the right side (to get the kayak skidding). After the sweep, push the upper blade away from you with your left hand and let go, holding the paddle only with the right hand (hey, I said it was a trick move :)). Place this upper blade into the water near the bow, so that it is going slightly under the hull. If you do it correctly, the blade will nicely “lock” against the flat chine panel (if you have hard chines) from the water pressure. If you do it wrong you will have a spectacular capsize! The result (if done well) will be a radically strong turn into the wind, the kayak will literally whip around in amazing fashion.

    In the future I’ll post on bow rudders and include video or images of this move. While this is a bit of a trick, because it is one-handed and relies on some tricky balance, I use this technique frequently. I even used it in the sprint race at Delmarva one year, to whip the kayak around the buoy at the turn, and remain inside of everyone else.

  10. Setsuko Cox Said,

    Greg, if I can paddle faster ( by this, I mean “if I can paddle with stronger power forward stroke), dose it become easier to coop with this weather cocking?
    I am wondering if I should focus more on improving my strength for the each forward stroke rather than my stearing technique.

  11. Greg Said,

    Setsuko, the cause of weathercocking is increased water pressure on the bow, relative to the stern, so paddling faster will only make this worse (more bow pressure). The exception is, if you are going at near sprint speed where the bow rises and the stern squats (increased pressure on the stern), or are planing while surfing, neither of which can be sustained for long periods of time. Virtually all racing kayaks and surfskis use a rudder, so that all your effort is devoted to forward propulsion, rather than correcting strokes.

    Some kayaks weathercock more than others. For example my rolling kayak (an Anas Acuta) weathercocks significantly, but is very maneuverable. However, for putting in miles, I’d rather have a stiffer tracking boat, like my NDK Greenlander Pro. Heavy rocker and short waterline length can help make a kayak easy to roll, but may increase weathercocking. Many people like to have such a kayak outfitted with a skeg in attempt to have the best of both worlds.

  12. Setsuko Cox Said,

    Thanks Greg,
    Now I am convinced and made up my mind to install a skeg on my kayak.The other day, I did paddling in sudden squall with 25knot rear wind and 3-4 feeters in fast current. I was glad I had a skeg boat that day. Team’s speed is as fast as the slowest paddler and in such a event like sudden high wind squall, it is a little safety issue for both myself and my team mates. Thanks for your help for me to understand this things.


  13. Peter Riley Said,

    I have a Tahe Greenland T which I love and hope to one day know all it can do. In the meanwhile, learning this boat’s capabilities is exciting. So far I have never seen weathercocking in this qajaq. The large skeg seems unnecessay as she tracks perfectly. I experiment with the skeg but except for heavy cross waves and cloflutis: it is never needed.
    The back and forth between you and Setsuko covered an enormous range.
    Anything you may have heard of the Tahe would be most welcome

  14. Alex Acatos Said,

    Excellent, Awsome, Most informative site Greg In relation to weather cocking,In january 2013 i did a workshop with Nigel Foster on directional control, i am a GP paddler only by the way. The effiency of my forward stroke has increased imensely since puting this new knowledge to practice. Nigel Foster has a series of training DVDs out, vol 3 is specifically on directional control. I paddle both a british boat (valley aquanuat) And a hard chined boat(Nigel Foster legend) the techniques covered on the video work for both. Regards and God bless Alex

  15. Karl G Said,

    I think that any time the load in a kayak is different than what the designer expected, it is liable to handle funny. In particular I think that light women may benefit with experimenting with ballast. You might benefit from more weight in the stern to give the stern more bite, or you might find that adding weight to both ends helps the whole boat track better by increasing the waterline length. Same for any camping gear- experiment with moving the heavy stuff around. I have overloaded my bow in three different kayaks to the point that the skeg fully extended couldn’t correct the handling, and once I moved gear around it was fine. I have never managed to overload the stern enough to need to move weight forward, but I am sure it’s possible, esp when traveling upwind.

  16. Greg Said,

    Hello Karl, I agree about experimenting with gear and load. That said, except in unusual circumstances, I prefer to have any heavy items close to the center and to have the load balanced fore/aft. Heavy gear in both ends makes for sluggish handling (slow to turn, etc). Every time that I have added weight to the stern to (successfully) reduce weathercocking the wind direction has changed, leaving the kayak trimmed incorrectly for the prevailing conditions.

  17. Bartman_van_Ghent Said,

    I have a hard chined greenland kayak and i use a long paddle. I just shift my grip to the right or left to compensate for weather cocking.

  18. Darrel McClinton Said,

    He’s hoping second time’s a attraction.