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Ask Greg

Posted by Greg on January 21, 2012

Welcome to the New Q&A Page!

I’m happy to help answer your questions ranging from Greenland-style technique, making Greenland paddles, wing technique, kayak expeditions and gear, kayak camping, surf kayaking and more. I look forward to your questions!

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Greenland Kayak and Weathercocking

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.

ONNO Foot Bar for NDK Greenlander Pro

Q: Can I mount an ONNO foot bar in my NDK Greenlander pro?
Is there enough room for the knees to bring my feet into a centered position?– J P Meyenberg

A: JP, I have an ONNO carbon foot bar (foot plate) mounted in my NDK Greenlander Pro and love it.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, the ONNO foot bar is a very lightweight, wide carbon plate that mounts to your existing Yakima pedals (stock installation is with screws).  The hardware is provided to modify your current Yakima aluminum rails so that they are parallel so that the solid foot plate can be adjusted fore/aft without binding.

I have size 10 feet and have just enough room to bring feet and knees to a centered position in the keyhole cockpit.  There isn’t a lot of clearance,  my knees can fit only when they are very close together, about an inch apart. For more clearance you could modify the thigh hooks (grind them away a bit).  In this centered, racing-style position, I can generate more torso-rotation than in the “splayed-out” position.

The ONNO foot bar is much more comfortable than the small , non-ergonomic Yakima pedals (aka postage stamps).  Try a comfortable foot bar/foot plate and you’re spoiled for life.  You won’t want to use regular Yakima pedals again. I’m still thinking about making a wooden wedge for each Yakima pedal, cut at 60 degrees on one face, to provide an angled mounting surface for the ONNO foot bar.  That would be heaven. Currently I have the foot bar held to the pedals with heavy duty Velcro and tethered with an extremely short string on one side to prevent loss in surf.   I keep my water bladders in front of my feet, so I’m still trying to devise the best way to install the ONNO foot bar so that I can quickly swing it out of the way and get access.

As with any modification to the cockpit, ensure that it doesn’t impede your ability to exit the kayak.  One potential hazard of any full-width foot bar is the danger of getting your feet jammed under it and entrapped. This could happen in a forceful collision, such as surfing and pile-driving your bow into the bottom.  Whether or not this is an issue depends on the width of the foot bar, your footwear, and the volume/shape of your kayak.  If entrapment is a possibility, the smart solution is to devise a fail-safe mechanism and mount your foot bar so that it can swing backward and release should you pull back on it.

Photography around ice and water

Q: How hard is it to paddle around with a camera in the cold? I’d love to do a shoot somewhere with the ice and water. Some of your pictures are amazing.  — Donna.

A: Donna, Thanks for the complement. All of the kayaking images that I have taken in the last few years have been with the new breed of “waterproof/shockproof” point and shoot digital cameras.  These cameras don’t offer quite the image sharpness and features of more “professional” cameras, but their strength is that you can grab them in an instant and capture images that would go missed with a much bulkier camera  or a camera that must be retrieved from a dry box.  Most of the images for my Sea Kayaker magazine articles were taken with a waterproof digital, so very good results are possible.

I have used the Olympus Stylus series (e.g. Stylus 1030 SW) extensively, but lately I have been using a new Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3.  Both are great cameras.  The Olympus has a sliding closure that covers the lens after you turn off the camera. I have a love-hate relationship with this feature. Usually it works great, and keeps the lens clean and dry, however if you do manage to get water behind it, it continues to smear water on the lens every-time you turn on the camera, even if you dry the lens.

The Panasonic doesn’t feel quite as rugged as the Olympus, but time will tell. My reason for choosing the Lumix this time around was image quality and high-definition video capability.  The Lumix (like some other models) also includes a built-in GPS, compass, altimeter and barometer that might be useful for some applications, I can live without this, but it might prove “nice to have”.

There are other good brands in this camera class, and the features and models change constantly, so a Google search is always in order when it comes time to buy.

I keep my camera secured by a short tether to a “D” ring in my PFD pocket. While I used to keep my camera in the PFD pocket, day-after-day soaking in a wet, salty pocket can cause corrosion problems and a dirty lens. Some of the manufacturers insist that you dunk these cameras in fresh water after every use, but that isn’t always practical on an extended trip. My Olympus cameras (rarely rinsed) have had only minor corrosion issues (although the black body “paint” and the lens hood came-off). I have heard some concerns about corrosion with the Lumix, so I at least attempt to give it a quick freshwater rinse, daily.  To avoid the “salty pocket” issue, I now put the camera in the pocket only when launching and landing from the beach to keep it secure. Once out of the surf-zone I tuck the tethered camera behind the front panel of my PFD where it hangs by the tether and stays relatively dry and can still be retrieved quickly.

Salt and water spots on the lens are always an issue. It can be very disappointing to review an entire day’s images only to see them all spoiled by a dirty lens.  On the water you can give the lens a rinse from your water bottle, and then blow-off as much water as possible. I keep a lens cloth in a small dry container, close at hand for drying, but cleaning and drying the lens simply isn’t possible in all conditions.

In very cold conditions you can have condensation/fogging issues if you allow the camera to become toasty warm and then take it outside. To prevent these issues I try to avoid sudden extremes in temperature.