Blackhawk Zephyr - bottom sitting & wind

My Zephyr has the ICS (Integrated Component Seating) which allows the carry yoke, a molded tractor style kneeling seat and a cane seat to be mounted in a choice of two heights of rails and to be able to slide to adjust for trim.

Most of my paddling of the Zephyr to this point had been in calm to moderate winds with me in kneeling with the tractor seat in the high setting. Today the winds are averaging about 24mph with higher gusts and shortly after I got out on the small lake I’ve been paddling recently, I started getting blown sideways and nearly blown over with very little control of the boat and was really struggling just to keep the boat upright and prevent it from getting pinned against a rock or submerged log. I carefully worked my way over to a lee area along the shore and lowered the seat to the lower slot. This improved the stability problem and reduced my wind profile a little, but made it VERY TIGHT getting my boots under the seat and I still felt very vulnerable to getting blown over, so I headed back to the car to see if I had any pads that I could place on the bottom to try sitting on the bottom like a pack canoe.

The only pads I had in the car were foam kayak transport blocks for my roof rack and placed them one in front of the other in the bottom of the Zephyr, which put me about 2" or 3" off the bottom. The shortest paddle I brought with me was a 50" Wenonah Black Jack (ZRE MED), which was fine for high kneeling, but a few inches too long for bottom sitting.

The end result was that I was now able to paddle out in the windy areas of the lake without getting blown around quite as much out of control and with minimal concern for getting blown over. The sitting position was pretty uncomfortable on the foam kayak transport blocks without footbrace or back band, but the concept is intriguing and I’ll be contriving a more comfortable sit nearly on the bottom solution for the Zephyr on these very windy days.

The Blackhawk ICS is what allowed me to quickly and easily field test this this sit on the bottom option without any advance planning for the problems with the high winds. The ICS isn’t perfect, but the concept does add some flexibility to the usage of the Zephyr.

The next time I try this sit on the bottom option in the Zephyr, I’ll also try it with a 230cm kayak paddle and my 47.75" ZRE bent shaft.

Happy paddling.

Molded, low center of gravity seating
I suggest this every once in a while (sorry for the broken record) … the use of a properly sized bean bag (small for a Zepher). You can usually create the seat height you want (2 to 5 inches ?) and the molded fit allows you greater hip control. Warm, supportive of lower back, supremely comfortable, cheap (low-tech), adjustable, fairly light.

I use a variety of them in my eclectic assortment of canoes (Wenonah Saranac & Adirondack, Swift Shearwater, Navarro Egret). By choosing the right size, I can arrange for sitting about 3-4 inches off the bottom for low windage and excellent stability. Cost is usually between 15 and 50 dollars for small to medium sized bags. The reason I like sitting so low is because I like the comfort for rowing my canoes. Ten to fifteen miles of rowing is pretty effortless … especially in those boats that have foot rests for easy back and forth leanings.

And when the wind comes up … I can deal with it much better than sitting up at the 7-9 inch level and trying to propel and control such a large object with just one blade in the water from a higher center of gravity position. Everything is looser and more dicey when you’re sittling way up there with less connection to the hull. Hunkered down in a molded bag … all things are much more comfortable and manageable.

Just a thought … unconventional maybe … but so be it. Works well for me and my partners.

room for feet
My Zephyr had a fixed seat which gave a little more room for your knees when kneeling.

Besides sitting in the bottom and using a kayak paddle you might also look for super thin neoprene shoes or just socks to wear instead of your current boots…it can help quite a bit. Also - if your kneeling pad is a T-pad that also goes under the seat you can gain a little footroom by getting one of the smaller kneeling pads that’s maybe only 10 inches long and does not go under the seat.

Finally, I think that most Blackhawks are happier with at least some load in their belly so you might try attaching a small thwart bag or pack to the thwart in front of you…the boat will get blown around less. It wants the load right in front of you.

PS - I’m a whitewaterweenie mostly for trying to take a Zephyr through some serious rapids. I recommend against it.

Get it off the lake; put it on a moving water river, with you and 2 or 3 days worth of gear in it.

You’ll be a lot happier, and the boat will handle a lot better.

It wasn’t designed to be paddled empty on a lake in 24 mph winds.


So I exceeded the design parameters -
That’s half the fun with boats, isn’t it? If I hadn’t been in the strong winds today, I wouldn’t have experimented with sitting on the bottom of the boat and wouldn’t have discovered how much more stable it feels that way and what a different personality it has - it’s like having a second boat. Now I need a 46" bent shaft paddle for that low sitting position.

I think that the Zephyr is a hoot on a lake when the winds are more reasonable. It’s a lot of fun to mess around with leans and fore and aft weight shifts to either free up the stern or the bow.

I’ll get it out on a river for a trip sometime this summer after I get my body conditioned to kneeling for three or four hours at a time. Until then, I’ll be using the royalex Wildfire, since I can sit in it most of the time and kneel when I need to.

More details on the bean bag seats,

Sounds like an interesting idea to try, but I do have a few questions related to what bag and stuffing materials you use so that the bag doesn’t become saturated with the water that inevitaby accumulates in the hull of the boat when I paddle.

  1. Is the bag material waterproof, water resistant, or just something that doesn’t absorb water?

  2. Is the stuffing just the off the shelf bean bag chair stuffing?

  3. Have you ever tried using a dry bag filled with the bean bag stuffing? I suspect that it may not be as easy to shape the way you want it, since it’s air tight as well as water tight.

  4. Any particular stores that more commonly have bean bags than others?


I’ve got plenty of foot room when the
seat is in the high position. It’s when I lowered the seat to the lower slot that it was tight on my feet. I was wearing my street shoes with size medium Neos overshoes today, as I usually am when paddling before work, so I suspect that merely wearing my Chota mukluks instead would have improved the foot room problem with the seat in the lower position and I’d have even more room with my NRS Kickers. I’ll have to try it sometime to be sure.

I was just wearing some strap on knee pads, so no problem with a kneeling pad in the way.

I’m sure that having 30 or 40 lbs of ballast in the floor would have improved the feeling of stability in the strong winds, but I hadn’t planned ahead for the boat getting blown around like that.

Thanks for the suggestions.

Interesting discussion
Could somebody post some pics of the Blackhawk setup? As an unrepentant plagirizer, I would love to see Phil S’s seat solution.


canoes in the wind
In my opinion you would be much better off to have made the seat adjustable to move forward or aft rather than higher or lower.

Here’s a good experiment for any canoeist. On a windy day get in your canoe midship and do not paddle. You will find that eventually the wind will turn the hull to the side and blow you sideways. Then get forward of midships and you will note that the hull turns into the wind and keeps that way. You can then padddle and the wind will actually keep your canoe tracking straight and stability will be increased. Move aft if the wind is to your back and the same will happen.

IMO lowering your seat reduces mechanical advantage, leaves you fighting the wind for control ( very unstable) , and increases the danger of foot entrapment.

Windy crossing
A few years ago, I had a scary but successful crossing of some open water on a windy day off Hilton Head Island. I was paddling my wife’s Zephyr (fixed cane seat) empty across the mouth of Broad Creek between Spanish Wells and Buck Island. It wasn’t all that far between points (1/4 mile?) but the wind was up (spray flying off the bow) and the currents were really dicey through the channel. For stability, I knelt on the bottom of the boat sitting on my legs just in front of the seat. The forward position and low center of gravity made all the difference as I paddled into the wind.

Various beanbag cover materials
The ones with covers that are porous are a somewhat more comfortable … but vinyl bags are strong, easy to clean (big factor) and work just fine with an old sheet wrapped around them so that they are not sticky against bare skin. I also recommend throwing down a couple of old towels on the bottom to act as spray sponges so the seat set-up isn’t subjected to alot of bilge water. If you want to make it act as an extra pfd, bag the beanbag with a small (tough) plastic garbage bag (and tie the top with extra security) before you throw a sheet over it. This will make them waterproof and much more buoyant should you ever capsize. A few pin holes to let excess air out will make molding them to the shape you want easier.

Lastly … loose beanbags can also be fashioned into a saddle shape with “wings” for your knees if you’d like to paddle that way. All things considered … they are supremely versatile for canoeing and camping. Like many things in life, the concepts involved with this idea function better than one’s “mind’s eye” might imagine … and while this outfitting is not classical in appearance … comfort and boat manageabiliity are enhanced in my experience. It’s the custom seating option that’s cheap!!!

Lowered seat was best option yesterday
because I was on a small lake and was paddling at different angles to the wind as I followed the contour of the lake and much of the paddling was with the wind to my side, not the front or the rear and didn’t have any ballast in the bilge. The wind from the front or the rear wasn’t as troubling as the wind from the side and my relationship to the wind direction changed frequently.

It was getting blown sideways into partially sumberged trees or the shorline that were of particular concern. Getting blown sideways fast when the bottom of the boat suddenly stops and the center of gravity is high isn’t a pleasant situation for me - I preferred to stay in the boat that day.

My Zephyr does have a sliding seat, which I could have used to adjust the trim to help keep the boat pointed either into or with the wind, but I was unsettled by the strong gusts from the side that would suddenly hit and blow me sideways quickly with the boat on a strong lean and then stop abrubtly and my lean would just about take me over after the wind support ended. It was like being in a strong current that you can’t see and crossing eddies that you can’t see.

You’re advice is very good and I may experiment with the trim more next time before resorting to lowering the seat just to gain more experience with it and increase my skills.

For me, yesterday, lowering my center of gravity is what allowed me to paddle in the wind (from all directions) and make good progress without concern for getting blown over and continue on to my work day without having to change out of my wet clothes first.

Thanks for your clear instructions.

Sounds Like a Lot of Fun
It also sounds like two good things to practice would be side-slipping and bracing, especially since a draw and brace can easily be combined. If you get blown too close to a snag near shore and can’t horse the bow around fast enough because of a wind gust, you should be able to hold your own against just about any crosswind with a strong side-slip (a draw or pry) until your forward motion takes you past the obstacle. If you combine a sculling draw with a brace, you’ll be just fine if the wind that’s pushing you suddenly stops, because while you are doing that, your area of support is effectively about four feet wide. These sorts of things are really fun to work on when there’s a challenge to overcome, but of course it’s better to start out in calmer conditions.

Do you know about tacking?