Drouge to tow you downstream in headwind

Anyone heard of using a submerged bucket or drogue to pull a small boat downstream?

Last weekend, I paddled an 18-mile section of the Mississippi River (Meeman-Shelby Forest SP to downtown Memphis) that flows SxSE. It was my third time to paddle this stretch, but unlike previous floats, we faced a direct 9mph headwind (from SxSE) the whole 5 hours. At rest, we barely moved downstream, and if we got our craft sideways to the wind, we didn’t move at all.

Normally, I use a 2-person canoe (OT Discovery 164) with a partner, but this time our party (of 3) was messing around with inflatable kayaks and an SUP.

The speed of the Mississippi current was only around 1.5 MPH, so using a device for harnessing the current would not save very much time, but it would keep us moving downstream during a period of rest. One of my partners, a mechanical engineer, suggested that a 5-gallon bucket with a bit of ballast could work. I think that given the infamous undercurrents in the Mississippi, we couldn’t fasten the rope to the canoe, but maybe wrap it once around the bow handle and hold it by hand in case we needed a quick release.

NOTE: I already know about some of the stroke and weight-shifting techniques to minimize headwind or at least to keep your bow centered on the wind.

seems like
The area of a drogue wouldn’t be much more than a paddle blade held in the watet…hint hint lol

Matt gave the obvious answer

– Last Updated: Oct-05-13 2:33 PM EST –

You could use a drogue during rest periods to at least keep up with the current, but do the math to see how much that helps your progress and see if that even makes it worth it to carry the extra gear along. I like Matt's idea of keeping paddles planted and controlling the boat's orientation relative to the wind.

By the way, I see no need to add ballast to a bucket used as a drogue, unless the wind were so strong that it caused surface waters to move downwind relative to deeper waters, thus slightly slowing the speed of the current at the surface in headwind situation. However, if the wind were that strong, you couldn't even paddle inflatables so it's a moot point. Normally, current at the surface is NOT slower than the current at a depth of several feet (the water moves faster the farther it is from the bottom and banks, though that effect becomes exponentially less with increasing distance. Anyway, no water is farther from the river bottom than water at the surface).

It sounds to me like you have discovered why people don't normally use inflatables on large bodies of open water, and why every video ever made to promote standup paddling shows people going straight downwind, while in real life SUPers look pretty comical in headwinds. A 9-mph headwind isn't the kind of thing that makes people talk about ways to make easier progress. Two friends of mine and I once battled 40-mph headwinds for part of an afternoon on the Wisconsin River (thick clouds of sand often blew up off the sandbars to heights of 150 feet or so, and we found out later that gusts commonly exceeded 50 mph that day), but at no time did we travel slower than the current so a drogue wouldn't have done a bit of good, except when resting of course, but we didn't do much of that. I'd say go back to using proper boats rather than improvising ways to make the wrong tool for the job less aggravating to use.

That is used often by many river people!!! Canoes, kayaks, Drift boats and rafts all use that…either a collasable bucket, 5-gallon bucket or anything to help pull you downsteam. More people should use it if not already doing so.

My opinion…

– Last Updated: Oct-05-13 11:53 PM EST –

I am not an engineer, or hydrologist; nor do I have "extensive" experience paddling the Mississippi.
My opinion is based on having paddled approximately 100 miles on the Mississippi; our take out being Memphis.

I think what you're suggesting it is a somewhat risky idea at best.
There is much natural, and man made debris in the Mississippi river. It is found at varying depths.
Examples include newly constructed, and old wing dikes, abandoned/submerged/partially submerged channel markers, logs, trees, motor vehicles, farm equipment/vehicles, old barges, and other types of boats, building material, fencing, barrels, cargo netting, fishing lines, parts of old barns/homes, cables, chains, shipping containers, ropes,couches, refrigerators, freezers, tires, and anything that any idiot would throw, or push into that river.
Probably hundreds of old side wheelers.
More that a few civil war fighting ships. With any luck you might snag one of the 7 cotton clad rams that Federal gunboats sank. The citizens of Memphis enjoyed the spectacle from the safety of the Memphis bluffs. Shortly thereafter the good citizens surrendered the city. No doubt considering the possibility that the cannon on the Yankee ironclads could reach out & "touch them" as they did the Rebel cotton clad rams.
But I digress..........

Willing to bet it has been & is still used for body dumping.

Based on what I saw; there are/were a lot of idiots along the Mississippi river, and they are still dumping "stuff" into that river, and always will be.
Additionally, there is a lot of debris in/under the river that was swept into the river, when it came up in flood stage.

You may paddle a thousand miles without one snagging incident. Maybe not? I guess you have to weigh the risks. If I were using such a technique; I would certainly be paying close attention, and would not want to be distracted by anything, or day dreaming when/if what I was using for a drogue snagged.

If you do not react quickly, and appropriately; you could be in the river real quick. When/if that occurred, I'd damn sure have on my pfd. I would not want to swim, or attempt to swim & drag a canoe to shore from the middle of the Mississippi river. With or without your boat; I suspect the current will carry you, or you & your boat a good distance downstream before you safely get to shore.

I swam some in the Mississippi when I was young, ten foot tall, and immortal. Now, I wouldn't suggest it as a safe, fun, or recreational activity. I take that back; I would suggest it to a bunch of drunks, lawyers, and politicians!

I'd personally suggest the "get the paddles wet, and keep em wet" mode of power, for dealing with headwinds.

My opinion, your decision, good luck.

P.S. If you do choose to deploy a 5 gallon bucket to act as a drogue on the Mississippi; I would "seriously" like to hear how that works out for you.

Are you sure about that?

– Last Updated: Oct-05-13 5:30 PM EST –

You make it sound like this is common practice, but I've never seen it or heard of it on the upper Mississippi, and by the OPs admission, the only time it would do any good at all is when not paddling at all.

I've never heard of anyone relying entirely on the current instead of just paddling. After all, why would anyone settle for going the same speed as the current (which in this case was moving a mere 1.5 mph) when even the most gentle paddling effort will make you go that fast through the water itself? Therefore, your actual travel speed would be 3 mph when barely exerting yourself, so I wonder, why deploy a bucket at all?

The OP is talking about a 9-mph wind, and with moderate effort anyone can paddle 4 mph into such a headwind (except perhaps in the kinds of boats they chose to use that day), and since that's through-the-water speed, the total speed would at that level of exertion would be 5.5 mph. Again, why drift? Why choose to go 1.5 mph when with moderate effort you'd be going 5.5 mph?

If you convince someone that the way to overcome the difficulties of paddling an inflatable in such benign conditions is to deploy a bucket, what happens to them when the wind gets a lot stronger or blows the wrong direction? Isn't the real answer on such a huge body of water to simply use a boat that's not so difficult to paddle well when the wind blows?

Thanks for the feedback
Thanks everyone!

Yeah, this was more of a thought-experiment, conducted on the river…while my arms felt like they were going to fall off into the channel.

I actually tried holding my paddle deep in the water near the bow, and only felt a slight downstream pull, so this would probably require a larger (and more dangerous) scoop.

After 2 hours of paddling, the “moderate effort” required to make forward progress had become more like a nail-gun to my elbows. Meanwhile, floating twigs were making better time than us.

Maybe next time this happens I should keep a canoe-sail handy and use it to retreat back upstream with my tail between my legs.

As to the danger aspect. I wouldn’t do something like this without at least one other boat with me. I would also have to be mentally and physically prepared to capsize.

Thanks again!

You COULD Just Get a Motor
But this place is called Paddling.net.

“Moderate effort” refers to…

– Last Updated: Oct-05-13 10:25 PM EST –

... what it takes using boats that are nicer to use in wind than inflatables. I'm told that there are some good-quality inflatable boats, though I understand they are mainly for whitewater. I admit to never having paddled one, but I've heard plenty of horror stories about how they act in open water when the wind blows, and I have seen a couple of people struggling with them in wind situations that I'd not previously imagined could be difficult.

Oh, and for a trip of 18 miles with that amount of headwind, I'd reduce my original estimate of through-the-water speed from 4 mph down to 3 mph, at least for a canoe, on account of the amount of time you'd have to keep paddling. Kayakers could do better than that. Headwinds seem to be a fact of life, so much so that there's a good song about it here:


Oh, one more thing. The effort you feel when planting your paddle to stop drifting has less to do with paddle size than the force with which the wind is trying to make your boat move. In all cases, the force applied by the wind on the boat and the force applied by the sea anchor on the boat (what you felt with your arms when planting the paddle) will be roughly equal ("roughly equal" because I am ignoring the drag in the water contributed by the boat itself, which isn't nearly as much as what the sea anchor or stationary paddle provide). A 9-mph wind is pretty light, and the force applied by a stationary paddle or a sea anchor can't be any greater than the force created by the amount of wind, which isn't much when it's blowing 9 mph. Yes, the wind didn't apply much force, but in the wrong boat, it doesn't take much force to cause a significant speed of drift (perfect example: ever go swimming to catch up with a loose beach ball?). In a stronger wind, you would have felt more resistance when planting your paddle.

inflatable blues
The inflatable I was borrowing is an impressive piece of gear, and great for travel, but I can see how it’s better for whitewater.

good point!
…perhaps I should get a compact river-boat-style paddle-wheel motor for my canoe.

9 mph ???
…seriously ???

…gusting to 20mph. But even 9mph feels like hell on the Mississippi after 5 hours.

Blown upstream on the KY river by a
cold front, we were actually blown around and could not get headed the right way, much less progress.

I was describing this event to a colleague at the hospital, and he asked why we did not simply swamp the boat!

Some of you will have experienced the twitchy uncertainty of getting your canoe caught sideways between a strong downstream current and a strong upstream headwind. I believe such could flip an inexperienced canoe crew.

you mentioned you knew
about weight shifting techniques. In my duckies I get right in the front end of the boat when I’m getting blown around. It looks a bit unconventional but works good. You can even kneel from that position.

Spot on
Bob is right to suggest that debris, which is about 49% of the mississippi (pause for grin) is a real concern here. Also, currents, eddies. Etc. may also cause issues.

A drogue will keep your boat pointed to the wind, but mt first thought was that is about all it will do (it cannot move faster than the current) and the boat is already moving at that rate. If you are paddling, the line will slacken and the drogue is, at that point, useless since the line must be taut for it to work. At least, that is how it seems to me.


drift sock
I’ve used a small fabric drift sock(sea anchor) on a canoe for minimizing drift while fishing on breezy days on a lake. Never tried it in moving water.

A conical drift sock usually has a retrieval line attached to the apex, so it’s easier to recover than a bucket would be.