Finally got the tandem out first time

Something like four weeks into ownership, took out the new-to-us Perception Caretta Kevlar tandem out, all 21.5 feet of it. OK, it was only for an hour and on a local reservior. But I feel we’re now officially yakkers (or yakisti, or whatever they are called).

It was now-or-never; alas, we have a tight schedule for a few weeks, hence the short “ride”. Been spending snippets of time buying PFD’s, safety kit, and materials to make a rack to transport on our 4x8 utility trailer, which I completed Sunday.

Perhaps 70 degrees and cloudy and the water like a glass table. Just as well, we have a lot of skill building to do before hitting the Chesapeake Bay. Not yet coordinating strokes well yet, I had to keep changing my cadence because, frankly, my wife doesn’t have a cadence. The route we took zig-zagged like we were avoiding U-boats; it did not help that I forgot to deploy the rudder.

Did everything wrong – and I don’t care! Before our second outing I need to get my wife to read Kayaking Made Easy, and I need to read it a second time. Also, once we got back she mentioned she had not set the footrests at all so she had nothing to brace against, just loose in the cockpit. And re-adjust her PFD (Avstar Camino), as once she was settled in the boat two of the plastic buckles were directly in her armpits.

We had fun in mine this weekend
My brother & his wife are from the DC area, and they were down here this weekend. I have a Current Designs Unity, very similar in dimensions anyway. We had a similar beautiful weekend with beach water temp around 71 degrees, and highs in the mid 70’s. My brother and I on Sunday started on the sound, paddled out of Masonboro Inlet into the Atlantic, and landed on the beach. My brother doesn’t own a kayak, but I’m fairly experienced. So with me as the stern paddler controlling direction, there was no need to deploy the rudder, and I never needed to give it a thought.

Yesterday his wife took my spot as the stern paddler, but we paddled down the creek and river. I paddled a single. I had them use the rudder in the tandem, and as two beginners, they actually did incredibly well. I think it helps sometimes with someone experienced there to give direction that they are willing to accept. In the very beginning, she began telling the bow paddler what direction they needed to go, so I explained that the direction was up to the stern paddler. I also explained to my brother how he could help in the bow for a quick turn. But I explained that directional control could, and really should be up to the stern paddler just gliding through flat open water. She handled directional control beautifully from there on out once she knew she was responsible for it. Shortly after she was telling the bow paddler that he was using a different cadence than her so that their strokes weren’t matching. So once I told them that it was up to the bow paddler to set the cadence, and up to the stern paddler to match the bow paddlers stroke, no matter how goofy or inconsistent it may seem to the stern paddler, they seemed to both get it down well, and cooperation seemed easy for them. A ways down, they saw fit to challenge me to a race, and I was a bit surprised that I could just barely pull away from two beginners.

I’ve found there’s something very satisfying about the teamwork involved, and I’ve always really enjoyed the fast efficient glide of kayaks, and these long tandems seem to capitalize on that ability. It’s just a lot of fun for me.

My brother and wife were telling us to come up there to the DC area some weekend. I read about what I believe was a Patuxent River trail in Sea Kayaker magazine a while back that looked pretty fun. Is that in your area? Maybe we could look you guys up when we get up there sometime? Good to hear from others enjoying tandem kayaking.

pax river
"I read about what I believe was a Patuxent River trail in Sea Kayaker magazine a while back that looked pretty fun. Is that in your area?"

Up near Washington DC, the Patuxent River is not much more than a creek (except where dammed to make a reservoir like the one I was on yesterday); out where it dumps into the Chesapeake Bay (near Solomons Island), it’s a pretty big river. It is certainly on our to-paddle list.

Sitting in the back, I really struggled to keep us remotely on course. We hope to get out soon and practice more.

You’ll get it.
When I compare it to a single, there’s a couple things that come to mind.

It’s very natural for everyone to perform sweep strokes to control direction in a paddle craft. In a single kayak, a sweep stroke is most effective from a standstill. The first part of the sweep pushes the bow away from the paddle (a pry), and the the second half pulls the stern towards the paddle (a draw). So the entire stroke is very effective at turning the kayak. Moving at a good clip, the bow is pressurized from displacing water as it cuts through it. So the first half of the sweep becomes much less effective.

Another very important point here is that in a single kayak, you are working from the center of the kayak, the pivot point. So at a standstill, a sweep actually does pry the bow away, starting rotation, which continues through the stern draw - the end of the sweep.

So now imagine directional control from the stern of a tandem. You are well behind the center, the pivot point. So the first half of a sweep is trying to pry not the bow, but the center of the kayak away from the paddle. Not very effective at all. Pretty much wasted energy. And this is typically where most of the energy is expended in a sweep stroke. The second half, drawing the stern, well you’re in a great position to do that - much better than in a solo. Very effective. Expend your energy here instead - and start with a regular forward stroke - skip the first half of a sweep.

So what you’re doing for direction control should all be stern pry - prying the planted blade and the stern away from one another, and stern draw - drawing the stern towards the paddle. The other trick is having your eyes way out front, as you want to detect the very slightest changes in direction. So rather than waiting until you’re turned off course, you are now noticing the kayak just beginning to turn off course, and making an immediate subtle correction, instead of a delayed and very deliberate correction.

The faster the kayak is moving, the more effective stern draws and pries are. Much in the same way that the faster you are moving, the more effective a rudder is. Very much the opposite of sweep strokes. So what you want as you get the knack of it is to keep your pace, do normal forward strokes instead of sweeps, and end them with a stern draw - draws are a little trickier. Or end a stroke with a stern pry - a little more intuitive. The bow paddler should keep paddling to keep momentum so that what you’re doing is more effective. If you have to miss a stroke to make the correction, the stern paddler should join back up matching the bow paddler as soon as possible. The stern paddler should think about helping the bow paddler maintain speed. It’s common for beginners to put that blade out in the water somewhat perpendicular to the kayak to perform a stern pry, which really puts on the brakes. Turn sideways, get the paddle parallel to the kayak, and drop in the back blade without any pressure, allowing it to just freely slice through the water. This creates very little drag. Now slowly apply slight pressure to create the stern pry or draw. This allows you to turn without “putting on the brakes”. Draws and pries can be performed either by pulling the blade towards, or pushing the blade away from the kayak. This is most intuitive. They can also be performed by keeping the paddle more verticle, and rotating the blade one direction or the other - much like the rudder works, to get the desired effect.

I always recommend going out and practicing maneuvering for a couple days on calm flat water as a great way to learn how to take care of directional control issues.

Does this all make sense?

It’s all a learning experience !
but stay with it, and once it clicks, it is like beautiful music together.

I’ll never forget many moons ago when we got our first tandem racing canoe. Everyone said that the power paddler should be in the bow, so reluctantly we switched from our comfortable, me in the stern and she in the bow to the reverse. For about a half a year we were miserable with me yelling and she shedding tears.

We finally gave up and went back to our old tried and true positions, and we have been happy paddlers ever since with me still yelling and she ignoring me.

We have had several tandem kayaks and enjoyed each one. Keep in mind that with you in the stern, it is up to you to match your stroke with hers. She can’t see you. Just encourage her to try and maintain a even cadence.

My wife was very easy to match except when we passed by some dolphins or some other site and she would use her paddle to point them out.

Good luck and happy paddling!

Jack L

Disquieting to hear on the news that a kid drowned over the weekend, not realizing it was at the very spot on the reservoir where we turned around, only a few hours after we left (yes, we had the PFD’s on).

Thanks, guys, for the input. I have some ideas now on how to improve MY paddling next time out.

Odd about the “divorce boat” thing. While I’m not much fun to be around during the get-ready phase (backing up the trailer, unloading, schlepping the boat to the water), once in the water – all was serene for both of us. I think it’s the environment…