Is adding ballast (to reduce tippy wobbles) a crutch for newbies?

OK, I think I already know the answer to this one, but thought I would toss it out there for discussion.

Background: I am 57, 6’4", 235#, but decently fit flexible guy. I am new to kayaking. But like previous hobbies, etc, I am all in once I decide to do something. I have a new waterfront cabin project on Orcas Island that needed a lot of work and commitment. That is mostly over and I now have time for paddling. I now own two used boats: a Romany Surf and a Dagger Stratos 14.5L. I have taken the Stratos out into the currents on the east side of Orcas in 1-2’ waves. I did Ok. I then tried the Romany and immediately plopped over on my side while exiting the beach on Doe Island. I felt super tippy and a wave just knocked me over. It was a good wake up call to what I am getting into!

The other day I spent a few hours on a lake with the Romany and did pretty well. As long as I am moving. Entering and exiting still feels super tippy. I did have an experienced paddler with me. I also now have a good dry suit. Shauna at Body Boat Blade did some cutting on the neck gasket to make it more comfortable.

All the reading I have done says all I really need is more time in the seat(s). I plan on using both boats to get used to them. I need to feel settled before taking friends and family out on the water from Orcas Island. My plan is use the Romany and have my guest use the Stratos. I will be super careful with conditions with guests though.

So, to the question: is adding any kind of ballast to the Romany a good idea while I get used to (and overcome) the tippy feeling?

It’s not a bad idea…
Especially if some of that ballast is donuts…

Instead of ballast, add camping gear and go exploring. Then no one can call it “cheating”.

Sea kayaks handle much better with some weight in the hatches. Sure, they can be paddled empty - and are more responsive like this, but load it down and you can really edge (and lean) with much greater confidence. I prefer a loaded boat in “washing machine” (clapotis) conditions because it tends to stay put in the water.

But yes, I’ll agree about seat time. There is no alternative. Courses can help you on your way up the curve but rushing things will only set you back.

Along the way, begin your progression to rolling (also something that takes much time and continuous practice). When you’ve learned to roll being upside down isn’t a down side.

I have a bunch of camping gear from my 12 year era of being a Land Cruiser 4x4 wheeling guy. But it might be too old school and bulky for yak hatches? I will drag it all out and see.

I am a tall glass of water with a high center of gravity, so figuring this out (ballast training wheels) is something I would like to examine.

I just spent 13 days on Orcas and was amazed at this recent tide period: fast changing massive swings between high and low tides. The currents can be swift out there and change constantly. I now have all the charts and follow DeepZoom as well.

I’m not personally familiar with this product but I have seen it endorsed by a kayak educator I respect.

I am trying to remember whether the Romany has harder chines. On bgoats with hard chines, especially those with a keel line, I find they can feel tippy to those not used to them. The new paddler is trying to keep them straight upright, but that keel line or the hard chines make it so it doesn’t like to sit at exactly that position. Dropping one side or the other a few degrees, and all of a sudden it locks in and feels fine. I used to teach at a shop that had Eddyline kayaks, and some of those models were bad at this. The Dagger definitely does not do this.

Definitely the Stratos is a wider boat than the Romany Surf - by about 3 inches. That could have a large impact on how stable it feels.

I have had a couple of chats with local Orcas Island paddlers about the wisdom of learning with two different boats concurrently vs sticking with one boat and then repeating the process with the second boat. But Orcas has so many different open water and fresh water conditions I am going to soldier on with alternating the two boats during my learning phase…

What Peter-CA said… it’s true. My buddy has a QCC kayak. I think it’s the 700 and it really “likes” to be a few degrees off center. After years of owning the boat my friend still would rather it didn’t do that.

Here’s my fix for feeling stable: Get yourself a Greenland paddle and learn to scull with it. Once you learn how to ‘bite’ the water with a GP it’s like leaning on a handrail. Maybe folks can do the same thing with a Euro but I “got it” with the GP. I found the GP to be a much better tool for rolling, too.

Given where you are paddling, I would suggest staying in the Romany. If there is a kinder boat to paddler error I don’t know what it would be. And if you have to self-rescue the hard way, paddle float or cowboy, that low deck is tremendously helpful. Agreed that you have a much higher center of gravity than me by about a foot. But you are likely tensing up too.

I put my money where my mouth is, if it matters. I come to Maine with two boats, one for when I am paddling with others and a Romany for when I am alone. It is slower and bit big for me compared to the other boat. But if I screw up on the weather or conditions, or have to self-rescue via some manner, it is also the best boat I have.

I agree with the sense of what Rex said - the very first thing you have to do is to get accustomed to being off center And near land where a miss is not going to put you into an emergency.

Personally my first suggestion for an exercise for you with the Romany is sans tools. Though a GP is an excellent add, or any stick of wood that is easy to hold. But prepping to do a cowboy self-rescue will probably take less time.

Sit behind the cockpit. Get onto your belly and scootch back to the stern, then come forward again. Do the same thing to the bow and back. Change direction you are facing so that you actually turn around at each end. By the time you can do this you will have a cowboy self-rescue, all you have to add is getting yourself over the boat’s rear end from the water.

Lay you odds Shauna will agree with this exercise by the way.

As to adding weight, I would suggest less along the line of ballast and more along the lines of trim for that boat. If you check, you will find that the cockpit is set a bit back from the middle. It makes for, in wind, a livelier bow than you may want for other than surfing. You are sinking the boat better than me but that proportion is still there. So I suggest you violate the 60% rear and 40% forward rule for weight, and trim it more like 50/50 front and back. I find it makes a noticeable difference in boat handle for touring.

The Romany and Romany Surf are different boats. The latter is an ocean play boat designed for larger paddlers. The Surf with a slight V bottom and hard chines is what makes it, and similar designed hulls, excel in challenging conditions. They are known for feeling tippy at rest but rock solid when the secondary kicks in. That is the importance of learning to edge the hull.

The practical fact is you are already at the upper limit of the recommended paddler weight. Adding ballast is not going to fundamentally change your basic issue with the Surf. Plus, do you really want to load your kayak just to go play in the waves and current for an hour or two?

Unless you are already using a paddle with 0 degree feather angle I would advise against switching to a Greenland Paddle: learn the boat first. Learning a new boat and new paddle technique at the same time only adds complication.

The plain truth is, given your current skill level this is the wrong boat for you. However, don’t give up!!! In kayaking there is something very rewarding about growing into a boat.

Some Romany Surf versions have an adjustable seat, not only fore and aft but can also be raised or lowered. If the seat can be lowered this may help a bit.

OK, Surf is likely more rockered than the regular Romany. Not sure I agree with there being a huge diff with harder chines. I have regular switched between a boat with softer chines and a single very hard one. Only diff between the two when things get messy is that I feel a noticeable hit when the hard chined boat goes to its secondary point and the Romany is a softer feeling approach. Once I get initially used to it if it has been a while, I never notice it again. As long as the boat gives me a chance to recover it doesn’t much matter how.

Enhanced rocker will make the boat more of a handful, but maybe a good handful for someone who wants to increase their skills.

Being at the top end of the boat’s weight capacity is a different issue, no matter what this paddler will have to work harder on balance than I have to. The Surf is still a Romany with a kinder back deck than many other boats. Climbing around on it should be a fundamental activity here.

To the OPer, you may be able to hunt up an HV version of a Romany that would be worth trying, though my recall is that the Surf was initially developed from the regular HV. And there were some warts in NDK’s early efforts to make LV and HV versions in the Romany/Explorer series. Some of the earlier ones did not affect the boat’s weight capacity at all, instead just moved the deck height and cockpit sizes around to impact what size body would fit right. If the HV version is just a deck height change, long term you likely will want a different boat.

It depends on the boat. For the area you are paddling and your size, you need a boat that fits both. Click on my avatar picture. There’s the boat I would recommend when you’re ready to move up–and you probably will be in time. You’re in luck because these boats are built in Tacoma (NC Kayaks). I’ve had mine for ten years and it is my go-to boat for big water.

Meanwhile, learn to enter and exit your boat in shallow water. Stand next to the boat on the left side; bend down and hold the coaming with your right hand at the very front. As you lift your right leg into the boat, your hand will slide down the right side of the coaming as you slide your right leg down into the boat; plop your butt into the seat. The left leg comes into the boat next and this might take some extra effort if your legs are very long. At most, you will probably have to lift yourself up to get your leg into the boat. Practice this procedure over and over until it is second nature. It might take months before your body is trained to do it without giving it any thought. Exiting is just the reverse of entering.

I stress the idea of always doing this from the left side of the boat, just as you mostly get into the left side of your vehicle, get on and off your bike, motorcycle and horse from the left side. After you’ve done this a few thousand times it’s a snap and should take about two, or three seconds.

Don’t attempt any outside crossings up there until you are sure you can handle it. Conditions outside the islands can change very quickly and I’ve seen fog move in so fast, you can’t outrun it. Have you been to Sucia yet?

Good point about rocker, but your other criticism of points in my post I’m not so sure. If we were talking about a more advanced paddler I would most likely agree but that is not the case here. With that said I have no interest in going farther into the weeds, simple differences between experience and opinion. I suggest agree to disagree?

I am right at Doe Bay on the quiet east side of Orcas Island. Our place faces directly south looking across the Rosario Strait towards Cypress and Sinclair Islands. The little Peapod Islands are just south east of us. We have seen two winters and this will be our second summer. The winds can be just gob smacking when they howl across from the south. We get almost ten foot tide changes during certain lunar phases. The currents can be deadly.

I have been strongly warned not to pass Laurence Point (heading north east of us) during any kind of current or wind. Paddlers have been blown out to Mongolia from there. Heading south and west of us takes you past little Doe Bay Island and down to Obstruction Island. Just stunning territory.

My plan is to spend real time on the large fresh water lakes while I get comfortable. When the sea is calm I plan on using the Dagger and my dry suit while staying close to shore. I will only take the Romany out into the sea when I have experienced company.

I have been told by the owner of the oldest kayak guide company on Orcas that I have a natural strong paddling stroke. The tippy feeling gives me the yips in the Romany though. I have the soft NDK seat so I am as low as I can go. I feel quite comfortable in the Romany Surf cockpit though. When I am moving I love how the boat glides. It feels very good when paddling. At the end of my last paddle I tried leaning sideways into the wind a little and the stability improvement was instantly apparent.

I want both of my boats to work out. It is going to take more time with the Romany obviously. But I really want to give this boat my best shot before contemplating looking at new alternatives…

*** I have not paddled to any of the other islands yet except Doe Island which is super close to us. Doe Island is the second smallest state park at just over an acre in size with five camp sites. This will be fun place to test out kayak camping…

@magooch makes a good point about practicing your shallow water entry/exit. I’ll add that being proficient getting into and out of your boat quickly just about anywhere is very valuable. Your strength, balance, and flexibility are the only limiting factors. I think it’s important to be able to do it from both sides as well. I can’t imagine having to move my boat just so I can get in on the right [correct] side.

I guess, though aside from maybe the chine thing I don’t know where we disagreed. We both said that this paddler was at the upper limits for the boat and that balance would be an issue. FWIW, I have put very new paddlers into my hard chined boat. They loved it.

I did not suggest the OPer dump this boat right now, on that one maybe we have to leave it at disagree. The good news is that he has apparently been in contact with Shauna of BBandB . It would be difficult for them to find better advice online than what they can get in person if they maintain that connection…

Sadly Body Boat Blade will be done at the end of June.

I have been at the store several times and have gotten to know both Shauna and Leon a little bit. They really are a fabulous couple. I like them both. Leon gave me real discounts on close out gear. They will be moving on and reinventing their professional lives. I hope to stay connected as I am a photographer and now a kayak enthusiast. Leon needs more medical attention for his back, but he said he hopes we could go out padding together? I would love the opportunity. Their reputation as kayak professionals is at the highest level globally.

I have made a great contact with one of the locals who owns one of the island tour outfits. He also does training. Thus far this is working out very well.

I am in no rush. I don’t live on Orcas full time so this will take time. My plan is to be safe, learn as much as I can and enjoy the journey.

But I really appreciate the council from this great community…

This is my wife Sherri and our two crazy basenjis with our new folk art coffee table, formally the Leon built centerpiece sitting area creation at Body Boat Blade. It is nice to have this little piece of Orcas Island history…

@Monkeyhead said:
I’m not personally familiar with this product but I have seen it endorsed by a kayak educator I respect.

The idea of ballast made some sense to me as I began kayaking some years ago. I created my own solution and made sure it stayed against the hull even with the kayak inverted. However, I did not get much of anything out of the experience and abandoned it. Unlike the “kayak educator” I am small and didn’t benefit much, if at all. The OP may find the concept more useful with his higher center of gravity.