Kayak Uncontrollable at Speed

If you have just spent a few hours in the boat then I encourage you to stick with it. You can learn a lot about paddling and yourself (frustration level) trying to make a boat go straight that seems to have a mind of its own.

A good boat body connection will make the boat more responsive to your movements. Getting an unruly kayak to go straight is also about lower body movements within the boat, not just paddle strokes. Rockered boats naturally want to spin out as soon as you stop paddling. A good experiment is to get the boat up to speed with five or six quick strokes then stop paddling and count the number of complete spins/revolutions the boat makes. Be prepared for a feeling of instability as well. A whitewater kayak will often spin completely around more than two times. In fact I often tell newbies that ww kayaking is just about learning to control the spin of the boat. You might try shifting your weight a bit off center to help counteract the veer once it starts.
It is also really important to keep your strokes short (not extending past the hip) to go straight. You can stroke past the hip to use correction strokes (stern rudder strokes) but realize the goal is to try to make the boat go straight without having to constantly rudder, pry, or draw at the very back of the boat.

I’ll be the first to admit that if you put me in a long skinny boat that I’m going to struggle a bit with the lower initial stability and “pinned” ends that don’t want to turn. So different boats really behave quite differently. I just haven’t put the time in with that type of boat but conversely after paddling a taureau canoe (very short, very highly rockered, single bladed paddle) for a couple of years, I think I can make just about anything go straight. So even with a slightly deformed hull, and rockered ends you should still be able counteract the veer in your kayak without a skeg. It will be challenging. In fact I find paddlesports in general to be challenging. Here is a whole list of things to try and experiment with. You might just want to focus on one thing at a time.

First, ask yourself this, Is the boat traveling faster because you are doing more strokes (at a quicker rate) or by doing bigger (longer) strokes? Speed is going to expose/accentuate more flaws in your forward stroke. Many folks lengthen their strokes unintentionally when trying to get a boat up to speed. So focus on doing more short quick strokes from the toes to hip. Strokes should be parallel to the boats midline not the sides of the boat. Realize that when you place the paddle blade toward the end of the boat, where the boat is unpinned (rockered), that it will naturally turn. So If you want to go faster just think more strokes not powerful (longer) strokes. Also when you are pushing your top hand out make sure it doesn’t extend across the midline of the boat. Think about picking grapes with your top hand extending out in front of your chin, not to your side.This may help keep the paddle blade more vertical (not sweeping out and pushing the boat away from the side you are paddling on). If you’re worried about shoulder rotation, try paddling a bit more stiff armed for practice. It is actually pretty difficult to get good rotation and not extend the hands beyond the midline of the boat.

So in summary: 1)short strokes, toe to hip, no further unless correcting 2)more veritcal strokes, parallel to boat’s midline not sides. Horizontal strokes are turning strokes so more vertical strokes are straighter3) If the boat veers experiment with shifting your weight slightly to counteract the veer. Let us know how it goes. I never discard (trade/sell) a boat until I’ve paddled it at least 20x. Each boat can be a new learning experience. No boat does everything well- your current boat likes to turn instead of go straight …that doesn’t mean it’s not a good boat, it is just a bigger challenge (to go straight) than some other boats and you’ll be a better paddler because of it. New paddlers blame the boat, old paddlers blame themselves. All of my fleet as deformities, oil canning, I’ve even gotten a broken skeg on my crossover. Yet they all still work. Hang in there, try a bit more…give yourself permission to struggle a bit. 40 + years later I’m still enjoying the paddling “struggle”. Since my hip replacements I’ve practiced rolling well over 60 sessions in the past two years, and quite frankly still struggling to get up. Maybe after another 20 sessions I’ll consider an easier boat (which is what others suggest)…but then I wouldn’t learn nearly as much. Some boats you grow out of. Your boat is one you’ll have to grow into. keep going, you haven’t yet reached the “suffering needlessly” threshhold.

Thank you tdaniel. You have given very good advice. I have noted that the kayak is getting easier to control the longer I am in the water. At the beginning of an outing I tend to literally do a few circles until I can get into a rhythm. Keeping my core and legs engaged; making small weight and posture shifts with each stroke, and constantly looking at my arm movement, I am able to make the Vesper go straight, but only at moderate speed.

I just tried out the skeg (or is it a rudder?) , which makes the Vesper behave like a completely different yak! The skeg counters the Vespers tendency to turn left and keeps the stern of the boat planted in the water allowing for high speed control. In its current form it is bolted in a fixed position onto the back of the kayak. I am considering modifying it so it can swing out of the water to give a more responsive (quick turning) performance.

Once I am done I am going to make a picture album post documenting the restoration and alteration of my first project kayak.

The skeg I bolted onto the stern of the kayak

You have just described a normal character based solidly on hydrodynamic principles of physics.

Two things are at play. High speed. ALL displacement hulls are governed by what is called ‘hull speed’.

Hull speed is calculated by taking the waterline length. on a Dagger that is perhaps 12 feet? Take the square root of 12 (feet) and then multiply that by 1.34. 4.6 knots if I have done my math correctly, about 5 mph. That IS the maximum speed in still water and the boat is acting as a displacement hull. You go faster than 5 mph and the bow wave will push you right back around, because the middle of the boat is coming out of the water, no lateral resistance to the turn.

The reason the formula works is there is a bow wave and a stern wave that is generated by any vessel passing through the water You can go faster to the point where the bow wave is peeling off the bow in a nice V, and the stern wave is all the way at the stern. Go faster and two things happen. Effort to manitain the 5.5 mph shoots way up, wanna go 6 mph? you may need an outboard motor… The energy requirements go waaaaay up.

The second thing that is happening is the boat is kind of stretched out with all the weight on the bow and stern… the middle of the boat is out of the water. At this point, it will NOT turn, you turn by paddling backwards to slow down. And, depending upon the ballasting fore and aft on your boat, one end may track, the other end will not, called hunt and peck., a canoed towed behind another boat will swing wildly fro side to side, until it finally dives for cover, under the towing boat… Canoes can be towed by the light end, never the heavy end.

I do not have direct experience with a Dagger Vesper. Under your butt there may be a bulge? The boat will spin like atop around that, How much ‘rocker’ (banana shape) from bow to stern… Same effect of your butt sagging into the water making a pivot point, By the way, that pivot point, and extremely rapid turn IS designed into many whitewater boats. Does the Dagger have a whitewater parentage?

The practical… Do you want a boat that always goes straight? (How boring.) I paddle canoes, Dagger makes some wonderful whitewater canoes, 4 to 6 inches of rocker,hard to keep them going straight but in Class IV rapids, perfect. Whereas if you wanted straight, a Winonah Minn II has zero rocker and will spike straight across a lake… Just do not try to take the Minn II down Cataract Canyon (All Class IVs and Vs.) Nor take the whitewater Dagger canoe out onto Lake Opeongo in northern Ontario, you will wear your self out trying endlessly to bring it back on line.

Also, try add ballast in the front or back. Take a 25 pound weight from a weight set and push it all the way up into the bow…Or just a smooth 10 to 15 pound rounded rock… I use rocks all the time when the water is running low. Orrrr, push it all the way into the stern… See what works. When I single hand my canoe I carry the water jugs in the bow on the floor, and right behind stitched down onto the floor are three 25 pound weights (My bowman) (Absolutely silent, and never gives me any lip about plunging his face and butt through the next wave train or right through a backwave on the other side of a hole.)

I would make sure you can do an Eskimo roll absolutely reliably, and take that wonderful boat out into some white water. I’ll be it would be a ton of fun. Desolation /Gray on the Gree River had a couple of permits available this AM, Salmon River in Idaho had one… Go… Have fun. Take me with you.

The difference between a skeg and a rudder is that a skeg is generally fixed in terms of direction. Kayaks that come with skegs are usually designed so that their depth can be adjusted to counteract wind, waves, or currents that are coming from the side and make it hard to paddle straight. They can also add directional stability to a rockered hull.

Rudders pivot, usually controlled by foot pegs or peddles. They can serve the same purpose as a skeg plus they can steer the boat. Rudders counteract sideways forces by adjusting the angle rather than the depth. Many paddlers say that proper paddling technique rather than a rudder should be used to steer the boat.

Rudders, skegs, or nothing is a battle just like paddle feather angle. I won’t go there. It depends on the boat and the paddler’s preference. My boat has a rudder, but I almost never use it except in strong quartering wind from the stern.

I can’t tell from your picture, but if the skeg extends below the keel, be very careful launching, landing, and around underwater objects. Manufacturer installed skegs and rudders are usually designed to kick up if they hit something. If they do not they can cause quite a bit of damage.

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