# paddling solo canoes in the wind

As a student of Solo Open Canoeing, I sometimes browse the web for information on solo canoe technique. There’s a video that’s been floating (excuse the pun) around for years and it concerns me. The subject is “Paddling in wind” and if you fast forward to 1:10, the following is declared, “ Canoes are designed to weathercock”. This is followed by a statement that, “If wind is coming from the offside, more aggressive J strokes will be required to go straight”. If wind is from the onside, the correction part of the J stroke can be skipped or if strong enough sweeps may be used”. Do you know which of these 3 statements is valid? Here’s the link, just hold your cursor on the red dot and forward to 1:10:

Pagayeur

My Voyager was a weather cocking monster, even with a deck cover. To be fair, I was the only load in a high capacity boat. 17’ of straight keel.
My Rapidfire was much easier to handle.

Or you could just get a kayak…

Is this a quiz? Or is it a request for opinions? Anyway, here’s my take.

"Canoes are designed to weathercock”. That statement is a load of crap. As evidence, I point to my guide-boat (a very canoe-like boat - not many people, even paddlers, are able to see the difference between a guide-boat and a canoe). This boat is perfectly symmetrical in every dimension. Yes, it weathercocks, but the fact that a perfectly symmetrical boat weathercocks should be enough to convince anyone that something other than some “intentional” design feature is the reason. Another clue is the fact that weather cocking gets more and more pronounced with increasing speed, but when the speed is zero, the boat is in equilibrium only when directly broadside to the wind. In fact, the cause for this kind of weathercocking is something that has been discussed here before, and that is the way that the stern of a boat “gets looser” with increasing speed. Taken to extremes, when I’m surfing a wave at 11 to 13 mph in that boat, the stern gets so loose that it takes extreme attention to detail to prevent the stern from skidding off to one side so abruptly that I’d wipeout if unchecked, and with a direct tailwind one can’t blame that on the wind. Also, any canoe paddler who has gotten a tow from a motorboat knows that as speed increases, the stern of the boat gets really squirrely and will skid out to one side or the other in the same manner if the paddler is not extremely vigilant.

Bottom line: Absent any other unusual design features, canoes weathercock because the stern skids sideways more easily than the bow when the boat is traveling forward, so as the wind pushes the boat sideways, the stern moves fastest/farthest causing the heading to veer into the wind.

“If wind is coming from the offside, more aggressive J strokes will be required to go straight” and "If wind is from the onside, the correction part of the J stroke can be skipped or if strong enough sweeps may be used”. This seems to make sense but it isn’t a hard and fast rule. Even if I can’t at the moment recall which side for paddling creates more need for correction and which reduces that need, I do remember that a solo canoe that I sold a few years back (a Wenonah Vagabond) behaved in the opposite manner as the canoes I have now, at least for most angles of crosswind (but it would behave the same way for a small range of angles of crosswind. Go figure. My other canoes act the same regardless of the angle of the crosswind, and are thus much less fussy in their handling than was the case for that Vagabond).

To my way of thinking, all one needs to know is that when paddling in a crosswind, if the boat’s tendency to veer toward the offside is too strong to be comfortable, paddling on the other side instead will solve the problem. This is a good reason to practice enough on both sides to avoid having “a good side” and “a bad side” for paddling. This is in agreement with the video, but takes into account the fact that not all solo canoes act as expected.

@tjalmy said:
Or you could just get a kayak…

Yeah … if your use case doesn’t include wandering between lakes or around rapids. Both kayaks & canoes have strengths and weaknesses with a lot of overlap. I paddle & enjoy both.

Back to the OP though - one thing to note is the video is solo paddling Canadian style using a tandem canoe. Dedicated solos will have differences as String noted. Some of the issues may be mitigated by adjusting the trim.

For me the wind usually isn’t an issue, but I paddle mostly rivers in a dedicated solo. I know that a perfectly trimmed boat should turn into the wind, so a J stroke for and offside wind and a sweep for an onside wind make sense. Can’t say I’ve been in the situation enough to know. But what boat is perfectly timed, and when is a single force like the wind the only that you need to consider. I would think that a tandem boat paddled solo with the bow sticking out of the water would get blown downwind due to the bow sticking up on the front.

I give up - the answer is…

@rival51 said:

@tjalmy said:
Or you could just get a kayak…

Yeah … if your use case doesn’t include wandering between lakes or around rapids. Both kayaks & canoes have strengths and weaknesses with a lot of overlap. I paddle & enjoy both.

Back to the OP though - one thing to note is the video is solo paddling Canadian style using a tandem canoe. Dedicated solos will have differences as String noted. Some of the issues may be mitigated by adjusting the trim.

None of the video illustrates Canadian Style. The boat is flat. Canadian Style involves heeling the hull so it is actually possible to paddle in a straight line without a c or a J. You can get that Ottertail paddle passing through the center of rotation.
I hold the video as hooey. Look at how high the paddle is held and how out of trim the boat is…

My canoes all do weathercock to some degree which is far more desirable than broaching. but still going downwind with a stern quartering wind is an exercise in paying attention as the stern wants to slew around…

I don’ t know that weathercocking goes specifically into the design process of any canoe. My solo Placidboat RapidFire does tend to weathercock, sometimes rather strongly I do paddle it 95% of the time with a single blade paddle and straight course maintenance is easiest when paddling on the windward side. The same is true with my Hornbeck when paddled with a double blade.

I think there a number of effects that cause this. First, as mentioned earlier, the stern is in loose, confused water while the bow is knife cutting into undisturbed water. The bow wants to continue inline in whatever direction the stern chooses. It is well known that the effective pivot point of a boat moves forward of the geometric pivot point when in motion, more so as the boat moves faster. That makes it easier for the stern to be “loose”. I also believe that as the canoe cuts through the air, that laminar air flow becomes disturbed on the downwind side, causing an air eddy and a low pressure area near the stern, helping to cause the stern to slide and be blown in that direction. These effects all combine to make the canoe turn into the wind, to weathercock.

My Rapid Fire is pretty much happy to paddle wherever I want it to

No real tendency to weathercock. Mostly used on Lake Superior and the Gulf of Mexico
Heading out next week to the latter

@kayamedic said:
My Rapid Fire is pretty much happy to paddle wherever I want it to

No real tendency to weathercock.

I’m with you, but still waiting for the official answer from Pagayeur

Pag I think is just funning… He is not a student… Nor a troll. I have known him from years and learned solo from him. Must be cold down there in the bayou.

I have never heard of a canoe designed to weather helm, but it is better to weather helm than to have a design that suffers from the opposite, that is lee helm.

Dirk Barends

I want to try the quiz. I can see where pagayeur might have concerns with the video. It seems oversimplified with assumptions that are not stated.

1. canoes are designed to weathercock - false - seems silly
2. stronger j-strokes needed to counteract offside headwinds - true - assuming the boat is trimmed neutral or bow light and assuming that a stronger J means a more aggressive correction at the end. But this would be false for a solo paddler sitting way forward in a prospector because the boat would turn into the wind all by itself
3. strong onside headwinds can be corrected with sweep strokes. Um - no. False. If you do a sweep while experiencing a strong onside headwind you are going to make a u-turn if you are trimmed neutral or bow light.

I’ve got a Swift Osprey which seems to be the poster child for being difficult to manage in a strong quartering tailwind. Swift says you just need to adjust the trim, and the boat has a sliding seat which makes it easy. For sure trim adjustments can help reduce weather cocking effects but at same time I agree with one statement that I found online that says you really don’t want to go too crazy with trim adjustments, especially on rivers, since big changes from neutral trim make the boat more squirrelly…which isn’t good if you are also dealing with current.

Why isn’t it easier to find a clear explanation of the physics online?

Because the physics depends on underwater hull form and wind strength and swell and rocker. Just learn to deal with it. Years ago I read that kayaks were designed to weathercock for safety reasons… Leecocking is less stable ( stern to the wind) than weathercocking if the paddler is incapacitated
http://www.kayakforum.com/cgi-sys/cgiwrap/guille/wiki.pl?Weathercocking

I love to paddle solo canoes and have fun on the water. When not in a boat, I like to study the subject of solo canoeing ( paddling a hull which allows one to do cross bow strokes). I see videos like this and as TomL said, I’m concerned with the amount of mis-information I see out there. I also know that for every question about canoeing there are many different opinions. Long story short, to promote objectivity, I did not offer my personal opinion, preferring to couch this as a question. It ended up sounding like a quiz, which was not my intention. So for what it’s worth here is my take away on this video segment.

Next discussed was paddling in wind from the offside and onside. IMO, they just got these terms reversed because the action they suggest is the exact opposite of what I would advise. Let’s talk about offside wind first. To avoid confusion we’ll drop “offside” and “onside” and use the terms “right” and “left” instead. So, you’re paddling along on the right side and a breeze comes up from left to right. According to our empirical experiment above, it will want to turn the hull broadside to the direction of the wind, in this case the bow will be pushed toward the right. So, how does a paddler offset this force? We know that an uncorrected forward stroke will cause the bow to yaw to the left. This would offset the force of the breeze and allow the desired course to be maintained. In a heavy wind, sweeps might be necessary to achieve this offset. Unless I misinterpret, the video recommends forward with heavy corrections, which in this situation would result in a U-turn. Conversely, when paddling on the right, if a breeze comes up from the right (blowing right to left) the bow will be pushed to the left. At that point forward strokes with heavy correction will yaw the bow to the right, offsetting the left blowing breeze and allow the paddler to maintain course. The vid seems to suggest the opposite.

So IMO the 3 statements in this segment are plainly misinformation and could make a beginners day mighty long.

I would tend to agree generally with Pagayeur’s last comments. In my hands, different canoes do different things in response to wind and they certainly don’t all tend to weathercock. Quite a few solo canoes are set up with a seat position that renders them slightly bow light. Couple this with the fact that many canoes have asymmetrical sheer height with greater depth and windage in the bow than the stern. The combination of more bow windage and less bow weight makes for a boat that tends to leecock or turn broadside to the wind, especially in response to wind coming from a forward quarter.

I paddled many miles in a rather large solo canoe (Mad River Traveler) on a big lake that often got windy. It was set up with a sliding center seat that made it easy to trim bow light, bow heavy, or neutral, and I frequently adjusted the seat position to give the boat a tendency to either weathercock or leecock, depending on wind direction.

I have paddled a lot of highly rockered whitewater solo canoes. It is not all that uncommon to be lined up entering or within a rapid when a big gust of wind comes up and knocks the boat off course. In my recollection, when this happens it is much more common for the bow to be blown downstream than upstream.

And some boats have a definite tendency to turn broadside to the wind and lock into that orientation. The boat in which I have experienced this most notably is the long, skinny Wenonah Voyageur which has a lot of windage when paddled unloaded. I have seen and felt this boat turn broadside to a stiff wind and skate laterally across the water. When that happens, with so much boat sticking out in front of and behind the paddler, it requires a very determined effort to get either end to turn up into the wind.

@pblanc said:
I would tend to agree generally with Pagayeur’s last comments. In my hands, different canoes do different things in response to wind and they certainly don’t all tend to weathercock. Quite a few solo canoes are set up with a seat position that renders them slightly bow light. Couple this with the fact that many canoes have asymmetrical sheer height with greater depth and windage in the bow than the stern. The combination of more bow windage and less bow weight makes for a boat that tends to leecock or turn broadside to the wind, especially in response to wind coming from a forward quarter.

I paddled many miles in a rather large solo canoe (Mad River Traveler) on a big lake that often got windy. It was set up with a sliding center seat that made it easy to trim bow light, bow heavy, or neutral, and I frequently adjusted the seat position to give the boat a tendency to either weathercock or leecock, depending on wind direction.

I have paddled a lot of highly rockered whitewater solo canoes. It is not all that uncommon to be lined up entering or within a rapid when a big gust of wind comes up and knocks the boat off course. In my recollection, when this happens it is much more common for the bow to be blown downstream than upstream.

And some boats have a definite tendency to turn broadside to the wind and lock into that orientation. The boat in which I have experienced this most notably is the long, skinny Wenonah Voyageur which has a lot of windage when paddled unloaded. I have seen and felt this boat turn broadside to a stiff wind and skate laterally across the water. When that happens, with so much boat sticking out in front of and behind the paddler, it requires a very determined effort to get either end to turn up into the wind.

Yes, it does.

Voyager sounds much worse than Osprey. Osprey just gets tail-happy in super strong quartering tailwinds to the point where you may not be able to control it with forward strokes but worst case you just drag the paddle like a rudder to straighten out and if you ever did get broadside to the wind the boat is happy to turn upwind again and start over.

Interesting that the Voyager gets almost perfect 5 star ratings in the Reviews even with many warnings about wind. Maybe all else is forgiven when it’s so fast? Maybe quirky boats are more lovable than predictable ones?

I wish I had a video of the effect i described in my earlier post during the 90-mile race in the Adirondacks. Most of the canoes in the group ahead of me were C2 tandem racers, with a few solo boats included. Experienced canoe racers who very well know proper boat trim bow to stern. As soon as they passed the rock outcrop and entered the broad part of the lake with the strong crosswind, it was as if a switch was thrown and they all, almost in unison, turned into the wind and you could see them stuggling while paddling on the windward side to head back to proper course. The same happened to me a few minutes later when I reached the same spot and crosswind.

But were they actually travelling the proper course while misaligned? Thats happened to me on big lake crossings with intense wind funnelling… I am curious. I usually get blown bow crosswise when trying to enter a wind funnel from a wind eddy.