Question: paddling and current

I’m a beginner paddling a Necky Manitou 13. I frequently paddle Budd Lake in Northern NJ, which is a shallow spring fed lake (largest natural lake in NJ!) that feeds the South Branch of the Raritan River. My experience has been that there is a slow current moving southwest, toward the outlet. The wind also often blows in this direction.

My question: why does it seem easier to paddle northeast against this current, and against the breeze? Is it because when I paddle against the current, which is very gentle (but enough to move a stationary kayak), there is less resistance on my paddle blade, since the force I apply moves in the same direction as the current? Could it be that I really am moving faster and more efficiently against the current and wind, or is it a physical and optical illusion caused by less fatigue and the passing current?

Should I always attempt to paddle against the current and breeze on lakes like this?

As a note, I’ll add that the Manitou is rudderless and weathercocks fiercely, even on mildly windy days.


Get a GPS and check your true speed
going either direction.

It may just see like you’re going faster as paddling into the the waves can produce this sensation if you are only using the waves as a measure/perspective. Obviously, more waves will pass under your boat in a given period of time if you are paddling into them versus with them.

You need to know your speed over ground (SOG) to know for sure what’s going on. A GPS will tell you this.

Alternativly, check your speed against the shoreline by going opposite directions in a straight line next to the shore. This can give you some kind of visual shoreline reference and help you be more accurate in your assessment. This works better if you pick out a specific starting and ending point (typically 1/2 mi. apart) using shoreline features. Then paddle between these two points just offshore using the same effort going opposite directions on the identical path and timing both directions.

My guess is that you’ll find yourself going faster with the current you state exists and the wind and the windwaves. However, if you’re having trouble paddling one direction more than the other (as may be the case with someone new to paddling when the waves come from the rear quarters and make you feel more unbalanced and lead to bracing, etc. to stay upright to the possible detriment of your forward speed) these ways to measure speed may show that you are going faster into the waves.

optical illusion
the short version is that it is an optical illusion. Simple math gives you part of the picture, but a bit more complex physics explination describes the rest.

A kayak handles better into a slight headwind. Sorta steers itself.

Much like watching a roller coaster scene on TV from the front car perspective. When everything around you is flying by, it feels like you’re moving (even when you’re not.)

All the above are correct, so I’ll just

– Last Updated: May-28-06 10:17 PM EST –

...add the following:

Kudzu mentioned how a kayak "handles better" and "steers itself" into a headwind. Technically, this is an affect of the weathercocking you mentioned. When a boat weathercocks, it's trying to turn its bow into the wind (a "leecocking" boat would do just the opposite; turning the stern, instead of the bow, into the wind). If you want to paddle directly into the wind, the boat is indeed going to help you track in that direction, because this is the "perfect direction" according to a weathercocking boat. This also means that when paddling into the wind, you're not going to require corrective edging or strokes in order to maintain that direction, whereas if you wish to paddle in any other direction relative to the wind, you may have to do a bit of corrective paddling in order to maintain your desired course (which may indeed seem like a bit more work to you; especially if you're not yet well versed in edging and corrective strokes).

Again though, as the others have mentioned, if you're using the same amount of energy/force in paddling against wind and current as you do when you're paddling with the wind and current, your actual progress will be greater as you travel *with* the wind and current (regardless of how it may seem to you; both visually and physically). You may feel the need for more corrective paddling (edging and/or corrective paddle strokes), especially if your boat wants to weathercock, and the waves are trying to make your boat broach (go broadside to the waves).

A small "PS" edit:

If you were hunting from your kayak, you'd probably want a bit of a weathercocking tendency, as it's easier to be stealthy if you're downwind of your prey (both smell and sound would be masked by being downwind).


I agree.
.It is easier for you to keep the boat straight paddling into a wind and current than have it following you.

On your particular boat that is why you are having weathercocking problems going down wind.



Does it look like
you’re barreling along the moment you first turn your bow into the current and you know you are barely moving? Then it’s an illusion. You might not really be walking faster up the down escalator either.

correcting weathercocking
To correct weathercocking, you have to adjust the trim of your boat. The easiest way to do this is to adjust the balance of your boat. If your boat is weathercocking into the wind, then you need to put more weight aft and/or less weight weight forward.

To illustrate how this works, imagine this. You are standing in a shallow river with a rope in your hand. What happens if you tie the rope to the front of the boat? It points into the current. Now, tie the rope to the stern instead. What happens? The boat weathercocks away from the current. Theoretically, you could attach your rope to somewhere in the middle of your boat so that it orients perpendicular to the current!

You can do the same thing arranging your weight. Image that you are sitting on the bow of your boat. The boat will weathercock with the bow facing into the current. Now, sit on the stern. The boat will turn around and the stern will point into the current. If you now start moving forward in the boat, you will reach a point where it will turn sideways to the current. This would be the point of perfect balance or neutral trim.

Remember, move more weight to the bow and the bow points into the current. More weight in the stern and the stern points into the current. If you are going up stream against the current, you will probably like more weight up front. Likewise, if you are on a trip downstream with the current, you will probably like more weight aft. If your seat is adjustable, simply shift your weight forward or backward. If that’s not possible, simply move an item, perhaps your cooler, from the bow to the stern or vica versa. You would be amazed at how much effect even a small adjustment can have.

Now consider the wind. The same rules of trim apply. However, if you have things lashed to your fore or afterdeck, the wind will have the opposite effect on your boat. A large cooler lashed to the afterdeck will catch the wind. With the wind behind you, the boat will try to weathercock into the wind.

If you really want to get good at this, just take up sailing! Then you have to consider the position of the keel, rudder, mast, boom, etc.


– Last Updated: May-30-06 10:20 PM EST –

..for all the responses. I guess I'll be paddling into the headwind until I learn better edging skills. It is tremendously easier to paddle against a headwind, because as some of you have pointed out, the kayak steers itself in that direction. I'll also have to play around with weight distribution to see if I can improve the performance. I might also have to take up hunting - this yak is the weathercock king!

So, edging is actually leaning to one side or the other for a prolonged duration to control steering? I've fooled around with edging for turns using sweep strokes, and I even got some unintended wet exit practice doing it. But I don't yet feel competent enough to maintain an edging position for long - my balance is poor and my paddling becomes very erratic.

The kayak is not outfitted with any kind of hip padding or knee or thigh bracing, which may be possible as the cockpit of the Manitou is not ridiculously large - does that help with edging and other maneuvering?

Thanks - learning lots on these boards,