It was mentioned in the ‘kayak length to seaworthiness’ thread and got me thinking - Do you prefer naked hull, skeg, or rudder and why? Please mention your paddling intent and typical wind and waters, as I think this affects the calculation a lot.
For me, I enjoy the hell out of a rudder. After paddling and racing canoes for 5 years, I can say I love the hell out of my surfski’s rudder. In a cross or quartering wind in the canoes, it sucked paddling on one side for 10+ minutes at a time. I cant imagine doing a long crossing of an hour or more and being stuck on one side. Canoe paddling was mostly done in small/medium lakes, often with a 5-15mph wind, and occasionally over 20. At the time I thought a rudder was ‘cheating’, but was also very envious of boats with them.
On the surfski, a rudder is mandatory for the boat. No amount of heeling will properly steer a ski. winds of 10-20mph are common and 25+ on occasion. Typical seas range from 1’ on a flat day to 7’+ on big days. I would want nothing to do with the ocean over 2’ without a rudder. Yes, I am competent at heeling a boat (racing canoes only turn when heeled hard over with sweep strokes), but a rudder is sooo much easier and more precise. Particularly when trying to maintain course into or with quartering waves and cross wind. Also it allows point-and-shoot precision when going down wind or chasing waves.
A comment was made about the rudder coming out, which happened on my old ski, a Fenn XT. But this only happened on steep, short interval waves and was in part due to a poor rudder design (the shark fin shape, which is a junk design) and placement which was too close to the stern of the boat. On my Swordfish S, the rudder is far enough forward it never comes out of a wave, and I put a huge DK 9" surf rudder on it. I can hold an aggressive line down a wave an not broach thanks to its huge surface area.
On a typical sea kayak I guess you would not have an under stern option, so coming out of the water may be more of an issue, but I’d still take a rudder over skeg, and a skeg over a smooth hull any day. The more control I have over the direction of the boat without using rudder strokes, the better. I like to move forward efficiently and the rudder is king for that purpose.
Seems like the rudder is looked down upon by purists, but I contend its a great tool with many more benefits than drawbacks in general. Yes, it can break, but if you have an emergency kit (as I always do) in a worst case scenario I can just wedge it straight and turn it into a skeg. I also carry a bungee that will compensate for 1 broken cable.
So what say you? Smooth, Skeg, or Rudder and why?