Solo paddling in wind

Looking for help: Recently, I was paddling my Wenonah Aurora (16’) solo on a small, safe lake on a sunny CA winter afternoon. Out of the blue, a considerable wind picked up and I had a nasty time fighting the heavy wind and slight chop. Although I consider myself to be a novice, I have paddled with a partner in this model as well as others on windy days with far less trouble.

My questions to the panel are with the little information I have provided above, just how much does bow ballast assist with tracking on windy days (on this particular day, I had none). Also, can someone please offer advice on how best to battle wind in a tandem canoe while paddling solo?

Thanks for the help.


– Last Updated: Feb-22-05 4:26 PM EST –

You'll get a lot of advice on this one, I predict.

One thing I think is critical is the trim of the boat. Heading into the wind, I move some weight (like myself) forward. Think of a flag. I would think that in a tandem this would be doubly important.

I have had people recommend ballast (water jugs NOT rocks) for wind. Other things that I have found helpful are my spray deck and paddling wicked hard.

wind and big canoes

– Last Updated: Feb-22-05 4:31 PM EST –

it's tough to paddle a tandem in high winds paddling solo. maybe a kayak paddle would help, although i'm not a big fan of kayak paddles used in canoes. ballast is important. putting weight in one or both ends can make a big difference in canoe handling with wind and waves. the basic idea is to put weight in the stern with following wind and waves and put it in the bow when experiencing quartering winds from ahead. having said that, wenonahs are notoriously bad in the wind, most models anyway. i'm not familiar with your boat, though.

liv2 brings up some good points. a kneeling thwart would help. i looked up the boat and it seems to be a pretty good design. i like the spirit II, although the aurora seems to have quite a bit of freeboard. lots of freeboard translates into a sail of sorts. wind is going to be a problem in that boat when paddled solo. a spray cover or float bags would help.


– Last Updated: Feb-22-05 4:29 PM EST –

it sometimes helps (depending on hull configuration) to turn the boat around and paddle from the bow seat. typically this puts you more forward in the canoe which helps trim it for wind paddling, i.e, more weight forward.

ballast in the bow (regardless of whether you're paddling from the back seat or the bow seat) will help significantly. the bow sticking up in the water will certainly get blown around in windy conditions.

if all else fails, install a kneeling thwart slightly stern of mid-ships where a solo boat would be paddled from to obtain a better balanced solo paddle.

All of the above
I like my Mohawk double blade for soloing my tandem.

You certainly will do better with the boat trimmed level or even a little bow heavy. Turning the boat around and paddling from the bow seat or getting right up to the portage thwart will help but you still are higher in the water, more exposed to the wind than when you have a second paddler. Adding some ballast might be the best thing.

And as we say in New England, Paddle wicked hard!

Wind paddling just takes time to learn. Here is one of the easier ways of paddling into the. Keep in mind that your bow has an arc in which you can pull it back to dead center. Outside this arc and your going to fight the wind. Now start paddling into the wind; the bow swings toward your offside. Just before the bow reaches the direction you want to head, switch sides. In the process of switching, the bow will swing past the direction you want to go in. Paddle a few strokes and you be startying the process all over. Soon, you will be keeping your canoe straight.

Then and only then I would start learning the J, Canadian, or pitch strokes for going straight. Basically, you are doing the hit and switch paddling.

Trim with ballast too
Unless you are carrying and can snap or lace on a spray deck, your only real option is ballast, both you and whatever you can find, to trim the boat and get the bow down for upwind and bow up for downwind.

What I find is really helpful and doesn’t weigh a thing when empty is a 5 gallon collapsible water jug. I have one labeled with a big black X on it reminding me it’s my lake water jug and it has a lanyard permanently lashed to it. The other end of the lanyard has a clip on it for clipping around the lanyard after looping it through the seat frame (so I don’t lose it). It’s part of the few things I have to remember to bring when paddling and I just toss it in. When the wind kicks up I take the cap off, un collapse it “manually” as much as possible, then submerge it to fill it with lake water. Only takes minutes yet gives me 40 pounds plus for the bow of my canoe. The other thing I do is kneel closer forward to lower my weight and upper body profile plus trim the boat for the wind.

Open Canoes offer two bulkheads to cross winds so it’s a challenge but these things help me.

Ask me about sailing your canoe!

Forget all this other advice!
For wind you put the mast in the holder, raise the sail and lower the leeboard. Piece of cake. If the wind continues to build you’ll need to learn to reef the sail.

I use a balance lug rig. It fits in the canoe well and is easy to use.

Trim Solves Wind
Your boat is like a weather vane. Get the bow down lower than the stern and you can paddle into any headwind …and vice versa for tail winds. You will be best off the seat and kneeling, the closer to the center of the boat the better because your body acts as a sail. Crouch as low as you can comfortably paddle is necessary.

Cross winds are handled by heeling the boat away from the wind. This allows it to blow over the curve of the hull. which offers less resistance.

It also means you will be paddling on the leeward side which will allow you to more easily counteract the leeward slippage of the boat due to wind pressure.

Quartering winds require usage of both proper trim, heeling the boat away from the wind and appropriate paddle strokes to counteract the wind’s influence.

Finally, remember that savvy paddlers don’t go out when when it is too windy. and come ashore as soon as possible when the wind or sea

conditions unexpectdely get too dusty.

You can generally anticipate changes in wind strength and direction if you are familiar with the body of water you are paddling. Wind usually comes up in the afternoon on lakes or rivers, and from the same direction each day. It will then die down in the evening. Experienced trippers plan to come ashore during the windy period … take a break, eat and sleepl until the wind dies down. I always paddled in the morning, and if I was facing bad head or quartering wind conditions in the afternoon, I would hole up ashore until after dinner and then get a few hours of calm paddling in before making my nighttime camp.


You’ve received lots of good advice. And learning to control a boat in the wind is a challenge and a great skill to have. You used the phrase, “battling the wind” and that is where my objection lies. In Oklahoma wind is a common visitor, and like on your day, it comes up all of a sudden, beats you up and leaves you frustrated and exhausted. You do need to learn the techniques to go somewhere, and trimming, paddling directly into the waves etc are all skills you will use.

If you have time, are safe, wearing a pfd or close to shore, I recommend next time this occurs you ‘play’. Scoot way back in your boat so the nose is a foot or two above the water and spin; (this is fun, sit on the stern plate of the canoe and paddle backwards on one side as fast as you can). Put her on her edge and see how that affects her. Paddle backwards, paddle forwards. Move forward until your nose (bow) is in deep and your tail rides high and do the same. Pretend like you know what your doing as a freestyle artist and put little grooves in your moves. Wear yourself out having fun in your canoe. You will learn a lot about what your boat and yourself are capable of, and you will learn what works in the wind.

Enjoy, and have fun!!!


Some thoughts
Check out this page at the Nashwaak paddles web site. There is a good article about paddling into the wind, titled “Upwind in a Blow”. Other good articles about solo and flatwater paddling there too.

I used to own an Aurora and liked it a lot as an all arounder. I paddled it solo mostly and installed a third seat like one would do with a kneeling thwart. I went with a kneeling thwart in my current tandem and think the seat was more comfortable really, plus worked well with a child in it when we paddled with three in the boat.

I intentionally went out solo into some serious winds and waves with the Aurora to see how she’d handle. I try to find a spot based on wind direction, such that I’ll be blown back to shore if things go bad. A capsize hasn’t happened on these trial runs, but it is comforting to know the shore is going to have your back. (THIS IS IN FAIRLY WARM WATER WITH DRY CLOTHES NEARBY ALSO AND THE PFD SECURED ON MY TORSO :-)) I enjoy just playing in the wind and waves, changing trim, changing angles into the wind, timing the waves for 180 degree turns etc. I can mess around happily for a long while and not really “go anywhere”. Several weeks ago a front came through with the wind around 60 degrees off what I’d expected. I had to cross a really nasty stretch of water to get back to the truck. The earlier practice really helped with knowing what the boat and I could do.

The Aurora does fine in the wind, but it is no doubt a trade off between the extra freeboard and the higher wind profile. The Aurora does have some rocker – unlike many Wenonahs – and so you can make some corrective stearing strokes more easily than you might with a harder tracking boat. I’m about 6’2" and 220 lbs. for what that is worth. Always take some day gear of 20-30lbs. that can be moved around for changing trim.

Keep after it and you’ll have the boat handling well. Remember to play it safe as you learn and build your skill and confidence. I’m still learning myself all the time. Seaworthiness of various boats in various conditions is facinating to me. It is a great feeling to navigate rough water feeling like you have skill at it…just be safe.

It was mentioned, but a cover
greatly reduces the wind effect.

sit just behind the center thwart, plop your dog in front of you, and drive straight into the wind fella

the boat wants to have level trim and a little extra weight will help keep the ends planted in the water so not blown around so easily and a little extra weight (70 pound lab works well) helps the glide without hurting acceleration much…and you might consider a bent shaft paddle so you can put all energy into forward motion by switching sides and not waste any energy steering

Best advice I’ve heard in a while.

I’m always telling friends the same thing about moving water. But when the wind comes up I grit my teeth and battle it out.

Next time I’m taking your advice Bo!

Paddle wicked hard!
or the nothern variation of:

“Paddle like you stole it!”



Thanks, I needed the laugh!

Consider that line stolen. Can’t wait for a chance to use that like I’d coined it myself.

Three suggestions.
(1) The minute that the wind starts kicking your ass, the hell with correction strokes, do switch paddling and head for the nearest port of refuge. DO NOT HANG AROUND IN THE MIDDLE OF A LAKE! Make those open crossings only when there is no alternative.

(2) I always carry a paddle strapped to my thwarts that is a wide beaver tail. Something with plenty of blade to it. That is needed for power when you are fighting a wind. Most of the time I use a narrow Nashwaak otter tail, but heavy weather just overwhelms it. So then I get midevil and haul out the big gun.

(3) A lot depends on the canoe. I have a Bell Morningstar with a 40 lb lay up. Only a Mad River Malicite can give it a run as a fine canoe. The problem with it is that it is so light that if you get hit by wind you are like a leaf on a parking lot. My canoe before that was an old 18’ 6" long Sawyer Champion IV racer. Not worth a shit for initial stability, but you get that sucker going and it would blast through any chop and it was so low to the water that you had no weather vaning.


Bow paddling
When going into wind for 8 hours in a tandem alone, I once moved into the bow seat and used the front wheel drive method to move forward and through minor cross winds. All energy went into forward motion, no correction needed.

Of course, it depends on wind, waves, where your gear can be placed and how the balance works out. Each method discussed has its good points under certain conditions.

I have no need for a canoe but I thought that, just like kayaks, there are river and lake canoes. A canoe made for flat water has a keel to keep it from being blown sideways in the wind. With a keel on a canoe you could tack against the wind. It’s been years since I research canoes so all that could be different know.