Suggestions on directional control in quartering chop

I’m recently back from 4 days/3 nights on Georgian Bay/Massasauga PP. We had a lovely time - a bit of wind, some rain, and a bright blue sky day. We camped two nights on Sharpe Island and the last night just inside of Blackstone. I haven’t spent much time paddling a loaded kayak mostly empty or lightly loaded. I found myself having to put effort in maintain a course especially downwind with the chop and wind coming from the left quarter. Edging didn’t seem to do enough and, downwind, I would often use a stern rudder with a pry kick on the right. And yes, that slows me down. Much of the time I would have my right knee in the thigh brace while my left leg was flat. The steeper the chop the less edge I was comfortable to hold. Any suggestions on what else might have been useful to maintain a course?

Specifics: I’m ~ 5’ 8.5" weigh ~175. The kayak is a 17’ Pygmy Arctic Tern - hard chined, deep and slab sided. There is no rudder or skeg. I have replaced the Pygmy outfitting with a carved foam seat and an IR backband. I’m sure that I was stern heavy but given the difference in volume and hatch size stern to bow I’m not sure how else I would pack 55 lb of stuff. Forcast winds were in the 10 - 20 MPH range. Going out - into the wind - there were gusts into the upper range The chop was maybe in the 10" to 15" range at a guess with some whitecaps. coming back with the wind and chop to the stern I’d say closer to 10 MPH with 8" - 12" chop.

Seems to me a skeg or rudder would help a lot. You already mentioned weight distribution, which you may be able to play with a little.

Agree that a skeg or rudder would be the tool to have BUT I have been in those conditions and found it easier to tack back and forth rather than to go in a straight line. For example my boat really didn’t behave well with the wind at my 5 o’clock. Therefore I’d paddle awhile with it at 6 o’clock then switch to 3 o’clock for some time.

@rival51 said:
…wind coming from the left quarter. …Much of the time I would have my right knee in the thigh brace while my left leg was flat…"…Any suggestions on what else might have been useful to maintain a course?

Shouldn’t you have your legs positioned in the opposite manner? Left knee in the thigh brace and right leg flat. I canoe more than I kayak but remember when taking up kayaking you lean away from the direction of your turn. Seemed counter to what I practice in the canoe

That’s a hard tracking boat but a rear quartering wind is always a challenge with any boat and more so without a skeg or rudder. I’ve had that boat dead downwind with the waves breaking on my back and it was OK so maybe tacking downwind would help.
Maybe a little more forward loading and keep the decks clear.

Try a stern spank draw on the windward side. Don’t put any sweep into it. It seems easier to correct things when the boat is at a standstill with respect to the water. You need as much torso rotation as you dare to. Stern heavy actually helps going down wind as it prevents the bow from slueing around

That’s a tough one, paddling edged and continuously sweeping on one side, can really beat you up after awhile,
Most things have been mentioned, but with a hard chined boat I think it’s very important to get a good “pack” before hopping in the boat. I have a Nigel Foster Shadow that has a flat bottom and hard chines, if I have the time I’ll often load gear in, let her float and see if I need to shift weight around at all. Or make a stop after an hour of paddling to shift things. Can be helpful front and back, pack bow heavy and she wants to spin around on her nose all day, but also side to side, can end up hanging on one edge if weight isn’t distributed evenly. Too ass heavy and it feels like the boat is dragging all day.
Playing with your course, zig zagging, broadside then downwind, or one that hasn’t been mentioned which is paddling up into the wind and chop then heading down. Similar to an eddy turn on a river, but much bigger.
Then there’s the old school paddle slide, moving your hands on the paddle to one side to give you more leverage, but that may be frowned upon in today’s alphabet soup of paddling curriculum.
And you could always install a skeg or rudder.

I second the notion of shifting the paddle; that should be instinctive and sometimes it is necessary to have a non-concentric power application. I have had occasions where there was a conflict as to which worked better–whether to add more shaft to the windward side, or more shaft to the lee side to increase leverage on the push rather than on the pull. I guess you try both and see which works the best. Combining a bit of paddle shift and edging should work, but a stiff quartering stern breeze can wear you down–certainly if there are significant waves.

I have had occasion where a bow quartering wind with giant waves made it necessary to paddle only on the lee side–which worked great, so it’s possible that might work in reverse (paddle on windward side only) if the wind and waves are severe enough and stern quartering. But when I think about it, if it gets that bad it’s probably time to find a whole different course plan.

In Greenland I was shown a much easier way to edge the kayak into the wind, which I found brilliantly simple. Rather than “cocking a knee” (lifting one knee, and dropping the other – which will cause discomfort after awhile and kill most of your torso rotation), simply shift laterally in the seat so that you are sitting closer to the gunwale on the windward side. This will edge the kayak passively and allow you to rotate normally, while saving your back. This works great in narrow hulls, that are very sensitive to weight shifts. Please note that this won’t work if you have thick hip pads, as you need some wiggle room. Hip pads may be necessary if you are a very loose fit in your kayak, but hip pads cause issues with techniques such as this one, and side sculling, because they prevent you from shifting your weight appropriately.

Nigel Foster teaches some excellent techniques for dealing with winds, and I highly recommend his classes. Click here, for an article by Nigel on using a stern draw to correct for weathercocking. In quartering winds most people make the mistake of trying to use a powerful sweep on the windward side, in order to correct. This works to some degree, but the issue is that the bow is held partially in place by high pressure (assuming you are moving forward) and resists your efforts, causing you to tire yourself out, for little gain. It’s much easier to move the stern instead (which is relatively loose). Take a stroke on the windward side, flare the paddle away from your hip (like a mild sweep), and then finish by bringing your elbow to your hip, with the blade facing the hull, to draw the stern. For more detail, please see the article linked above.
I find adding a stern draw much easier, while maintaining more speed, than performing massive sweeps on the windward side, or by constantly performing stern rudders on the leeward side.


We often get “sheeps in the field” waves on the river. River is 3.5 miles wide and very long. In my Cheasapeak 17, similar boat, I just shift the Greenland paddle over to the left and paddle on that side when on a port quartering wave. When that gets tiring I turn to a starboard, right quartering wave and run the paddle out the other side. Often that means slowing down some. It also means paddling with a hand on the end of the blade so you are doing max sweeps. (think long canoe paddle sweeps and feathering) Like in sailing the proper course heading isn’t always the direct straight line thing. Edging just tires me out.

I’ll also go dead downwind and see if I can get a little surfing. This usually makes things go faster since I’m paddling to catch waves instead of trying to control them. It can be a job though with a heavily loaded boat. You’d better have a skirt on.

A rudder would also help in these sea states to provide a counter trim to the “rounding up” tendency.

If you have following wind and chop coming from your left quarter, and you were doing stern pries on your right, that sounds like you were fighting a tendency to turn into the wind - weathercocking. Too heavy of a stern would have your bow blowing downwind - leecocking, so overweighting the stern should not have been an issue in this scenario.

When you edge your sea kayak, generally speaking, a sea kayak turns more freely. Even though in sea kayaks, it’s often preferable to edge away from your turn, edging towards your turn will still make the turn more effective. If you have wind and waves acting on your stern to push it downwind and spin your kayak towards the weather, do you suppose edging the kayak, either side, will make it spin less, or make it spin more? I don’t think there’s a definitive answer here. It’s gong to depend on the boat and the conditions. But it’s usually worth playing with. (From your description, I inferred that you were maintaining an edge, not just in directional adjustments, but just continuously maintaining an edge to combat the weathercocking.)

If the waves were such that they were giving your stern a push, you might try not continuously edging, keeping your forward stroke in good running form, and incorporating an edge with a directional control stroke where necessary.

The reality is that unless a person was there paddling with you, it’s hard to make suggestions that are meaningful. It’s possible that edging was preventing you from torso rotation, including in your directional control strokes. For example, it’s quite common for someone struggling to combat weathercocking to their left, to start doing multiple sweeps on their left. They do the first sweep on their left, get their torso all wound to the left, and forget to twist their torso back to the right before the beginning of their next sweep on the left. So a lot of the effectiveness is lost. This is just an example. I have no idea if any of it applies to you. But it’s not uncommon for fundamentals to come apart some in open water situations.

I also tend towards a stern draw at the end of a stroke for directional control. An effective stern draw is the opposite of a bow rudder. The bow rudder, you’re pressing your knee and the paddle together, and your opposite hip will tend to slide the opposite direction of the bow turn. A stern draw, you’re focusing on bringing your hip and the paddle together, and your knee should press on the opposite side of the kayak. In both, you’re pressing your knee the direction you want the bow to turn, and your hip the direction you want your stern to turn. If you can get the feel for this “rotating your entire body as you want your kayak to rotate”, over and above just paddle position and placement, your stern draws and bow rudders become more effective.

In cases where my kayak was weathercocking (turning up against the wind), and my skeg did not work or was inadequate, I have often filled a bag with water and put it as far back in the kayak as possible. 2-5 litres of water behind the skeg box can remove a lot of weathercocking.

Another option which I haven’t tried: Put something light and large on the front deck. The wind will push the front downwind, cancelling out the weathercocking tendency.

One sure key to all of this is lots of time in lots of conditions in a given boat. The corrections become automatic–at least until things get pretty hairy and by then I’m thinking about an alternate plan of destination. Never set off without at least one SHTF alternative plan.

Thanks for all of the input - plenty of information to consider. I’ll need to get some downwind time in in my local small lake. The stern draw is a stroke that I haven’t worked with in a kayak. I’m going to try to get enough out of the Nigel Foster article the Greg linked. I tend to be a kinetic learner so it often takes a couple or rounds between read & try to understand. I see that I missed noting that I paddle with a GP. I wasn’t going all the way to a full extended sweep but I did offset my hands a little. I would stroke harder with a half-assed sweep component on the windward side and lighter on the other. Occasionally I would take two on the windward to one on the other but I prefer not to do that often. Torso rotation was probably so-so. I know that I wasn’t often driving my but in the seat. On the other hand, I needed to slow down some so I didn’t get too far ahead of the group. When ruddering I was driving (or trying to) the bow around with my windward, low, leg.
My take-away so far is to push myself to spend more time running downwind, bring the stern draw into my kayak stroke repertory, and, on occasion, tack rather than trying to maintain a specific course.

I need to spend more time in my boats & less flying the damn computer.


I need to spend more time in my boats & less flying the damn computer.


Amen…for all of us.

The video labeled “keyhole stroke” is finishing the forward stroke with a stern draw.
A couple things to note that I brought up above.
At the beginning of the video, you get a nice demonstration of a difference between arm paddling and torso rotation. When he takes his stroke with his right hand, you can see his lifejacket rotating to his right with the stroke. You can see at the beginning of the stroke that his arm remains more straight, and that his paddle moves further away from his kayak. His arm is staying more straight because he’s trying to move the paddle further out to the side, and his torso is rotating more as a result of this too. This is the way it works when you use body rotation instead of arms. You can see when he takes a stroke with his left hand, his lifejacket gets back to centered, but doesn’t rotate further to the left. You see his elbow bend throughout the stroke on the left side, and the stroke ends with his elbow well behind his body.

If he keeps his arm straighter and uses torso rotation with his left stroke, he has more torso rotation to unwind, and more power, with his right stroke. If he can end the stroke on his right side (the stern draw piece of the stroke) with a straighter arm, again, he uses more torso, and gets much more power with the stern draw piece of his stroke. That ending, stern draw, piece of his right hand stroke is where you should focus on squeezing your right hip and your paddle shaft together, while pressing your left knee into the left side of the kayak.

You might say it was working here, so why mess with it? It’s a good case of do what makes you happy, and what you’re comfortable with. But what’s effective on flatwater often has to be beefed up a bit when wind and waves start exerting force on your kayak. Each individual gets to decide if they want to take advantage of fundamentals that will offer them that extra power and effectiveness. And you can use it when it makes sense, and take a more relaxed approach when that makes sense. But it’s good to do extensive work on anything you plan to use in the rough, on flatwater first. And for rival51’s scenario, I might suggest not stopping with “good enough on flatwater”.

Whoever is in the video, I understand that kayaking and stroke mechanics are an infinitely fluid thing. I certainly don’t consistently perform how I hope and envision myself performing, if I ever do. There are always a boatload of details to focus on. I’m just using that moment as a basis for comment, certainly not commenting on you as a paddler. It’s a scary thing to be the person demonstrating something on video, and I thank you for that.

Thanks for starting this thread, Rich. It’s been a wonderful read. I always pay attention to everything Greg writes and CapeFear’s analysis of the video was excellent. I wish all instructors were as meticulous about technique.

Rookie, I was looking forward to getting some detailed input and I am pleased. I’m going to bookmark this thread for future reference. It will be a bit before I’m back in my kayak. We are leaving Sunday to run my daughter’s two kayaks and some other stuff down to North Carolina.

Safe travels. I think everyone from downstate is up here, so the roads exiting Michigan might not be bad.

I’m a slow learner and need to break down the parts of a stroke so I print posts, stick the page in a zip lock bag, and have a ready reference on my deck for practice here at home. I think concentrating on kayak strokes and the water is a nice getaway from the noise of the world.