Weathercocking in a Gale???

I went paddling yesterday on the Chesapeake in some very high winds. Winds were over 40-45 knots.

I was out in my Explorer which has no problem handling such conditions and which is a very neutral boat in the wind.

However, I noticed some strange “weathercocking” I know that generally a boat will turn into the wind; however, in this instance the boat would turn sideways to the wind.

Even with a strong cross-bow rudder the boat was hard to get turned back into the wind and would eventually end up sideways again.

I noticed the same thing going down wind as well which I found surprising. Unless I maintained a stern rudder in the water the boat would again turn sideways.

I have noticed other somewhat strange boat handling in really high winds in the past. In winds over 25 or 30 knots it seems to me that the boat tends to get blown downwind rather than turning up into it.

Is there a reason why a boat would act any different in winds over a certain speed (turn down wind or across the wind as opposed to turning up into the wind).

Just curious.

Incidentally I did not use the skeg (it was cold and I was using pogies and did not really want to mess with getting my hand out and back in the pogie given the wind). Skeg might have helped or at least changed things.


I don’t know why
but when a boat is just drifting it will alway turn 90 degrees to the wind. If you did not have enough power to compensate for this than it will begin to turn side ways. (I’d guess)

It must be some kind of magic.

you’re not paddling hard enough
50mph winds you should be blowing sideways. Strongest winds I’ve been in was 25-30kts and I was maxed out.

Was it blowing a gale when you launched? Just wondering? VF

In Those Conditions…
You need a Nordkapp LV…

you work and work
to bring your bow into the wind, and every time you crest over a wave, the wind just blows it back. A strange, unnerving sensation the first time you experience it.

weatherhelm, lee helm, etc
When a boat is sitting still in wind, it will always lie to the wind more or less perpendicular. More or less, due to the differential windage above the waterline (most kayaks have more windage ahead of the cockpit, therefore the bow will set slightly downwind), and the differential lateral resistance of the hull (again, most sea kayaks have more rocker forward, allowing the bow to set slightly more downwind). This difference in the many kayaks available (again, sitting still) is surprisingly small- 5-15deg from dead perpendicular to the wind.

When the boat is moving forward, the center of lateral resistance changes (aka, “pivot point”). The faster you go, the farther forward. It is this change (again, speed dependent) that makes a kayak exhibit weatherhelm (helm of the boat goes towards the weather, or, into the wind).

While speed of the boat is a factor in how much weatherhelm occurs, so is the wind speed. There will come a point of wind that, with so much pressure ahead of the point of lateral resistance (again, “pivot point”), the change of that pivot point forward just isn’t a great enough ratio (compared to the force behind) to have much effect on the helm. The boat lies perpendicular to the wind, as though it is sitting still. But of far, far greater effect, the waves that are lifting up the bow and the stern free of the water offer so much windage unaffected by the point of lateral resistance that the wind will easily blow that exposed part downwind. Again, the boat will become perpendicular to the wind.

Going downwind in such a scenario is somewhat easy. The paddler can change the underhull resistance dramatically. Put your paddle blade very deep at the stern- the resulting force is not unlike a flag (the boat) on a flagpole (the buried paddle). Which side to bury the paddle, upwind, or downwind? Upwind,for certain, as you are also braced into the wind and waves(BTW, this is leehelm).

Going upwind is much harder, and IMO, is the critical test for boat handling skills for an advanced paddler. Indeed, for a group to be safe, the ability of at least the leader to be able to turn upwind is a major component of safety. First is to develop as much speed across the wind as is possible (remember that weatherhelm of a boat is dependent on both wind speed and boat speed?). Then, to assist any weatherhelm that develops (not showing yet? Go faster, first), add in downwind sweep strokes. Edging, while it does help tremendously, can be problematic, as the safest edging is into the wind. Now, here is the rub. The moment your bow starts to rise up on a wave, the wind will knock your boat back to perpendicular. There is a wind speed for every paddler where their muscular strength is insufficient to compensate with a stronger sweep stroke. As a side note, extending the paddle does not work at this point, as it puts the paddler at the unforgiving end of a lever. Choking up on the paddle, and above all increasing the stroke rate of the sweep (by this time likely only a half sweep at the bow)is more effective. But, back to the bow rising up- the moment it is exposed, place your paddle into a bow rudder to hold it (imagine holding onto a post)from being blown downwind. It may be necessary to employ a rarely used stroke in sea kayaking (canoeists, rejoice here), a strong bow draw. After the wave passes and the bow is in the trough, resume speed and sweeps. Above all, do not try the sweeps/bow draw combo until you have simply reached a high speed.

This is also a good point to hit home the importance of learning and understanding the Beaufort scale. In my area, there are some kayakers that have claimed to have paddled in 80mph winds! I have no respect for their seamanship and judgement, as it is just not possible to do so! You can’t even stand on land in that. Checking the forecast is critical, but interpreting it by critical observation is the way to knowledge.

And remember, try to avoid arm wrestling with Neptune.


what he said

what he said and a little more
Was in those winds as well, but with a shopping cart. First time I had a shopping cart crab across the parking lot.

Going into the wind in canoe you can move your body forward and paddle from there to remain in the wind. If going downwind you can move your body to the stern to change your pivot point.

I’ve never found a way to do this in a kayak however, crossing my legs indian style or moving equipment aft has helped me in going downwind in high winds without broaching.

sounds suspect
50 mph and comfortable? come on. are we talking about 100-foot yachts?

40 to 45 knots?
if you’re paddling in those conditions on open water in any craft, hats off. you’re the God of all things paddle. what’s it cost to tithe?

a bit more on sweeps
There is always something more!

If the wind is new and hasn’t developed much waves, it is less necessary to use the downwind sweep/upwind bow draw combo. Speed is again the key before attempting the turn, next, apply short, high cadence half sweeps at the bow.

The reason why is also related to wind speed and available muscular strength, but also, a slower, more powerful full sweep can work against you. As soon as the sweep passes amidships and towards the stern, there will be a wind speed where the paddlers strengthe cannot overcome the effect from the wind. The last half of the sweep will in fact anchor the stern, and the wind will pivot the boat downwind off the paddle! This, no matter how hard you squeeze.

BTW, understanding the effect of the wind on a kayak that is moving that is not moving is critical to getting the boat to do what you want without working too hard. It always amuses me to see paddlers using rudders, starting off from a dead stop, trying to go upwind in Force 4 or above…they are almost always surprised to find that the rudder doesn’t work very well! Again, think of the flag and flagpole analogy, and the reason should be clear. Answer? First, get going fast across the wind…and even consider putting the rudder up (boat design, paddler’s speed, and wind speed dependent).

And then there is the story about a kayaker who refused to put her skeg up when going into a strong quartering wind…and wondered why the boat kept falling off the wind. I had to stay at her stern and push it onto course with my bow, only because she just wouldn’t even try to put up her skeg!

Funny how we hold onto our preconceptions, when observation should prove otherwise.


Two Points

– Last Updated: Feb-12-08 10:30 PM EST –

1. As Karl says, the ability to "jog to weather" is for all upon the sea in small vessels a critical function. I think the ease with which you can do it in a kayak is one very good good measure of its big water ability as is the ability to regain course after getting pointed downwind on the top of waves.

2. In my experience, after battling fierce winds and waves on a paddle, it is often rather humbling to check the buoy data for the closest buoys to ascertain actual wind speeds and wave heights.

Whenever you cannot make way, the odds are you will end up with a beam wind and sea if you cannot get headed into the wind or downwind if brave. If you are near a lee shore...good luck. Without making way, a kayak will not weathercock in my opinion nor will it leecock unless it is one very unbalanced boat.

Otterslide knows his stuff. Refreshing.

Forget the author, but
"Observation is a merciless critic of theory."

On the wall in my office…

try to avoid arm wrestling with Neptune.
Words of wisdom capping an extraordinarily informing essay.

Thank you very much!

Been There
It didn’t matter what I did with the skeg. The boat just wanted to stay locked in horizontally between waves.

I think that was nature’s way of telling me to get the hell off the water. That’s what I did.

Very interesting
Thank you for the thorough information. Sounds to be about what I was experiencing. I was working hard to get the boat to turn into the wind by picking up as much speed as possible, making an aggressive sweep and then using an agressive crossbow rudder transitioning into a bow draw and then a reverse sweep and still could not quite get turned up into the wind.

Seemed that I would get to about 11 oclock and then eventually get blown sideways. Almost seemed that a conventional bow rudder was more effective b/c I maintained more forward speed.

Going downwind was interesting. I could get turned down wind but about the only way I could stay in that direction was to maintain a stern rudder in the water. Seemed like doing so would lock the boat down wind to an extent and the upper blade would act as a sail. I would actually move downwind fairly well like this without paddling.

To address some of the questions raised…The wind was blowing pretty hard when I launched but not that hard. It definitely picked up when I was on the water.

I launched from a wind-protected launch site on a river than runs into the bay.

As a result getting out was not that bad.

I got out into the open water and played for a while.

Heading back in was when I hit the really strong winds. I was fairly far from the shore when they did hit.

Comfort level…I was fairly comfortable as the Explorer is a super stable boat. Given that it was the Chesapeake and not the ocean the water conditions were not too bad (smaller fetch) and I don’t find the Chesapeake a threatening place to paddle as you are near people, land, etc. No surf landings. If I were on the ocean it would have been different.

In the really big gusts I would lean into the wind and scull momentarily until the gust passed and then continue paddling.

I will admit though that I was having trouble controlling the boat on the way back b/c it kept turning sideways. Luckily though sideways was toward land at that point so that was okay. Mostly it was just tiring at that point. Once I got toward land I found protection from the wind and was able to parallel the shore back to the launch site. So paddling in such high winds was not a super big deal given the location where I was paddling. I WOULD NOT have felt very comfortable if I were on the ocean.

As to this being a fish story, beauford scale etc. I can tell you that the wind speed was documented by the forecasts and I can describe some indicators:

-excessive spray being blown across the water

-large trees in full motion

-wind damage to houses and trees

-walking very difficult

-driving in wind, very difficult (I went very slow on the way home as I did not feel comfortable with the boat on top in these conditions)

-traffic lights blown nearly sideways by gusting winds and held in that position until the gust passed

-large amounts of sand and small pebbles being propelled at high speed by the wind (my truck got sandblasted badly when making a U turn).

Put it this way. On my way back home it was so windy that I thought there may be a tornado in the area given the wind speeds and the darkening sky…and I have lived in Oklahoma where tornadoes are common.

So there are some indicators of the wind speed. Some of those are on the Beauford scale and some are not (like traffic lights blowing sideways perpendicular to the ground…don’t recall that being on it but it is a good indicator). Look at the Beauford scale and make your own determination as to what the wind speed was.

thanks for your help though. This has been very informative.


In a similar situation…

– Last Updated: Feb-13-08 11:34 AM EST –

It isn't strange. At some point of strength the wind will just pin the whole side of a boat and the associated waves will complicate things further. Otterslide, in a post above, describes exactly the situation four of us were in a couple of years ago, high winds with waves. Much better than I could even having been there.

We were out in winds that measured into the 30's standing on the shore afterwards, probably (slightly) more out there. We had a situation that required some turning around and reverse of course out in the middle of the channel. My Vela greatly profited from a bump on the bow to get turned at one point, the wind kept taking it at the top of a wave, and a much stronger paddler with us in his Explorer found that it worked much better to turn into the wind by turning backwards rather than working with the bow.

I resolved to remember the backwards thing - in hindsight he was probably doing something very similar to what Otterslide describes by focusing on turning the stern rather than the bow.

Your bio indicates BCU 4 Star
shouldn’t you already have knowledge to answer your own questions? You also state you were trying to run w/the wind without your skeg down in ‘a gale’ and wondered why your boat was weathercocking? Haven’t paddled any boat that didn’t try to broach in anything near those conditions w/the the skeg down, let alone up.