What was wrong with my paddling?

Ideally you can trim the boat using the skeg, no skeg to go into the wind, half skeg to run broadside, full skeg to run downwind, but not all boats with skegs perform as such. Nigel Foster boats tend to be a bit looser and more maneuverable than strong trackers, so even with the skeg fully down requires finesse to keep moving in a semi-straight line. I’ve been using this “stroke” for a bit and find it very helpful for keeping my more maneuverable boats going straight. I have a Nigel Foster Shadow which is pretty loose even with the skeg fully down, but can still end up zigzagging quite often especially if I haven’t spent time paddling her. It does turn and surf remarkably well for an almost 18 footer, and I’m sure the 16 foot Whiskey is even more fun to surf, but trackers they are not. Look to the other Nigel for that. Learn to use some edging, a bit of stern rudder for big corrections, and a bit of the keyhole/stern draw to keep it moving forward before it starts to swing upwind. Timing corrective strokes for when the middle of the boat is on a wave and the ends are free can help save energy as well.

“I wanted to travel in a northwest direction but the wind/wave action kept pushing my bow to the left into the wind! Or was it pushing my stern? Net result is boat was always turning left. I did a 30 minute crossing and had to paddle on my left side exclusively at least 20 minutes of that time and still was only able to travel in a westerly direction.”

I would suggest it’s both waves overtaking you pushing your stern, and usually to a lesser degree, the wind blowing your stern downwind. If both are happening, here’s something that has worked for me:

Imagine you are facing perfectly straight downwind, wind and waves moving exactly the same direction, and moving slower than the waves coming from behind you. Each wave, as it overtakes your stern, gives you a nice little push forward. Turn your boat so that you’re aiming just a little off of straight downwind, and when each wave overtakes your stern, it will push your stern forward some, and also sideways some. So if you’re aiming a little right of straight down wave, each wave will push your stern a little to the left, so that your kayak is aiming a little more right of straight down wave.

Now let’s consider the wind piece separately. When a wave is overtaking your stern, the wave is doing most of the pushing, and really locking your stern into the action of the wave. So in that moment, it overtakes the effects of wind weathercocking, because it’s simply a much more powerful force. If the push from the wave is strong enough to give you a little ride forward, you will notice a transition from the wave acting on your boat, to the wind acting on your boat. The stern gets released from the wave as the boat speeds up, and as you move faster, the bow pushes into firmer water pressure. So now, if you have a crosswind, the faster you move, the stronger the effects of weathercocking.

I just experienced this whole thing last weekend, by the way. When I’d catch little rides, my kayak would weathercock and turn left, and more strongly the faster the little ride. If I corrected to favor pointing to the right of straight down wave, the intitial push from the wave would push my stern a little further left, and after I began gliding in front, the wind would push the stern back to the right.

Now following waves are rarely very consistent in size, and therefore in push, and therefore in speed and length of ride. So it’s a constant condition of feeling the seas, and how you and your kayak are moving with them. And there’s always corrections that you’re making. The general thing I’ve always come to, is that following winds and seas make for fast travel, even if it’s difficult to remain perfectly on point. So keep a general sense of direction, don’t use too much effort keeping perfectly on point, and try to find the sequence that will allow you to roll with things about your path, instead of directly on that path.

I’m not much of a believer in paddling on one side when the goal is just directional control (vs making a quick turn from a slow speed or standstill). Here’s why. Most of the time, when a person does it, they stop rotating their hips and torso, and do arm sweeps, and most everything that makes a sweep an effective turning tool is lost. After you sweep, the only way - the only way the next sweep on the same side is as effective, is if you actually rotate that paddle back up to the bow. Most people just reach it back up there with their arm. The thing a quick stroke on the opposite side does is that it get’s you to actually rotate back to a strong starting point for the next sweep, it doesn’t really take any extra time, and it helps maintain a little momentum.
I paddle in wind and waves fairly regularly, and I haven’t opted for paddling on one side as a directional control measure since…well, I can’t really remember. I’ll say since I’ve known how ineffective that it is.

I now know I"ve lots to learn when it comes to paddling. Once again, lots of good feedback from the forum.