Monday 11 May 2015

Why the need for speed?

So why the trend for faster sea kayaks tending to merge the design characteristics of racing skis with the traditional sea kayak?  Why allow for better leg drive and the use of a wing paddle in a sea kayak?  Is this what sea kayaking has come to, a new racing class?

There is obviously a market for the "modern" sea kayak or we wouldn't be seeing these hybrid designs hitting the market place.  For me it is all comes down to risk and the type of paddling you are doing. I personally struggle to see the worth in going for a paddle under 20 kms, so most of my paddles are in the 20 - 60 km range.

I paddled a Nordkapp for a number of years as my expedition boat of choice.  I have completed a number of longer trips and for the most part love the boat and the feel of it on the ocean but was always looking for a bit more volume in a boat to carry the gear required for longer expeditions.  For days under 40 kms, I think the extra effort required in correctional strokes for a skeg boat isn't an issue given you are paddling in under 25 knots.

I took the Nordy on a 96 km open sea crossing with no options but making a spec of an island on the Southern End of the Great Barrier Reef.  The conditions were less than favorable with our weather window closing and the conditions being 10+knots higher than predicted.  The wind got up to over 30 knots and the seas were in excess of 6 metres at times (4 metres of swell and 2+metres of waves over the top).  A tough day out.

I digress, but the point is that looking at the lessons learned from that crossing boiled down to boat choice.  A faster boat with a greater volume and a rudder  would have lessened the risks on that crossing.

My aim is to minimise any wasted effort on my forward stroke and to paddle as efficiently as possible, with an aim to be able to expend the minimal amount of effort required for propelling the boat at its "natural" hull speed.  I often paddle with a GPS and hit out for an hour, trying different techniques to ensure that I can keep the boat moving at around 9 kms/hr average which is around what I think the top end hull speed of a Pace 17 is.  Yes, you can push it faster but you won't sustain the effort over an all day paddle.

The faster I am able to paddle, equates to less time spent on crossings which equates to less risks.  This equation is relevant to the type of paddling I am doing on expeditions - island hopping in exposed waters.

As a case study I often do return day paddles over to Moreton and Stradbroke Island.  I have a number of different crossing points with the shortest being 16 kms, up to 30 kms for a one way trip.  The 16 km crossing has three points where the spring tides can run over 3.5 knots.  In my trip planning, I generally like to do this crossing over a tide change over (i.e. morning and afternoon on a 6 hourly tide cycle) - preferably incoming in the morning and outgoing in the afternoon.

I will paddle for 55 minutes and then have a 5 minute break as the usual hourly cycle on longer paddles.  This trip has a relatively busy shipping channel around 9 kms from the mainland which can be running at 4 - 5 knots on spring tides at peak flow.

I can do this crossing in under two hours including breaks and generally around the two hourly mark if we get held up waiting for a ship to pass.  The paddling average with breaks is a bit over 8 kms/hr.   A two hour crossing means I don't really need to consider tides and correctional bearings and the distance isn't an issue.

If I was paddling at recreational sea kayaking club pace which is around 6 kms/hr with a slower average - say 5 kms/hr - I have just turned my 1 hr 50 min crossing into 3 and a bit hours, maybe longer as we are dealing with more tidal flow.  The issue of more time spent in the shipping channel is a major risk to the crossing as the shipping channel is a couple of kilometers wide and you need to cross this quickly as the ships are moving at a deceptively fast pace.

I like to mix up my paddling so it isn't all about high speed hops across exposed waters as generally there is an island at the other end which needs to be explored at a more sedate pace.  What an increased sustainable paddle speed gives me is more options to explore by kayak on this wonderful planet we live on!

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