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Learning big currents


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I had a teaching-outing offered by one of the local (Boston) kayak establishments down at Woods Hole. This was mainly to learn or practice skills in big currents.

I had never been in Woods Hole before, and I have to say that I was absolutely amazed at the buoys - they tilt at 30 degree angles because of the current. I guess most people are familiar with this, but it was my first time there and I found this the single most astonishing thing about the place.

We practiced ferries, peel outs, combat rolls, rescues etc. I have to say that crossing that channel was an experience unto itsslf - you have to time your crossing to avoid the nearly constant traffic.

In any case, it's a great place to sharpen your skill set with a good instructor. I certainly got a lot out of it.

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Out of curiousity, does anyone have a good method for quickly judging the speed of a current in knots, perhaps something similar to the Beaufort equivalents for wind? We can get a good idea of whether the current is fast or not by looking at the buoys and the moored boats, but it would be nice to be more able to pinpoint the speed if possible.

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Here is a quick way of estimating current.

Allow yourself to drift past a stationary object (buoy, lobster pot, anchored boat etc.)

If your kayak is 17 feet long, start counting seconds from the time your bow crosses the point until the stern crosses the same point. 10 seconds equals 1 knot. So...If it only takes 5 seconds, the current is 2 knots. Of course wind also has an effect when you are adrift.

There are lots of other ways of estimating current using ranges, ferry angles etc.

I highly recommend David Burch's book "Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation". He has alot of very detailed information regarding tides, currents and navigating in current.

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Yup - Charles River Canoe and Kayak, Ocean Skills II.

A guy named Kevin was our instructor - great guy, very knowledgable and also laid back. I'm probably going to do the surfing clinic, which he also teaches.

As far as current estimation is concerned - I can think of two ways:

If you know the distance between two stationary objects (buoys, markers etc), and then see a piece of flotsam going by, you can time the passage from one fixed point to another.

The other option is to get out into the current with your kayak and try the same thing.

I've cheated on this, and used my GPS to estimate speeds. Even if you don't stop paddling, you can look at the differential speed when you are paddling in flat water and when in moving water to get a rough ifea of the current.

The tricky bit, in my opinion, is in areas where there is a significant constriction. There you'll see a lot of turbulence and variation in current from one place to the next. Woods Hole had all these funky little eddies, so as you cross, you'll get all sorts of variations in current. First time out, they took me by surprise, as the changing currents would try to torque around the kayak while crossing. Second time, I was more ready for this (but not for the large fishing vessel suddenly bearing down on me!).

On estuarial rivers, the same thing -the river meanders and there are eddies on the inside of bends, and currents are accentuated around tight bends. There's one place on the Herring river I love to practics - it has a hairpin turn - on one side of the bend, there's a nice fat, lazy eddy. On the other is a firehose of current. The transition is breathtaking - all the more so because you can't really see the eddy line.

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