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Weathercocking and skegs

Dee Hall

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I think that most people know that the skeg on their boat is there to adjust for weathercocking. I found out this weekend that some people don't know what weathercocking is.

Specifically, weathercocking is when the wind pushes the stern around such that without correction, the boat ends up pointed upwind. This is a common "problem" with many boats. If the wind pushes the bow around such that the boat ends up pointed downwind the boat is leecocking, a rarer problem.

The amount that a boat weathercocks in the wind is mostly dependent on it's design, but it can be affected by the size of the paddler, the way the boat is loaded, and what's on the deck. Moving your heavier gear towards the stern will lessen weathercocking as will putting stuff that catches some wind on the front deck. Most boats are designed to weathercock at least somewhat. If one thinks about how difficult it would be to paddle into the wind with a boat that is leecocking, it is easy to see why this choice is generally made. Leecocking in a strong offshore breeze could easily result in getting blown out to sea.

The purpose of the skeg is to change the pivot point of the boat to lessen weathercocking. The amount that the skeg can be deployed is usually variable so that the amount of change can be tailored to the conditions. Some boats (not mine) will leecock if the skeg is fully deployed. For optimal performance, one will find oneself adjusting the amount of skeg as the wind increases or decreases, or the desired course changes.

Another condition that can feel like weathercocking is the broaching that is caused by small, steep waves (chop). Uncorrected, this effect will turn the boat parallel to the chop (and perpendicular to the wind). This is caused by the waves pushing whatever part of the boat is closer to the approaching waves backwards. If you are trying to head upwind, it will push the bow backwards. Putting your skeg down under these conditions is likely to make the problem worse as it will hold your stern in place while the wind pushes your bow around. If you are trying to head downwind, the skeg will give the waves something better to grab while it pushes the stern around. The best solution in chop? Paddle a Pintail with the skeg up.:-)

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I don't have the education you do on weathercocking; I gave up trying to have my skeg deployment all figured out. Theres an infinite variety of conditions of waves, current, and wind, I find its better in my experience with my boat (P&H Sirius) to play around with the skeg as necessary; but pretty hard to make generalizations.

But I can say that set halfway works almost all the time for me; but I won't ever use the skeg unless I feel I need it.

And - hearing Derek's instructions - I keep my deck clear of bulk to lessen windage. I almost always make satisfying headway into the wind. Put to the test yesterday in Duxbury; last Saturday in Lewis Bay and last May coming back to Woods Hole from Hadley - and hit by 28kts.

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That is the question that I've been pondering these days. Usually when I'm paddling in wind that is not directly ahead/astern/abeam, I "tough it out" and get pointed in the right direction by my superior paddlng skills :). I.e., I compensate by extending the paddle a bit further out on one side vs. the other, rather than using the skeg. I always felt that it was important to develop these skills and to only use the skeg when I REALLY needed it. As a result, I rarely if ever use a skeg because I can usually compensate for the tricky winds using the extended paddle technique.

However, a friend of mine recently challenged this notion, pointing out that I am only making my life harder by paddling in this assymetric way. Over long distances in the winds, this strategy would (and does) become extremely tiresome. This friend of mine (who will remain nameless) almost always uses the skeg, even in quite unfearsome winds (like 5-10 kt zephyrs). Since he's one of the strongest paddlers I know, I take his advice quite seriously. The advantage of this approach is that you can maintain a relatively straight course in a quartering breeze with skeg deployed and still paddle quite efficiently and symmetrically. I put this idea to the test this weekend in a fairly stiff breeze (maybe 10-15 kts on the rear quarter) and it worked wonderfully although I had to tweak the degree of skeg deployment quite a bit to get myself pointed the right way.

So I guess I'm going to give up the ghost and use the skeg more often in the breezes. At least that way, I'll have a better chance of keeping up with my friend and I'll also have more fun!

Jim Fessenden

VCP Avocet, Aqua

NDK Explorer, White on White

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I agree that use of the skeg definitely makes paddling in certain wind conditions more relaxing. However, it is a good idea to "tough it out" as you've been doing fairly frequently just so that you can be comfortable controlling the boat without the skeg. The day will come when the skeg will refuse to work and the conditions will deteriorate and you'll be more comfortable if you've practiced this reasonably often. That said, after controlling the boat without the skeg for a period of time, it always feels good to me when I finally capitulate and drop the skeg a bit :-)

Happy paddling!

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I also choose to tough it out under most conditions until I start to get tired. My theory is that it helps improve my paddling skills. (However, I realize that others might not want to paddle this way.) The exceptions are long paddles (>10nm) when I am leading a trip. Outside of those trips I have probably used my skeg less than a dozen times. I am real glad that it is there though.

Other ways to compensate for weathercocking? Edge your boat towards the wind while paddling. Also, on the first part (1/3) of the stroke of your upwind paddle, tilt the powerface a bit towards your boat.

I haven't found anything that helps with broaching chop yet.

Oh, and I don't put anything on the deck that would catch wind either.

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>Other ways to compensate for weathercocking? Edge your boat

>towards the wind while paddling. Also, on the first part

>(1/3) of the stroke of your upwind paddle, tilt the

>powerface a bit towards your boat.

Also, time your stroke to be applying power on the upwind side at the top of a swell. That corrects the boat downwind very nicely, with little actual change other than timing.


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>Also, time your stroke to be applying power on the upwind

>side at the top of a swell. That corrects the boat downwind

>very nicely, with little actual change other than timing.

Oops, forgot to mention this one. I did find out this weekend, however, that the period of the chop can be short enough that the boat is always spanning at least two crests under which circumstances this technique doesn't work very well.

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