Friday, 29 May 2015

Wind strength part two - wind abaft the beam

A bit of wind blowing you the way you want to go more or less - what could be better?

In very light winds nobody really notices the wind direction, but as the wind strength increases and usually somewhere between a Beaufort 2 and a 3 we enter the world of skegs. With a typical group there will be some paddlers with rudders, some with skegs and some with neither. A few years ago, everyone wanted a boat with a rudder, but two years ago this changed to everyone wanting a boat with a skeg. Basically 'I don't care what the boat is as long as it has a skeg'. As we all know, most sea kayaks are designed to weathercock - that is turn so that it heads into the wind, and accurate deployment of the skeg will counteract this tendency and balance the boat on the required heading.

So what's the problem?

First we have the skegs themselves - when the skegbox is not jammed with small stones (remember we just left the beach) and the control wire is not kinked (someone tried to force the skeg to deploy) and there is not too much sand in the wire's sleeve it is usually possible to put the skeg up and down and sometimes even points in between.

Next we have the paddler who asked for the boat with the skeg but has no concept of what it does and often little idea of where the wind is coming from. There is nothing wrong with this of course - we all started out in the same ignorance, and many of the visitors and keen to improve their skills.

On a crossing of maybe one or two kilometres there is time to help each paddler get their skeg adjusted correctly and maybe encourage them to learn a bit about how the boat reacts to different amounts of skeg. Following a typical bit of coast with frequent changes of direction and apparent wind ....

As our following wind (or at least a wind from somewhere behind the paddler) increases we begin to get significant wave action and maybe some swell from further afield. This tends to divide the group,  with the more experienced paddlers revelling in the chance to let the boat zing along - just as the less experienced are struggling with directional control even if they have rudders, frequently having to use a backward stroke and feeling vulnerable to capsize.

In even stronger winds, broaching can become common and seriously hamper the groups progress - so what do we do?

Raft up and get the sail out of course.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Wind strength and what it means for paddling in Milos - part one, head to wind

Most UK paddlers and other outdoor types will be used to the Beaufort scale and have some idea of the effect of various wind strengths on sea conditions.

While this scale is very useful, it does not always easily translate to the paddlers experience of wind and wave and I have been putting together my own thoughts on what the numbers mean.

First of all though, we need a bit of a caveat:

We are considering warm water paddling in an area with no significant tidal range. Any waves we encounter will usually have been generated over a relatively short fetch though we may have swell from further afield.

Head to wind:

  1. Lets face it, the wind direction does not really matter but the boat feels less cumbersome than in a flat calm when it seems to stick in the water - or is that just me?
  2. Usually makes the kayak easier to control and does not hinder forward progress.
  3. Beginners still doing fine but have to watch their heading and begin to use up energy with more major course corrections from time to time.
  4. Proper sea kayaking - time to crack on - reminding paddlers about using their sweep stroke rather than a backward stroke to control direction and to look ahead to see when stronger gusts are likely to be experienced by noting the surface changes.
  5. We are all working a bit harder now and in most groups there will be some paddlers revelling in the conditions and others becoming a little anxious - at least we can still hear each other and a bit of banter and encouragement will keep them going. That or the tow line.
  6. The wind decides it would like a go with your paddle and from time to time attempts to wrest it from your control. Forward paddling is hard work, but it is still possible to make reasonable progress and look around at how well or not everyone else is doing.
  7. Head down and go for it. Can only really look after yourself.
  8. Don't be daft.

Of course individual experience and strengths will vary the scale a bit, but it works as a starting point for discussion and led to an interesting result on a windy trip to Kleftico a year or so ago:

Kleftico is on the South coast of Milos and is reached by paddling West about 9k from Psathi. Wind was North 4 gusting 5 so mainly straight offshore with protection for much of the route afforded by the cliffs - as long as you didn't venture too far offshore of course. The outward trip was fine with a bit of katabatic downdraught in one or two sections.

During lunch at Kleftico the wind began to pick up and before leaving for the return trip the boss came up with a clear strategy for the windier sections (who would do what) and of course we had tow lines at the ready. It was pretty lively on the water but the group were coping well until we hit a truly brutal section where the wind was howling down a gap in the hills above.

The boss was making sure everyone rounded the headland safely and turned inshore and I was looking after the two eldest paddlers, one of whom was finding it pretty tough going.  Paddling beside her into what is now a 6 gusting 7 wind, I decide to put her on tow and move to the front of the boat. Just as I am about to clip in, she shouts at me not to and that she has never been towed in her life.

So I just paddle beside her and we make slow but steady progress to shore and safety. Later she tells me that she thought the wind could not be more than 5 gusting 6 as I was still chatting to her rather than just looking after myself and she didn't want to be towed if it was less than a 6!

Friday, 22 May 2015

The assistant's day 2015 - logistics

I am back in Milos for another year with a few weeks as assistant guide for Sea Kayak Milos

The place remains a sea kayaking paradise with beautiful clear water and stunning beaches and many visitors choose to explore the coast by kayak.

Some days are all about the kayaking - particularly if the wind is strong or the group is keen to learn new skills, but others seem to be more about logistics - at least from the assistants point of view.

Yesterday was one such:

Three of the paddlers needed to catch the afternoon flight and as a result be off the water by 3pm when I would take them (and all their baggage) to the airport. The boss had it all organised as usual with an earlier than usual start and a trip plan that enable part of the group to bail out.

All I had to do was collect my three from the garage (was called Jet Oil which was a nice short distinctive name but now Aegean like almost everything else around here) take them to Mandrakia Church to meet a couple with their own transport and then on to the launch beach which is close by.

Get to the garage and I can see a likely candidate, but the other two are sitting in a car which of course needs returning to the hire shop. So, I follow them into town and we all wait for the hire shop to open and the early start to evaporate - mind you, there is plenty of time to transfer all their luggage which sort of fits in the car I am driving. Eventually the hire man opens up and after dealing with some other customers (don't ask why one of my three is not at the front of the queue) in that charming Greek way, we set off for Mandrakia.

At the church, there is no one to meet, but at least this year I know I have come to the right place and don't have to entertain the idea that I have misunderstood the arrangement. As we are here somewhat later than planned, it is possible that Rod has been here already so we head off to the put in beach, meeting Rod on the way. It turns out later that the customers have cancelled due to a back injury but hope to paddle with us on another day.

Parking the car in its favourite shady spot at the launch site, the girls are a little perturbed that this is where their luggage and valuables will be spending the day, so I don't mention where we leave the car keys.

The actual kayaking is pretty uneventful though I am definitely a bit slow with my share of organising the team for the water, and one of our 'experienced' paddlers who wanted to be in a single kayak (most day trip people opt for a double) clearly isn't and it takes Rod's gentle words of encouragement to get her going - note to self, be more assertive.

On the water at Mandrakia 

Perfect paddling conditions and happy paddlers but a looming deadline in terms of the flight for some. After 'one last cave' the assistant and his three charges make it back to the beach exactly on schedule. All the luggage is safe and the girls decide that they will change clothes here rather than at the airport, which turns out to be a lengthy process during which I sit and watch the clock and grow ever older. Thankfully, we make the airport in time for check-in and they are very happy customers.