Rough Weather Limits?

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mcgruff
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Rough Weather Limits?

Post by mcgruff » Thu Dec 07, 2017 8:35 pm

Sometime in the not-too-distant future I'm going to be a free agent for a year or so and this could be a great opportunity for a big sea kayak tour. I don't have any real paddling experience but I do love exploring Scotland's wild & lonely places by bike and on foot. A sea kayak opens up some amazing possibilities. So many Hebridean islands...

So I'll probably have lots of noob questions to try your patience with :)

First up, what are your limits for bad weather ie the sea states a skilled kayaker can handle and the strongest wind you'd go out in? Is the boat a big factor and if so which hull designs are most seaworthy?

Obviously the west of Scotland gets its share of bad weather.. I'm trying to decide if going off touring in a kayak for months at a time is a sane plan. If on average you were stuck on shore for - say - 2 days out of every 3 that's not going to be a practical way to go exploring.

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by Fozzy » Thu Dec 07, 2017 9:21 pm

Once you start to get some experience you'll be able to answer these questions yourself as there are so many factors in the decision making process and experience is one of them.
I'll go out in rougher conditions with a group of trusted friends than I will alone. If I'm rusty, tired or under the weather I'll tone it down. What's my aim for the day? Coastal exploring I want it calmer than playing in the bumpy stuff, Big crossings I prefer a bit of a following sea to push me along. But whatever I'm doing safety comes first.
The Hebrides are awesome. If it's too blowy for a paddle try some coastal or hillwalking.

Going off for months in a sea kayak is definitely a sane plan as long as it is planned.

But first of all I suggest you join a club or group and get the skills and maybe some company on parts of your trip.

Good luck

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by Mrstratos61 » Thu Dec 07, 2017 11:38 pm

I don't know my limits and as I go solo am not going to find them out the hard way. Years as a lifeguard thought me to respect the waterl

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by mcgruff » Fri Dec 08, 2017 12:27 am

I certainly won't be heading out to sea until I've mastered my boat. Anyone who's done a bit of exploring will be on intimate terms with the "survival equation": what environment are you in? What are the current conditions? What state are you in? What are you capable of? There are always risks but if you understand the risks and know how to deal with them, you can reduce the danger down to whatever level you're comfortable with. I'm still quite fond of living ;)

Right now I'm trying to figure out what kind of kayak I need and what I could expect it to be capable of once I've got the skills to use it. If a well-handled sea kayak can't cope with weather up to about force 4 long tours would involve a hell of a lot of shore time.

So far Taran-style designs have caught my eye like this Panthera. Sitting behind a big bow with lots of buoyancy inspires a lot of confidence and a little extra speed could be very useful in marginal conditions. Wind and tide can very quickly bring slow craft to a crawl.

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by CM2 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 1:01 am

As others have said there are so many variables it is impossible to answer. As with things like down hill biking there are videos out there of people kayaking in conditions most of us would consider insane, while some of them are, the well respected ones manage the risks but just have a far higher skill level that an "ordinary" skilled kayaker (add there is a huge variation in the skill level of regular paddlers who have kayaked long enough that there skills have plateaued) . Would you class a skilled skier as someone who has 14 days skiing per year and is quite happy going down a black run or someone who is competing in the X games. You can cope with stronger winds in sheltered waters when the sea is flatter, you can cope in some conditions for a short period of time but would tire fairly quickly etc. etc.

Here is a rough guide about how the beaufort scale affects different levels of kayaker
http://www.kayarchy.co.uk/html/03thesea/003wind.htm

Once you more from touring boat to proper sea kayak it isn't so much the kayak that is the limiting factor but the kayaker (unless you go for something like a Rapier that sacrifices a lot of stability in order to be fast).

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by PeterG » Fri Dec 08, 2017 10:11 am

Over the years I've paddled most of the west coast and isles, mainly solo.

i.e. http://paddleswithananasacuta.blogspot. ... dling.html

Much of the coast is pretty sheltered and 'safe' to F5 or even above. The problem is the long open crossings, for me this is over 6nm or 2 hours, intimidating headlands, or tide races and overfalls. It needs very careful calculation of the tides and a decision about the maximum wind and sea state you will enjoy. The problem is not the sea, or the boat, but you. Will you be able to keep calm and relaxed and make good decisions, it is a mental issue not a physical one.

I'm happy to wait days for a weather and tidal window I feel happy with. It is about enjoyment, not survival. Having said that of course there have been times when I've felt hurried and taken on a crossing or headland in challenging conditions. Usually I play a game with myself 'just try it for 10 minutes and see if you are happy to go on, if not you are free to turn back' of course I usually don't. Often it is severe clapotis that has made me turn back, with the sea in all directions and a couple of hours to the next landing in prospect -I have some idea of my limits.

Changing to 'go for it mode' is sometimes a good approach, faced with a sudden deterioration in the sea out at Priest Island and my tent 3nm away on Tanera Beag, I was bracing my way gingerly along with a stern wind, steep following sea and breakers. It came to me that back home I would be playing in such a sea. Speeding up to constant surfing down the waves I was back in half an hour and enjoyed myself.

Launching and landing solo are the main problem, a forced rocky landing with a rising tide and a choppy sea -how you wish for help in rescuing kit and boat. Once at sea it is not a big issue. Having said that I practice self rescue in every conceivable way in as rough a sea as I can find on every convenient occasion.

Finally, you talk about a fast boat, the Anas is not at all 'fast', but it is easy to paddle so less effort on long days. Think about small bladed paddles or go Greenland to avoid strains, aches and pains.

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Jim
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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by Jim » Fri Dec 08, 2017 11:12 am

Get practicing and learning right away!

Weather is not everything it is just a factor. I have paddled through some big tide races in strong winds, F5 and 6, but my passages were planned such that I didn't have to work against both at the same time. Dorus Mor in F6 against the wind but at slack HW so that as the ebb built up it would carry me through but before a steep 'wind agaisnt tide' chop would build up. Corryvreckan in F5 at the start of the flood, full commitment! It's a fair way, there is no slack in the sound, the key was to get to the south side before the flow got too strong (to stay away from the whirlpool) and then paddle as fast as possible with the tide tackling whatever size of waves the wind threw up over it (8' steep green face at one point, I was glad to get over it before it broke). I don't reccommend anyone else try doing either - people will have paddled bigger and more serious things, but those are already off the scale for most sea kayakers.

Paddling in F4 is pretty normal for me when done in relatively benign areas with steady tides (a couple of knots in deep water, not a tide race where faster tide streams in shallow water make waves and overfalls of their own), I would suggest this is probably about the upper end of what most people would intentionally want to head out into on a touring trip with heavy laden boat, but it does depend whether you will be travelling into the wind or with it because one way is much slower and more tiring than the other. But always taking consideration of the tide strength and direction. Around the UK the flood tide generally flows north and west and the ebb south and east but it is always worth checking local information especially on the west coast where the fjord like sea lochs and island chains can hold up the tide in some channels and cause the motions to become out of phase with the general overview such that there may locally be a strong southerly flow whilst the tide is flooding or something.

You also need to plan your route day by day in consideration of wind direction and possible landings. Paddling in F6 on a weather shore (that is one that the wind blows onto) may seem safe - if you fall in you will blow ashore, but at the base of 300m cliffs that's not so safe, especially because the waves will reflect off the cliffs and form an interference pattern of steep irregular waves which are difficult to predict and make the going uncomfortable or can tip you over in an expected direction. At the end of the day (and at lunch time and in emergencies) you need to be able to get ashore - that is not easy to do safely if there is big surf breaking on the beaches because thay are facing the incoming wind and waves. On the other hand, paddling a lee shore (wind coming off the land) has a different set of pros and cons. If it all goes wrong you will blow out to sea, if you are close in to cliffs you cannot see the incoming weather, and the wind will form a rotor off the cliff (like a vertical wind eddy) which can be unstable and may buffet you from random directions including updraughts and strong downdrafts, but the wind has no fetch over the water so there will be no local wind generated waves (there may be residual swell or diffracted swell but it will tend to be gentle up and down not choppy tip you in type of stuff). I have paddled in Loch Hourn in F8 where so long as we stayed within about 3m of the steep lee shore we were able to remain completely out of the wind altogether, but as soon aswe had to move out a bit to get around a shallow headland it got pretty wild. (fortunately a shrimp fisherman called us ashore and offered us lodgings because we were struggling to find a campsite!). The advantage is that you can land pretty much anywhere because there is no surf on lee shore. But you may want to and be able to travel along a weather shore if your destination is around a corner, or within a river mouth and protected by a spit (watch out for bars that cover at high tide and made bigger surf!), or in a natural harbour where there is a sheltered inner bay accessed through a fault in the outer cliffs or something. Gaelic for harbour is Acarseid - this word appears quite often on OS maps of Scotland and can be a clue that there will be some shelter from some wind directions...

Is the boat a big factor?
As long as you don't pick a complete dog, or just happen to get one that you really don't click with, I'd say no the boat is not a big factor. If you are going on a long camping trip you are going to pick something the manufacturers have highlighted as suitable for expeditioning (because it has good storage volume and is generally proven to handle loaded well in rough weather), not playboat/dayboat. If you are working on a really tight budget and picking old secondhand boats there are some older designs which are dogs, and others like the classic Nordkapp (types HS and HM) which is a very good rough weather boat, but only in experienced hands, novices find them difficult. Picking newer designs (even Norkapp Jubilee and newer) it is less likely you will pick something you can't get on with, but I will always recommend trying before you buy.
Peronally I am a big fan of the Taran partly because I do a little sea kayak racing (in fact its been a while since I have been away camping by kayak), for a fast hull it is extremely forgiving although perhaps not as stable as some beginners might desire - I have no problem stopping and taking photos in mine, which I would in something like an old Nordkapp HM. I also like the way the lack of flare in the bow means that it doesn't lift as quickly as most traditionally shaped kayaks in waves, but the volume builds up enough that you rarely end up with a wave reaching the cockpit - this makes it ride a lot more smoothly than traditional boats, if you watch a mixed fleet of trational boats and Taran like boats you will see the Tarans hardly pitch at all in comparison to the others. But you really need to try some boats and work out what you prefer.

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by Chris Bolton » Fri Dec 08, 2017 11:42 am

There aren't many days you can't paddle somewhere on the West Coast of Scotland, but there will be lots of days that aren't suitable for exposed crossings or headlands. On a long trip, you tend to alter your plans to suit the weather forecast, so that you don't end up somewhere you can't get on the water. I've spend about 150 days paddling in the area, and had to sit out 3 days due to weather, plus a week's trip that was abandoned. In that case, it wasn't that we couldn't paddle, it was that we didn't think we'd find suitably sheltered landing/camping spots.

The conditions a sea kayak can survive in, and go down wind or cross wind, are higher than you can make progress upwind. Once it gets to F5/F6 (depending on the waves) progress into the wind is so slow as to be almost pointless, unless you only need to go a short distance.

Depending on the type of food you take, 2-3 weeks between restocking is reasonable; you can carry more, but at the expense of fresh water etc, and the heavier your boat the harder it is to land and launch. If you're solo, you'll need to unpack most of the gear before you can carry the boat up the beach; some solo paddlers have used inflatable rollers.

As above, get paddling and learning; the kind of trips you mention are certainly possible.

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by Owen » Fri Dec 08, 2017 1:42 pm

Don't get hung up on any particular make or model of kayak until you've paddled a wide number and types of boats. This is where being in a club is helpful, also try them loaded as well as empty and in as many different sea states as you can. With kayak design it's all about compromise, a high performance kayak like the Taran could well not be as maneuverable or as stable as some other kayak. ignore the advertising hype find the right kayak for you.

A sea state of X in the Inner Sound - between Skye and the mainland - will be a completely different beast out around Canna or the Bishop's (southern end of the Outer Hebrides). Whether the tidal flow is with or against the wind has a major effect on the sea state as can the shape of the sea floor. You can't put any number on it really it comes down to experience and just knowing what you're comfortable paddling in. I find 99.9% of kayakers are very conservative about it, and no bad thing.

One of the really good things about sea kayaking on the west coast of Scotland is you can get into some spectacularly wild and remote country really quickly and easily. One of the bad things about kayaking in Scotland is you can really quickly and easily get into some really wild and remote country.

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by PeterG » Fri Dec 08, 2017 1:55 pm

Once it gets to F5/F6 (depending on the waves) progress into the wind is so slow as to be almost pointless, unless you only need to go a short distance.
You can make headway into almost anything, especially with a boat, dare I say an older design, with good weather cocking. In F7-8-9 it is the visibility which disappears, it is very hard to see where you are going in the spray, maybe even breathing becomes worrisome. In a bigger sea, you have a lull in each trough and in sheltered waters the wind is always eddying around giving you moments to make progress between holding ground.

Out in F9 recently (official speed from a nearby weather station with the same exposure as us) some modern boats blew uncontrollably off the wind the second the wind caught them slightly from the side. They could be held into the wind backwards, but then the paddle action is too weak to make progress. Assuming your boat needs plenty of skeg in a cross-wind it is possible to advance yard by yard if you have to.

However, on an extended trip, why bother, there is always tomorrow. There are plenty of seldom or never visited bits of coast you end up on almost demanding a day or two or three to scramble and explore. Prolonged good weather is very tiring!

Viz 2012 http://paddleswithananasacuta.blogspot. ... began.html

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by Riverkeeper84 » Sat Dec 09, 2017 11:23 pm

CM2 wrote:
Fri Dec 08, 2017 1:01 am
As others have said there are so many variables it is impossible to answer. As with things like down hill biking there are videos out there of people kayaking in conditions most of us would consider insane, while some of them are, the well respected ones manage the risks but just have a far higher skill level that an "ordinary" skilled kayaker (add there is a huge variation in the skill level of regular paddlers who have kayaked long enough that there skills have plateaued) . Would you class a skilled skier as someone who has 14 days skiing per year and is quite happy going down a black run or someone who is competing in the X games. You can cope with stronger winds in sheltered waters when the sea is flatter, you can cope in some conditions for a short period of time but would tire fairly quickly etc. etc.

Here is a rough guide about how the beaufort scale affects different levels of kayaker
http://www.kayarchy.co.uk/html/03thesea/003wind.htm

Once you more from touring boat to proper sea kayak it isn't so much the kayak that is the limiting factor but the kayaker (unless you go for something like a Rapier that sacrifices a lot of stability in order to be fast).
Cheers for the guide. I think i'd be too afraid to go out in anything worse than force 3 lol
Dreaming of being lost at sea

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by mcgruff » Sun Dec 10, 2017 8:13 pm

Lots of great info here - many thanks :)

What I'm getting is that kayaks are extremely seaworthy craft - subject to the skills of the paddler of course. That's good to hear. I guess any kind of boat that people take out to play in large, breaking surf has to be a solid performer.

I very much take the points made about sea conditions and thinking very carefully about wind, tides, coastal/marine features, and how they all interact with each other. I've messed about in small boats a bit when I was younger, including a handful of sailing trips. I have a very healthy respect for the sea.

Peter & Jim: sounds like you've had some fantastic (and sometimes hair-raising..) trips. I've been poring over maps of these areas - and on out to the Outer Hebrides - like a pirate with his treasure. The north west of Scotland is such a magical place.

There are a lot of conflicting comments about stability online. Beamier kayaks are sometimes recommended for beginners who don't want to get their hair wet but I've also heard it said that narrower, less stable boats are actually easier to handle in choppy water: the wider kayak in a beam-on sea will be forced to roll up at an angle, making a capsize more likely, but the twitchier, more responsive boat can lean into the wave and doesn't get knocked around as much.

I may have a go at building a stitch-and-glue kayak (like this Night Heron) as a cheap way to get started and get some paddling experience. There's a way to go before I'll be ready for any extended sea tours. At the moment I'd probably be a danger to myself in a large puddle.

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by PlymouthDamo » Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:05 pm

mcgruff wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 8:13 pm
I may have a go at building a stitch-and-glue kayak (like this Night Heron) as a cheap way to get started and get some paddling experience.
You could also consider a Shrike. The designer is a regular on here and the plans are free:

viewtopic.php?f=4&t=110381

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by Chris Bolton » Sun Dec 10, 2017 11:04 pm

Beamier kayaks are sometimes recommended for beginners who don't want to get their hair wet but I've also heard it said that narrower, less stable boats are actually easier to handle in choppy water: the wider kayak in a beam-on sea will be forced to roll up at an angle, making a capsize more likely, but the twitchier, more responsive boat can lean into the wave and doesn't get knocked around as much.
That's correct - the point is that balancing a boat in chop is a muscle memory thing, so a novice in any boat will fall in those conditions. So just get a boat and build up your experience progressively - you can find places where (and/or people to paddle with) you can push your skills but a swim won't be serious.

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by mcgruff » Sun Dec 10, 2017 11:41 pm

PlymouthDamo wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:05 pm
You could also consider a Shrike. The designer is a regular on here and the plans are free:

viewtopic.php?f=4&t=110381
That looks interesting. Thanks!

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Re: Rough Weather Limits?

Post by PeterG » Thu Dec 14, 2017 9:53 am

I came to sea kayaking relatively late in life from mountaineering and windsurfing - a sort of fusion. There were club members who used to seek out the roughest water or get as close to the cliffs in the clapotis as they could; I thought them mad. There is a sandbank nearby where the swell sweeps in from both directions giving exploding towers of white water, one of the mad paddlers decided to paddle through the middle 'just to see what its like', he came out the other side so I followed*.

I'm now that mad paddler, the more you relax into challenging water with help to hand, the easier that tricky headland feels if you are on your own.

(* just for the record it was pure sensory deprivation, impossible to see, hear anything or feel the motion, so we still don't know what it is like)

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