Advice on stabilising a fibreglass kayak

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Advice on stabilising a fibreglass kayak

Post by Ads22 »

Hi, Im currently looking for some advice with my current kayak - Im torn between selling and opting for something more stable but want to give it mine a fighting chance.

Im relatively new to kayaking but have tried numerous different kayaks since I have started. After trying a fibreglass racing style kayak at a local club I wanted to have a similar kayak of my own for just general flat water and river running - as I greatly enjoyed the experience.
The kayak I currently own I purchased last year and with the turn of better weather, I wish to get back out on the water.

As a test bed I bought an old Avoncraft Slalom style kayak that appeared to be in a very good condition for its age (Although I was not aware it was slalom model at the time - Is quite a long craft about 13ft and a smooth rounded hull).
I have struggled to get along with it and have tried my best to improve my paddling technique - however it has knocked my confidence somewhat and im struggling to find places I can safely practice on my own.
The overall experience when paddling is very twitchy but fast - with cross winds and confluences in the mix things get exhausting.

It feels as though I am constantly having to correct the direction its going when going at any considerable speed. In hindsight I think id have gone for a much more stable modern kayak but I see plenty of similar kayaks on my local river (The River Wey) so there must be a way of getting to grips with it. I regularly back off moderate paddling before things start to get tippy and it honestly it is a sight to behold!, Making for a very nervous paddle!

So the question is there anything that would help for a more stable experience such as ballast etc (Im happy to sacrifice some speed) or am I best to call it a day and opt for a more modern plastic kayak - which is what I started off with but began to get a bit bored with.

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Re: Advice on stabilising a fibreglass kayak

Post by Chris Bolton »

Welcome to UKRGB!
It feels as though I am constantly having to correct the direction its going when going at any considerable speed
This is the key point. As a slalom kayak, it's designed to turn quickly. a bit like modern fighter aircraft, it's directionally unstable, so that as soon as it starts turning, it will tighten the turn without extra effort from the paddler. So the trick is to keep it straight when you want to go straight. Like balancing a pencil vertically on your finger, it's easy if you keep it straight, but gets harder the more it's out of line. Some ways to help keep it straight:

Don't think of paddling as pulling the paddle backwards, think of the paddle as fixed point in the water, plant it deep and pull the boat forward.
By the time your body reaches the paddle, you should be lifting out ready for the next stroke.
Keep your weight forward - don't lean back.
Watch the bow and make sure it's pointing in the direction you're moving - if you're at all sideways to the direction you're moving over the water, you'll turn.
Plant the paddle close to the boat, unless you're trying to correct the direction.
Don't try to go fast until you can go straight.
Understand that everybody else had this problem as well, and practice will cure it.

If you do end up turning sideways at speed, lean into the turn, so that the stern doesn't dig in and trip you up sideways.

I nearly forgot - no, ballast won't help. Making a skeg,ie, a vertical fin under the stern, can help to keep it straight

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Re: Advice on stabilising a fibreglass kayak

Post by Jim »

Does it feel stable enough when going slowly, and only starts to feel tippy when going fast and you end up needing exaggerated correction strokes?
If so, it is something you can practise your way out of, or use a skeg to help the boat track so you don't need wild correction strokes.

If not, it could be the wrong boat for you.

Depending on how old it is, and I'm assuming it is one of the later 4m boats before the rules changed to allow 3.5m boats in 2006, and not a high volume one from the 1970s or earlier, the deck is probably quite low which forces your knees to be low and if you are not used to it and/or have weak abdominal muscles you may well find you naturally lean well back when paddling - this makes any boat feel unstable, especially a slalom boat designed to be able to sink the ends under the poles (there is a technique, just leaning back doesn't do it). The cure for this would be to stretch hamstrings and do some core strength/stability exercises so you can sit properly upright in the boat in relative comfort.
This is especially a problem in cross currents because if your weight is well back and the stern is low it doesn't need much for the water to flow up onto the deck and then try to flip you over, the other trick there (apart from sitting up for neutral trim) is keep track of which direction the flow is running in and very slightly raise the upstream side of the boat by applying a little more pressure to the deck with the knee on that side - don't overdo it and put yourself off balance the other way though.

If you can get the hang of all that, just keep on paddling at low-medium speeds sighting past your bow to an object further away in your direction of travel and keeping track of how much the bow swings from side to side of your destination and get a feel for how much you need to do to keep the amount of swing fairly even. Instead of taking a big stroke to correct it, try taking a 2 normal strokes, or 1 normal stroke, and then a weaker stoke on the side that caused the turn in the first place - your aim is to learn to control the swing without having to put loads of effort into the correction strokes, because that is when it all starts to run away with you. Once you have the feel for it you can increase the power in each stroke and will still be able to keep control, but it takes a while to devleop the neural pathways that allow us to do that.

FInally the second thing I said was to the effect that if the boat feel tippy all the time even when paddling gently, it might be the wrong boat for you. The fact that you say you have used racing boats (slalom is a kind of race, I assume you mean flat water racing boats though) make me think this is relatively unlikley because I'm pretty sure even the most stable flat water race boats are less stable than slalom boats. But a racing boat is much longer and much less affected by trim, also you have no restriction on having your knees at a comfortable height, indeed a highish knee position is favoured for good drive, so all those little things I talked about keeping your body upright/slightly forward for neutral trim, and the issue of water getting onto the deck, don't tend to affect flat water and wild water racing boats the way they do slalom boats.

Have fun seeing if you can get a better feel for your boat before giving up on it!

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Re: Advice on stabilising a fibreglass kayak

Post by Simongelder »

Whilst the weather and water is relatively warm, find someone to look after you and try some capsize drills and rolling drills (if you can roll) in some nice safe water. I have found that after letting the worst happen to you, immediately afterwards you relax in the boat and it becomes fun. If you are stiff and scared of falling in it isn’t fun at all.

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Re: Advice on stabilising a fibreglass kayak

Post by jamesl2play »

'old Avoncraft Slalom style kayak'

I am not surprised the boat is twitchy and all over the place. That is what the boat is designed to do.
Its a white water boat designed for a slalom course so as such it is fairly advanced for a beginner.

'fibreglass racing style kayak at a local club' Was this at the Wey Kayak Club in Guildford ?
If so once again you are jumping in at the deep end they are one of the top clubs in the country for racing.

I am surprised they could not assist in getting you started because that would be my recommendation.

If you want to go the go it alone route I would suggest you get a touring kayak. The Wey is fairly benign, that's where I started.

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Re: Advice on stabilising a fibreglass kayak

Post by Franky »

When I started paddling, my club had a limited number of boats, and a couple of times the only one available was a (plastic) slalom kayak. So I went out in that. I didn't know what type of boat it was, and I couldn't work out why I couldn't keep it in anything like a straight line. This was at a time when I was struggling to keep any boat in a straight line, but this one took the biscuit.

When I got off the water, I talked about it to a club member, and he explained to me what the boat was for.

In truth, in your position I'd consider getting a different boat. Getting a slalom kayak to go in a straight line will make you a good paddler, but it will always be hard work, and if you want to paddle for several miles at a time, almost any other type of boat will serve you better. E.g. white water boats and playboats are designed to turn easily, but once you've got the technique, paddling them in a straight line on flat water is no problem (though playboats are slow).

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