So by now you should have the basics of paddling a sea kayak. We have gone over both basic, and advanced skills, In terms of both strokes, braces, and rescues. those are hard skills, and by hard I don't mean difficult. I have mentioned before, and can't stress enough the importance of practicing those skills. The key is getting in a kayak, and making yourself do strokes, and braces and rescues over and over again. Rolls, you also have to do, but I really think the key is either video, or a trusted set of eyes until you 'feel' the way it is supposed to feel. Do 2 or 3 hundred rolls in a week and you will get it. All it takes is time. We are going to progress now into soft skills. Primarily, for now, simple navigation.
Tomorrow I want you to go out, and get into your kayak, and practice your forward stroke. It should be a part of your ritual any way. When you get into a kayak, you should think for a bit about your forward stroke. Do you have five points of contact? Are you rotating with your belly button going from 10 to 2 and back again? Are you reaching with your fist to the front and center of your cockpit? Are you pushing with your feet on each stroke? Perhaps, like me, you like to Frankenstein every now and again, just to make sure.
Now I want you to add something else. I want you to pick a point of land, It can be an actual point where water meets land. It can be a mountain peak in the distance. It can be a buoy a mile away. It can be a dock piling. It can be a red car parked on a distant shore. What ever it is, pick it in your head. Line it up with the tip of the bow of your kayak, and paddle for it. Work on keeping your nose on that point of land. It may drift slightly back and forth across that point of land with each stroke, but over all it should be fairly direct.
Next, think about the wind and water and how they effect your movement towards that point. Is the wind pushing you, does the water have a current that is pushing you? Are they pushing in the same direction, or against each other? If they are pushing against each other, how does that effect the surface of the water? learn to feel those effects on your kayak, and with those five points of contact, how they feel to your body. You know I love to quote Bruce Lee, 'don't think, FEEL'.
If you have a rudder or a skeg, paddle with them both up and down, and see how that effects how much your kayak swings past that point of land with each stroke. Then try and use edging to control how much your kayak moves past that point of land. We have to develop an intimate level of understanding as to how our kayak performs, and how our movements effect its performance, and how its movement effects our performance.
the last thing to add to this lesson is a deck compass. Mount a deck compass to the front of your kayak. (A deck compass can be had for as little as $25US - though the $65US Suunto Orca is a classic) Watch the heading on your compass change as you paddle, and your bow drifts back and forth across the point you have chosen. Then do the same thing with your rudder or skeg down, if you previously had it up. Notice how much less your bow swings - in degrees - with the skeg or rudder down.
Navigation is about three things. Picking a point, and being able to get to it. Orienting the map to your surroundings - next lesson - which means understanding what you are seeing in the real world, what your seeing on the map, and having the two agree. And finally combining those two things, being able to pick a point - either on a map or the real world - and navigating to it.
Navigation isn't that difficult, however it is made more difficult when you are doing it in a small kayak, on a rolling sea, The wind blowing one way, the current a different way, in the rain, as your running out of day light, and you can't get off the water.