The Kayak for Commuting and Paddling in the Arctic

Gail E. Ferris



Commuting the concept and its requirements

Gail Ferris


(commuting, work, excuses, weather, report, NOAA, winds, sleep)

I like to go paddling on the open water, but it is a little different for me to paddle to a destination, such as an island, which cannot be reached by any means other than by a boat, spend the evening and consistently return to be at work on land on time.  The challenge becomes much more demanding when you decide that you want to routinely do this, not only to just do this one or two times every so often but to actually commute from an island.  That is what I did.  I commuted by kayak.


The most difficult part of commuting isn't the commute over the water but is planning and the foresight I had to develop so that I was sure that I would get to my land job consistently on time. 

How well I will always remember a most embarrassing situation when weather conditions were too demanding for me.  There I was very ill at ease, trapped on an island.  When I did finally get to work my explanation was to no avail.  It would have been more relevant if I had told them that I had just come down from an evening visit to Mars and had accidentally miscalculated the time zone because I went for another orbit just for the fun of it, but that I was so pleased with myself because I hadn't gotten lost in a time warp and had made the mistake of having arrived in the wrong era.  There at my job they would have had an even more difficult situation, suppose I had accidentally happened to return to earth a few thousand years earlier or later.  I think they would have been more receptive of this explanation than of this actual one I, in the best of faith, provided them with.

The situation progressed after I arrived at work feeling most contrite even though I had just risked my life as I successfully escaped the waves that tried to inhale my kayak and very glad to be on terra firma so glad in fact that I had to restrain myself from the intense temptation to kiss the ground when I landed.  But now as I elaborated on my commuting crisis, the reaction by the individual in charge of time and attendance appeared to be entirely bereft of even the slightest twinge of comprehension.  When I mentioned waves, the person could only think of waves in the context of those lovely little things that lap softly on the beach in the summertime.  When I suggested strong winds, the person imagined that wind only blows on land but never on the water and even if the wind does blow on the water the water is always flat.  The water is always flat and the land can be hilly the person seemed to imagine.  The whole idea of commuting by kayak is likely to be dismissed as crazy, why would you ever want to do that?  Thus the non-kayaking person thought that demands of commuting solely by kayak from an island were incompatible with what is conceived as responsible employee behavior where I was employed. 


Now I knew that I really had quite a challenge ahead of me because I preferred this wonderful world of independence that my kayak gave me to making my compromise to the world of the motorboat.  Then again, there are those severe storm conditions where even a motorboat is not especially safe to use, but I did not think about that.  I just thought about commuting by kayak.


To a certain extent I resolved some of this problem by listening to the NOAA marine forecast before I made my evening crossings.  I found that I was comfortable in winds up to 20 knots.  After 20 knots paddling becomes hard work and conditions are chaotic especially during the return with a following sea in the dark predawn hours.


The other side of the coin is - how well are you going to sleep if you have to listen to crashing waves all night?  I found that the potentiality of this sort of threatening situation adversely affected my sleep.  Among the many aspects to boating experiences there are some, which may be considered to be helpful for other unrelated problems.  It is well known that many people suffer from disturbed sleep patterns and there are even those who can't sleep at all.  I guess that those who sleep especially soundly, the same way that I used to notice my dogs used to sleep absolutely dead to the world, while the waves are crashing all night are all right.


Commuting the concept and its requirements


Work Applications of the Kayak


Night Paddling in Summer


Winter Daytime Ice Paddling Technique


Muddy Launching Conditions Especially in the Winter


Winter Commuting and Sleep Patterns


Ice at Night


Night Winter Paddling with Swells


Changes During the Winter Night Next Morning


Snowy Morning Crossing


Winter; Cold Weather and Evening Clothing




Work Applications of the Kayak

Gail E. Ferris


(work, transportation, load, straps, balance, deck, barge, towing/pushing, back bag, tie down, trailer, boulder beach, plastic, rollers)

Well I don’t know about you but I like a little challenge it is nice to be a sport paddler, but suppose you want to use your kayak for some commuting.  Well commuting can be oh just that routine stuff, you know, just going back and forth.  Then again how about really using your kayak for commuting.  Not just the ordinary back and forth, anybody can do that in the summer during the day in calm weather but how about transporting things.  I began to think about it and I found myself imaging a surprising number of ways I could use my kayak.  I really wasn’t sure and at this point I had not been to the arctic and talked with friends I know now, Rasmus Grimm, for example.  After talking with Rasmus Grim I learned the kayak has amazing capabilities and this is only in Greenland not Baffin Island where the uses of the kayak really amount to the kayak being a freight hauling craft. Trips/Gail/1925UpernavikExp.htm


I decided to figure out ways to utilize my kayak as a means for transporting all sorts of items I would need for everyday living on Rogers Island.  I bought everyday items and flowers and plants for the gardens, strapped them onto my stern deck and paddled them across.  It was great fun having all sorts of things stacked and strapped on.  I never had a problem and there were no large boat wakes or waves when I made my crossings.  It did require some thought and planning but the stern deck of a kayak is amazingly stable.

There was a movie Wedding of Palo made by Knud Rasmussen showing a bridegroom, Mahnessa Mathiesson with his bride sitting up against him paddling through rough seas illustrating this although Mahnessa was Greenland’s grand national champion kayak paddler for many years.

Then I looked at some misplaced boats at our docks and decided to move them with my kayak.  It worked.  Small motor boats tied in the wrong places could be moved without all that much trouble.  That was fun.

For some reason I hate running motors on motorboats they just never start all that easily and who knows at low tide you get to dig clams at the island maybe ruining the bottom bracket or propeller so to me it is much easier to just use my reliable kayak.


Then in the winter I decided that some dog food had to be brought across so I lashed onto the stern deck 50 pound bags of dog food.  I knew that just as long a nothing slipped while I was paddling I would be okay.  I lashed them with good strong nylon straps.  Delrin clips I found to be the most reliable fool proof clips on any deck straps.  I could tighten them up nice an tight and they would not work free or break loose.  Delrin, a solid form of Nylon, is a wonderful invention.

I used flat nylon strapping rather than round line although it is easy to obtain has a marked effect of slowing a kayak down.  I would only recommend you use round line if you want to improve your paddling muscles.  The best lashing material is flat nylon strap with a suitable adjustable buckle, which can easily be tightened up.  In addition, for the initial positioning and balancing of the load while the kayak is floating, which is the most likely time you will lose your cargo overboard, it is handy to have adjustable elastic rear deck straps mounted securely on the hull.  Beneath these straps you can temporarily secure the cargo with until you can position all the cargo and finally lash it securely with the flat Nylon strap.  Now remember, you have to allow yourself weight distribution, which permits the kayak to stay upright when you are paddling, so don't load heavy items too high above the deck.  Paddle paddle, brace brace is nice challenge, its good practice but not when you are trying to transport things you want to arrive safely somewhere.


On Baffin Island the kayak is specially designed with the stern deck of the kayak to be low and flat.  My first kayak happened to be similar to the Baffin Island type and it was the easiest type of kayak to position and carry a load on and the most stable, so I always used kayaks with that same type of low, flat stern deck. 


Because of the ice conditions created by the cold water of the West Greenland current in Davis Strait, Baffin Islanders rarely have open water, but instead they have to paddle between moving ice pans or have follow whatever open leads there are through the shelf ice.  The Baffin islanders have had to design their kayaks to carry their bulky cargo on their stern decks, such as the rather heavy seals.

Greenlanders tow seals and Rasmus Grim told me that he and three other hunters once towed back thirty six seals together at one time.  Some story, but Inuit people are not afraid to rig inventions for transporting the hunt.  They commonly would hunt ducks or catch fish and return home with their kayak decks covered with them.


For large quantities of cargo, that is just too difficult to carry on your decks, the simplest solution is to tow another small craft loaded as much as you dare.  The fate of having to rescue your things out of salt water is just not quite what you really want to have to deal with.  The length of the tow line is better longer at least 20 feet with a segment of shock cord spliced into it somewhere to absorb the tugging from your miniature barge will exert on you while you try to make way.  The coast guard tows ships with as much as a mile of line so that the line acts as a shock absorber, however you might find for your kayak this is just a little bit excessive.


I have not experimented with pushing another craft such as is done on rivers in front tugs and barges.  On flat water such as early morning just at sunrise pushing may be another possibility. 

I used my Alden Ocean Shell single hull as a very convenient barge.  The large cockpit was perfect for bulky loads.  The Alden only weighs 35 pounds empty and the rowing unit lifts completely out of the hull leaving plenty of room for loads.


Having to unload my kayak and carry the contents up the beach I have devised a neat system for carrying my cargo.  I keep a simple large nylon pack bag that can wear on my shoulders. 

The nylon pack made of nylon pack cloth with a sturdy plastic zipper across the top to be closed.  This pack will fold up into a surprisingly small size for stowage. 

What is fun about this loaded bag is slung onto your back, the weight of the load acts as a counterbalance.  The heavier the load you put into it, the more leverage it provides you when you pick up your empty kayak up off the ground onto your shoulder to carry it up the beach.  With just the right weight combination your kayak will feel as though it is floating off the ground.


You really don't want to put scratches on your kayak hull because those scratches will just slow the hull speed and make the kayak noisier. 


To avoid getting those scratches on the hull what I do is rinse the sand off my feet and then position my toes of my feet up against the middle of the kayak cockpit just where I plan to roll my kayak up onto its side. 

I bend down hook my forearm and stabilize the outside with my other hand under the inside of the far side of the cockpit lip.  With my arm hooked under the cockpit lip I very neatly roll my kayak over on its side onto directly onto my feet.

Now my kayak is resting on my soft clean toes.  On my forearm I pick my kayak up at its balance point by the cockpit. 

Next I lift my kayak up to my waist height. 

Then I boost and rest my elbow on the top of my pelvis.  Now with a quick hip thrust I can pop your kayak up onto my shoulder using only those larger muscles of your legs and lower back for doing this heavy lifting.

I find that the easiest way to carry my kayak once it is completely empty is to balance it by its cockpit lip on my shoulder.  For me this is the quickest and the easiest way, especially when I am alone, to move my kayak up the beach. 

Trying to just use your arms and upper back to pick up a kayak, especially if it is a heavy kayak, is much to great a strain for your body.  Don't even bother unless you want to see how old you can feel, instantly. 


Just remember that your field of vision is somewhat limited while you are carrying your kayak high on you shoulder.  Your upper arm is in your line of vision and you may not see a stick in your way and be able to judge uneven ground.  Nothing can be worse than going falling head over heals with your kayak helping propel you into the ground.


To boost my kayak up onto my car I once again boost my kayak up off my shoulder by using my thigh muscles to spring the kayak off my shoulders and up over my head.


I take into account wind should there be any making sure that I do not lift the kayak over my head into the wind.  When it is windy I put my back to the wind and take advantage of the push the wind will give me while I am positioning my kayak on top of my roof racks.


What I do with kayaks and small boats, such as an Alden Ocean Shell complete with rowing mechanism, that are too heavy or awkward to be moved by being carried, I just float and strap them onto a simple two-wheel trailer and wheel them up the beach. 


For boulder strewn beaches or where it is not possible to lift from the center or roll the kayak I have resorted to getting the kayak up the beach by lifting it up and carrying it end over end.   In Upernavik I was forced to land on a shelf of granite flanked by steep rock.  I lifted one end up and carried it up the rock face then tied it off with line.  Then I lifted the opposite end up and did the same until I got the kayak up to safety. 


Carrying end over end is a good emergency strategy when you have no other options but be very careful not to wedge the tip of either end between some rocks causing damage to your kayak. 


When on an expedition everything depends on that kayak.


On an expedition your kayak to try to minimize the possible damage and abrasion to the bow, stern and other contact points by placing fabric or plastic under these areas.  Sharp rocks, especially granite, can rip or slice holes in a fabric hull.


Recently I have found that two or three foam “pool noodles” carried just inside my cockpit are the best rollers.  I thread rope down the hole in the center and knot each end off with a loop tied with a Bolin.  The Bolin is a nice knot for this application because it provides enough bulk to prevent the line from sliding back down inside the tube opening and can also be easily retied as need be.


I have saved myself more hard work and wear and tare on my kayak hull by rolling my boat up rocks and over beaches with these pool noodles.


Once I have my kayak situated on the rocks for the evening I put the pool noodles around the hull and tie them into U shapes to protect the hull from wearing on the rocks if the wind blows while I am in camp.  I had a situation in Greenland when I could not quite get my kayak above the high tide for the evening and I was exhausted.  I used the pool noodles to protect the hull from wave action during the night and it worked out much better than nothing, which was the other option.


These pool noodles with rope loops sticking out each end can be adapted to function as emergency outriggers or external floatation should the need arise.


One of those what I would call a "religious moment" was when I found that my boat had been blown around and rolled by the wind during the night "when you are the only show in town" and "kayaks don't grow on trees" or they do "it takes longer than you want to wait" so to speak, the last thing you want to have happen is your boat to leave without you in it. You could compare this to, having the emergency brake on your car let go and having it take off down a hill, only this situation is worse. 


In the flat areas of the Arctic this is especially likely to happen because there the winds blow uninhibited because there aren't any land forms such as mountains with lees to slow the wind.  I assume nothing when I bed down for the evening, I always tie my kayak off to a solid object such as a tree or boulder for the night. 


I was really hard pressed in Barrow.  In Barrow Alaska and the east side of Baffin Island it is flat as a pancake.  In Barrow there are absolutely no rocks bigger than an inch diameter.  I improvised by nesting kayak into one of the many shallow ravines eroded into the peat soil beds and rigging it to stakes forced into the soft substrate.  The wind rips through at whatever miles an hour it feels like.  I experienced a solid 50 mph when I was there and anywhere in the arctic there can be very high wind.  Wind strong enough to blow structures down.  What I do is take a tent which uses a single pole so that I can lower it if need be.  Luckily I have not had to do that but I have seen wind strong enough to be difficult to stay upright in that my tent has withstood.   I always bring with an emergency bivouac. 


With sufficient wind I have found my kayak has enough surface area to join the self-propelled jet set all on its own.  Just think, with a high wind conditions, you can enjoy your kayak as a kite.  Just another life for your kayak, after all lots of people start second careers, so why shouldn't your kayak, although I prefer my kayak well secured on the ground or myself in the kayak on the water with me at the helm.



Night Paddling in Summer

Gail Ferris


(night paddling, summer, stars, vision, wave intervals, feeling, hearing, counting, hull design, balance upright, meteors, binoculars, moonlight, rip,  shallows, reefs, paddle feelers)


The Solitary Winter Evening Sea Kayaker - Gail Ferris

Often the question is raised "Why does a person practice such a risky sport under such difficult conditions?"

But when you find yourself just getting off the water at 10:00 in the evening, you have probably found the answer is that you find sea kayaking such a pleasure in so many ways, that even the dark nights do not keep you from being on the water.

I think paddling at night is just the best way to watch the stars especially to watch for shooting stars.  You can lie back on your stern deck your kayak will be just as perfectly stable and actually even more stable than when you are sitting upright in the cockpit.  The only problem is that you may over stretch your back if you remain lying bent backward over your seat back for too long.  You will notice that the next day.

The depth of darkness is variable and is not necessarily going to hinder your paddling because this is partially due to the capability, which you may find that you have, to actually be able to see and relate sufficiently well enough to what the waves were doing in conditions such as starlight. 

Although few people venture out on the water during the summer evenings, there are many special moments which I find such unforgettable moments when I laying back on rear deck of my kayak under the stars in that chance expectation of just happening to witness a flurry of brilliant shooting stars.  Although every once in a while there are those moments when you'd swear that one just came too close making you feel compelled to duck.  You wonder how we are so lucky not to have more things struck by meteors, I guess that this might be where the statement "Thank your lucky stars" may originate.

The moonlight turns the tiniest waves into a voyage through scintillating silvery movement that just goes on and on forever.  It is great fun to bring some binoculars along to look at the moon, the planets and some of the star groups with.  Finding very calm water is necessary to do this with because you can't look very easily at anything distant through binoculars when the water is making you bob up, down and around while you try to remain focused.

 I have a pair of Zeiss binoculars have lenses 8 x 20 made the best type of glass for low light situations and they withstand corrosion by seawater well.   I enjoy looking at the moon through them.

Now how do you paddle when it is dark?  Well where I live it is not completely dark, but on the other hand it is too dark to be able to judge distance between objects whether they be islands of which we happen to have many or waves.  It is perfectly easy to paddle into something and disconcerting to find a passage that is perfectly obvious in broad daylight.  Nothing like paddling into black not quite sure if it is or is not what it looks like.

With this level of darkness since I cannot judge distances between waves I have no idea when I hear a wave how close it is to me.  So I found another trick.  I switch over to utilizing my other senses.

What I do is concentrate on the time intervals between waves and swells, especially waves coming up behind me in following seas.  What I do is compare the time intervals and when the time interval is longer I know to expect a larger wave and maybe to be ready to brace for it when I feel it coming up to my boat.  From the time interval I can judge what the sea will feel like.

Now the next thing to do is to transfer my knowledge of time interval into comparing how the boat is feeling as a wave is hitting my hull.  When I am out there paddling broadside to the waves especially on a very overcast stormy evening, I switch from this very confusing visual experience to listening and feeling the waves through my body in my kayak.  Luckily I have paddled a shallow elliptical shaped hull for years and I am used to the physical cues from this hull.  I substitute my physical sense of feeling with my body in place of what my eyes tell me in daylight.  In the inky blackness of the night you can't see the waves and at most they will appear to you only as black shadows looming at you and breaking unpredictably.  This is very disconcerting.

Trying to figure out with these limited visual cues when and where these waves will break is very interesting but now turn your concentration to how the water feels as it passes beneath your kayak because the height and steepness of the waves are reflecting the bottom, the currents relative to the wind that is or was driving these waves.

I have found because I have insufficient visual references that I cannot be completely sure by using my eyes as to if I am paddling your kayak with its hull level when it should be level. 

Well I figured out how to solve this question at night by feeling if the boat is horizontal through my paddle. While I am paddling with my boat level I test by leaning to feel for the position in which my boat paddles with least lateral resistance, just the same way you would go about leaning a bicycle around a curve and leaning a bicycle on a straight of way. 

A kayak with an elliptical and or a shallow "V" cross section hull mid-ship will register to you this change in resistance.  A round bottomed or especially narrow kayak would be more challenging to do this with, but once you know that it is of even length on each side, checking for how much of your paddle is in the water on each side is also a good indicator.  Another means for a single paddle is are you reaching the same distance to hit the water with your paddle on each side. 

I can say that on chalky gray day with perfectly flat water and with no horizon line that I found myself feeling dizzy because of the conflict between my eyes and my body.  In Greenland this is called kayak angst and it is a very threatening situation to be in.


Listening is a key sense for determining wave action as to where it is and its relative height and activity.

I consider relying on listening as my insurance policy.  Coupling my timing with counting the cadence cycle of waves gives me an approximate idea as to when I need to brace or to avoid a large wave, when rounding a headland or point.  As I am sitting in my so small a boat I imagine these greedy waves as being boat inhalers or vacuum cleaners because they give me that feeling as they sort of roll up to me they always seem to suck in water as if they are about to take a gigantic yawn.  The yawn is when the wave out of nowhere decides to break.  If it is just a big swell I think of that as that the water has decided that it needs to take in a deep breath for the moment, but it’s the yawns watch out for, especially if I am right in the middle of one.

When it comes to dealing with a rip I estimate the relative magnitude of a rip can be determined by listening.  The sound of the rip gives me some idea of what I may be getting into before I commit myself to the chaotics of a rip.  A rip resembles to me a boxing match between water from one place meeting water from another place the large rips I call a row and huge ones a genuine war.  That makes me really sit up and pay attention when I find that I am paddling in a big rip I tell myself that I just want to get through but not wind up in the middle of it getting punched out, even if it is only water.


I have seen situations in large weather systems where nothing worked other than look at the clouds and apply some local knowledge.  In Arctic Bay the ladies told me in undeniable seriousness if the sound looks dark don’t go down there.  They were completely correct.  In Upernavik my friends at Aappilattoq said if Sandersons Hope has a hat on it, you better believe it is bad.   Motorboat passed by stopped and said to me Upernavik Ajaboq, Wow was that true as I passed from behind the protection of an island into +25 knots of wind or cooling wind finding myself over powered.  That was when I learned from reality how well my boat and especially my rudder was designed.  Another time in Torssut Passage the water was an oily calm but I looked up to see clouds coming at me.  I thought how interesting those clouds were as they were bearing down the ravine upon me.  Then the wind hit nearly grabbing the paddle from my hands.  I tied the paddle to my kayak and proceeded to make for the nearest landfall where I could beach my kayak.  I was lucky I could have been on the opposite side of the passage, which was flanked for miles with vertical basalt cliffs.  To make landfall I would have had to make a broadside to the wind crossing.

With light wave action it is easy to determine by listening to guess how close you probably are to partially submerged reefs, but when you are trying to guess where submerged rocks are and more difficult to determine submerged sandbars on an absolutely calm evening this is very difficult.  You have to have some familiarity with the area from a chart and estimate where these obstructions are.  You have to use your paddles as feelers, testing when you have that little feeling.  Paddling with a more vertical slalom type of stroke is the only means you have for finding depth hopefully, but unfortunately not necessarily, before you crash. 


Water rushing over sand shallows without wave action is very difficult to estimate depth because it all looks and sounds the same.  All you can do is resort to paddle dunking and a vertical stroke to try and avoid a frustrating grounding.  Just be glad that you aren't the Queen Mary.  I once found myself in broad daylight being picked up by some waves and about to be dropped on bare sand in Clinton Harbor.  I had thought that I could just cut across the dog-leg shaped harbor at low tide with my kayak.  I couldn't imagine how I could ever encounter any situation with such a shallow draft where I would find myself sitting high and dry on a sandbar without my complete prior knowledge.  Was I surprised at that last moment when I realized that I was in the surf just about to run out of water.   I must have looked great to the larger boats, which had no choice than to follow the channel markers.  I had seen what I thought was a red can as a channel marker that I could just head directly for cutting across and of course I thought if that is a red can there has to be water between here and there.  Well, the red can turned out to be a man in red pants out digging clams and of course people do not dig clams in the water they dig them at low tide when the water has gone out.  Did I feel foolish?  I learned that not all red cans are channel markers, especially if they seem to walk around on their own.  Oh well, you just never know.

I had a big surprise one evening when I was out rowing or sculling.  Rowing at night has its element of similarity to paddling but rowing is slightly more difficult because you are going backward.  I thought that at night if I happen to be rowing the same old route all would be safe.  Well it just so happened on that particular evening there was especially low tide.  There I was rowing along when out of habit I just happened to turn around to check direction.  Oh no, in a split second I realized that I was just about to ram a set of granite rocks, which I had never seen exposed before.  I suddenly realized that I was very lucky so far because I was actually rowing through a random mine field of granite, not a pleasant thought.  They don’t call Stony Creek for nothing even for us shallow draft boaters it is real.


What is worse about rowing and especially sculling than kayaking is when you ram something while sculling its very likely to be a solid impact that can do appreciable damage to the boat and send air born you off your seat.  This is just what you need in the darkness of night, when you have the whole bay to yourself.


These are those moments when I find that the water is never the same twice.



Winter Daytime Ice Paddling Technique

Gail Ferris


(safety items, paddle, painter, hoe, paddle angle, ice, shovel, backing up, frazzle, skim, paddle blades, sweep, launching, landing, booties, ice cakes, cockpits, maneuvers, whitewater kayak, wing paddle)

Have an assortment of safety items, such as an extra paddle, a long bow line or painter and a garden hoe because although you may be able to launch from a relatively ice free launch site, things change.

Making your way through the ice, you have to keep in mind that the paddle must hit the water and ice at a precise stroke, because at a more oblique angle the paddle either does not bite the surface of the ice or acts as a shovel to scoop beneath the ice.  The moment the paddle blade passes beneath the surface of the ice it gains enough leverage to immediately invert or roll the paddler during the recovery of your paddle stroke.

Slush ice is like paddling in applesauce.  Skim or frazzle ice is much more formidable to paddle through not only because it is abrasive, but because it is highly resistant to penetration, impossible to judge the thickness of, until you find that you can no longer punch you paddle blade through the ice to propel your kayak forward.  Then there is always the possibility that the harder you try to break the ice with your paddle the more likely you may happen to either break your paddle or to find yourself upside down. 

At that point, back out the way you came in, slowly and carefully, although backing a kayak may seem awkward to do.  Backing up best done by looking at the paddle blade with each stroke because you will not only see what the blade is doing but your body is in its position for the most stable balance.  In whitewater paddling being able to paddle backward is very convenient for many maneuvers. 

In sea kayaking, when a forward sweep is not going to work or is not available perhaps because of the design of the paddle, paddling backward is very handy for avoiding being swept, at the last minute, on top of some unexpected rock in the waves.

Sea kayaking in the winter is much more complex than in the summer, like a great game of chess, with your good judgment and skill with a touch of daring once you can recognize and anticipate conditions to safely sea kayak in the winter and from there with some additional learning extend your paddling in the Arctic.

The bright sun on a day when the air temperature is below freezing may keep the surface of the water from freezing, but with the declining angle of the sun during the approach of a quiet evening these same areas are likely to turn into slush or become glazed with skim ice, which is sharp and difficult to pass through.

Because frazzle or skim ice is very abrasive and pan ice can puncture the hull the hull has to be designed and made of materials, which will not be abraded by frazzle ice or punctured by pan ice.  Ice is quite destructive and if you know you are going to be paddling several miles in a fabric skinned boat you might consider tying on some protection.  For fabric skinned kayaks a small sheet of highly abrasion resistant slightly rigid polyethylene wrapped and tied around the bow will be enough to protect the very first foot of the bow where the ice is most likely to slash the fabric.  At speeds faster than paddling an ordinary fiberglass or wooden motorboat will sustain damage from frazzle ice and I don't think getting out and walking is quite the best option.


The paddle blades I have found to be most suitable for those barbaric encounters with ice are wide square ended scooped blades made of fiberglass, which is both strong and resilient enough to tolerate the sometimes necessary repeated impact of having to break through and hard pushing through the ice.  Paddling has to be done in a shallow manner without submerging the entire blade because if you scoop under the ice you will capsize the kayak when you recover your paddle stroke. The wide blades provide more push and are less apt to scoop below the ice. 

The traditional Greenland paddle has a different distribution of surface area, angle and leverage.  Therefore using this paddle has to be approached in a different way.  It is wise to learn the specific Greenlandic techniques for paddling because they are different than what you can do with a standard scooped blade.

You will find that there are times when you either get to sit there and wait for the ice to melt, which will probably be for too long or you find that are using all the power you have to get yourself through a patch of skim ice.  You will probably find as I do in my area that the closer you come to shore the tougher the going becomes and sometimes you just cannot make that last few feet.  This is because nearer to the shore the ice often becomes thicker as you are approaching source of the ice and you are coming into a more sheltered area near the shore where the ice can form more readily.

Because of this excessive stress you have to subject your paddles to during this type of paddling, be sure to include among the safety items on your deck a spare pair of the best quality paddles within easy reach on your deck.  Remember you have to be your own rescuer.

I have found, that when the shore is closed off by pan ice or frazzle ice too thick to paddle through, that the way I have worked out to cross these areas is very carefully with an ordinary garden hoe and good balance.  This is similar to the poling technique used in East Greenland. 

Strange as it may seem, the greatest progress is made by pushing and pulling the kayak backward over the ice.  The leverage of the garden hoe and propelling the kayak backward, not only requires using your arms, but your entire torso as the only means of developing sufficient power and angle of attack to cross the ice.  I chose the garden hoe not only because of handle length, but also because of the type of bite it grabs the ice pan with, which allows for not only pushing but also pulling.  I experimented with a potato rake but I found that you can only pull with a potato rake and the thin tines do not give as good a purchase on the ice as the 90 degree angle sharp blade of the garden hoe.  The hoe is more suitable than an ice axe because the hoe is less apt to stab through and hook itself beneath the ice or to puncture the your kayak.

When the coast is entirely glazed with remember that when you launch you must not only carry the hoe and a spare paddle on your deck but also you must have a long painter or bow line, which is at least 20 feet long, readily available from your cockpit.  Returning and landing on a glazed rocky is going to be very challenging.  You are going to first have to get yourself up as far as your painter allows then pull your kayak up to you, then you have to continue the rest of the length of the painter upward until you get to an area where you can stand up without slipping on the ice.  Then you drag the kayak up to you where you can pick your kayak up and carry it to a safe area.

Beaches are much more feasible you will find that the hoe will get you up a frozen beach otherwise you find yourself in a slapstick comedy routine helplessly trying to claw your way up what is an impossibly slick glazed beach with nothing except your fingernails. 

I still remember the time I tried to ascend a completely iced beach with a less suitable tool, that I was sure was going to work, only to find myself sliding back down either five or six times.  Recently there has been developed some booties for windsurfing, which have abrasive bottoms if these booties work they will certainly lessen some of the risk of launching from ice surfaces as I describe to you in the next paragraphs. 

My experience when finally our harbor at Stony Creek opened up.  I found large cakes foot thick of ice, which I could stand on floating in thinly iced water.  As I negotiated launching from a block of ice with my kayak afloat I found that a kayak can, just quick as a wink, slide over the ice like greased lightning.  I found that this is quite a good test of paddler's launching skills and I could immediately appreciate why Baffin Island and Thule kayaks have large cockpits. 

In that last fraction of a second I found myself engaged in lowering myself into my cockpit just moments before the boat slide out from under me into the water on its merry way to elsewhere.  Nothing seemed to quite give me any purchase on the ice my garden hoe just didn't quite have the angle for maintaining its bite.  The paddle just slide off so that even though I had it behind me at a 90 degree angle the paddle was of no assistance.  The peak on the bow deck does not allow me to lay the paddle across the deck of the kayak.  In traditional Greenland kayaks the deck just in front of the cockpit has a flat area across the Massik, which the paddle can be laid upon.

There I was committed without my paddle handy to getting in or falling into the water.  Only my hoe was available for a means of getting me purchase to recover myself back up on the ice cakes.  I couldn’t quite visualize using my garden hoe for rolling and bracing as I would with my paddle.

The kayaking booties are not designed to offer even the slightest grip on ice so my only option was my balance and timing.  I was most glad that this kayak of mine has a large cockpit and a shallow V wide elliptical cross section mid-ship bottom.  I was very lucky and did launch successfully.

I have thought about wearing cleats on the bottom of my kayak booties in Arctic situations where climbing on top of ice could have been an option.  However cleats would ruin the interior of my kayak and I do not have that great a sense of balance.  In Arctic people do get out onto multiyear ice pans but I have not paddled in those areas.  Multi year ice is very stable because it is formed as slab ice.  Icebergs are not stable you just never know when a berg will roll over top to bottom or break up.  Avoid icebergs.

Once I actually was safely afloat, the next trick was to force the kayak backward through the ice into open water.  First I tried my "Wing" paddle but its round edges are of no use for grabbing onto ice and using the paddle at that high an angle provides the paddler with no brace support.  Then I tried my garden hoe but the ice was too thin for the hoe to provide any purchase for pulling power.  Next I yanked off my deck half of my spoon blade whitewater paddle and stowed the other "Wing" paddle and hoe.  The square sharp ends of the spoon blade was the most suitable and with it I was able to back paddle the kayak though the ice to open water.

Once I reached open water I switched back to the "Wing" paddle, dropped the rudder because this was a convenient combination for enjoying touring the coast despite the 15 to 20 knot wind. 

I prefer to paddle with the "Wing" paddle because I use my muscles in my lower back.  Doug Bushnell, Westside Boat Shop, 7661 Tonawanda Creek Rd, Lockport, NY 14094 phone1-716-434-5755 advised me that the wind paddle kayak racing technique uses using the muscles in your body torso not your arms.  Doug Bushnell told me to pull using rotation of my pelvis pull with one foot and push with the opposite foot.   At the beginning, the power portion of the stroke use the wing paddle on a very steep angle to get full thrust with the paddle being as vertical as possible.  The paddle stroke comes from your torso in first two feet of the stroke and then complete stroke with your arm.  In racing the edge of the paddle actually is scrapped along the edge of the kayak.  This wear area of the kayak is protected with Teflon tape.

In heavier conditions I would have used the larger surfaced spoon blade.  I make the choice on the amount of control I have over the kayak.  When these are the conditions I am always happy that I keep two types of paddles with me and a garden hoe for this type of paddling.

And here is my suggestions for playing "Beat the Berg" however I have seen bergs cross in front of me in Upernavik moving on the surface much faster than I can paddle.  Launch in a polyethylene whitewater kayak either in the open water on a day when there is enough wind to move the ice cakes nicely along or with some current. 

I set some of the ice cakes free so that they are moving along in open water then I race around them, between them, forward, backward, in figure eights, just any configuration I can think of to keep it interesting.  Ice is so convenient because it breaks in all sorts of shapes so you have to practice all sorts of turning angles.

The trick is to anticipate how to pass between the ice cakes or sheets before they close together and not to touch them with the paddle or the boat.

Practicing negotiating backwards paddling without loosing it is just the greatest fun.  You have to watch that paddle on each side otherwise you very quickly find that the stern of the kayak will be ramming a piece of ice that you did not notice.

It takes some good guessing how to use the paddle without scooping under them just another aspect to the whole game.  I think on video that this would be great fun to watch.  This I think is the neatest way to have lots of fun. .  What I am doing is practice slalom in a moveable slalom, a fun idea.

Then playing tugboat with ice chunks is fun as well as jumping the kayak up on top of the ice pans. This is ice that is only three in thick ice. 

The polyethylene kayaks can take this nasty abuse I used my "Dagger Response" kayak for this type of paddling.

For long distance dragging over the ice and for fabric-skinned kayaks I have devised a fitted sheet of highly abrasion resistant plastic similar to polyethylene to protect the hull of the kayak. I was unable to test this because at the last moment the ice went out before I was able to try it. I had thought of several other solutions to this problem but the protective sheet of plastic seemed to be the simplest and the lightest.



Muddy Launching Conditions Especially in the Winter

Gail Ferris


(mud, tricks for dealing with, when to avoid mud)

Mud although it just lies there and seems so innocent that is what makes it so deceiving.  Mud is really tricky stuff and you have to keep in mind that the most dangerous quality mud has is its impersonal viscosity.  Tidal and storm conditions in the winter are more likely to produce extreme ranges in water levels.  The tidal situation can be from a combination of the moon in perihelion and or a product of the combination of tides or solely due to of change in water level due to the wind having blown strongly in the outgoing tidal direction this happens in Long Island Sound.

Don't be daunted by this type of unexpected change, although you may find that the floating dock where it was so convenient to put your kayak on top just a few hours before may not be floating, now that same dock may be just sitting on the mud.  Depending on how far you have to go to get to water it may be still possible to launch.

You must be the judge of conditions trying to force your way through long stretches of mud is very likely not really worth all the effort and unnecessary risk.  Human powered hover craft and the like haven't been invented yet.  The tide will return sooner or later.

Places like James Bay in lower Hudson Bay, the tide goes out for miles and it is a good idea to know what the tides are doing before finding yourself stranded in endless miles of mud.  There are areas where the tide is only six inches, such as Barrow Alaska where the bays have this same situation at low tide and at high tide you are actually paddling in am emulsion of pitch black, muddy water rather than the simple clear water you might have thought the topographic map indicated.

Although the beach may be iced in, don't bother trying to carry your kayak over the ice and mud to launch because you won't get very far.  Sooner or later you will find, even as you drag your kayak across the frozen seabed that your feet are breaking through the surface of the ice into soft mud. 

Oh boy, guess what! the mud becomes softer, less dense the farther you slog from shore so make sure I found out from trying this that you have to always keep one of your feet in the kayak. 

I had one of those moments when I wondered will I be able to float myself in my kayak out of this mud or will I get to sit for too long a time in the mud waiting for the tide to float me off.

I did experience some minor scratching on my hull but that was better than finding myself helplessly entrapped by the ensuing bottomless mire.  I did find that I had a risky contest between being able to launch on this emulsion of watery, black ooze before I became helplessly mired.  I was lucky.  Usually you can launch just in time without further trouble, however this depends on the shape of bottom and the ideal is a gradual drop off into the depths, but then again it is a risky deal.

One time I tried stepping out into some mud from my kayak. I discovered to my horror that I was not able to lift my foot out of the mud.  Luckily I had only one foot stuck in the mud.  I was very glad my kayak was right there.  So what I did was to sit back onto my kayak and pull my foot out of my boot.

Getting my boot back required super human strength for me to pull out of the mud.  I decided not to try that again and paddled my kayak back into the water.

From a biological perspective this particular mud I was in was a very loose agglomeration on non-organic material not agglutinated by the usual anoxic bacterial.  Various types of anoxic bacteria play an active role in solidifying organic sediments however there are situations where even those organic sediments cannot solidify because of wind circulation patterns.

Off Rogers Island to the east the sediments are in constant flux such that easterly storms roll up oysters on the beach.

The most threatening mud situations I have encountered were at the bottom of the Connecticut River and Barrow Alaska.  I could have very easily broken my paddle shaft with the amount of brute force I exerted on the shaft forcing my kayak through the viscous mud.  These were two situations when I should have waited for the tide to float me.

Anchorage Alaska is another place not wise to paddle in because the tide just goes out and leaves you there with miles and miles of mud.  How I found out about paddling in the Anchorage area was I happened to telephone a friend, Jim Vermilion, who has a kayak rental business in the area.  He told me that Anchorage was the last place I would want to paddle my kayak, but that Seward is excellent for paddling.

James and Hudson Bay offer similar conditions however at Iqaluit on eastern Baffin Island the tides recede for miles but the bottom is so hard that trucks are driven out at low tide to unload freighters.

A major reason why I choose to paddle in Upernavik Greenland was because of the granite coastline and two meters of tide.  These conditions are very similar to Stony Creek, the same tidal range and geology.

It pays to ask local people about paddling conditions.



Winter Commuting and Sleep Patterns

Gail Ferris


(changes, commuting night winter, ice snow, stars)

This is a Guaranteed Cure for Those Who Suffer from Abnormal Sleep - Gail E. Ferris

If you are commuting on evenings when it is so cold that the snow is crunchy and you have to wear gloves while you set up your kayak for launching to keep your hands from becoming numb, possibly you might like to plan your kayak portages to avoid the eminent possibility of falling on the slick ice patches, which can be everywhere.

You might think that it is not really necessary but when you return to ramp in the next morning and you are in a hurry, its worth taking the special precaution of shoveling the boat ramp with even your paddle before carrying the kayak down to the water's edge because that same snow will be there when you return the next morning.  Booties don't grip ice very well and the thought of falling while carrying a kayak on your shoulder is not pleasant.

Now you have to do some planning if you make a decision to launch from an area, which is at night fall a quiet nearly windless evening as you disembark on the water filled with slush ice and the expected evening temperature are to remain in the range of 15 to 20 degrees F. 

Remember that you are taking a chance that the slush ice could solidify into a solid sheet that is impenetrable for you with just a kayak and paddle without a garden hoe.  Trying to force your way by repeated ramming just doesn't work very well.  Ramming is a lot of work you take the risk of rolling over while you are backing up to get up speed to ram passageway through the ice each time.  The ice breaks apart beneath your bow but the ice to the side where you need to dig in with your paddle may still be too thick for you to break through the ice to gain purchase with your paddle.  Ramming ice is slow hard work.

These are a few of those chances that are part of your challenge, which may turn out to be not as expected.

But if you find yourself getting edgy just tell yourself that this takes some calm reserve and steel nerves.  To kayak under these conditions as the ice and the darkness makes commuting by kayak in the winter feel very isolating.

One factor to consider is that as the sun sets radiant heat energy is lost. Just as the sun was setting the water was nearly ice free but on the return an hour later ice developed on the surface.  The ice formed as a combination of  slush, other ice was splintery skim or frazzle ice and the third type of ice was periodic pans of slush and skim ice all of this same ice in the darkness I knew I would encounter unexpectedly. 

Once on the Connecticut River in December in my kayak I actually saw flat hexagons of six to ten inch diameter ice hexagons develop on the surface instantly just the moment the sun’s rays were extinguished.  This was north of Essex.

During one evening as I paddled across the rippled water to Rogers Island it was quiet.  There were no gulls on Dick's Rocks that night.  I leaned back onto the aft deck and looked up into the heavens for shooting stars, but there were none tonight.  I thought about the winter constellations, those that I should learn and the old favorites I knew so well. 

While sleeping out in the open as the season progresses, I would wake up from my slumber and watch the constellations as they make their passage through the evening sky.  As the season progressed the constellations would in a slightly more eastward position each evening and bringing with them a new succession as the seasons progress.

Nothing seems more mystical and fascinating than the early spring constellations in the early morning hours.

These constellations seem to be a whole new world not only they are dramatic in size but the harbingers of spring while winter is still upon us.

The most bizarre meteor shower I saw was the Geminids one January.

One Christmas eve I went paddling in full moonlight at three quarter tide.  The Granite of all the edges of the islands were festooned with focus glazed with ice making them look as though they were garlanded with silver.  What a sight.

The moonlight turns the world into a scintillating silvery paradise especially ice frozen onto the seaweed on the rocks.  Paddling in the winter evening is something not to be missed.



Ice at Night

Gail Ferris


(kayak design, in ice, at night, Greenland)

There is a difference to paddling in the ice pans and slush when you cannot see objects directly in front of you at night.  This situation requires that you must know what your kayak will do when you suddenly run up on an ice pan.  I found that it is important to have a rockered hull with a shallow "V" bottom and closed bulkheads that have air bags inside them.  The kayak needs to have sufficient secondary stability so that the kayak is be able to maintain stability when the bow is resting on an ice pan and should it fill with water will float level with the paddler sitting in it.  I found that by running the bow slightly up on the beach similar to what would happen if the kayak were to have rammed up onto a pan of ice I can estimate how much secondary stability my kayak has and how comfortable this secondary feels to me.  This type of stability I also find rather important for taking photographs and videos when I am on the water.  I have gotten rid of and avoided kayaks that do not a rockered shallow “V” hull.  All Greenland and Canada kayaks shallow "V" hulls.

The Greenlandic kayak hulls from Ilulissat and Ammassalik accommodate the necessity of being able to get the kayak up on the ice in their kayak designs before the pans of ice collide crushing the kayak.  In the Ammassalik Greenland area the kayak is designed with ivory runners attached to the keel and between the chine so that paddler is able to get the kayak up on the thin ice and pole the kayak across the ice to firm ground.  Ammassalik kayak paddlers have hook shaped ends in bone or ivory on the ends of their paddles for grabbing the ice.



Night Winter Paddling with Swells

Gail Ferris


(night, slush ice, swells, open areas, paddling technique, ice concentrations, dragon's back, preoccupation)

After numerous days of heavy wind I had to negotiate a midnight crossing through slush ice seawater.  The swells were still running and the temperature was nearly zero.  I specifically choose a launch site at Pine Orchard, which had better salinity because Stony Creek was frozen in.

This is when sea kayaking becomes a very serious, dangerous undertaking.  The inner areas of estuaries along the coast first freeze.  Because fresh water is less dense than salt water, fresh water flows out on top of the seawater. When it is cold enough there is some freeze separation of the seawater as well.  Ice floats because it is less dense than water.  The less salt in the ice the more brittle and the more salt the more flexible is the ice.

From my kayak cockpit paddling even under the glaze of moonlight, I find that I cannot see an area of slush ice.  The light and vision angle is not sufficient.

The slush may look like open water because it is being kept in motion by the incoming swells.  These swells can do the same to the conglomeration of small pan ice.

Only from shore could I see in the first 1000 yards where the ice pans have left off and where there could be an impenetrable extensive ice slush area.  However although conditions appeared from the shore to be less questionable I know that I cannot judge the strength and size of the swells at night even under moonlight.  The amount of light is insufficient for depth perception at long distance.  At night and even in the day it is difficult to accurately judge conditions as much as you might know you just have to be there

I keep in mind that when I am committed to paddling within the slush ice even where it is was freer with less volume, turning around the kayak to reverse direction will require having to perform disconcerting maneuvers.  The trick is not to catch your paddle under the ice while trying to reverse direction.  I am not too concerned about short distances through slush ice but in this situation the distances were not just in the tens of feet but actually in the hundreds of feet.

I have had to keep in mind that although it may be dark or I might be preoccupied with other aspects, I must consciously avoid passing the paddle beneath the ice and confine all strokes to being specifically very shallow just on the surface of the icy water or just penetrating part way through the surface of the ice. 

I have had to train myself and practice enough to recognize what angle of the paddle shaft I had to maintain consistently.

In the middle of the night disembarking from Pine Orchard yacht club area as I paddled past the protection of some outlying rocks I discovered that I feeling something absolutely shocking. 

My kayak was rising up alarmingly beneath me and swaying decidedly, as these strong swells running through the slush ice were lifting me up and thrusting me downward the slush ice. 

Although there were no waves, the density of slush like riding on a carpet just beneath the surface.  I felt just as though I was on the back of a sea serpent.  And at night with no visual cues I found this to be an exhilarating experience.

Then from out of the slush back into the outlying narrow band of small ice pans and pass into open water all the swells felt just routine.

But that was a most memorable experience to be paddling along in my kayak and to feel as though I was on the back of a dragon.  I asked Ken Fink about this and he has had the same experience.

It's a very amusing sensation to paddle through an area of slush ice and suddenly feel your boat shoot forward when you pass into open water.

I have found that in crossing stretches of open water and migrating conglomerations of ice, one of the reasons why it is important to have a boat, which will retain its stability even if you ram an unseen pan of ice.  Night vision does not cover directly if front of the you do not see directly in front of your field of vision however you do have vision starting at 15 degrees on either side. 

What I did was to turn my head frequently from side to side and use my peripheral vision as much as possible.  When you are looking directly at a small diameter object directly off your bow, it is not visible until you have actually passed partly by it.  Boat stakes can be a big surprise. 

In the dark of morning I nearly did collide with a boat stake that was directly in front of me.  I resorted to staying out of the boat stakes in the dark because those skinny little wise guy stakes just seemed to jump in front of my kayak.

When rowing in the dark I found that I have an even more limited range of vision because I cannot rotate my head quite far enough to have a range of vision so I prefer to row facing forward.  I use either the FrontRower or the E-Z Rower  .




Changes During the Winter Night Next Morning

Gail Ferris


(temperature, wind, time, breakup, pans, currents, movement, just when you thought you knew everything)

There is a certain undeniable reality to those stories of the far north describing the moment when during very cold conditions depending on the salinity and temperature.  In my area, here in Stony Creek, at about 10 degrees F when the wind stops the water freezes over. 

Even though I might think that since I would be leaving at dawn, only a few hours away, that conditions would continue as I have just left them, guess what - things change!

For instance, the next morning, there can appear on the water, a line of ice pans working their way past the south side of Rogers Island where I may have never seen ice before.  For as much as I might think that I know this area very thoroughly.  I may just happen to find that I have just been confronted by something I hadn't thought of.  Oops!

A change in wind direction can easily break pans of ice off from shelf ice into two and three inch thick ice pans. Wind can break large ice pans into small pieces if it is blowing at twenty to thirty knots.  Even a light ten to fifteen-knot wind will push ice against current and tides. Oh well!

Maybe I had forgotten that NOAA forecast was for the wind, which had been blowing for days from the west, was going to switch to blowing from the north. 

Well, the question I have to ask myself is what are the possible consequences from this wind change that will affect the surface of the near freezing water and the ice that is already on the water? 

Although I may have noticed a slight breeze from the north and perhaps earlier I thought nothing of it.  Then I saw ice working its way past the south side of Rogers Island  I realized that this ice is being pushed by the wind from the north.  Suddenly I have just found out that all the world has become ice.  But lo and behold, something else is happening as I notice that one pan of ice is rapidly moving by in the opposite direction of what I might have expected, here is one of those prime examples where the ice is obviously being propelled by the more dominant force which is the wind.  This wind will overpower the movement of currents and tides pushing before the wind the ice to the north southward. There are also situations where strong currents will carry ice bergs and bergy bits past each other is opposite directions so that they crisscross each other despite the direction of the tide. 

Ice, air and water will be moved by what ever is the dominant force at the moment but luckily ice is easy to see.

Now I just discovered that most of the crossing I made the previous evening is now inundated with ice because the wind died off while the temperature dropped below 10 creating a huge inundation of slush ice.  I decided that it was safer and easier for me not to go north to Pine Orchard but instead to head across to the Flying Point off Stony Creek.  So I made the crossing and had to walk over to Pine Orchard to retrieve my car and get to work several hours later.  I just did not want to risk getting stuck in all that slush ice between Rogers Island and Pine Orchard.  This was before cell phones and no body except myself was on the water to start with.



Snowy Morning Crossing

Gail Ferris


(weather forecasts, wind conditions, direction, temperature, snow, fetch, paddle leash, helm control, swimming, decisions, safety margins, comfort level, commuting, entrapment )

I listened as I always do to the forecast one evening, which did not seem too particularly threatening as I weighed my options.  The weather forecast reported that the weather was to be an overcast evening with temperatures in the twenties and snow starting in the early hours of the morning.  For me, as a kayak commuter, the most critical part of the forecast was the winds, which were expected to be from the northeast at ten to twenty knots but to increase during the next day to fifteen to twenty knots from the east.  This implied that some higher gusts might be expected with small craft warnings to be issued.

From my experience I considered some of the key factors for wave height is fetch and length of time and since my destination had less than a mile fetch to the north and east whereas to the southwest the Long Island Sound fetch was twenty eight miles, I knew that the waves would not be of threatening height.   Also, I knew that I might have had some protection from such a short fetch by the relative rise in the land when the wind blew from to the north and east.  Certainly in this short a distance, the height of the waves would not reflect the true strength of wind from these directions so once again as I decided to commit myself, I had some of those foreboding apprehensive feelings, which made me ask myself as I prepared to get underway "do I really know what I are be getting into?"

From past experience, when the wind on land doesn't seem that powerful, as a last resort I have found that I can access the strength of the wind as I carry my kayak to the water's edge. 

If the wind nearly carries me and my kayak off, giving me a difficult time handing my kayak on land put it in position just for the launch, then I know that I must prepare for the possibility what some strong gusts can do. 

I make sure that I have no error or distractions to contend with so that I can devote my entire focus on staying upright and under control in this wind.  I make sure that all my cargo is not only properly stowed but tied into the kayak that there are no loose lines to become entangled with.   Just as I am about to get underway I very assiduously check my options for what protection and what obstructions might affect my launching.  Getting tangled up in pilings or forced into a wall by some good wind so that I can't get moving can make maneuvering the kayak very difficult.  Then I put on my spray skirt making sure that it is on properly and firmly, assist myself in maintaining and controlling the helm and headway I put my rudder down and if I have a skeg put that down and adjust it as necessary.  Then finally and most importantly I choose the paddle with sufficient surface area to handle strong wind and made sure that my pogies were protecting my hands sufficiently. 

Because I know what it feels like to be out there in wind that tries to rip the paddle out of my hands, I secured my paddle to the kayak by tying it with the polypropylene painter on the bow.  With that if I go out of the boat the kayak and paddle are together and I am free to rescue myself without the complication of a feathered paddle that the wind can exert tremendous pressure on, which is attached to my wrist.  Among the possibilities of things that may go wrong in chaotic conditions, loosing my paddle to the wind is the least desirable fate I wish to experience.

To make matters worse not only was the wind blowing 20 knots, it was snowing heavily as I disembarked from the protected shore I very seriously thought about my attempt in making this crossing that I did not want to go for a swim in the snowstorm on Long Island Sound.  Was it worth making this crossing just for going to work I wondered, as I carefully felt and evaluated the strength of the wind once I passed into the open water from the protection of the pier.  I knew how easy it is to trick oneself into thinking that conditions are not as threatening as they actually are.  How close the opposite shore seems until the moment suddenly arrives when the horrified paddler realizes, all too late, that things are out of control.  In a thick snow storm in the dark of predawn winter morning for the solitary paddler the most candid judgment is necessary.


Paddling into the driving snow was difficult because the wind drove the snow like very painful little missiles into my eyes when I looked across the bay at my destination.  My hat and swim hat had only a small visor offered little protection as the snow plastered itself onto my face causing increasingly intense pain from its' coldness.  Now I wished that I had worn my neoprene diving hood and a baseball cap as a better defense against the driving snow.

I had to frequently look straight ahead to check my direction because of the offsetting currents in this area.  The wind was not much more that fifteen knots but the discomfort and visual problems caused by the driving snow were disconcerting. I began to wonder how much of this discomfort I could really take and would I get across before this piercingly cold driving snow became too much for me.

And so as usual by the time I had made my way across the harbor conditions abated.  I was most happy that they were no worse than what I found.




Winter; Cold Weather and Evening Clothing

Gail Ferris


(night, insulation, fabrics, drysuit, booties, pogies, foam, paddle shaft)

Since I can't stand the idea of having to stop paddling once the cold of winter sets in, I have decided to figure out how to feel warm in cold temperatures especially on winter nights.  How to stay warmer longer is perfectly possible with both traditional and modern.  For me there is no fun in being cold.

Anyone who has tested the drysuit and compared it to neoprene will tell you that the dry suit was a very important piece of paddling equipment, not only for enjoying sea kayaking but also were you are very concerned with prevention of hypothermia and safety. 

The advantage, which the dry suit has, when compared to neoprene wet suits, is that the dry suit is easier to put on, less restrictive being much easier to move your arms for those countless paddling strokes, and will keep the immersed paddler warmer than a wet suit, provided the integrity of the waterproof seals has been maintained.

For we who paddle alone, the dry suit and neoprene hood reduces the possibility of hypothermia but even more threatening the much more commonly fatal danger of cold shock because cold shock is completely incapacitating.

From prehistoric times dry suits have been used by kayak paddlers in the Arctic.  Also there are full dry suits created of walrus intestines for umiaq rowing and paddling and for rain clothing in Arctic regions. 

However here in this day and age when I talk to most open water scullers they cannot imagine and do not want to entertain the reality that rowing during the winter is taking a completely unnecessary risk.  “Oh that doesn’t exist” or “it is too expensive.”

For a mere six or seven hundred dollars a proper fitting dry suit is available manufactured by Ocean Systems sold by CMC Rescue via Better Products through Daniel Meloche at Better Products at 1-800-423-0686.

Danial Meloche teaches ice water rescue in Massachusetts.  He teaches survival technique of just at the moment the rescuer or boater is hitting the water with his face dry drowning can be reduced by covering his mouth and nose with his hand, something I did not know before.

Frank Penna of Stony Creek who like myself likes to be on the water in challenging conditions has found this resource.  Frank likes to row sliding seat in 30+ knots of wind anytime throughout the year.  Believe me his carbon fiber sculls get a full work out.

This suit in bright orange is designed as para-jumper rescue surface diving swimming in ice water rescue conditions.  The maximum flexibility in this suit by gussets on the arms and legs.  Front entry dry zipper and relief zipper neoprene over long life latex seals, and with Cordura nylon reinforcements for slip and wear resistance on wear points.

The important reason for Cordura reinforcement being necessary is because ice especially frazzle or skim ice is razor sharp.  Any ice can have sharp areas on it.

I saw a jagged chunk of ice riddled with sharp cutting edges pop up to the surface just inches from my kayak when I least expected it.  A very threatening moment for me.

For myself this is a huge break though to find that there really is a suit designed to accommodate the full range of flexibility a sliding seat rower must have.

$600.00 is hardly any money for cold water safety when cold water boating is a passion.

Although the neoprene wet suit will give the immersed paddler some time before hypothermia sets in, the dry suit will keep the paddler comfortably warm for a long time.  S.C.U.B.A. divers in my area on the coast of Connecticut switch from neoprene wet suits to dry suits in November.

When there is no sunlight I will quickly feel how adequate my layers of insulation are, especially if I have built up a sweat, which has begun to condense.  For several years I wore a combination of thin layers of polypropylene and a heavy wool sweater beneath my dry suit.  After I read Will Steiger's North to the Pole, in which he described the extreme conditions he had to dress for, which ranged from extreme cold to large amounts of hard work, I switched to his recommendation of thin layers polyethylene fiber underwear such as "Thermax" which I find to be excellent especially when worn next to the skin.  I wear as many thin layers as I feel necessary at the time.  The outer upper layer of a Lands End bulky wool sweater for the torso and arms works well.

I will probably find as I do that its just that the initial moment of leaving the warm sanctuary of my house and loading the boat on the car when it is bitter cold that is going to be the most difficult for me.

I found that my feet become quite numb at temperatures below 20 degrees F. unless I wear booties, which are specifically designed with tight ankle seals to stay completely dry in combination with "Thermax" socks or I can wear Teflon lined socks such as Seaskinz or Gore-Tex oversocks as liners inside my latex drysuit leg seals. 

The best solution was recommended by Ken Fink.  Gore-Tex socks can be added to the bottom of your drysuit to replace your latex gaskets.  I have found that these socks are just the best and they are amazingly tough.  In Upernavik I was forced to walk a few steps on sharp granite on my goretex socks.  No damage was sustained even though the socks were wet on the outside and I had to lift my heavy kayak.

My feet were dry and comfortable throughout my kayak paddling all day long for ten to twelve hours at a stretch in Upernavik. 

Nothing like trying to carry a kayak up an icy beach with numb feet.

The most critical part of paddling in the cold is maintaining warm hands.  On the water hands become not only cold but can easily become completely useless and then the next question is how can I rewarm my hands this can be difficult. 

Pogies with fabric liners do not work for me.  Especially if this type of pogies become wet at night you will not be able to rewarm your hands.  My pogies always become wet and I cannot imagine paddling without dunking my paddle shaft pogie and all into the water at some moment while I am on the water.  Dry pogies mean sterile paddling to me, not exactly realistic for my method.

This problem can be resolved by making or buying foam filled gauntlets, which are attached to the paddle tightly enough to not let to wind penetrate but are of a fabric such as Nylon pack cloth, which will be slippery enough to not impede paddle rotation.  The best design for these gauntlets is to have them designed and sewn to always stay open so that I can easily thrust my hand into them at any time.  I should chose to fill the nylon shell with a sheet of closed cell foam packing material, because it is usually likely that I might dunk them in the water at sometime during paddling.  The critically important, safety margin of these gauntlets is that these foam lined gauntlets will warm my numb hands in six paddle strokes even when everything is wet and iced. 

Stoquist now is offering a similar gauntlet with Velcro closures.  I have added to my gauntlet Velcro closures that open and close along the paddle shaft with elastic sewn into the edges that encompass the paddle shaft.  These work best because they can be vented when my hands become too warm on a bright sunny day. 

I prefer for security to have my bear hands in direct contact with the paddle shaft however a hollow fiberglass paddle shaft certainly does conduct cold very well. 

I have found it important to I packed the shafts of take-a-part paddles with some form of Styrofoam. This non absorbent foam not only makes the two piece paddle shaft feel warmer.  Equally important this additional foam floatation insures that the paddle will always float even if it is separated into two sections.

I wear wool gloves with rubber nubbins for handing my kayak in snowy conditions.

Gail E. Ferris,

1 Bowhay Hill,

Branford, CT 06405


phone 1 203 481-4539 E-mail:, Northern Kayak Horizons - the water and the ice are never the same.