Of all of nature’s elements wind is probably the one that most often effects us as paddlers. Living in a coastal environment means lots of interaction between land, air, and water. The dramatic differences between the temperatures of the ocean, bay, and land leads to one constant – wind!
On sunny days in the summer the land heats up much more quickly than the water. As that hot air rises, the cooler air over the ocean is sucked into the void left by the rising hot air. This is called a sea breeze, and in our area the predominant direction is from the south. This sea breeze can easily reach speeds of 25 – 30 mph over open areas of water on the bays.
One of the most important elements with wind that effects us as paddlers is a term called “fetch”. No this doesn’t have to do with dogs! What it does have to do with is the velocity of and effects of wind. Fetch is the distance wind travels unobstructed. Or you could look at it as the distance wind travels across the water. What’s important to us as paddlers is that the greater the fetch the stronger the wind and the rougher the water.
To give an example, if we had a 30 mph east wind blowing off the ocean and you were standing on Coastal Kayak’s bay front shoreline looking west, the water would look calm and placid and you might not even know that there is much wind at all. That is until you started paddling west, away from the protection of the shore. The farther you got from the shore, the more wind you would feel and the rougher the conditions would get. Although it was clam and smooth on our shoreline, the far shoreline would have strong winds and breaking waves all because of the greater fetch.
Typically as paddlers it’s good to seek out areas with little fetch so that we don’t spend most of our time fighting the wind. On south wind days, we want to paddle on the north side of land masses so that we can avoid any areas of great fetch. That is called being in the lee of the windward shore.
Learning to read the wind will dramatically improve your paddling experiences. On our Burton’s Island tour, we have multiple routes that we take mostly to minimize fetch and make it a more enjoyable trip. On our Cypress and Woodland tours we are surrounded by trees so there is almost no fetch and therefore the wind has very little effect on paddlers.
In my next article I will explain how wind effects your kayak as it hits you from different angles and I promise that you will be surprised! I’ll also talk about strategies of how to deal with the wind and its effects on your paddling.
by Mitch Mitchell
L4 Open Water Instructor Trainer
L2 SUP Instructor Trainer