To rudder or not to rudder?

Heedless to any outrageous fortunes the typical British sea kayaker will make the nobler choice of going without: the Inuit fishermen from Greenland didn’t use rudders on their kayaks so why should we! A shift in weight to edge the kayak, some deft paddle strokes and a tweak on the skeg slider is all that’s needed to keep the kayak heading in the desired direction. Skeg!? Hmm… not really that traditional either, but at least it’s discreet. Us Brits like a bit of discretion.

I’ve never really considered a rudder before this trip. David, our team leader and without doubt the most skilled of the three of us, has been using a rudder since I first paddled with him. I think the main argument for using a rudder is that your energy isn’t wasted and all is used in driving the kayak forward. With long days on a multi-day expedition you really don’t want to be putting in more effort than is necessary. All serious expedition paddlers wouldn’t consider a rudderless boat for a big trip. Is a circumnavigation of Ireland a “big trip”? Freya Hoffmeister (probably the most serious expedition paddler of current times) said in her blog at the end of her 2016 trip round Ireland: “Ireland is one piece of a gem to paddle around, doable for low to moderate skill level – if you use your brain and watch the weather”. So maybe not such a big trip for her but, yes, for us it’s a “big trip”.

So with these thoughts in mind, and having already made the decision not to buy a new boat, at the end of last year I ordered all the kit required to fit a rather smart SmartTrack rudder:


It arrived a few months ago but still remains in its box. Why!? There’s no simple answer to this but lots of vague notions: apprehension about putting more holes in the boat, more faff, another thing to go wrong, will a bayonet fitting on a pointy stern really do the job, will my feet (in an already tight cockpit) have the room to steer efficiently, …

With just over four weeks to go I think my boat is going to remain rudderless. Will I regret it? Rounding a headland with a following sea as I struggle to get some sweep strokes in between the brace strokes will I be watching David glide effortlessly on into the sunset… at least I’ll have Rob for company 🙂

5 thoughts on “To rudder or not to rudder?

  1. Best wishes and good luck with the trip. Deffo on the rudder for all the reasons you mentioned 🛶😎


  2. You can always retrofit a rudder along the way if you have a change of heart.
    Paul Caffyn added a homemade over the stern version one to his Nordkapp about 1000 kms into his 1981/1982 circumnavigation of Australia .
    Good luck and enjoy the ride .


    1. Yes, like a Taran but not – a Tiderace Pace 17 paddled by Rob and provided by Tiderace. Dave is in a C-Trek 18, designed by Rob Feloy for Sean Morley’s round UK trip in the 90s. Dave’s is a new carbon-Kevlar one made by Kirton. Mine is a much used and abused Northshore Ocean 17.


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