Why can’t we go straight while kayaking?

This video from NPR asks the question, why do we always go in circles.
The perennial beginner kayaking question, how do I get my kayak to go straight? This question may be partially answered by this fun, jazzy animated video that was distributed by NPR. The answer may be less than satisfying. We don’t know why, but everyone does go in a circle with no visual reference point.

So how does this effect kayakers?

The first part is easy, being able to paddle the kayak in a straight line is really important for a beginning kayaker, it helps develop a basic skill set that allows them to focus on a distant point and keep moving towards it.

The second part is way more complicated.

Being able to navigate off of a compass heading with little to no visual reference points and a chart becomes really important. Visualize being able to hit a small target at sea that you can’t see. You know that the target is an island that is 4 miles long at it’s widest point that you are trying to hit, luckily it is one long sandy beach. The island is at a compass heading of 100 degrees and at a distance of 8 miles. If you know your speed is four miles an hour, and you keep your compass bearing at 100 degrees, you should be able to hit the target in two hours of paddling.

That sounds easy.

Well now start factoring in, wind speed, current, and swell direction. You essentially have to start compensating by aiming to miss the target by an estimated degree factor in order to hit the target.

So if you have wind blowing @ 25 knots from 10 degrees, how does that factor? Consider you have current coming straight at you at 2 knots for 2 hours, and then speeding up to 4 knots for another two then slowing down to 2 knots again. Oh and don’t forget you have a swell coming from 220 8 feet at 15 second intervals, while not necessarily pushing you around it adds another dimension of disorientation. And to make it interesting this island no longer has one long sandy four mile beach, it has rocky cliffs with one small boat slip. So if you had to keep all this straight and herd a bunch of beginners to this aforementioned fictional island would everyone die? It is not only about your ability to fend for yourself, but about your ability to be unconsciously competent in these types of conditions.

This might be why the BCU 4 Star/5 Star awards are a bit harder to get these days.

Makes me want to brush up on my compass navigation.
Franco Ferrero's Kayak Navigation Book
If you haven’t read Franco Ferrero’s Sea Kayak Navigation Book, I highly recommend picking this book up. It offers very straightforward information about what can be a very intimidating topic to some people.

I don’t have anything in particular against David Burch’s book, but I did find Ferrero’s book a more simplistic and practical guide to navigation. Some of how Burch explains how to handle paddling against tide seemed overly complicated.