Some years back I was rowing in a race with my good friend Bill Gribbel in his tandem wherry, DONOGHUE. She was a copy of a circa-1870 pulling boat found, restored, and documented by the late Westport, Massachusetts, boatbuilder and designer Bob Baker. The wind was up and for 4 miles we pulled into it, catching a bit of spray, and then it was around an island and down the home stretch. It should have made for a quick and exciting downwind run, but that’s when the fun stopped. With the stiff breeze on our quarter, we spent a lot of time pulling on one side to keep DONOGHUE on the right heading. Our trim was a bit bow-down, so the boat was constantly trying to turn upwind.Weathercocking is the tendency of rowing and paddling craft to veer up wind in a crosswind. The leeward bow is subject to increased pressure as the boat moves forward and the wind blows it downwind. The stern meets lower pressure, a result of the turbulence created by the boat’s passage through the water. The stern drifts downwind through this turbulent area faster than the bow does through undisturbed water, so the boat angles into the wind. Rowing or paddling harder only makes the problem worse.Many sea kayaks are equipped with a retractable skeg or a rudder that, when deployed, can mitigate the downwind drift of the stern and eliminate weathercocking. A boat without a retractable skeg or rudder can be loaded stern-heavy; the increased draft reaches below the turbulence to diminish the downwind drift. And, as the stern sinks, the bow rises, which lessens the water’s grip on the forefoot and increases the area acted upon by the wind. The result is a balanced downwind drift, without the bow turning into the wind.

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