Paddling in Current, the Smart Way

When it comes to paddling, going in a straight line isn't always the easiest way to get there. In the photo below many choose to paddle from the 'L' Launch in a straight line to West Point by the 'X'. On an outgoing tide and/or strong southerly wind, the water moves north to the top of the image. When water hits the point it refracts or turns towards the shore and curves around and heads back toward the point. This recirculation of water is called an eddy, which are common on rivers and tidal rapids behind rocks or sharp bends.

Some call bay wide eddies such as this one a gyro. In this case, the easiest path to the point is along the shore with the current pushing behind you. Take the outgoing current back to your launch point. I've seen paddlers struggling to paddle directly to the point against the current making little if any headway. In summer sailboats racing use the current in the eddy to get to the point when there is little wind.

Current in eddies or gyros can in some locations be too strong to paddle against or may push paddlers away from their intended destination. NW kayaker Joel Rogers described his experience of struggling against strong current in a huge gyro in Admiralty Inlet in his book Water Trail. The inlet is a 4 mile wide channel separating the Olympic Peninsula from Whidbey Island in Washington State.

Before setting out check a tide table and in some places where current runs fast, check a current table. Both are available online. Navigational charts often have arrows showing current direction and speed in knots. Check your local weather and wind speed prior to departure. Wind and tidal current running in the same direction will build stronger eddy current which can be good if it's in your favor or not if you end up 'bucking' or paddling against the current.

2nd Photo below, a gyro (top of frame) below Deception Pass, a tidal rapid in Washington State.