agree, weight and skill
Posted by: CapeFear on Nov-15-12 2:57 PM (EST)
Ideally, it would be nice to put the stronger paddler in front, because they can use all that strength for forward propulsion. It would seem better to have the weaker paddler modifying their forward stroke and performing turning strokes. In a tandem, turning strokes are typically easily executed from the back, a bit in the same way that a stern mounted rudder puts pressure directly on the point of the kayak where the least amount of pressure would need to be applied to get it to turn - on the very end of the stern. The rear paddler obviously doesn't get to apply pressure directly to the end of the stern, but their contact point with the hull is still at a much more advantageous point than the center of the kayak.
In the real world, the stronger paddler is often heavier, but certainly not always the case. A heavier paddler up front often leads to needing much more directional control attention, and can also slow you down. So give it a try, and see how it handles. Make sure the wife understands that the stern paddler is pretty much 100% responsible for directional control. Make sure that it will work to have her making decisions about direction, that you can communicate it quite well if you're typically the one making directional decisions, and that you have the patience to allow her to rudder you around while you do all the paddling during a turn if necessary during the learning curve.
Folks often call tandems divorce boats. But in my experience, there only needs to be one skilled paddler. The skilled paddler controlling direction and turns is best as the stern paddler. The person in front can be sloppy, unskilled, a complete newbie, and a skilled stern paddler should result in no issues. An understanding and acceptance of this by newbies would avoid most arguments. I've switched places from my single to the stern of a tandem to demonstrate to a frustrated couple that there shouldn't be any arguing - the stern paddler needed to control the kayak. After demonstrating our ease of directional control, he stopped questioning the work of the front paddler, and directed all of his energy at the real source of the problem.
Beyond that, just remember that too much weight towards the bow does tend to create undue directional control issues. So don't sit a 200 lb bloke in front of a little 135 lb miss and expect miracles from her.