HOW TO CANOE*
* An excerpt from: Enjoying the Upper Meramec: a guide for floaters
with basic canoe techniques described. Editorial committee: Jim Jackson,
Sandy Primm, Carol Springer. 1980 The Kansas City Star Co.
(Reprinted by permission of Carol Springer).
canoe moving downstream is easy on the streams of the upper Meramec
region. You just have to keep the boat pointed in the way you want
to go, and let the river do the work. Yet, experience has shown this
is not as simple as it appears.
The trick is to get a good start: make sure that the person sitting
in the front has enough leg room. (Last summer a friend of ours spent
her first float paddling the bow position in a reversed canoe. She
had 4 inches of leg room for the trip, and not a very good time.)
Generally the person in the front paddles straight forward and the
one in the stern also provides forward oomph, but is responsible for
steering and not tipping.
We might as well face one big issue right off - keeping the canoe
steered property can be a source of friction in relationships, platonic
or otherwise. Floating can be as challenging as hanging wallpaper.
While each couple will have to figure their own way of getting downstream,
we suggest that the person in the back worry about the steering and
the bow paddler try to provide gentle reminders that a rock or whatever
is dead ahead. The bow person makes the best lookout.
The forward stroke is the same for both bow and stern paddlers. Of
course there's all kinds of fancy techniques you can learn, but you
should know that the upper hand on the paddle grips the handle on
top, and does not hold the thing like it was a golf club. The lower
arm, holding the paddle's throat - does most of the work, so you might
switch paddling sides once in a while to keep both arms evenly exercised.
To turn the canoe, the stern paddler can do one of two things. He
or she can do a forward sweep stroke which will turn the canoe toward
the side opposite you're paddling on. To do this stroke, you reach
the paddle out in front, but instead of pulling it down alongside
the canoe, you reach out the blade in the water, making a 'C' shape
as if stirring a huge kettle of apple butter. Pull the paddle in as
far behind you as you stuck it out in front, then lift it out and
do another if necessary.
AND REVERSE SWEEP VIDEO
A quicker way of turning is the reverse sweep. It is based on that
same ‘C’ shape in the water, but do it backwards, so the paddle is
moved toward the bow. The stroke, if done with a fair amount of force,
is usually so powerful that it's necessary to do only
halfway. Just take the paddle out of the water when your arm holding
the throat of the paddle is fully extended in the middle of the stroke.
It's best to use these reverse sweeps when a quick turn is necessary.
Even on straight stretches of river, keeping the canoe going straight
isn't a simple matter. The easiest way to go straight is for the two
floaters to have their paddles on opposite sides of the canoe and
both paddle straight ahead. If you just paddle
like that, the canoe ends up going off to one side, right? Okay, to
prevent this, the stern person should do the 'J' stroke every second
or third stroke. This is probably the trickiest stroke to pick up:
you do about three-quarters of a normal stroke, then instead of bringing
the paddle straight back, you give the blade a one-quarter turn outward
to put a tiny reverse sweep on the end of the stroke. That makes the
hook of the 'J'. It'll take a bit of practice to get this one. If
you are too frustrated and can't seem to see how the 'J' stroke works,
you can always both switch paddling sides every five or six strokes.
But that's a hassle.
"J" STROKE VIDEO
The only other stroke the sternperson must know is the backwater.
It's simply paddling backwards. It will stop you, but not on a dime.
So if you do have to stop, it may be best to hop out
- making sure the water's not too deep - and hold onto the pointer
(the line tied to the stern or bow) so the canoe doesn't go off without
The one special stroke the bow person should know is the 'draw stroke'
or 'pull-to'. Both names describe it well: you stick the paddle deep
in the water as for out directly opposite from you as you can.
Then pull it in, mainly with the lower arm, to you.
The draw stroke takes you towards the side you do it on. You'll need
to do left or right draws when rocks or riffles or trees come up.
The stroke moves the bow over quickly but does not turn the stern
as well, so the person in back had best be ready to also do a draw
stroke, or a sweep, when the person in the bow finds it necessary
to do this maneuvering.
How to Paddle a River Raft
The best way to float in
a raft is simply to keep it steered onto the current or channel (moving
water) and let the current do most of the work. But some paddling
is always necessary, in the slower, wider, deeper eddy's even a slight
headwind can halt your forward progress. Paddling a raft can be a
very frustrating experience, especially if only one person is paddling,
from the stern position, because no matter what stroke you employ,
the raft wants to "spin" or turn sharply in the opposite
direction of the side you stroked. This occurs because the raft bottom
is flat with no keel shape built-in as in canoes or kayaks (the "keel"
is a longitudinal beam on the hull of a vessel that extends vertically
into the water to provide lateral stability). The best position for
one person to paddle a raft is from the front, sit right on the bow
facing forward (let your feet dangle in the water). Strokes made from
the bow position tend to "pull" rather than "push"
the raft along, which minimizes the "spin" effect. Two or
more paddlers on opposite sides of the raft will propel the vessel
along nicely, but the "spin" effect can still be a problem
if the strokes aren't synchronized well. The paddlers need to make
their strokes simultaneously with similar speed and power.