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Bracing ... It Really Works

Sailors are such wimps.

We whine about heeling forces and reefing then we tie ourselves to the boat and wear a PFD besides. We worry about falling out of a perfectly good craft and then being unable to get back aboard because a specially made, firmly anchored boarding ladder is not available. We need special mast raising devices and trailer tongue extensions and big, burly tow vehicles.


You want to see some real he-men and she-women, check out your local canoeing club. (We won't talk about kayakers but have you noticed how kayaking took off in popularity only after funding was cut for residential mental illness programs? Hmmmm....) These folks haul around their boats ON THEIR HEADS then they launch them with a heave, jump in and take off UNDER THEIR OWN POWER. No waiting for wind or firing up the outboard. No talking about "self reliance" while sipping wine and eating brie when sitting in the warm and cosy cockpit or even cabin! No sireee, canoeists are the real hardcore boaters who fear nothing and take whatever Ma Nature can throw at them.

I am not a canoeist.

Last night's lesson in the swimming pool was something called "bracing". Given my extensive nautical background, I knew there was no need to listen in class as they explained about leaning this way and twisting that way and doing everything VERY QUICKLY. I am a big sailor, used to big boats with big keels. Initial stability is my friend. Did you know that the so-called keels on canoes don't keep them upright? I do.

I boarded the canoe and went swimming VERY QUICKLY. Almost simultaneously really. Unfortunately, I don't know how to swim. Fortunately, I learned VERY QUICKLY!

After dog paddling (I have a dog, I had a paddle so ...) over to the side of the pool one of the instructors asked what I thought I was doing.

"Get back in the boat!" he suggested.

"That's why I'm climbing out the pool Bucky," I replied.

"Get back in the boat now, from the water! Just do what we showed you in class."


"Slide your boat over your partner's, wait for it to empty, flip it back over, grab the far gunwale and lever yourself in." v A real comedian, this guy.

Being the he-man I am and given that the closest rescuer was a nubile young lass, I valiantly attempted the impossible. The problem with nubile young lasses is that they can see your pathetic middle aged attempt at water acrobatics and react appropriately. Usually with great heaves of laughter. I used to make women laugh with my wit. Now they laugh at my body. Wait a minute, that didn't come out right. Well, more on that in a moment.

One of the instructors finally landed me like a bloated cod. I rolled over in relief and promptly went swimming once again. Where are those Volvo stability control engineers when you need them? Don't the Swedes canoe????

The instructor lauded my accomplishments. He told the class I was providing an excellent, that's right EXCELLENT, example of how NOT to brace and how to um... underperform... at self rescue. Yes, he said excellent.

Of course I knew the source of my stability issues. The internet. You see, I have extensively researched many models and brands of canoes. I know pretty much everything there is to know about all the available boats. I'll tell you so you can know too. Every canoe can be, and is, described by manufacturers as:

"Stable but responsive. Tracks well on open water and turns nimbly in whitewater. Dry with surprisingly low freeboard. Light enough to carry in one hand yet sturdy enough to handle Class VI collisions with rocks. Roomy enough to carry a paddler, his large family, various pets, fourteen weeks of camping supplies and a grand piano. Handles outboards up to 400 horsepower. Loads easily on any cartop. Excellent boat for all conditions, any activities and paddlers ranging from raw beginners to Olympic racers. Requires no maintenance and looks like a museum piece."

The lie obviously begins with the first word. On the off chance that the manufacturer of the boat I was falling out off had stretched the truth a bit, I tried another. The new craft looked promising as it was short, round and had freeboard like it was going out of style. The instructor said it was a "whitewater boat" and as I had been frothing up the pool quite a bit already, I figured it was a good choice for me. After all, if you're going to head down through the rapids, you must want a stable canoe, right?

Have you ever seen a lumberjack log-rolling contest? I went swimming again. And again. And one more time. I'm not a lumberjack.

All this frolicking was fun but I admit to getting a bit winded what with all the necessary crawling back into these obviously unseaworthy vessels. Why don't they put boarding ladders on the stupid boats????

The nubile lass came over once again to rescue me and after three unsuccessful attempts she suggested I climb out of the pool and take a rest for awhile. She was concerned I might overstress my heart. With the prospect of mouth to mouth resuscitation so close, I decided to give one final, magnificent heave.

The women were awed and the men dismayed as I landed right side up in the canoe while my shorts floated gleefully towards the deep end of the pool. Before anyone could say "That's not a paddle, that's a sculling oar!" I retrieved my attire by rolling back over and out.

Picking up a pattern here?

Finally, an instructor came over to help me figure out this bracing nonsense. He started tipping the boat to and fro while I flailed around and landed good paddle slaps on everyone within six feet. Finally, the boat went over (bet you didn't see that coming!) but I neglected to fall out.

Success! But at what cost? I was still in the boat but the boat was oriented a bit oddly. Upside down in fact. I looked around a bit but there were no pretty fish to watch so I panicked instead. That's probably not the best thing to do while submerged but I did it anyway just for the experience.

A good ten or twenty minutes later I surfaced in time to catch someone saying "... not supposed to HOLD him under!" Don't know what that was all about.

Never one to give up, especially after knocking my noggin a few times on nearby boats and pool-sides, I gamely got back in and started working on my braces.

The instructor suggested that I actually tie myself into the boat with these dangerous looking thigh straps. Although it didn't seem like a very good idea given the trouble I'd had falling out of a boat I wasn't even strapped into, the instructor assured me this was the right thing to do. I think he may have had an ulterior motive.

Firmly strapped in by my manly thighs, I found that I wasn't so much sitting in the boat as WEARING it. This proved incredibly efficient when it came time to twist my sexy hips as the whole boat danced with me.

By gum, this bracing thing works! I raised my arms in triumph and promptly turned turtle.

Several hours later as I dripped my way home, I realized the true benefit of being a two sport star. When a sailor puts training wheels on his canoe, he calls them amas on a trimaran and swears they are there to help him achieve double digit speeds.

Submitted by Tom Parrent - Woodstock, IL

For more great stories: See the Archive!

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