Upper James River Water Trail

Ferries

By Ken Whiting

Ferrying is the act of moving from one side of the river to the other with minimal downstream drift and like the eddy turn, it is a fundamental river running skill. It is accomplished by paddling your kayak on an angle somewhere between directly upstream and perpendicular to the main current in the direction that you want to move. Although every situation will require a slightly different approach, we're going to look at a ferrying technique that can be adapted to fit any situation.

The idea behind the ferry is quite simple. To move across current you can't simply point your kayak to your end destination and paddle as if you were in flatwater, because the main current will pull you downstream. You need to angle your kayak upstream enough so that your strokes work to counterbalance this downstream pull. With experience, you'll learn what boat angle is most effective for the various situations that you come across. As a general rule, the more upstream angle you have (the closer you are to pointing directly upstream), the slower you'll move laterally and the more your paddle strokes will be working to keep you from drifting downstream. On the other hand, the less upstream angle that you have (the closer you are to pointing directly across the main current), the more quickly you'll move across the river and the less your strokes will be working to keep you from drifting downstream.

To start, you need to come up with an action plan, which is again determined by your end goal and by the power and character of the currents you're dealing with. To keep things simple, we'll consider ferrying from one eddy to another across fairly mild and wide current that has no significant obstacles to contend with. Your goal is to reach the eddy on the other side of the river. The success of your ferry will rely heavily on your set up position and angle. You'll also need to break through the eddy line in control, maintain an effective ferry angle, hold a steady downstream tilt on your boat as you ferry and successfully break through the eddy line into your destination eddy. We'll now look a bit more closely at how you'll accomplish these things.

The most important part of your ferry is your entry into the main current. The key to ferrying is converting the upstream momentum you establish on your approach into lateral momentum as you cross the eddy line. This means that the less upstream angle you can get away with using, the better off your ferry will be. If you have too much upstream angle, you'll fight the main current more than is necessary. For the scenario we're considering, your set up and approach will be very similar to an eddy turn, although you might decide to approach with a little more upstream angle.

Starting near the middle of the eddy where you'll experience a minimal amount of drift, aim high on the eddy line (near its source) and build up some forward speed. As you cross the eddy line, establish a small amount of turning momentum towards the main current with a small stern draw on the upstream side. This turning momentum helps you break through the eddy line and convert your forward speed into lateral momentum.

Continuing just as you would with a peel-out, tilt your kayak on its downstream edge, and use a power stroke to pull yourself completely across the eddy line. This power stroke will also be responsible for establishing your ferry angle by preventing the main current from turning your boat downstream. This means that the power stroke you use for the ferry may not be quite as vertical as the power stroke you used for the eddy turn, because in the ferry you need this stroke to provide some turning power. Be careful that your power stroke doesn't provide too much turning power, as this would angle your kayak too far upstream or even back toward the eddy.

Now that you're in the main current with a good angle on your kayak, you're well on your way. At this point, your job is to maintain your ferry angle and your forward speed while holding a steady downstream tilt on your kayak that prevents your upstream edge from catching. The scenario we are considering involves a wide section of river, so you need to keep paddling your way across the current while balancing your boat on edge. As you do this, keep glancing at your target. Keeping track of your destination will let you know of any adjustments you need to make to your ferry angle along the way. If you find yourself moving upstream of the destination eddy, this means you have too much upstream angle and you must ease it off a little. If you're drifting downstream of the eddy, this means you need to use a more aggressive upstream angle that fights the current more (turn the kayak more upstream).

As you get closer to your destination eddy, you have to make plans for punching through the eddy line and deep into the eddy. Do this using a version of the eddy turn technique that we covered earlier. To minimize your drift downstream, you'll ferry until you get fairly close to the eddy line. You'll then sweep your bow downstream and punch through the eddy line and into the eddy, pulling yourself completely across with a power stroke. Recall that you want to break through the eddy line on a forty-five-degree downstream angle with forward speed. You also have to remember to switch your boat tilt as you cross the eddy line to carve into the eddy and prevent your outside edge from catching. The temptation is there to just ferry right into the eddy, which may work in some situations, but in others you may not have enough lateral momentum to break completely through the eddy line. You'll then get stuck on the swirliest, most unstable water on the river, which becomes less and less of a good thing as the whitewater you paddle gets harder.


Ken Whiting was the 1997/98 World Whitewater Freestyle Champion. He has produced an award-winning series of instructional kayaking books and DVDs, and leads kayaking trips to Chile. Look for his latest book 'The Ultimate Guide to Whitewater Kayaking', and video 'The Ultimate Guide to Sea Kayaking'. Check out www.helipress.com

You can find Ken's book, 'The Ultimate Guide to Whitewater Kayaking' and the DVDs, 'Whitewater Kayaking with Ken Whiting' and 'Ultimate Guide to Sea Kayaking' in the Paddling.net Store!

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