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  A CJ false dichotomy
  Posted by: Glenn_MacGrady on Jan-29-14 9:57 AM (EST)

On more than one aspect.

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  situational awareness
  Posted by: CapeFear on Jan-29-14 12:39 PM (EST)
A nice article to point out the importance of giving situational awareness the priority over generalized items learned in a class. Your watercraft, your skill level, your strength, all part of situational awareness, along with the on-water situation. I think a good instructor recognizes there aren't a lot of absolutes, and the author seems to feel people are being taught "rules" that shouldn't be considered "rules" based on varying situations. I wouldn't know whether or not this impression would be based in fact.
I'm a coastal kayaker, and not a river-running canoer, so I can't speak to this subject specifically. I've done some minimal river-running in whitewater kayaks, so I can appreciate the difference between spinning a whitewater kayak and a long-keeled displacement hull, and what that might mean in tight situations to paddlers at different skill levels.
I can also appreciate how differently I interpret suggestions from someone regarding a situation I'm experienced in, vs. how a less experienced person interprets those suggestions. The less experienced, whether paddler or instructor, the more things seem to be interpreted as rules. And it can start to sound oversimplified, to the point of silly, to someone with a lot of experience.
Sounds a lot like one of those situations. Backferrying thought of as an act of desperation, and not emphasized as a skill deserving solid focus, by paddlers, instructors, one or the other, or both.
"This scenario has repeated itself so many times on my canoe trips that I feel the need to speak out."
I don't know that he's suggesting some overblown dichotomy between expeditioners and playboaters so much as suggesting different craft at different skill levels would be best served by different adaptations.
Maybe others, especially those experienced in whitewater rivers, have a different take?
  Yeah, I saw that one earlier
  Posted by: pblanc on Jan-29-14 12:40 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jan-29-14 12:52 PM EST --

Well, as usual, Cliff has a point to make and he characteristically overstates it.

The obvious best answer to the question is not either "A" or "B" but first "A" then "B".

In my mind the best way to learn how to safely negotiate rapids in a loaded tandem canoe would not be on-the-job training by watching someone "model" the maneuver on your first trip down a wild Canadian river, paddling a laden boat with no flotation, where your well-being depended on your boat and gear and your ability to correctly execute the maneuver "right now".

The best way to master any whitewater maneuver is in a safe environment on reasonably warm water starting out with an unloaded boat with plenty of flotation.

The valid point that Cliff does have is that teaching side slips or back ferries has been largely abandoned by many (not all) whitewater open boat instructors in favor of more "pro-active" techniques. In fact, with today's very short (and slow) whitewater boats, even stern correction strokes like stern pries, draws, and rudders are being denounced as "paddle dragging" and are being supplanted by a "cab-forward" technique of "driving" the boat from the front in which nearly all directional control is done from the bow quadrants.

The other valid point CJ makes is that what works very well for an unloaded solo whitewater OC-1 less than 10 feet in length may not work for a heavy tandem boat. It can be difficult to stick small or even medium sized eddies in a heavily laden tandem because due to their sheer mass they can develop so much momentum. A tandem team can hit a smaller eddy high with a perfect angle and the boat may turn upstream but then just continue backwards out of the eddy.

I agree that in this setting the ability to slow downstream momentum and allow more time to set a line can be very useful, but it is a technique that does not often come instinctively, I find. I have heard downstream ferries talked about by this author and on this forum as if they were a piece of cake, and consisted of not much more than back paddling. While that might be true in gentle current, it is certainly not necessarily the case in strong current. I have seen plenty of paddlers trying to execute a back ferry lose their angle and have the stern of the boat blown downstream. This is often much worse than losing your angle during an attempt at an upstream ferry and having the bow blown downstream, because in the case of the blown forward ferry you at least wind up facing downstream and not going down the rapid backwards.

In any ferry executed by a tandem team it is the responsibility of the downstream paddler to set and control the ferry angle. For a forward (upstream) ferry that is the stern paddler. For a back (downstream) ferry that is the bow paddler. That is a tricky job for the bow paddler because he (or she) must generally be looking both downstream (for obstructions) and back upstream to judge the ferry angle. The ability to judge the correct angle while looking forward at only a few feet of boat is an acquired skill. And many people (myself included) tend to be foiled by a sort of "directional dyslexia" trying to execute an maneuver in which the boat is moving downstream and they are looking back upstream, at least until they have practiced it a bunch. The bottom line is that back ferries can fall apart real quickly when the bow paddler is the less experienced member of the team (as is often the case).

Boat trim is also a critical issue for ferries in strong current and it is not uncommon to see tandem tripping boats trimmed somewhat bow light/stern heavy to keep waves from breaking over the bow. Back ferries in a boat trimmed stern heavy can be very difficult to control.

I would also argue that tandem teams skilled enough to control a back ferry in heavy current are many times going to have enough skill to spin even a big tandem upstream for a forward ferry. With an experienced paddler executing good form strokes at each end of the canoe, even a long boat can be pivoted pretty quickly.

  Don't agree with title or conclusions
  Posted by: suiram on Jan-29-14 1:50 PM (EST)
A quote I heard at a eulogy - "he showed why knowing more than one kayaking stroke makes going down the river fun"

This is not an issue of teaching of pro-active/non-pro-active paddling, but a perfect example of lacking skills and experience to effectively respond in a fluid environment.
In my experience, the best way to practice a skill is repeat it until it becomes second nature, until there is no conscious effort for application. A controlled environment of park-and-play rapid is the place to learn most of ww stuff.

Just another example of author's "holier than though" approach.

  It wasn't most ww stuff he was alluding
  Posted by: spiritboat on Jan-29-14 2:29 PM (EST)
to...It was a run with no place to eddy-out. I think all he was getting at, was backferrying as the conservative approach to negotiate an unknown-unscouted rapid--Hugging the safest route, avoiding the faster channels. Especially in longer tripping boats.

The wild has thrown stuff at me, I never learnt or even saw in any ww class or park...And since I'm usually in a long kayak as opposed to a canoe, I might've been swimming with those Texans meself. The article's a good reminder: Negotiating a bus down a tight city alley, differs from negotiating VW bug down that same alley...Actual combat on the field, differs from all the battle training in the world, even if practicing with live ammo.
  I think all-or-none interpretations...
  Posted by: Guideboatguy on Jan-29-14 2:25 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jan-29-14 2:38 PM EST --

... are not just a problem created by writers, but by readers too. It's not JUST a matter of C.J. being "holier than thou", but also a matter that some readers won't even see certain nuggets of undeniable truth on account of their knee-jerk reaction to the overall tone. Yes, C.J. can be pretty opinionated, but in-person he's actually more open to "compromise" than many people are aware. Also, any article that's required to be extremely short is going to seem even more strongly worded than the author would naturally make it if given more leeway (however, all of Cliff's venues, whether book, article, or presentation, are set up as VERY brief statements, and therein lies a lot of the problem for both he and the readers/listeners). I notice that one person here, who I know personally to be an expert paddler and a very clear-thinking person (Pete), had no trouble at all separating the good information from that which came off as being over-stated, and he was able to put in context some ideas on both sides of the argument that are not, in real life, always black and white. So the reader's approach really does matter, and I think a less-experienced paddler who's logical in their ways can be flexible in how they interpret what others say about such very specific situations.

  This is CJ's job!
  Posted by: pknoerr on Jan-29-14 2:52 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jan-29-14 2:55 PM EST --

CJ is in the business of selling his books and articles as well as his guide service to support his canoe adventures. Just like TV meteorologists exagerate the polar vortex and Entertainment Tonight pontificates about Justin Bieber, CJ has to do his schtick.

I've done wilderness whitewater trips in Canada, I've taken whitewater courses, and I've eaten it in rapids trying to do maneuvers that didn't work. The reality is that people have been getting trashed on whitewater in the North American wilderness for decades. I hardly think that of the handful of people who take a whitewater canoeing class in preparation for a whitewater wilderness trip, is enough to amount to a problem. Sure there are people who will get themselves into predicaments thinking that "cab forward" style whitewater canoe techniques are applicable to wilderness tripping. Most will get away with it and continue their trip the wiser due to dumb luck. Some will learn how to repair their boat in the wilderness (I did that 15 years ago, too), and some might have to call for rescue or walk out.

But remember, Cliff is in the business of exagerating a problem to create interest in his business.. selling his guide services (don't go there without a professional who's been there), as well as selling his books and articles about his adventures. Not a bad gig if you can get it... but many of his concerns are hardly the issue he makes them.


  True...Somebody dumps and he writes
  Posted by: spiritboat on Jan-29-14 4:13 PM (EST)
(I believe, quite humorously)"and the rest is history." --As if taking a spill on a river will forever be written on the side of an obelisk/pyramid. Most of us who go places without "benefit" of a guide(and who survive)see it as just part of the learning curve.
And hey, didn't he somewhat take it for granted, that his charges(like those Cl.III-Texans)knew what the term "Backferry!" meant?
   I liked the article
  Posted by: tdaniel on Jan-29-14 6:51 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jan-29-14 6:55 PM EST --

I can relate- Just ask yourself one simple question- am I moving faster or slower than the current?

Backsets, backferrying and backpaddling involve going slower than current to maintain control.

While forward paddling and upstream ferrying, and eddy turns involve moving faster than the current to maintain control.

If you're moving the same speed as the current then you are drifting and that is a no no for maneuverability but drifting is great for conserving energy as you move your barge or semi down the river.

I think Cliff correctly stated that there is a dichotomy in both thinking and instruction between standard ww kayaking and ww canoe tripping. Going slower than the current gives you more time to react, keeps your bow pointed down stream so you see better, allows your bow to float higher, and if you do hit a rock your speed is slower so you are less likely to flip or sustain damage. I'm guessing, but I think that's why Cliff likes his "slow"approach and feels its most successful.
WW kayaking's forward approach allows you to power through holes, waves, and skip over (boof) pourovers and shallow spots and cross turbulent eddy lines quickly.

I think if Cliff's Texans had learned to run whitewater solo in an oar rig (raft), which is a true semi in my book, or had done some creekin' they would have assimilated better to a canoe in a wilderness ww setting. I mention creekin' because backpaddling to increase reaction time and reduce impact is an important skill even in a kayak in that shallow environment.
An interesting thing I remember (from 30 years ago) about Bill Mason's Path of the paddle film and book was that he covered and demonstrated both styles effectively and used whichever method the situation demanded.

A year or so ago I suggested in a forum that if you wanted to learn to paddle a canoe in current then get into a canoe by yourself sitting in the bow position, facing downstream, and steer the boat from that position as you move downstream. Pete articulated the importance of the bow paddler for setting downstream ferry angles. I know of no quicker way to learn this than by getting in the bow and by trying to go straight while solo. Lots of fun as well.

The next thing ya' know I'll have ya' convinced them amazonians really did know they were doin-, sitting up front, soloin', paddlin' upstream- now jack, that's one day I didn't wear a lifejacket, they didn't have none, barely had clothes- so maybe your right about heatstroke and pfds

  Minor terminology correction
  Posted by: Guideboatguy on Jan-29-14 7:47 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jan-30-14 3:56 PM EST --

If you are going to talk about going faster or slower than the current, than the only way for it to make mathematical sense is to relate your progress to the direction of the current as well. When forward-ferrying upstream, you are also going slower than the current, just like back-ferrying. The only difference is that the front of your boat is pointed in the direction of movement through the water, but the direction of the boat's movement relative to the current is the same. In short, applying paddling force such that the boat is pushed in the upstream direction accomplishes the same thing whether the bow or stern parts the water. Since you can paddle faster going forward than when paddling in reverse, you are more likely to achieve negative speed in a forward ferry, that is, if you can paddle faster upstream than the current moves downstream, but your progress in relation to the direction of the current is still slower than the current (a negative number is smaller than a positive one).

  Also, won't a sweep
  Posted by: redmond on Jan-29-14 11:18 PM (EST)
stroke turn the boat even if you're going the same speed as the current? I know a rudder stroke doesn't but I would think that a sweep one would.
  Yes, but...
  Posted by: Guideboatguy on Jan-29-14 11:35 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jan-30-14 12:16 AM EST --

... if you are drifting the same speed as the current, a single sweep will only change your heading and initiate a bit of forward or reverse speed while you mainly keep drifting the same direction, so that rock you intend not to hit with your bow now catches the boat broadside. Thus, for the sweep to accomplish anything it must be combined with forward or reverse movement through the water, and even in that case it requires much more space (like ruddering does) than some of the quicker moves.

Far better than a sweep, if drifting the same speed as the current, is a side-slip. For some reason, this is something kayakers never do but canoeers do all the time (I did paddle a semi-whitewater kayak once and the thing didn't side-slip particularly well). I myself very commonly employ a side-slip in combination with back paddling, which of course if employed while drifting immediately makes you go in reverse (that is, slower than the current and no longer just drifting). A single angled back-paddling stroke can buy you several extra feet of breathing room between you and the rock in front of you AND move the boat about three feet sideways (two or three such strokes accomplishes much more), all while the boat remains pointed straight ahead. It's sort of like a back ferry but without changing the angle of the boat's alignment with the current, which means that to miss a rock, you only have to move a very small amount sideways (it's pretty easy to miss a rock when the effective profile available for collision is only the width of the boat). Just as common for me is to start out with a combination back-paddle and side-slip to miss a rock, and then blend that into a back-ferry for further sideways travel by stopping the slipping motion and changing the heading (in other words, "setting" a ferry angle and then making the boat move straight backward on that heading). One real beauty of the side-slip when back-paddling compared to a back-ferry is that there's much less chance of different portions of the boat being exposed to differential current velocities, so losing your heading because the stern gets "blown" sideways isn't likely.

I may not have needed to describe all that, but in any case, there are things you can do when drifting the same speed as the current. Also, as you can see from that, my own tendency when I need to make an abrupt maneuver in a small amount of space is to transition into backward motion (relative to the water, not actual travel direction). Further, all those same things can be initiated when underway either forward or backward (but still facing forward usually). So the bottom line is that I agree with the previous poster that having the boat moving at a different speed than the current (either faster than or slower than) gives you more options for control than simply drifting.

  well technically and perhaps
  Posted by: tdaniel on Jan-30-14 8:33 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jan-30-14 8:45 PM EST --

mathmatically it would depend upon where you end up- upstream of where you started (on the opposite side of the river) or downstream (on the opposite side) or just across from where you started to determine if you went faster or slower, or the same speed as the current. But as a practical matter you want to upstream ferry quickly- as your facing upstream and paddling against the current and risk getting "blown" downstream or losing your angle and making no progress.
I found a backferry to be just the opposite, a chance to creep into position. Going slow is a good thing in that situation. Technically, your probably not backpaddling slower than the current unless your paddling back upstream but this rarely happens. More accurately I should have just said, "are you trying to slow down or speed up." Cliff is advocating a "slowdown" approach.

My buddy JD didn't fit Cliff's profile for a whitewater kayaker-he mixed his styles- in this old video (at the very end of the tape, 9:46) he backferries his ww kayak to set up for the final drop after forward ferrying into an eddy

  My explanation failed.
  Posted by: Guideboatguy on Jan-31-14 12:16 AM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Jan-31-14 12:29 AM EST --

I can see by what you wrote that I did not succeed in conveying my meaning to you before. I'll try a different tack.

If you compare your boat's speed to that of the current, you must do so in a way that takes into account the direction of flow. By that method, anytime you are going slower than the current, the water that's around you right now arrives at some downstream location sooner than you do, and anytime you go faster than the current, the water that's around you right now arrives at some downstream location after you get there. That's too easy, but that's the point you were overlooking.

Another relevant point is that even pushing your boat lightly toward the upstream direction, so that your speed downriver is just a little slower than that of the water that supports it, has the result of reversing the direction of the flow of water past your boat in comparison to that which happens during normal downstream travel. So even though the example that follows is for a "perfect" ferry, a "perfect" ferry need not be the case for all other aspects to be true.

With that out of the way, here's my way of explaining what I tried to convey before:

Let's say you equip your canoe with seats that allow you to face either end of the boat (weird, but very possible). Imagine you are back-ferrying, and your through-the-water speed in the upstream direction is exactly the same as that at which the water is moving downstream, and thus you hover in place and can move sideways without moving upstream or downstream at all. You are going slower than the current by definition because your speed relative to the river bed is zero. Now, in the middle of doing this flawless back-ferry, you and your partner suddenly spin around in your seats to face the other end of the boat, that is, now you are facing upstream, and you continue making the boat do what it was doing before. Of course, NOW you do it by paddling forward. You have thus switched from doing a back-ferry to a forward-ferry without changing anything about the relationship between the boat and water. Everything is exactly the same as before except for what your own arms are doing. The fact that it's now a forward ferry hasn't caused you to be going faster than the current. You are still going slower than the current. Your speed relative to the river bottom is still zero.

THIS is what I meant when I said you must be going slower than the current, not faster, when doing a forward ferry. Altering your speed during a ferry matters not. If you finish your ferry upstream of your starting point or downstream, the water in the river was still traveling along the river bed faster than you were, so you were going slower than the current. None of this has anything to do with your understanding of what to do when ferrying. It only eliminates the confusion of using multiple-but-undefined methods for defining your speed.

Hope that did the trick!

By the way, for the persnickity folks out there, yes, this explanation ignores the boat's speed to the right or left because that's irrelevant to the point being made, and it also ignores the geometrical necessity of actually paddling faster after setting a ferry angle (the steeper the angle, the faster you must paddle to maintain your direction of travel) because there's no need to be that accurate to make the point (and if the reason isn't clear, don't worry about it because no one wants to mess with trigonometry right now anyway).

  Our first canoe was a tandem, and
  Posted by: g2d on Jan-30-14 1:00 AM (EST)
I learned tandem ww canoeing out of books that were written before 1973. Back ferrying was the key skill taught to allow sliding sideways into eddies, or into more favorable parts of the current.

So I understand Cliff's point. But now my ww camping is done solo, in highly rockered boats, and I can certainly make them spin upstream for a ferry move if I want to. These canoes spin easily even when loaded properly with a full complement of gear.

But I credit Cliff's argument with respect to loaded tandems. It's often too risky to expose a tandem to disaster by spinning it in a long boulder garden.

Anyone seen Cliff paddle a solo whitewater boat?
  Not really
  Posted by: kayamedic on Jan-30-14 8:38 PM (EST)
He paddled a WildFire on a trip I was on. Not really ww but enough here and there to surf.


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