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  Video: Stew Coffin, paddling pioneer
  Posted by: Glenn_MacGrady on May-25-14 11:59 PM (EST)

-- Last Updated: May-26-14 2:26 PM EST --

In Eckilson's thread "First Swim of the Year", I reminisced about watching Stew Coffin in the early 80's paddling an unbagged composite canoe effortlessly through the class 4 Funnel on the lower Millers River in Massachusetts, using the classic (but now moribund) OC1 water avoidance techniques of angling and upstream heeling.

Stew is still around. Here's a video lecture by him filmed last year, the first 25 minutes of which are mostly devoted to his paddle and canoe making business:

Stew, who lived in Lincoln Mass. for many decades, made his first canoe trip with the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in 1954. He was then made a leader for his second trip, on which he met his wife of 40 years.

In 1964 Stew began making what became Iliad paddles out of fiberglass. He did that until 1968 when he sold the paddle business to Iliad. He made about 1000 kayak and 2000 canoe paddles during those years. He was also a prolific wilderness paddler in Canada.

In addition, Stew made hundreds of canoes of his own design, and the first composite whitewater kayaks ever made in the USA.

All on his nursery farm in Lincoln, Mass.

The AMC's river running "bible" is the New England Whitewater River Guide. Stew wrote the first edition of that in the early 60's.

In the video, Stew shows lots of slides of his paddle and canoe manufacturing.

He began making mechanical puzzles at the time he sold his paddle business to Iliad, and has become one of the world's most famous mechanical puzzle designers. He hints that Rubik actually copied one of his designs. The second half of the lecture is about his puzzles.

I still remember how elegantly he ran the Funnel dry, which I had portaged that day with my brand new Millbrook ME. Stew discussed with me on the river bank the virtues of proper OC1 water intake avoidance technique and lightweight canoe hulls, which he preferred to paddle unbagged.

The next year I ran the Funnel dry on a Saturday, and so also Freight Train on the Contoocook River in NH the following day -- a great paddling weekend.

I even recognized Stew after all these years, having only paddled with him once or twice 30 years ago, which was at least 30 years after he began serious whitewater paddling.

 Great Products from the Buyers' Guide:

Wabakimi Canoe Pack

Deck Rigging Gear


Paddling Jackets

Barrel Buckets

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Messages in this Topic


  Funnel and Freight Train...
  Posted by: eckilson on May-26-14 9:56 AM (EST)
-- Last Updated: May-26-14 9:58 AM EST --

That's quite the paddling weekend. I swam the Funnel once, have yet to try the Took.

Interesting video with some great old pictures.

  Funnel; video of Freight Train
  Posted by: Glenn_MacGrady on May-26-14 2:14 PM (EST)
One could run an OC-1 right down the middle of the Funnel, but not in a wet boat.

The preferred open canoe method of the day was to mentally dissect the rapid into four parts with river right eddies at the end of each part. Thus, you can (or could then) eddy hop down the right side.

Kayakers and effectively decked boaters don't analyze rapids like old time open canoeists. Decked boats can just plow through, and even play in, waves and holes than a truly open boat needs to avoid. Hence the open boater must analyze the rapid for all makeable pause-and-bail eddies, and then make and use them.

Here's a video of a pretty good but not great paddler paddling the Contoocook at 8.7, which he says is the highest he's paddled it. The AMC guide we used considered 9.0 to be a medium level.

I don't care at all for that boat he's in, whatever it is. A longer boat like an ME wouldn't plunge into the holes as his does. Neither would a Whitesell Piranha with its blunt and flared bow.

I also don't know why he basically goes down the middle of Freight Train, which he calls the "highway", unless he wants to hit all the biggest holes and converging waves. Again, that's blast-through-everything decked boat thinking, not open boat slalom thinking.

I was taught Freight Train by the guy who used to own the whitewater shops in Hadley and Amherst. You can go down the right, or really anywhere, for the very top of the rapid, but the rest is surgical eddy hopping down the left side as you avoid pour-overs. From the left side eddies, a really good open boater would play by jet ferrying out to mid-stream eddies, and then angling-heeling back to the next left side eddy.

Whereas the open boater in the video seems to run Freight Train without stopping (unless he's edited those out), we would typically have four or five river left eddy stops on the way down with perhaps some ferry play.

Freight Train would be a very bad and very long swim from out in the middle for an open boater. Kayakers with Conan rolls don't have to worry much about swims so they just bash through stuff and rely on their roll, like this kayaker on Freight Train at 10':



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