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Wilderness Tripping - BWCA & Beyond New Topic Printer Friendly Version

  Posted by: pblanc on Jun-19-13 8:13 AM (EST)

I have known excellent whitewater tandem boaters who maintain that the most experienced paddler should be in the bow, but that has only worked for me when the stern paddler had some notion of how to execute effective stern steering strokes and was able and willing to interpret the bow paddlers intent and follow their lead instinctively.

It is possible to paddle easier whitewater with a relatively inexperienced bow paddler in a tandem canoe and I have done it many times. I used to paddle the Hiwassee and Nantahala Rivers with one of my daughters in the bow when they were both really too young and inexperienced to perform effective bow draws and cross-draws. It helps to have a tandem boat set up so that the paddling stations are closer together such that the stern paddler is sitting closer to the center of rotation, but that is not usually possible in a tandem tripping boat.

Basically, Mattt described the technique. The stern paddler points the boat in the intended direction with quickly-executed, powerful steering strokes (primarily stern pries and stern draws), then paddles forward, then points the boat back downstream. The bow paddler just continues to do forward strokes.

The problem with this type of technique is that in stronger current moves need to be planned well in advance. If a rock is dead ahead and the stern paddler plans to go around it on his or her onside (the bow paddler's offside) a strong stern pry is effective in pointing the canoe in the intended direction, but it also pushes the stern of the boat the wrong way. It is much easier to get around the rock quickly if the bow paddler pulls the bow in the intended direction with a cross-draw stroke. It is also not always possible for the stern paddler to see barely submerged rocks dead ahead.

Back ferries are great when properly executed, but I have found that they are often ineffective with an inexperienced bow paddler. During a back ferry, the bow paddler at the downstream end of the boat is in a much better position to control the ferry angle, but this is a tricky job, especially when they are looking downstream.

Communication is good and it is wise to plan one's route at the top of a rapid and talk things out, but as a practical point it is usually not possible to do much communicating in the midst of a rapid. It is hard to hear over the water for one thing, and there is often to little time for discussion when unforeseen obstacles loom up ahead or plans go awry.

The best course of action would be to teach your bow partner how to do a decent bow draw and cross-draw. (Bow jam strokes which push the bow in one direction or the other are used infrequently in whitewater because of the unfortunate tendency for the paddle blade to stick on an underwater rock, wedge against the moving hull, and catapult the bow paddler over the gunwale.) That way you in the stern could set the general course but your bow paddler could effectively pull the bow away from any obstacles that loom ahead suddenly.

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