How to paddle a canoe without using trig functions
Paddling a canoe.. Well, you put the paddle in the water and push off against it. If you wish to go forward you are pushing back, if you wish to go left, you are pushingback and to the right, etc. It really is that simple. If your arms get tired, adjust your grip, position, technique or something. If all else fails, redesign your equipment. There are a few things that are counter intuitive about paddling in a canoe though. After many years of paddling around in various canoes, here’s 4 main points I wish someone had told me on my first time out:
Paddling harder does not mean more speed. Every hull has a specific speed that it can reach as a mathematical function of it’s length to width ratio, total wetted surface, and surface friction. Going faster than this requires more effort than seems sane or sustainable in most canoes. If you are stirring up water and making a lot of noise with the paddle, all that turbulence is an indication of kinetic energy that you are creating and not using. Once you get going, think of pushing just a little harder than you are already going, not a lot harder. If you can paddle with leisure all day and go 3knots, you can probably push twice as hard and go 3.2 knots for 20 minutes, then end up wet and winded. Quiet strokes are usually more efficient and you get to see more wildlife.
You can’t steer from the front, and you can’t see the guy in back from the front. The guy in back also can’t hear you very well if you’re in the front and can’t see snags or obstructions until it is too late. These simple realities mean that the person in the back (it’s best when this person is also heaviest) is really the one steering. This person has the most leverage to turn and go forward. A paddler in the front is not necessary, but can improve over all speed or quick turning in some canoes. If the person in the front tries to steer the canoe, or switches sides frequently in an attempt to adjust direction, everyone will have a bad time. If you are in the front and must paddle, don’t worry about direction at all. Trust the person in the back to steer and adjust to what they see you doing. You can’t adjust for what they do because you can’t see them. The person in the front can be very important though. Their weight keeps more boat length in the water, and more boat length in the water is always a good thing. (hull speed is a function of length to width ratio and a few other factors) The person in the front also has a great view and can see things you don’t want to hit. In mellow rivers, currents in front of you will form V shapes pointing toward you or away from you. When they are pointed away from you, they usually illustrate a point of fastest current between obstacles (though not the deepest points). When the V shape points toward you, it usually represents a horrible danger waiting just below the murky surface to capsize, beat, then drown you. If the person in the bow sees this and talks about it, or tries to turn away from it, there is a good chance you will hit it. If they point at it with some obvious signal that the person in the stern seat knows as an indication of an obstacle, they can steer around it.
“steering by drag” The person in the back is often tempted to use a technique I call “steering by drag”. This is where they drag the paddle deep and hard, it works best when the paddle is way out behind the boat. This technique destroys all forward momentum. It works pretty well on fast rivers, where you don’t have to paddle forward and you have to turn fast to avoid being dashed out upon the rocks. If there are other people paddling hard on flat water to get speed or steering and you drag a paddle, slowing the boat way down, just so you can turn a little faster, and it isn’t an emergency… everyone will think you’re an assoul.
Every body is shaped different. There are all kinds of weird modifications, seats, different paddles, straps, pegs, and strange diet supplements to compensate for the fact that modern canoes and kayaks are not made for a specific paddler’s weight, height, and limb length. The best way to find what works for you is to move around and try different stuff. Try sitting cross legged. Try sitting on stuff up high, or removing all seats and sitting down low. Move back or forward in the boat. Try paddling with your hands closer to your chest, then farther out. put your legs and feet in different places. If you are putting out a lot of effort and not smiling, you need to adjust your technique. If you are not paddling with optimum efficiency but having a great time, don’t worry about it. Having a good time is far more important than contrived notions like “paddler’s box”, or “Canadian canoe heeling method to compensate for mass produced flat hulls”.