Canoeing is fun. The joy of paddling along the shore, quietly as a loon, escaping a city of noise, inhaling fresh air, the slap of water against the canoe's hull, wind ruffling your hair and a gentle swaying beneath you in the gentleness of a watery current.
For forty years, my canoe enjoyment meant trips to lake islands, and catching the glint from starry nights, during a midnight sojourn. Yet there are those who show a nervous twitch when confronted with climbing into such a mode of travel. Standing up during a journey is not an option. A canoe is a fragile leaf upon the water, balanced with sitting paddlers and any quick movement from one side to another could throw a person into the drink.
From my experience, a fourteen-foot fiberglass canoe is excellent for one person. For two, a fifteen-footer and a family of three can be quite comfortable in a sixteen-foot canoe. Fiberglass in my estimation is much easier to repair on trips, and kneeling on its bottom during paddling is much better than feeling the hot plate of an aluminum canoe. Also, during rough currents, serious scrapes or gashes causing damage to aluminum or wood is much more difficult to repair.
Often during my trips for entertainment and exercise, others can be seen without lifejackets, something most terrible should a tipping occur. Keep in mind a properly selected canoe has two air compartments at either end. Should a canoe tip, they would prevent any sinking and can be used as a raft to hold onto. During a most difficult storm it is possible to hold onto the thwarts, with the canoe upside down, and accepting the air beneath.
A wise person would have tied their laces to the thwart, a middle wooden joint holding the sides together, so footwear would not be lost. Also the same applies to gear, as a precaution in the event one ended up in the water. Splashing oneself to shore means gear, shoes and paddles, which one must always hang onto would accompany the canoe to the safety of shore. I always cautioned our children to stay with the canoe, as long as the current was not heading into far open water. In larger lakes, it is important to skirt the shore rather than head directly across such a large expanse of water.
When my children first encountered the fun of canoeing, I had them sit on their seats in bathing suits, wearing life preservers of course, then rock the canoe, a short distance from shore. It gave them an understanding of what it feels like in a current. After flipping the canoe, I had them get underneath to see the space available, and to realize the canoe will not sink, and that if turned upright, it will still act as a small barge to hang onto, although submerged below the surface of water.
It was most necessary for our children to learn how to swim, to provide a greater feeling of security in such a craft. Other safety issues include steering the canoe directly into incoming waves, since hitting a current sideways greatly affects its stability. With two or three persons in a fifteen or sixteen-foot canoe the person at the end, called the Sterns-man is always in charge.
That person always determines who paddles on whichever side. For stability purposes, there should always be someone paddling on opposite sides. If any emergency commands must be given, that is the one to do it. The person in the middle is called the Middleman and the person in front is called the Bowman.
It is wise to understand a canoe is handy for traveling across shallow water, allowing a person to fully appreciate its recreational capabilities. Wildlife are apt to be in areas where motorized craft are unable to visit. If landing for any reason, ensure the front or bow of the boat is not crunched into rock, and the bottom or hull, is not scraped, taking off the protective paint and perhaps damaging the keel, which may be one, two or even three long protrusions along the bottom of the canoe.
Canoes may not have any of these, and if so, I advise against purchasing such a canoe, since it is very hard to steer otherwise. Also, never forget to tie your canoe to a secure branch, using rope, called the painter, which should be attached to a ring on the bow.
After an exciting journey, brows are warm, arms sunburned and tummies anxious for food. A campfire helps provide a lasting memory. Before lights out your canoe should be brought in, turned over and perhaps used as a shelter for two persons. Paddles should be placed against a tree so no chance of tripping over them takes place. The most important paddle is the duck paddle, a square wide one for the Sterns-man.
In conclusion, a canoe allows an opportunity for healthy exercise, without rushing about, and a chance to take photographs, or even write notes for poetry and short stories to be completed later. The quiet glide and lack of motor means animals are undisturbed. With safety in mind, understanding the workings of a canoe and proper equipment, your outdoor activity should be one worth remembering, for a very long time.
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Richard L. Provencher 2007
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