Since I’ve moved forward with plans to paddle the 740 mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail beginning in June my paddling adventures have become even more purposeful.
About a month ago I was offered a canoe — exactly the canoe that I had in mind for training. I desired a cone that is heavy and tough and handles well. That all came to me in a 15 ft. Smokercraft canoe.
Other than the Herculean task of simply lifting the monster (I’ve portaged twice with it. Ouch!) I couldn’t be more pleased with this brute. My first and best surprise was when I poled up through some riffles in our local river. There is a section, near an abandoned dam, that has given me difficulty in the past. When I planted and paused it was next to impossible to keep my fiberglass 13 foot Navaro pointing its nose upstream. With the aluminum training canoe I planted and it waited patiently– nose upstream — for me to make the next move. What I had thought was a skill issue had been a boat issue.
I desired weight to help build strength and stamina.
Yesterday I paddled open water for the first time in years. I spent my childhood summers in small boats on the coast of Maine. I have open water experience, but it’s been awhile.
When we were very young, my sister and I had a bright orange inflatable dinghy. We rowed that little boat around our dock gaining rowing and paddling skills. As our skills improved we were allowed to roam further from our float. On one memorable day we rowed all the way to the end of the cove and learned the importance of considering wind conditions on every voyage.
We were having the time of our lives. Rowing and playing. We passed, more quickly than usually, one cottage and then another. We explored the small shell mounds and stone walls in the shallows. Then we turned home — an into the wind.
We pulled and pulled and nothing happened. We took turns. It was clear that getting home would be impossible.
From the rocks above, Max Weildon appeared. Max was one of a handful of true old salts that lived in our cluster of cottages. Max gently guided us closer to the shore and into the lee of the high rocky shoreline. In the wind shadow that followed these rocks we easily made our way home.
Yesterday was breezy. It wasn’t scary windy, but there was enough wind that it had to be managed. I chose a launch point at the south end of the lake. The wind was coming from the northwest. The plan was to work my way to the north along the west shore and enjoy a free ride home.
I head due west across the lake to get into the lee of the trees and houses on that side. This was my first time in open water so I began with experiments in trim. I carried little but a lightly loaded pack tossed behind the bow seat. Heading nearly upwind, I was not surprised to find the best paddling position was on my knees with my thighs braced against the thwart forward of the stern seat. Once I found this trim the boat tracked well and responded as expected.
I hit almost mirror still water along the windward shore and enjoyed a very peaceful paddle northward — paddling through brief bursts of wind outside coves and inlets. In the calmer air I switched paddling positions several times and practiced my paddle strokes on the not-so-dominate side.
When it was time to go home I paddled out into the wind and began to ride the wind back to the starting point. Racing with the waves was a delight. I passed under a bridge and hit a blast of air. As often happens, the wind had swung south several points and I found myself fighting a strong crosswind. I picked a point well upwind of the park landing and worked at keeping a straight course and even stroke. From my position — aft and on my knees — the wind was having a field day with the bow. I had to fight hard to keep the bow from dropping off the wind. I switched my position to dead center, on my knees, and the canoe become mush easier to control. Looking back at my tracked position (I used the iPhone app MapMyWalk) I’;m pleased to see I did keep my course straight through this section.
I arrived at the slip with the bow upwind and sculled sideways the last 10 feet to the dock.
It was a great paddle. I learned a great deal about how this boat trims in these conditions. I look forward to many more practice sessions.
Goals include becoming more comfortable paddle on both sides and building endurance.
Birds – Buffleheads (8), Ring Billed Gulls (Several), Mallards (dittio), Canada Geese (ditto), Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, Blue Jay, American Crow