Friday, April 5, 2013

Whitewater Clinic - 4

The set-up of the solo whitewater open canoe.
Snip of photo from  Full link in text below.
1- Saddle   2- Foot rails and pegs   3- Knee cups
4- Inflatable buoyancy bags (red & yellow), shown deflated
5- Attachment point for cinching leg straps.  You can see where this
attachment D-ring had previously been up on the side of the hull.  An
ankle block could otherwise be where the D-ring is now.
For those that haven’t tried whitewater canoeing yet, it’s a fiendish way of combining torture and having fun. The torture part is getting the body to conform to shapes it is not naturally accustomed to, or at my age, it’s a position my body hasn’t tolerated a lot for the last 55 or so years. You enter the canoe and straddle a foam saddle (#1) in the center of the boat. One leg at a time is extended back behind you on either side of the saddle. The feet go into stirrups (#2), or what they call toe pegs and rails, and are bent backwards so the toes point astern. The ankles are supported by foam ankle blocks (#5), and the knees rest either in knee cups or on foam knee pads (#3). Once in this exaggerated kneeling position, thigh or lap straps (#5) come across to cinch you down into this compressed position. If everything is set up right, you should immediately float free of the boat WHEN (notice I’m not saying IF) you upset. There is then some type of quick release that enables you to escape this arrangement if you don’t naturally come free when you capsize. These arrangements vary depending on how the individual boat was rigged. The objective is to make you and the boat one. There is no slipping or sliding around, and every movement is transmitted directly to the boat, and you instantly feel every undulation of the water’s face and current. It also lowers your center of gravity, getting your weight directly in contact with the bottom of the boat and not much higher, as on a seat, which may be as high as the gunnels. The theory is good, and the position becomes second nature with time, I’m told, but for a beginner getting into this rig for the first time, it is quite unnatural. A couple people told me that paddlers train their bodies to accept this position by taking a new saddle, or even the entire boat, into the living room and straddling it while watching TV. When their legs start to go to sleep, they get up awhile, and return for another spell later, slowly extending the time spent in this paddling position. The flip side of all this preparation is that kids of scouting age hop into the boats and practically fall into position, and think not a thing of it. As with practically everything except financing a home, youth is a big plus.

For anyone wanting to rig a whitewater canoe, there’s a nice 38-page article on a pdf file at

Turner Bend's owner has this gorgeous home overlooking the
river right at the access point.
Once on the water, Colin and Lisa took me through all types of paddling strokes, practicing keeping the body erect while rocking and leaning the boat from the hip or waist, bracing, and feeling the point of secondary or ultimate stability, that fine line between the canoe being right-side up and up-side down.
After covering ferrying and cutting in and out of eddies, we then started down river. We stopped above every rapid to discuss the anatomy of the rapid we were about to descend. They would point out how to read the current, identifying where the safe water was versus how to identify underwater rocks or other obstructions, and how to pick the preferred route to run for the descent. For a couple more complicated rapids, we landed on shore and walked along the rapids to scout and discuss the hazards and water features up close. Then we’d hop back in the boats to put our plan into action.

The ideal way to start this pursuit of knowledge and experience would be with gently moving water, then riffles or what they called busy water, then Class I, and eventually building to Class II. Unfortunately, rivers aren’t built that way, and you pretty much take it as it comes. When we were most of the way downstream, I asked what class water we had run so far to get a better perspective of what the classes looked and felt like. I was surprised to learn that the first rapid we ran, the one where I took my first swim, was a Class II. The one where I took my second swim was also a solid Class II. The usable range for the Mulberry is 1.6 to 4.5 feet. Saturday, we were at 2.45 feet and rising, which they said was perfect for what we needed to do.

The owner's previous home, which is now one of a couple
cabins that may be rented.  That's one beautiful cabin!


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