I have an issue with boats powered by paddles. The issue is I own too many of them. If you happen to wander past my house and glance into the back yard you will see four kayaks and a canoe. On the side of the house there are two flat-bottom boats and an old dilapidated pirogue. Thats seven boats, and there are only four people living in my house. In my defense, one of the boats belongs to a friend of mine, but truly I do have a problem.
Today, owning a boat powered by you instead of a motor can be very advantageous. First, gas is expensive. I can paddle around all day powered by a bottle of water and a few Twinkies where a big boat can easily burn $50 in gas if you run around a lot. Second, with water levels across the state well below average there are places you just cant get to with a big boat, while a canoe can easily glide in just a few inches of water.
Now, owning a canoe and knowing how to propel it are two different things. Simply jumping in and dipping your paddle in the water will move you forward, eventually. I speak from experience since in some of my earliest outings in a canoe I spent more time going in circles than forward. So lets look at a few paddling strokes that will help you get your boat into likely fish holding places with the least amount of effort. These are just basics strokes, nothing elaborate or complicated.
When there are two paddlers in a canoe the basic forward stroke will be used the majority of the time. One paddler uses this stroke on one side of the vessel while the other paddler does the same on the alternate side. This is an easy one. Start with the blade of the paddle perpendicular to the canoe; reach out in front of you dipping the blade into the water. Pull the paddle straight back along the side of the canoe until it reaches your hip---dont go too far---then pull it out of the water and repeat. With both paddlers doing this stroke on opposite sides of the canoe with the same amount of force, the canoe will move straight ahead.
Illustration by Paul Bradshaw
If you ever find yourself on the water alone, you know that in order to keep your canoe traveling straight, a solo paddler usually has to alternate paddling on both sides of the canoe. Using a forward stroke on one side then moving to the other will move you forward but it is not the most efficient method. If you learn how to do a C-stroke you can keep your paddle on one side of the boat maximizing the time you have the blade in the water propelling the vessel forward. Ill give you one guess as to why its called the C-stroke (the path of the paddle blade looks like a C). The C-stroke is a variation of the forward stroke with a few twists at the beginning and end of the stroke.
Start the C-stroke by reaching out in front of you, just like the forward stroke, but instead of having the blade of the paddle perpendicular to the side of the canoe; it starts out parallel with the canoe. Now, instead of moving the paddle straight back along the side of the canoe you pull the blade slightly towards the boat. After this initial small movement, twist the paddle so that the blade is now perpendicular to the side of the canoe and perform a forward stroke by pulling straight back along the side of the boat. As the paddle reaches your hip, once again twist the paddle so that the blade is parallel to the side of the canoe. With another small movement, push the paddle away from the canoe slightly before pulling it out of the water. The completed stroke will resemble a C in the water. With a little bit of practice you can have this one mastered in no time.
At first, paddling a canoe seems to be a straight forward event. It cant be that hard since they make nine-year-olds do it at camps all across the nation, but realistically, its harder than it appears. The good news is, if you learn just a couple strokes you can easily handle any flat water situations that you might encounter.