Friday, February 17, 2006

open canoe

Just taken another look at my Blog and realised I had’nt made an entry since the middle of November. That is very lax of me. So a quick update is in order. What has happened since that time. Well I still need to finish off my account of my trip to California, if anyone is interested.

November through February, Christmas notwithstanding is a fairly low key, hibernation time for me. I tend to run [even more] to fat and watch tv a lot. This winters been no exception. But I have come to a couple of decisions, or should I say choices. First off my explorations into surfcraft need to stop, not so much because of the cost although that is a factor, but more because I have couple of boards that I am too stiff and unfit to ride.. so a bit of rationalisation is required.

Secondly, … I have too much stuff. I have to offload some of the things I have, like cameras, fishing gear and the like, as well as sundry books clothes and other bits of tat I’ve acquired over the years. At the same time I’m still looking at staying mobile in the outdoors and since Ray Mears seems to be cropping up on the Discovery Channel with regularity, paddling down a Canadian river I thought it would be a pleasant gentle way to stay reasonably fit, without always having to take the boat out.

I could also take it off to Scotland or wherever and go exploring. So I went and bought a Canadian canoe. And the bits one needs, like a cag, bouancy aid and most importantly, a paddle… so more ‘stuff’.

The birchcreek 13’ Solo

Since I wanted to avoid the shame of capsizing in front of people I know I launched from a quite deserted cove near to where I live for my first foray into the Big Blue. In fact the real reason was that a light north westerly was forecast, which would make this place completely flat and placid, perfect for my getting used to the canoe.

When I arrived it was totally calm, but a small swell started up, surprising since this beach never gets a swell. From the long period I surmised it had come a long way, leftovers from a storm way down south earlier in the week. Whilst it was’nt much of a problem in itself It would make beaching the canoe around the point a little harder if I was forced to go ashore for any reason.

I launched from one of the swales on the beach floating off on the waves inrush up the hollow and allowing the back surge to carry me out beyond the next wave. Although only small, around a foot or so in height, I had to be careful since I’m still quite *wobbly* in the craft. This brings up a serious question though, one I keep asking myself…. Am I too big for this canoe?

As I paddled carefully across the bay, I was finding that trim on this canoe is finely balance. Just a half inch here or there was enough to turn the craft from something reasonably stable to a tippy thing. I tried keeping it flat. OK’ish. I tried leaning it over, kneeling differently, facing forward, facing obliquely, even turned everything around and paddled it from the cross thwart. The results were almost uniform, and the conclusions pretty much so too. Either I would eventually get used to it, or this canoe was not the one I should be using, regardless of expertise. For now I’ll have to go with the former!

Paddling back the wind was fine on the port bow, meaning that I should not have to do loads of corrective steering. By taking a wide upright kneeling stance I found I could take my first draw with the paddle from way forward, incidentally moving my weight forward enough to weathercock the stern a little. The paddle kept on clattering the side of the boat which was annoying, but moving it outwards just made it want to turn to port.

I rode a small breaker back into the swale I had departed from an hour before, and hopped out dry footed as the wave receded and deposited me there. I took a quick photo and loaded up the canoe, and went to check the boat at the harbour. After I had pumped it out I took a long high water paddle around the harbour, which went well, not too many wobbles, and still no swimming.

So, lessons learned:

I need to give it plenty of time. Even so it’s frustrating. Given my experience with other unstable craft [surfboards, paddleboards] I had hoped I would get the hang of this quickly. Not so.
I need some training.
Trim is very important, small changes in your position can have big effects
Big bloke in small canoe…. A wise choice of craft? [given I weigh over 220lb on 5’8” frame]
Footwear is important. Lightweight walking boots are too rigid, resulting in lots of pain. I wore neoprene beach shoes on the harbour paddle and was much more comfy.
You have to trim bow down in any cross wind, it’s a nightmare otherwise.
An old thermarest [3/4] fits in nicely between the gunwales and kneeling, even for an hour is no hardship
Practice, practice, practice