* An excerpt from: Enjoying the Upper Meramec:
a guide for floaters with basic canoe techniques described. Editorial
committee: Jim Jackson, Sandy Primm, Carol Springer.
1980 The Kansas City Star Co. (Reprinted by permission
of Carol Springer).
your canoe moving downstream is easy on the streams of the upper
Meramec region. You just have to keep the boat pointed in the
way you want to go, and let the river do the work. Yet, experience
has shown this is not as simple as it appears.
The trick is to get a good start: make sure that the person sitting
in the front has enough leg room. (Last summer a friend of ours
spent her first float paddling the bow position in a reversed
canoe. She had 4 inches of leg room for the trip, and not a very
good time.) Generally the person in the front paddles straight
forward and the one in the stern also provides forward oomph,
but is responsible for steering and not tipping.
We might as well face one big issue right off - keeping the canoe
steered property can be a source of friction in relationships,
platonic or otherwise. Floating can be as challenging as hanging
wallpaper. While each couple will have to figure their own way
of getting downstream, we suggest that the person in the back
worry about the steering and the bow paddler try to provide gentle
reminders that a rock or whatever is dead ahead. The bow person
makes the best lookout.
The forward stroke is the same for
both bow and stern paddlers. Of course there's all kinds of fancy
techniques you can learn, but you should know that the upper hand
on the paddle grips the handle on top, and does not hold the thing
like it was a golf club. The lower arm, holding the paddle's throat
- does most of the work, so you might switch paddling sides once
in a while to keep both arms evenly exercised.
To turn the canoe, the stern paddler can do one of two things.
He or she can do a forward sweep
stroke which will turn the canoe toward the side opposite you're
paddling on. To do this stroke, you reach the paddle out in front,
but instead of pulling it down alongside the canoe, you reach
out the blade in the water, making a 'C' shape as if stirring
a huge kettle of apple butter. Pull the paddle in as far behind
you as you stuck it out in front, then lift it out and do another
AND REVERSE SWEEP VIDEO
A quicker way of turning is the reverse sweep.
It is based on that same ‘C’ shape in the water, but do it backwards,
so the paddle is moved toward the bow. The stroke, if done with
a fair amount of force, is
usually so powerful that it's necessary to do only halfway. Just
take the paddle out of the water when your arm holding the throat
of the paddle is fully extended in the middle of the stroke. It's
best to use these reverse sweeps when a quick turn is necessary.
Even on straight stretches of river, keeping the canoe going straight
isn't a simple matter. The easiest way to go straight is for the
two floaters to have their paddles on opposite sides of the canoe
and both paddle straight ahead.
If you just paddle like that, the canoe ends up going off to one
side, right? Okay, to prevent this, the stern person should do
the 'J' stroke every second or third
stroke. This is probably the trickiest stroke to pick up: you
do about three-quarters of a normal stroke, then instead of bringing
the paddle straight back, you give the blade a one-quarter turn
outward to put a tiny reverse sweep on the end of the stroke.
That makes the hook of the 'J'. It'll take a bit of practice to
get this one. If you are too frustrated and can't seem to see
how the 'J' stroke works, you can always both switch paddling
sides every five or six strokes. But that's a hassle.
"J" STROKE VIDEO
only other stroke the sternperson must know is the backwater.
It's simply paddling backwards. It will stop you, but not on a
So if you do have to stop, it may be best to hop out - making
sure the water's not too deep - and hold onto the pointer (the
line tied to the stern or bow) so the canoe doesn't go off without
The one special stroke the bow person should know is the 'draw
stroke' or 'pull-to'. Both names describe it well:
you stick the paddle deep in the water as for out directly opposite
from you as you can.
Then pull it in, mainly with the lower arm, to you. The draw stroke
takes you towards the side you do it on. You'll need to do left
or right draws when rocks or riffles or trees come up. The stroke
moves the bow over quickly but does not turn the stern as well,
so the person in back had best be ready to also do a draw stroke,
or a sweep, when the person in the bow finds it necessary to do