(By Peter Sanderson)
It only took me forty-five years since I last tipped a canoe to finally take a course and learn how to keep it right side up. Yes, that’s correct. When I was twelve I tipped my uncle’s canoe in Malone New York trying to get to shore in a storm and lost his tackle box and fishing gear in the middle of the lake. I remember the canoe tipping slightly in the wind, then a wave came, then the gear shifted and lastly I was swimming with the canoe sideways in the water. I got into so much trouble that I avoided canoes like the plague for years after.
Thirty three years later I tried again when my kids were small. However at that time I was about seventy-five pounds overweight and not so fit. Therefore my balance was all off. I stepped into the canoe at Irwin’s Inn on Stoney Lake and before I left the dock I was in the water again.
Last summer after I had spent five years eating properly and exercising I found myself back at Irwin’s Inn staring at that same canoe and a SUP which I had never seen before. I couldn’t imagine balancing on a SUP but on my first try I was out on the lake paddling next to a loon.
Immediately upon returning to the dock I grabbed a canoe and off I went. I did not tip it and shortly thereafter I was trying all of the boats including kayaks.
Upon returning home after our vacation my wife and I decided to purchase a canoe. The canoe won the debate between purchasing two SUPs or two Kayaks and now I am very happy it did!
We choose not to buy the best canoe at first and in fact we decided after much research to buy a SportsPal aluminum canoe because of its diversity. First and foremost we were assured that it floats. More importantly however was the fact that it was stable and would accommodate my two dogs and allow them to easily get in or out of the boat in the middle of the lake. Finally the fact that it comes with a sailing kit, electric motor and even a chair for comfortable rowing sealed the deal.
So last year we only canoed around calm waters. When we saw wind or waves such as this last weekend during the beginner’s canoeing course we would go for a motorcycle ride instead of canoeing. We also did not know anyone else that canoed so we were always canoeing alone.
This year we decided to join the RA Canoe Camping Club and to take some courses so that hopefully we would not be limited to calm waters.
Talking about a baptism of fire, the forecast for the course this weekend was rain and high winds. My wife and I looked at each other, smiled and agreed that since we paid for the course we would take it, no matter what.
I can’t say enough good things about the course. First and foremost we had the opportunity to meet so many good people with common outdoors interests. Tabatha, Dot and Lynette, the instructors were awesome! I tried to find a stronger positive compliment about the three of them but I settled on awesome but awe-inspiring was a close second.
Before writing about the course I just wanted to say that at the end of the course it felt like we had aged three hundred canoe years considering that in the last forty-five years I had only learned the forward, reverse and sweep stroke on my own (but didn’t know what they were called) and was taught how to tie a canoe onto my CRV by the SAIL sales person last year.
The first day of the course was inside in a pool. They said that we would rescue a canoe and two paddlers and that we did. In fact, my chin dropped while watching my petite wife standing straight up in a canoe while in the deep end and pulling another canoe out of the water sideways to drain the water out and flip it right side up. My immediate thought was how she was able to conceal this trait for twenty years of marriage. But we all learned how to accomplish this and to rescue each other in a variety of situations. That exercise in it itself built confidence and balance in the canoe.
Day two of the course started at the boat house with detailed inspections and definitions of all the necessary safety equipment required in a canoe or any other boat for that matter. We proceeded to learn about the different types of canoes, their functions and a bit about how they are constructed to meet each of their specific purposes. Finally we learned how to lift, carry and load the canoes onto vehicles with, and without, roof racks. Once loaded a parade of canoes left the RA Center towards Mooney’s Bay.
The first day of the course we were in the water between 10:30 to 12:30 and then between 1:45 to 4:00. The wind blew and it rained off and on after lunch. The first day included working together with your paddling partner to turn and rotate the canoe using a variety of strokes. We learned the PROPER forward and reverse stroke, the goon, pry, push away, draw, J and sweep strokes. So I guess one could say that the instructors had us going in circles for most of the day. At the end of the day however, I felt in total control of my canoe. In fact by the end of the course we felt like we could turn the canoe on a dime.
Day two we left Mooney’s Bay and paddled against a strong wind to a small inlet on the other side of the bay where we were secluded form the wind. It was a great place to further practice our turning and we then began to learn how to dock the canoe using all of the strokes that we had learned. Picture bringing the Titanic towards a pier and then pivoting it in one direction so it gently snuggles next to the pier ready for a wooden plank to set-down for people to disembark. Well, we were doing that with our canoes next to a log on the side of the inlet.
Throughout the course the instructors gave us constant feedback and instructions to help us improve. They constantly shared encouraging words. They answered all of our questions no matter how silly they may have being. At the end of the course we feel far more confident. My wife and I now know how to accurately communicate with each other with respect to navigating the canoe. We are no longer fearful of some wind or waves and we understand our limits which are now clearly defined.
This was a good weekend and it was worth the time and money for the course. We hope to meet many of the participants and instructors at future events and if we happen to see one of them on a lake we now can paddle straight towards them and if they happen to be in need of assistance, we are now prepared and ready to help.
If you have ever dreamt about canoeing but were hesitant, afraid or just didn’t take the time to learn, we urge you to take this course and meet the people. You will not be disappointed.
p.s. Until I tip again…