A friend of mine and I are in the planning stages of our longest canoe trip to date. We want to float the length of the Mississippi next summer, and we are looking for advice, suggestions and any help we can get. We have an 18’ aluminum canoe from Grummun.
We’ve been doing some research about rowing set-ups and found one from Essex Industries that we like. Does anyone have experience with rowing a canoe in general? Any advice or tips would be appreciated.
We’d also like spray skirts and a rain fly for the trip, either homemade or store bought for a reasonable price. I’ve been having trouble finding information about both of those things. While I’m asking about staying dry, we’d also like to set up a webbing or net system to keep our gear off the canoe bottom. Any suggestions for that?
I know I’m asking a lot of questions at once here, but since we’ve pretty much set the trip in stone I’m really excited and want to get started as soon as possible. Any help we can get will be greatly appreciated.
I’ve seen the covers and other products made by this company, and they look pretty good:
Durable nylon affixed with snaps, with integrated ‘skirt’ openings.
I would argue against the idea of suspending your gear off the bottom of your canoe.
- If your gear is contained in quality dry-bags as it should be, it can stand to get wet. If it’s not, then what will happen during the inevitable rainstorm or capsize?
- Raising your gear even a few inches will significantly alter your center of gravity, making the canoe less stable. Better to keep your gear low. In fact, be sure to pack your heavier items like cast iron frying pans and drinking water low, and your lightweight items like sleeping bags and pads higher.
- It seems the added complexity, cost, and labor of this modification isn’t worth its rather dubious benefit. For a cheaper, easier, and more adaptable alternative I might simply toss a half-dozen 2x2 slats in the bottom of the canoe before loading my gear into it.
You still have the two problems above, but in a pinch you could use the slats as firewood!
Tarps from here…
I own both sizes and they are well made.
Backwards down Ol’ Miss
The idea of paddling/rowing down the length of the Mississippi is fantastic – sounds like a great adventure.
I row frequently with a friend (in his traditional wooden Whitehall rowboat). With the right craft rowing can be a fun and efficient way to cover distance – it’s certainly good for aerobic exercise and strength training. That being said a tandem canoe is not a good choice as a rowing craft, especially with two rowers. Think all the way through the room a set of rowing rigs consumes from your boat. Also think through the amount of space you’d need just for oar stowage. In the end a canoe is probably best propelled by paddles – there are ample reasons canoes developed as “paddle craft” rather than rowboats.
I had a look at Essex Industries rowing rig. In a word I would say: “Cheesy”.
The only thing cheesier would have to be those T-grip Carlisle paddles - adequate as rough and ready white water paddles, but as oars? That would get old quick.
I have a soft spot in my heart for aluminum canoes – I first learned to paddle in one many years ago in Scouts. However, spending weeks on end in an aluminum canoe would not be my idea of a fun time. Aluminum canoes are notoriously cold when the weather is cold and hot when the sun beats down on ‘em. And of course they’re noisy – with an aluminum hull every little bing becomes a BANG!
I’d say if you feel you really want to row Ol’ Miss by all means get a proper rowboat and proper oars.
Just some things to consider – good luck on your quest!
I usually agree 100-precent with what Arkay says, but I'll take one of his points and add my own spin. Rowing a tandem canoe CAN be a good way for two people to travel, but I think it will take some serious tinkering to make it work with a Grumman. The best way for two people to do this, is to have a rower in the front seat and a paddler in the the rear seat. I'm very familiar with this setup, as that's how two people travel in a guide-boat. The premier canoe-rower on P-net goes by the name of "Stap", and he has combined a rower in the front with a paddler in rear in a tandem canoe of some kind, with good results. I'm pretty sure one of his boats is equipped with a spray cover too.
Here's why I think it will take serious tinkering to make this work in a Grumman. First, you need a very low seat to row a canoe with oarlocks at gunwale height. The seats in a Grumman are only slightly lower than the gunwales, so using that seat, you won't be able to do recovery strokes (you need to depress the handles pretty far in order to lift the blades clear of the water, especially if the water is choppy, but you can't do that if your legs are too high). Most canoe-rowing rigs are made as a drop-in system where the rower sits in the center, where usually there's not already a seat, but to balance out two people, you need a person in each end of the boat. There's a thwart right behind the front seat of your Grumman, so even if you replace the seat with something lower, that thwart is in your way. If you run the canoe backward, with the rower in the rear seat and the paddler in the front, the paddler will be farther toward center than what's best with two people, and that thwart will be in the way, and the rower will be too close to the rear deck (actually the "front" deck in this case) to lean back the way he needs to on each power stroke.
Another consideration is the room it takes to row compared to paddling. When rowing, your feet are outstretched, and this robs you of a lot of storage room for gear, storage room you are going to need on this trip. An 18- or 19-foot tandem canoe would really work better for two people if one person is rowing. You may do okay, but my guess is the boat will start looking a whole lot smaller once you drop in a rowing rig and sit down in the rowing position.
I think Arkay was right-on with his remark about the quality of that rowing rig. On a trip as long as what you've planned, I doubt that this rowing rig will hold together. You need something solid and purpose-built, not something held together by wingnuts. For efficient rowing a boat that size, you'll need at least 7-foot oars, and 8-footers would be a lot better. A good rowing rig and decent oars will NOT be cheap, but they'll work the way something that needs to propel you that far SHOULD work. One thing that occurs to me, is that oarlocks bolted right to the gunwales will be a lot more sturdy than that rowing rig. You'll probably be limited to using 7-foot oars that way (eight-footers are likely to require a bit more space between the oarlocks so the handles don't overlap way too much).
Sorry to sound so discouraging, but I really think your plan needs some tweeking. It'll be the trip of a lifetime, so take some time to get the details right. That rowing rig is cheap enough though, that maybe you should go ahead and buy it and try it out on a shorter shake-down cruise. That'll give you a good idea what you are getting into.
suggestions, comments, ideas, info,
The ole Miss!
First off…hmmm “rowing”? A big red flag goes up. So you going to spend…lets say…two months paddling the river. Why would you never want to be able to look at where your going? Also looking where you’ve been. DOnt row! You dont ride a bike, car, snomobile or walk facing backwards so dont do it on the ole Miss. Save the rowing for the Yale Sculling Team.
Getting a spray skirt…they are NOT cheap. Google Cookes Custom Sewing and Dan will make you a good one but your going to pay as much as you did for that Grummun canoe.
A comment too…the Miss is not what I call a rapid river…so you can get by totally without a spray cover… if you feel you need one…use a tarp for 10 dollar and save the money.
Why use webbing to get gear off the bottom???
By doing so , you raise the center of gravity…i.e. the “tipping point” making the grumman more tippy. Leave the gear on the bottom like the rest of the world.
Trip info. Below are all friends of mine who have done the whole Mississippi, some more than once, two even in huck finn home made raft. They can provide you will all sort of info. Two have website/blogs/photos etc etc. My friend John Rusky was just featured in National Geo. Adventure magazine…august issue. He has a canoe guiding Biz on the lower Mississippi…Check out the ole issue and contact him too.
John- Paddled the river: Venator2@aol.com
John Rusky- Quapaw Canoe Co. on the lower e Miss- website and contact info here: http://www.island63.com/
Mike Clark: blogs/info/photos of the Miss.
Abe Quinby: Paddled the river email firstname.lastname@example.org
this should get you started
Gotta throw in two more cents!
Hey Paddletothesea, don't knock rowing so badly. I row hundreds of miles every summer, and don't feel the least bit handicapped about seeing the scenery or piloting my boat. None of the people I paddle with would say I'm handicapped either, as speed of travel and miles that can be travelled for a given amount of exertion is never an issue when I row. You don't believe a rower can see the world around him well enough to appreciate an epic trip like what the original poster has planned? Ask anyone who paddles with me if I'm much less likely than anyone else to be the first to spot an eagle way up ahead as soon as it is visible around the bend, or if I fail to see the nuances of surface texture hundreds of yards ahead that tell where the deepwater channel is among the shallow flats of the Wisconsin River. Also, as far as scenery goes, there's scenery to be seen in all directions, and I'm confident that I actually see MORE when rowing than I do when paddling. That's because I turn to see what's ahead (behind me) because I must for choosing my route, and I also see what's behind me because I can't help but look that way. Normal paddlers NEVER see what's behind them. On group trips, not only am I generally pretty quick to spot wildlife and such out front when rowing (admittedly, not quite as easily as when I paddle), but I'm the only one who spots interesting things to the rear. The only issue with rowing is that it takes a little getting used to.
As to spray covers, I think a spray cover is a good idea, but you are right that they are pricey, and maybe an improvised setup would be the way to go. The reservoirs behind the Mississipi dams on the Wisconsin shore are up to a few miles across, and many miles long. If it's windy, the waves out there can easily be too large for a loaded canoe, and a good spray cover could make a big difference. If the wind is straight from the north or south, it will not be possible to avoid big waves down the full length of the reservoir just by hugging one shore or the other. I'm sure the lower river presents the same issue with wind and waves. Lots of long-distance lake paddlers use spray skirts, so choosing to use one for the Mississippi seems just as logical to me. The alternative would be to not do any traveling on those days when the waves kick up.
I’d change everything
Hi, Marcus. About a quarter of a century ago I paddled a total of about one month on the Mississippi (starting at the headwaters). Same Grumman canoe that you propose to use. Based on those trips and on many many others, I’d first of all ditch the idea of suspending your gear off the bottom. Just pack in waterproof containers like a duluth pack with a heavy plastic liner or backpacks with heavy plastic liner or large drybags, etc. Put the stuff with the best waterproofing that is the heaviest on the bottom of the canoe.
About a rowing rig… with two paddlers you’ll have much more room and probably save some grief if you just tandem paddle with normal sturdy lightweight single blade canoe paddles. Definitely bring a spare.
Have a great time planning!
Thanks for the info and I can use more…
I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for posting so far and all the info. The rowing set-up was an idea to try and speed the trip up a little bit, but the fact that it would take up so much more room hadn’t occurred to either of us yet. I think paddling the whole time is the option we’re going to go with.
I know the responses to tarps/spray skirts have been split, but my questions behind those have been mostly brought on by my experiences paddling in the rain. I don’t want to be stuck on shore because of rain and I don’t want to get completely soaked. I have good rain gear and dry bags, but neither of those work perfectly and an extra layer of protection is what I’m looking for. I want to try and stay as dry as possible. I like the idea of making my own rain fly (if only for the gear) and would love to hear suggestions on ways to go about doing it if anyone has personal experience with that.
And we are aware that suspending gear will change the center of gravity, but we don’t want to have it more than an inch or two off the bottom of the canoe. Again, another redundancy built into planning to keep stuff dry if it’s raining and water builds up in the bottom of the canoe. I know my dry bags work pretty well, but they’re not perfect and extra protection is always welcome.
Lastly another option I have heard of is the use of a sail in a canoe. A couple books I have read have made mention of this and I am wondering if anyone else knows the best way to set one up or has any other comments about the use of one in a canoe on a trip such as this one.
sorry to hear you felt i was knocking rowing, i just told the guy not to so he can enjoy his canoe trip by looking downstream.
just my input is what he was asking.
Accessories for a long trip
Have you considered packing along a couple of collapsable kayak paddles? I’ve found them to be a tremendous help when the rivers I paddle flatten out, or if a headwind kicks up.
faster-ditch the grumman
Oars will not make the grumman faster, maybe it might make it easier for one person to move it up to hull speed. I would invest in a better boat. Maybe a Wenonah Champlain or something else big and fast.
Rowing in rough water is hard. Catching a wave on the recovery can dump you. You will see lots of big waves on ole Miss.
Ways to make trip faster.
If the weather is good(no wind) stay on the water. Don’t stop for anything except dark.
Be self sufficient enough to take your resupply stops when travel weather is bad.
Get on the water early in the morning when winds are usually low. Save elaborate breakfasts for bad weather mornings when you are windbound.
You won’t always be able to stick to that, but the more you do the more miles under the keel/day.
One of our professors here did it
She and her husband in canoes. I agree with just paddle it. You are going with the current. Light paddling should keep you running at least 3knts. should make 25-30 miles per day fairly easily.