Up until now, my primary canoe experience has been weekend to week-long tripping on Class I (with the occasional Class II) rivers. In an attempt to improve my paddle skills so that I can trip harder water (Class II streams) , this late spring, I went to NOC for two days of private instruction. Since then, I’ve been thinking about the different applications of the two primary styles of canoe paddling on rivers: faster than water/cab forward and slower than water/stern correction. Searching the archives here, I couldn’t find a thread in which the differences, overlaps, and applications were the main focus.
Tripping requires a more conservative approach, and even Bill Mason wrote that the canoeist should raise the rating of every rapid by one class if paddling with a load. As well, Cliff Jacobson has been critical of the current trend of whitewater instruction for its lack of focus on tripping technique, particularly the absence of back ferry instruction (obviously a slower-than-water technique). I’ve yet to see where Tom Foster or other innovators and practitioners of the cab-forward style address its application to tripping although I’m just beginning to study it.
What I’m primarily interested in is the mix and match of these two approaches when tripping whitewater. A good example that is often used is the eddy turn/peel out. It’s often stated that in a loaded boat the better approach is to catch the eddy further down with a back ferry and then to exit where the eddy line is weakest. With this adjustment to slower-than-water technique, the tripping canoeist doesn’t present the boat broadside to the strongest current and can avoid a potential fish count.
What other adjustments or blending do you make between the two styles? When you’re paddling a canoe laden with gear in Class II and above, what elements of the cab-forward approach do you use and when and what elements of the slower-than-water approach and when?