Our first tandem paddle day

-- Last Updated: Nov-17-12 8:19 PM EST --

Today, we took our new (used) 16' Wenonah out for s spin. While I have roughly 6 years experience in Sea Kayaks (East Coast - CT/RI), my only time in a canoe was when I was a kid goofing around. My g/f had never been in a canoe.

As I expected, it took me a while to get used to the much more unstable/tippy feel sitting what felt like so high in the water. When the water is warmer I look forward to experimenting and testing the secondary stability...then I'll relax more I am sure.

We sat vs kneeling and I 'mildly' provided some paddling technique tips to Pam and quickly decided she needs someone other than me to teach her the basics (I see why so many laugh about how tricky that can be)...ha.

Questions: I really felt like foot braces would've been VERY nice as I couldn't quite get settled with my feet just slipping around and knees braced against the Gunwale. What is a good way to provide for foot bracing (or do just need to kneel)?

Kneeling would be OK, but with size 13+ shoes size, my feet don't fit easily under the seat for proper bracing...they feel trapped.

Also really enjoyed landing (very well executed, I might add) and looking over to see another couple walking toward us from their canoe. They came right up, we introduced ourselves and chatted. It was fun seeing how others were interested to meet other paddlers. Little thing, but nice.

Looking forward to quickly getting up to speed. I promised I would resist just going right back to Kayaks as I like the idea of learning the canoe well.

Amswering questions

– Last Updated: Nov-17-12 7:41 PM EST –

You wanted to know what the experts think, but in the meantime, I'll tell you what I think.

Though most people do without them, foot braces are really nice if you paddle seated. In fact, I found out by accident that a seat that's slanted for kneeling makes a really good seat when using a foot brace, so you could set up the boat to do both sitting and kneeling by mounting the seats on a slope AND adding footbraces.

Regarding kneeling, chances are good that the seats (yours anyway) need to be a little higher for kneeling, and of course it should slope forward. You'll probably find that raising the seat an inch or so makes your feet fit underneath a whole lot easier. Choosing the right footwear helps too. Choose foot wear that allows your feet to extend so that the tops of the feet can easily face the floor of the boat without all the contact being the just at the tip of the shoe's toe area. Normal boots made for walking usually don't work so well for that, but I find that paddling boots do. Kneeling with just a simple kneeling pad pretty-much eliminates any tendency for you to slip around in reaction to paddle strokes for normal paddling. Start horsing the boat around a little harder and glued-in kneeling pads are nice, but what I've done is to sew sections of pool noodle into a sleeve at the front edge of the kneeling pad, and that totally prevents me from sliding forward without changing anything about the boat. I also install a few "shower strips" on the floor to keep the kneeling pad from slipping.

As far as "how much moving around" is acceptable, you'll find you can move around and tip the boat quite a lot. The boat won't tip over when leaned as long as you keep your body vertical. Leaning the boat by anchoring your knees and leaning your whole body is another story - so don't do that. Basically, remember to keep your head over your center of support. You'll have a lot more margin for error if that center of support is the boat's floor (kneeling), but if it's the seat, sharp leans have more of a vague feeling for both control and the limit for leaning. Once you get the feel for it, you WILL be able to lean your upper body well outside the canoe when doing eddy turns or other sharp maneuvers, letting the dynamics of the paddle-water connection hold you up, but there's no need to rush into that.

stability issues
Big feet do present a bit of an issue in that a seat placed high enough for heel clearance might put your center of gravity when sitting uncomfortably high up.

A kneeling posture will enhance your sense of stability and ability to control the canoe by heeling it considerably. If you are comfortable in that position I would consider remounting the seat higher and gluing in some kneeling pads.

A key to stability in a canoe is to stay loose in the midsection so that your upper and lower body are somewhat independent. When you are kneeling as long as you can keep your belt buckle inboard of your outside knee you won’t go over. In most canoes you can heel the boat quite a bit before you reach the point at which it becomes impossible to do that.

Actually, a tandem boat is a little trickier in the sense that there is another occupant in the canoe whose movements you can’t always predict. After a time, you will be able to react instinctively to the other person’s weight shifts.

A canoe is somewhat like a bicycle in that it is much more stable in motion that it is standing still so if you keep the boat moving it will feel more stable. Also the act of placing your paddle(s) in the water and exerting pressure against it has a considerable bracing effect.

If you are going to sit
A footbrace is very desirable as it keeps you with multiple points of contact with the boat. Moreover you are not trying to stay on the seat with each paddle stroke…Without a brace each paddle plant and power stroke tends to pull you forward…and you have to do adjustments to get back on the seat.

Size thirteen feet…you do have to watch what you wear on your feet if the seat is low. Hiking boots are usually a no no…simply because they catch. When you capsize the tendency is for the feet to angle sideways as you leave the boat, so entrapment, while it should be considered, is less of an actual risk than you might think.

Its important for you to be secure in the back, because the bow paddler can not see what you are doing if you move and the boat lurches. What the boat does is a total surprise to them. Also the paddling station is quite a bit narrower in the bow and David Yost has studied some capsize scenarios. Almost all of the time capsizes are due to bow paddler ejection. Their head can get over the rail a lot easier, and the foot room forces legs and feet together. There is seldom much flat area in the bow floor.

In a perfect world, the power person should be in the bow. However many men who try it are not afraid to say that the bow station is unnerving. If they have been stern for a while, they are used to seeing lots of boat. Up front, there is water here water there water over there and almost no boat. Plus while in the stern they could spread their feet or knees for stability, in the bow the room to do that is gone.

Each paddlers psychological comfort level varies in various paddling stations so you have to pick what works best for you.

Unless you will be lilly dipping…
you absolutely should have a foot brace.

They will make draws, sweeps, prys, leans and just straight forward strokes much easier.

Racers even use straps on their foot brace to keep locked into and one with the canoe


Paddling Tips

– Last Updated: Nov-21-12 5:16 PM EST –

Maybe the best tip is to find a weekend Level 1 flatwater canoe skills clinic - you can learn a lot in a few days on the water with good instruction. Things as basic as entering the canoe, the dynamics of stability, paddle sizing and grip, basic stroke techniques - when it's all new, having someone show you what's what in an organized and progressive fashion and then have you practice it saves a lot of trial and error...

My wife and I paddled tandem for many years with her in the bow. One summer, I had a nasty go-round with tennis elbow and found sweeps and j-strokes really painful. So we switched, and quickly found it worked far better that way. The power balanced out better, and she held a truer course than I did, just like when we'd sailed. That's the way it stayed as long as we paddled canoes.

Flatwater bow power stroke technique is pretty straightforward. Stretch just a litte forward for the catch, apply power, out at the hip - past that, you're just lifting water - bring the blade about a foot above the surface, rotate the top hand outward to bring the blade parallel to the water's surface, slice it forward, rotate the paddle blade back square to the water, stretch just a little forward for the catch...and repeat.

An instructor friend showed me that a short, sharp stroke with a slightly higher cadence is the most efficient. And it's good to learn to stroke on both sides - being able to switch reduces fatigue and lets me use a draw stroke rather than a pry...

Tandem is fun
Congrats on getting out with your Wenona and your girl. Paddling a tandem boat with a skilled paddler is a lot of fun imo. The paddlers do need to learn to communicate, because when the tandem pair is not on the same page they can mess up twice as well as a solo boater.

A problem for the tandem pair is the bow paddler doesn’t know what the stern paddler is doing. Talking between the pair is good, but it is slow and sometimes difficult due to noise, wind, etc. IMO, the solution to this problem is for the bow paddler to take the lead, and leave the stern paddler to figure out what to do with their end of the boat.

Previous posters mention the bow person may counter the lean when the stern paddler wants to lean the boat. That is the natural inclination, and the bow can’t see that the stern is trying to lean the boat. They just feel the boat lean and counter. If the front person initiates the stroke and corresponding lean, the stern should be able to figure it out and support the move.

All that takes time to develop, and you and the g/f need to learn the basics first. It seems odd to me that often canoe instruction starts people off in tandem boats. I think it is helpful to paddle solo, learn the strokes and what is accomplished with leaning a boat. Then take that to the tandem boat.

I think tandem is tough to learn. There is a tendency to always think the other paddler is messing up. They call them “divorce boats” because a lot of arguments get started when the boat doesn’t do what you want and each paddler feels it is the others fault, or that they did what they thought their partner asked and now they are getting yelled at. So avoid that! I hope you stick with it. It can be fun.

Another suggestion I have is to switch ends of the boat every time you stop. Wind may sometimes make it desirable to change the trim of the boat. You’d like the heavy end of the boat to be pointing into the wind. With a 13 shoe size, I’m guessing you’d be the heavier. When you encounter that situation, you will be happy that both of you are comfortable at both ends of the boat. And a stern paddler can learn paddle strokes by watching the bow paddler’s draws, rudders, prys and what have you. So, I recommend changing it up at each stop.


Foot braces from wehnonah
Bad knees mean that I don’t kneel unless the conditions are critical. I do have foot braces in my canoes though. Wehnonah makes some that are easy to install. There are different kits for royalex and composite boats, so pick the right one.


the braces are money well spent
get the foot braces… It will change your whole experience. If you are uncomfortable putting them in yourself (I was) then i am sure that based on where you are located, someone in this group can recommend a shop to do this for you.

I had braces put in my Merlin II a few years back and it was like getting a new boat.

Glad to hear you coming over from the dark side!