Paddling Upstream

I am looking to paddle upstream up a fairly slow river (not whitewater at all). I borrowed a friend’s kayak, and I had a lot of trouble maintaining a straight path. I would be going upstream for a minute and then get rapidly turned towards a bank. I’m a novice, so I’m sure my form and technique was off. What should I do to keep going in a straight line better?

Also, it was a 10’ cheap sit inside kayak, and I had been considering one like it because they’re inexpensive and easy to deal with. Will a kayak like this be much harder to paddle upstream?

Besides technique, is it possible
that the kayak was trimmed light in the bow?

Any 10 ft kayak is slow
They are also about three feet wide. Any of these things chew up more effort over a distance than a narrower, longer boat.

I love to paddle upstream, because the increased current reveals the hull’s characteristics/flaws.

That said, nothing under 12 feet can be made to glide and be controllable. And, roto-molded hulls are compromised because the things the mfg must do to keep them kinda stiff compromises forward speed and maneuverability.

On the other hand, we all start somewhere.

Bon chance, CEW

Non-aligned streams of current

– Last Updated: Sep-04-12 10:55 AM EST –

The current is rarely uniform in speed and direction at all locations across the width of a small river channel (or a big one, but small ones is where this is more likely to get confusing). Some of these nonuniform sub-currents become especially apparent when going upstream. What you describe is a common problem in hard-tracking boats trying to go upstream in swift water, but the same thing can happen traveling at slower speeds against a moderate current. If this is what is going on, you won't have the same problem on still water, so if you get a chance to try the boat on a pond or lake, that would help figure things out.

If non-uniform currents ARE the cause, you can learn to get better at dealing with them. The first step is to watch the water's surface out in front of you, and look for zones where the current is not perfectly aligned with your direction of travel. For example, if you look up ahead and see a patch of current that is running at a slight diagonal instead of straight toward you, you can be prepared for it to pull the bow to one side as your boat first enters that zone.

Another common situation is much harder to see, and that is on bends in the river where the current on the side of your boat toward the outside of the curve is faster than that on the side facing the inside of the bend. When rounding a bend going upstream, the water on the side of the boat toward the outside bank passes the hull at greater speed than that on the side facing the inside of the curve, and thus the water toward the outside of the bend tends to grab the bow and tug it in that direction. Also, any slight deviation in heading toward the outside of the bend makes the bow get grabbed harder, because the zone of faster current will be coming at the bow slightly off-kilter, and so the problem is self-amplifying. This action is so pronounced even in mild current that a canoer with a single-blade paddle finds it much easier to paddle on the side toward the outside of the bend, needing little or no correction strokes. In such a situation, a kayaker who's keeping a steady right-left-right-left cadence with no corrections will get knocked off course almost every time.

When coming downstream the problem on bends is the opposite. The boat has a tendency to turn toward the inside of the curve because the slower-moving water on that side of the boat is passing the hull more quickly than water on the other side where the current is faster and does a better job of "keeping up" alongside the hull. So it's the water on the side toward the inside of the curve that gets "grabby" when encountered by the bow.

You'll get used to these things, and if you put your mind to it you'll learn to understand what's happening and take preventive measures ahead of time, or IF caught by surprise, you'll react much more quickly and thus stay in control.

paragraphs are a good thing
Otherwise, an excellent post, and thanks.

I appreciate the advice. I know I won’t be going fast, I’m just interested in not constantly fighting currents. Basically, I could pull ahead for maybe 20 feet at a more than suitable pace, but then I’d get pulled somewhere and have to pull myself back into line, totally killing any momentum.

That explanation of the different currents really helps. Is there a good guide anywhere for dealing with those? I’ll be trying it out with the same boat to see if I can start to manage, but out of curiosity, what models and specs do you guys recommend for this kind of thing?

Nothing smooth laminar flow
Rivers are naturally occurring and are constantly

evolving, modifying themselves, waxing/waning, etc.

Understanding the basics of simple flow will help

Understand what moves quick, what creates eddies,

and how you can hopscotch upstream efficiently.

You can use the river flows to help you.
With experience you learn to use eddies and such to help you ascend a river. Essentially you try to paddle up in an eddy and when you get to the top of the eddy move across (ferry) to another eddy and begin ascending again. Great fun.

Specs you need
The boat isn’t helping but there is not any boat that will replace your knowing HOW to paddle this stuff.

You need to learn to ride the eddies up whereever possible, as below, and learn how to paddle straight in a current. Both take time and practice.

A boat can’t do that for you.

Also paddle upstream often
I also paddle upstream on swift Class II sections of river and REALLY enjoy it. The learning curve can be steep and practice/patience/experience will probably be more important than hull-shape. I paddle a Wenonah Argosy solo canoe for this but have used several other canoes with less efficiency but still doable and fun. OH,…BTW I use a kayak paddle for this because it is 10 times easier. When I turn back around to go down river I switch to the single-blade canoe paddle for better power for bracing into eddies and hitting the correct lines.

be thankful there was

Just keep at it
I’d keep at it. I think you’ll know more and like it more after another 4 or 5 trips.

The 10 foot boat you are using is likely to be faster and have better tracking than most white water kayaks and they eddy hop up stream quite a lot. In time you may come to enjoy doing it, but it will never be the simple paddle that a pond will provide.

The nice thing is that you can learn a lot and get a lot of good paddling in jumping from eddy to eddy. And then when you are tired it is really easy and fast to get back to your car.

Are you happy now?
I figured that the first sentence was a suitable topic sentence for the whole thing, but it does read easier when broken up more.

¶ breaks are like eddies for your eyes!
:slight_smile: Thanks.

A couple comments

– Last Updated: Sep-04-12 12:19 PM EST –

It doesn't sound like you need a highly specialized boat for the conditions you describe, and though ANY boat of decent quality will be nicer than a beach toy, the main thing right now is getting some practice. If you decide you want to stick with it, by all means get a better boat, but there's probably no rush.

I don't know of any written guides about this sort of thing other than those dealing with whitewater. Still, whitewater instructions can be very useful for dealing with medium currents on flatwater. I'm partial to "Path of the Paddle" by Bill Mason. You can get the book and the video of the same name, but the book is better for learning to understand currents. I seem to recall one error in that book though. I think there's a diagram showing how the current speed diminishes in close proximity to the river bottom (correct) AND in close proximity to the surface (incorrect). At the surface, the current is as far as possible from the zone of friction along the river bottom, and there is no friction where the water contacts the air, so with drag at a minimum, current is likely to be faster at the surface, not slower (the author understood this, even if the diagram was wrong).

The places where the current direction makes obvious deviations are easy to see and easy to understand, so as long as you pay attention you'll get those problems figured out quickly. On the other hand, the situation I described on river bends is not at all intuitive UNTIL you become aware that even within the small area that's occupied by the boat, current speed is slower toward the inside than toward the outside of the curve. Long ago, I did a few canoe trips per year for a few years, and during that time I never understood what was causing control problems on river bends. Back then, I was focused on maintaining the boat's position within the channel (like steering a car within its lane), rather than being aware of what the water which passed alongside the hull was doing, so I was just like so many casual paddlers who never do figure these things out. Simply being aware that the water beneath the boat is doing funky things puts you a couple steps ahead on the learning curve.

The best thing
No shuttle bunny needed :slight_smile:

The river boat I have used most recently
is a Riot Booster 55. It is a dedicated river running kayak. It is 7’4.5" long. Because it is a well designed river running kayak, going up stream (called attaining) is more predictable and a direct consequence of its design and my experience in using it going down stream. The message here is skill, training, and experience count for a lot. Even a cheap 10’ kayak can be paddled upstream if you know how. But it is a lot easier if you are paddling a quality kayak even if it is a lot shorter than 10’. So you are setting a task for yourself that you have little or no experience dealing with and a tool that puts you at a disadvantage. My recommendation is that you look around for a used, older white water kayak that is longer and narrower (like the Dancer). You will not sacrifice stability but you will gain a lot in down river speed and more control going upstream.

yes. well done.

Book learnin’

– Last Updated: Sep-07-12 10:44 AM EST –

There are a couple of books I know of that will help you in understanding how to navigate upstream. These books were written by canoe poler extraordinaire - Harry Rock. Since river poling is mainly about going upstream, the boat mechanics and river dynamics are well covered - and all but the standing with a pole translates directly to paddling upstream in any boat. You might want to take a look...

Current price listed is high, for some reason.
For that price you can get his more recent book *and* the DVD.