solo canoeing mishaps

After two successful (tandem) rivertrips with class I + II rapids in a 16,9 ft MR Explorer, I recently tried my first solo adventure down a fast running class I + II river. It was just me in the canoe (no floatbags or anything else), and the very first minute ripple tossed my canoe upside down ? What’s up with that ? Is it possible to go solo sans floatbags ? How about adding stones as extra weight? Where should I sit ?

Float bags don’t do much unless…
…you’re in the water. I mean IN the water.

They take up space that would get filled with water and if you flip, they add bounancy.

But as long as you are upright, they don’t do

much but look cool.

Can you solo without them? Sure. Just don’t flip!

sounds like my first solo an Explorer
A friend and I took a guy down a class II creek with one class III rapid. My buddy was in a Supernova and I was with the other fella in his Explorer. He told me before we went that he used to paddle this creek a lot. His older Explorer was outfitted for WW and I figured he did what he said he did.

Well from the start he seemed kind of unsure of himself. Said he “didn’t recognize anything.” Long story short we scouted the III and he wanted no part of running it. It was too steep on the sides to really line and it was getting late and we had to keep moving. So, he climbed up the gorge and made his way around the rapid while I took the Explorer solo.

It wasn’t pretty. I got spun around and dumped pretty quickly. Later I broke it down in my head and realized what happened.

I was kneeling with the canoe backwards just in front of the bow seat. So, I was fairly bow light. When I entered the swift water I had to maneuver. But when I turned, the heavier-in-the-water stern got hit by much more of the current than the light bow. The current drove the stern downstream spinning me sideways. I was soon swimming.

Best thing about it was the whole thing scared me enough to take a swiftwater rescue course the next spring.

To me, the Explorer is too wide to paddle from a true center position. You can spin it around and paddle it backwards kneeling like I did. Better my experience by planning for the solo trip and carry some water in the bow to bring it down so you are in trim. Helps keep things a little more predictable.

Sit towards the center
You’d like your trim about neutral and you should be near the center of the boat. Paddling solo, you need to be able to reach forward for sweeps and draws, and this is more effectively done when you are sitting close to the center of the boat.

I added a thwart about 16" behind the center thwart of my Tripper. When I paddle solo, the additional thwart supports my butt, while I am kneeling with my knees ahead of the center thwart. The Tripper is just as wide as the Explorer. It’s okay to slide to the side you are paddling on if the boat feels too wide for you. In the Tripper, I even think it helps the boat go straight if I slide to the side.

I’ve never paddled an explorer, but they have a reputation of being capable boats. So I suspect trim was the problem. One thing I hate about paddling solo is that there is nobody to tell you what happened if you mess up (plus the whole safety thing).

~~Chip Walsh, Gambrills, MD

davegg, a mutual friend of rroberts and
me, used to solo paddle a MR Explorer on Chattooga section 4, the Chauga Gorge, the upper, upper Conasauga, and lots of other class 3-4 stuff. Davegg is a medium sized guy, no special reach or leverage. He had the Explorer properly rigged, and he had paddled it long enough to know exactly what it would do in any situation. Like the catsup ad, “Anticipation… anticipay-ay-tion…”

In my opinion, the Explorer, venerable though it is, will not be the best craft to learn solo open boating. If you like a large boat, get an Esquif Vertige X. If you want a true solo open boat, there are a good number of options. If you want to continue solo paddling the Explorer, plan on getting damn strong in your upper body. By modern standards, it is a bit piggy even for a tandem crew. (See Esquif Presage X for a modern alternative.)

The Explorer’s hull is fairly decent for a non-dedicated_WW hull, but its size quickly “does it in”. Paddling technique IS different than on flatwater.

Whitewater is much more technique & balance oriented…basic strokes that will work for a beginner, namely “muscling” a canoe forward with a paddle, simply don’t “cut it” on moving water…ClassII and beyond. The power of moving water is enormous…as you’ve found out. With the weight of a person in the canoe, the canoe’s hull has to have some rocker in addition to a manageable size and shape.


How about adding stones as extra weight

If you need ballast, use a couple of 5 gallon water jugs.

In a class I-II river…canoes don’t …
…flip !

Paddlers flip them.

You need more time in the canoe and much more experience.

You need to head toward the middle of the wave trains and the “V’s” in the rapids.

You need instant reactions on your ruddering to weave yourself between the rocks.

Since you are a novice, make sure you pull into a eddy just before each riffle or rapid, and look for the clean path and decide on your game plan.

The mistake that you are making is hoping that your canoe will get you through each rapid without you helping it, and the second you are off balance instead of reacting you are going over.

Stay with it, and eventually you will be like the rest of and yelling: “more, more, more!”



Get off the stern seat
You can’t sit on the stern seat. As mentioned above, you must get into the center of the canoe.

Kneel, rig your boat for solo, get a kneeling thwart, or one of those leather seats that hang from the gunwales, etc. There are lots of options.

You could try paddling the canoe backwards sitting on the bow seat if you must.

Explorers Flotation etc.
Flotation is to keep your boat floating high AFTER you have fallen out. It might save your boat from wrapping around a rock (by floating over it) but in a big boat like the Explorer you won’t get enough flotation in to keep you from swamping.

My Explorer has one seat. It used to be the bow seat but now the bow is at the other end. Most of the time I solo from there but when things get challenging I will kneel right behind the center thwart. From the center it’s tough to do offsides or switch so a good “J” and a strong pry are both handy.

The only time that boat wants ballast is on a lake when the wind blows. If you use jugs of water they won’t sink the boat if you do flip it.

Everything boat
Mad River Explorer – it’s a boat that tries to be everything to everybody and as such is a great boat to have if you’re not going to have a quiver of 10 boats. I doubt that it’s best at anything, maybe poling, but it’s a darn fine all-rounder. I’ve had to buy the fact my beloved Explorer isn’t faster than a Voyager, as balanced as a Baboosic or the river runner an Esquif might be. It’s a comprimise boat and as such it is a darn fine platform for doing lotsa fun stuff on the water. It can certainly handle light class 3 down. I don’t know its upper limits I have done many rivers with my Explorer and sometimes the river has slapped us silly, sometimes the operator has made errors, but I can’t honestly say the boat has not be up to the task.

Work on reading the river, get down on your knees, manage your speed, master the strokes and have fun. If you get turned around, look around, be embarrassed, but don’t worry about it. This boat will easily handle classes 1 and 2 and should you ever have the good fortune of getting a boat designated for such waters your skills in keeping that lovely tub which is an Explorer will serve you well!



Going solo is worth the effort to learn
You need to master some basic solo strokes and maneuvers BEFORE going to the rapids. The float bags do several things. First, protect the boat, second, protect you from being crushed by the boat and third, make the boat easier to empty.

You sit in the middle at what is called the Pivot Point.

The strokes and maneuvers you need are: a consistent lean, sweeps, brace, back stroke, ferry and of course, a way to go forward efficiently.

It would be great to have some self-rescue drills, too.