Chip and I started to hijack another thread by discussing the merits of bow vs. stern quadrant steering strokes for solo open boaters.
I suspect that if this is of interest to anyone it will be those who canoe in current and possibly freestyle paddlers. Most folks who restrict their paddling to flat water can often get by with forward strokes, some type of power stroke/correction combo (like a J stroke), forward and reverse sweeps and possibly the occasional bow draw or bow cross draw.
I think there have been 2 schools of thought regarding the most effective way to control the attitude of the boat in current. The more traditional approach, and still advocated by prominent whitewater open boat instructors such as Bob Foote, is to correct from the stern.
The second school of thought, which seems to be gaining in prominence in recent years, emulates whitewater slalom C-1 and OC-1 boaters who tend to keep their weight forward and steer from the bow quadrants as much as possible. This technique also emphasizes carving circles on the on and off side whenever possible. Tom Foster and Charlie Wilson were early OC-1 proponents of the circle carving technique.
The advantages of the so-called “cab forward” technique is that it keeps the power strokes short and forward of the hip, and does not waste the time required to take the paddle to the stern quadrant(s) so it is inherently more efficient. Keeping the body weight forward also frees the stern up and allows it to skid and quickly tighten the radius of the carved circle which can be advantageous when maneuvering in tight quarters.
The disadvantage is that for most of us, steering from the bow quadrants is not as strong as well-executed stern correction strokes. It also doesn’t work too well when bow surfing waves. Poorly executed bow correction strokes like static bow draws and cross draws can also dramatically slow the boat.
The logical (or absurd) end-point of the cab forward technique is the notion that all boat control can be accomplished with only two strokes, the forward stroke and the cross-forward stroke, coupled with 4 other elements that effect and modify the effect these strokes have on the particular circle being carved at any given moment. The 4 other elements are:
- Stroke cadence,
- Stroke position relative to the knee and hip (planting the paddle further forward also shifts body weight toward the bow),
- Paddle shaft angle (dropping the shaft angle and allowing the blade to come out from the hull a bit introduces a little “sweep” into the stroke,
- Boat heel (or lack thereof).
Noted canoeing instructor and author Andrew Westwood has dubbed this technique the “2 x 4 technique” for carving the inside circle:
I think it is a far stretch to say that Andrew “developed” this technique. Tom Foster and Charlie Wilson have been saying the same thing in other words for decades.
Chip related an experience at Madawaska Kanu Center in which his whitewater instructor suggested he give up on bow steering strokes and concentrate on correcting from the stern. Although this was a few years ago, it is not the only time I have heard this advice. I was rather surprised to hear a noted ACA instructor recently declare that “all correction should be done from the stern” (of a solo canoe).
I have also heard the other extreme suggested. That all steering can be accomplished from the bow quadrants and that correction or steering strokes in the stern quadrants are only necessary to correct a mistake. I have heard paddlers that resort to taking the paddle to the stern quadrant to steer dismissed as “paddle draggers”.
My own feeling is that both techniques are useful. Increasingly I try to control my boat in current carving circles and correcting from the bow, but have no reluctance to use a good stern pry or draw in big water or when I have “fallen off my circle”.
There was a recent discussion over at cboats dot net regarding this issue:
I found it interesting that Paul Mason (who posts there as pmp) suggested that beginners can actually learn the 2 x 4 method more easily than they can stern correction strokes (which he frequently calls “stern rudders”). This would seem to be the exact opposite tack as that taken by Chip’s MKC instructor.
But I found it significant that Paul admitted in the last post on that thread that he had plenty of occasions to resort to “ruddering” when paddling an unfamiliar boat on the Tellico last spring.