Weight Distribution

My girlfriend and I went on a ten day paddle in the BWCA a while back and the canoe had a horrible time tracking. we were in a seventeen foot kevlar Wenonah Wenonnah, two backpacks and a food pack. The packs came to about 80lbs and were in the center of the canoe. So I am a big guy (240) and my girlfriend is a tiny lady (don’t know how much she weighs, and I dare not ask). She has the better skills than I, so she was in the stern. The weather out on Lac laCroix was extremely windy, and choppy. We tracked horribly, and had a very challenging paddle. So, even though she is the more skilled paddler, should I have been in the stern? Or could it be that it is just one of those occasions where the wind would present a challenge to any set skill level? I honestly do know how strong the wind was but I am guessing it was more than 20 mph easily.

A light stern makes handling squirrely

– Last Updated: Feb-21-13 9:15 AM EST –

The stern is naturally much less "locked in place" while the boat is moving forward than the bow. To make matters worse, once it starts to wander or "skid", that motion tends to amplify. Planting the bow deep in the water as well aggravates the problem, as it makes the boat tend to "trip over itself" and tumble out of line.

The handling probably would have been better with you in the stern, BUT, overly bow-light isn't ideal either. Whichever person is in which end, you probably could have gotten things balanced pretty well by shifting your gear much closer to the end having the lighter person. If your girlfriend is more skilled, I'd put her in the stern and shift the gear packs toward her end.

Think of the canoe as a teeter-totter. A small child and an adult can balance a teeter-totter if the child sits at one end and the adult shifts away from his/her end toward the center. If those same two people had a load of gear piled on the teeter-totter, they could simply shift that material toward the child's end, and the adult would not need to shift toward the center. Do the same with your gear load, thinking of the center of the boat as the pivot point of a teeter-totter. "Slightly" stern-heavy is usually okay, but for basic cruising, try to get the boat level. For sustained headwinds, bow-heavy helps, and for a sustained tailwind, stern-heavy makes things easier.

20 mph is a strong wind to be paddling in, and if your girlfriend is skilled enough to keep a squirrely back end under control during most conditions, it might not be possible in that kind of wind. The wind direction relative to your travel direction makes a big difference too. When the stern is too light, any cross wind, tail wind, or some combination of the two will be difficult to deal with.

its called "trim"
trim the boat level, or just a little bow light for normal conditions

trim a bit bow heavy for headwinds

trim a bit bow light for tail winds

the stronger the wind, the more you need to trim the boat

quartering winds, particularly quartering stern winds seem to be the hardest to deal with

all paddlers will experience issues with strong winds blowing - you just need to be adapatable, by shifting the gear load - sometimes, its easier to go where you want if the stern paddler is on the left side, or on the right - its worth changing sides to see if that helps some, which it will often do with side or quartering winds

it also helps to paddle straight into the wind, or straigt downwind, then change direction later when your near shore - the wind has less effect on the boats course if its at 12 o’clock or 6 o’clock

You should have beern in the stern or
if you wanted to stay in the bow, you should have moved the gear back to a point where your boat was trim or a tad bow light

Bow heavy will cause you go all over the place as you described. Even on a calm day

Jack L

Fit and TRIM :slight_smile:
Thanks all, great advice… Once I read everyone’s comments it seems kind of obvious… start eating the carrots and celery. Joking aside, I felt that we were paddling in some pretty hairy conditions for our skill levels (well at least mine). This advice will go a long way, because I have just started my paddling addiction, and the BWCA has a lot to explore!

It’s great to see new people getting…
into this wonderful world of paddling.

It is a never stop learning sport and opens up a lot of new adventures for you.

Jack L

It’s especially nice to see all the new canoe posters here. I don’t remember seeing so many all at once.

Welcome to a very rewarding endeavor.

I was thinking the same thing
It’s good to see someone get hooked on canoeing and Boundary Waters tripping when so many others these days are enamored with getting their first rec kayak.

Trimming the tandem
Very bow heavy makes it tough to hold your course. A little bow heavy can help in a headwind or while back paddling in current, emphasis on a little.

Sometimes you can just rearrange your gear to trim things out but sometimes you need to move your paddling station(s). Moving the heavier person towards the center and/or the lighter person towards the ends can help a lot.

I paddled with a father son team who had a heck of a time until the father (in the bow) moved behind the bow seat. All of a sudden his much lighter sternman could control the boat.

I’ve used a pack, a drybag or a small cooler as a seat when the one that came with the boat was not placed for good trim.

One other thing to keep in mind
The bow and stern seats are not the same distance from their respective ends of the boat. The bow seat is farther from its end (and closer to the boat’s center) than the stern seat is, by about two feet, perhaps more. This means that putting the heavier paddler in the bow and the lighter paddler in the stern upsets trim less than the other way around. So in your case it will be easier to make the boat level just by shifting gear closer to the lighter paddler if you (the heavier paddler) are in the bow.

same thing happened to us …

– Last Updated: Feb-22-13 2:39 PM EST –

...... we had spent 4 days up on the Yough reservoir camping, fishing and paddling . Didn't have any problems at all until the 4th day when the winds became really strong .

That day we launched out into a fearce headwind and it was powerful . We made the crossing just fine and stayed relatively close to the opposite shore . The reservoir splits right on that side (left on the other) , and the right split was our destination that day last day .

As we rounded the bend to the right the winds coming down that split increased even more . Not wanting to turn back and start heading home just yet , we pushed into the split and dug in hard . All I could do was laugh and we kept paddling harder . Less than a 1/2 mile of this up the split plus a sore stomach from continously laughing so hard ... we said to each other , it's been a great trip , I'm totally pooped out now , are we ready to call it and head back to camp , pack up and head home .

We agreed , been a great 4 days , time to begin our departure .

We intiated a 180 turn to the left , which was when the big surprise began to unfold !!

The canoe just seemed to lock itself solid at about 2/3's the way through that 180 . Not for love nor money could we complete the turn . I had her (in the bow) try every stroke available to keep pursuading the bow around , while I tried them all from the stern . We heeled , we paddled as hard as we could , but the best we could accomplish was and unfinnished 180 turn which was constently fighting back at us to reverse all we were doing .

Finally we got soooo pooped out I just locked the paddle in like a rudder while she did what she could in the bow to keep it from turning back .

At that point we started to do a side ways slide/skid to the left through heavy chop and waves towards shore . That skid was a ride to behold , it skidded this way for a good couple hundred yards before we got into less ferosiuos winds and water closer to shore ... and then the bow finally broke to complete the 180 turn . All the while I couldn't stop laughing , laughing and laughing . All the while she was just this side of terrified delerium but hung in there like a champ .

The remainder of the return to camp (downwind and cross wind) was uneventful .

Upon reflecting on that 180 attempt , I knew it had something to do with the extremely powerful winds , but wasn't until later I learned here on p.net that our trim was terribly incorrect for that day and that was the real culprit .

Moral to story ... adjust bow trim "before" attempting high wind turn arounds , and it's amazing to learn just how safe our canoe can be even in those circumstances (it didn't flip , 5 thumbs up for an OT Expedition 169) .

Why didn’t you try things?
Not trying to flame, but…

You had the boat, you had the two of you, you had your packs, you had ten days.

You obviously thought about it.

So why didn’t you try different combinations? Why wait until you came home to ask the internet?

Easy to think of such things when you…

– Last Updated: Feb-22-13 6:16 PM EST –

... already know that trim is important, but not so easy if you don't. The original poster and his friend had trouble on ONE windy day, and probably breathed a sigh of relief once they got through the worst of it. Probably the rest of the time, when the wind didn't blow so hard, they thought they were doing fine and had no idea things could have been a little better. And just like the situation described in this thread by Pilotwings, "rasslin' with the wind" wasn't the most opportune moment to start experimenting, and in both cases the paddlers didn't think about trim until after they talked to people who know.

There've been a few times I've seen people complain about how awkward their traditional snowshoes are to walk in, and it was only because the binding was lashed to the wooden crossmember instead of where it belonged (easy to fix but not if you don't already know how they should fit your feet and pivot). I've seen people complain about how poor the headlights on their car light up the road when all that was wrong was that the lights didn't shine where they were supposed to (easy to fix but not if you lack the experience to notice where they shine, and know that you can adjust them as necessary - just look how many cars you see on the roads at night with mis-adjusted lights). I once saw a novice canoer paddle ALL DAY LONG using a one-quarter reverse sweep as a correction stroke, and he just thought "solo canoeing is hard work", rather than recognizing the inefficiency of his method. People often don't automatically know what to adjust when things are difficult, so I give the original poster credit for asking. Plenty of other people would either struggle on in misery or quit.

Less Volume in Bow
Yes Guideboatguy the bow seat is closer to the center of the canoe but the bow is more slender in the Wenonah and since the center of mass of both paddlers is slightly in front of the seat, the canoe trims level with equal sized paddlers. Putting a big male paddler up front in a slender canoe with a small paddler in the stern where the paddling station is wider, is asking for trouble. Even trimming the canoe level with gear, the big bow paddler is going to cause stability problems if the team is not experienced with this canoe in those positions.

This couple will be fine if they practice trimming level and with the power paddler in the bow. I hope they continue their paddling together.


a stitch in time? Some other time
To answer your question Mintjulip:

The roughest and hardest paddling day was heading home into the wind on lake Agnes. There were other days we had challenges, but this particular day was the toughest. Our plan was that the experienced paddler would be in the stern, and less experience in the bow. That is what we stuck with. The packs were in the middle, and were not really shifted to either direction to accommodate a more appropriate trim. We did succeed form getting to point A to point B although it wasn’t as graceful as we had hoped. So we spent more fishing and enjoying nature than analyzing our technique (we had a twelve hundred mile drive after the trip where we discussed paddling technique and lack there of).

So yes there is a lot to learn still, and we are looking at (or I am) purchasing a Wenonah Boundry Waters 17’ within the next year. We currently own recreational kayaks (12’ Pungo, and an older wilderness systems). Since we love ‘primitive’ camping(and we do a lot of camping, just without boats) the addition of a canoe seems to be the logical direction we are headed.