one of the first rules that paddling newbies learn is to always paddle on opposite sides of a tandem canoe. They are told that this provides the best stability and control. Indeed, the late freestyle paddler and canoe builder Mike Galt once wrote: “Decide at birth on which side of the canoe you want to paddle, then never, ever change.”
The exception: When it’s okay to paddle on the same side
There are many good reasons tandem teams should stick to paddling on opposite sides of the canoe—and going straight is just one of them. Still, there is a common exception to this rule.
Consider this scenario when angling across a windy lake. You paddle harder as the wind tries to turn the canoe sideways. If the canoe broadsides to the waves, it may capsize. What to do?
If the stern paddler is on the down-wind side of the canoe and the bow paddler is on the up-wind side, the stern partner must paddle harder than the bow to keep the canoe on course. This is a fine solution in a moderate wind, but a big blow will wear you out.
Or, if the stern paddler is on the up-wind side and the bow paddler is on the down-wind side, the stern must hold a strong rudder or frequently apply a powerful correction stroke to prevent the canoe from broaching. This reduces power and forward motion. And, the out-of-sync bow and stern strokes reduce stability.
When angling across a windy lake, it’s better for both partners to stroke in unison on the down-wind side of the canoe. This method best stabilizes the canoe and makes for the most efficient forward progress. Paddling on the same side in this scenario is the most efficient way to power across a lake in a crosswind.
If waves have grown to an impressive height, however, having the stern paddle on the up-wind side and apply powerful correction strokes is the best option to avoid swamping, even though precious forward momentum will be lost.
Cliff Jacobson is a renowned author and wilderness guide.
To stay on course, sometimes you must break the rules. | Feature photo: Jay Kolsch