Regcreek (62K)

     Gunwale Grabbing

I can't seem to stop myself doing it. It's one of the cardinal sins of canoeing: holding on to the gunwales.

Every time I lead my boat down a rocky drop or curly wave, I feel the boat shimmy and my balance is lost. I drop my paddle into the boat and grab the gunwales on either side of my seat, especially if I'm sitting in the bow.

1280-web (60K)
Laurie, stern, and Mike, bow, demonstrate how not to grab the gunwales as they run a rocky pitch on the South Renous.

I don't plan to do it. It's a nervous reaction I do without thinking. I'm positive it doesn't help prevent me from falling out of the boat, nor does it help keep the boat from flipping or plowing into a wave bow-first. But that knowledge doesn't help me in the moment.

There's gotta be something I can do to break this habit. I know it's wrong, but I can't seem to help myself. I'm sure it's been a factor in a fair share of the unplanned swims I've taken over the years.

All I can do is swear I'll never do it again.

Down from Narrows Pool

Our boats approach the dark line
beyond which nothing is known
too late to turn back

With giddy trepidation
tinged with elation
we plunge over the ledge
between rocks
into aerated chaos

Eerily calm in crisis
split-second decisions
arms use muscle memory
translate confusion
into paddle strokes
mind but a witness

Hang on to our paddles
keep off the gunwales
don't get sideways
watch for branches
bobbing evil
in black water

Stealing glimpses ahead
when we can
hoping to see in time
what lurks behind
the next blind turn

A heartbeat before us
the river narrows
drops into the gorge
no time to gawk
head for the shore

Carefully, we line our boats
down the swirling funnel
to the pool below
this time we made it
no one crashed.

Should You Love Your Paddle?


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