Wednesday June 14th 2017
Understanding how water flows down a river channel gives you a great advantage in paddling. Current can hinder or help you whether you are going downstream or upstream. If you know how to use the current and riverbed topography to your advantage you will be a far more efficient paddler and racer.
Simply put, when paddling downstream you want to be in the fastest navigable current and when paddling upstream you want to be close to shore where the current has the least effect against your boat.
Understand ferrying, front and back. Ferrying is moving across the current by using the force of the current to push your bow or stern. If you angle your boat to the current, it will push it towards that side. This is an excellent skill to practice, both forward and backward, and requires both paddlers to maintain the correct angle to the current.
A meandering river has a predictable pattern. In the absence of complicating factors, the current will be fastest on the outside of curves. On the inside where the current is slowest you should find the shallowest parts of the river. When paddling downstream you need to determine which is the best route: staying wide in the current or cutting the shallow corners. Often popping your boat up in the shallows is the quickest route but it depends on how much energy you have to spare, how big the corner is, and if/how you are traveling in a pack.
As the current moves around corners eddies are created. These are areas of dead water or water flowing upstream. Often there is a clear eddy-line which is where many boats tip due to the unpredictable forces of the current. You can use eddies to pull you upstream more quickly, dump boats off your wash and other fun things. When crossing strong eddy lines you may need to lean the boat downstream to present more hull to the current so it doesn’t pull the boat right over.
Almost every river has obstacles. Watch the water: if you see waves that stay in one place, they may indicate a rock or log under the water. Shallow corners can be dangerous if there is any debris in the water. Anywhere there is an obstacle the current will be affected: watch where the water is going and use it to your advantage.
Unless you live on the wild side, don’t pass boats on the inside when going upstream. Their wave can drive you straight into the shore. This is worst on shallow corners when you think you’ve got a good chance to fly by on their side wave and suddenly find your boat nose-deep in the riverbank!