Wednesday May 24th 2017 *POSTPONED*
Steering the Boat: Draws, Pushes, Leans and Sides
Paddling a marathon canoe is different than paddling a recreational canoe. Marathoners don't use correction strokes like the J-stroke to direct the boat where they want it. By switching sides every 5-10 strokes the paddlers can keep the canoe going fairly straight, but what do you do when you need a little more help?
The two major steering strokes used by marathon paddlers are the draw and the push. These are used in the bow and stern and are adaptations to the forward stroke. In other words (unless the situation is drastic) the paddler takes a regular forward stroke but with an angled pull or push at the initial part of the power phase. It usually doesn't take much to be quite effective.
The most subtle way to change the direction of your boat is to lean it. If you lean one of the gunwales closer to the water the boat will carve in the opposite direction. Both paddlers need to be loose in the boat and working together to keep it stable. Usually it is the stern paddler who initiates leans, which can be done by simply relaxing your hip on the leaning side and looking towards where you want the boat to go. Leans are most often done towards the stern paddler's side, but if you are an experienced paddler, offside leans can be very useful. In the bow it is an awkward feeling to be leaning the boat away from your paddling side, especially if you are trying to draw at the same time.
Another way to turn the boat is to both paddle on the same side, which pushes the boat away from that side. This is called "paddling sides". The stern paddler may switch to the bow paddler's side or hut the bow paddler to their side, but it's always a good idea to let your partner know you are doing this! Paddling sides can be uncomfortable and some people don't like it, but in certain situations I find it the fastest way to get where you need to be.
Good paddlers will put very small amounts of draw or push on a stroke to fine tune the boat direction before having to resort to something more drastic. Usually small leans and subtle steering strokes are all that is needed to direct the boat, but sometimes you need more. The more steering you need to put on a stroke the more it will slow down the boat. That is why I will try sides before resorting to large steering strokes.