How To Paddle Your Canoe Silently

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I’ve been enjoying working on that stroke with my Bruce Smith OT. Hard to make headway upstream with it, but it sure is fun!
 
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I'm also working on it, works great downstream and downwind!

I find that wildlife are often spooked by the paddle blade coming out of the water, so the visual stealthiness of the Indian/silent stroke is as helpful as the actual silence. Hit and switch or double blade semaphore action are both very spooky to critters.
 
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I have a lot of fun with silent strokes sneaking up on deer at my home lake in Pa. For best results be mindful of which way the wind is blowing and paddle into it. I have also snuck up on a couple of black bears, getting within about twenty feet of one last spring. What I have noticed is that, for deer and bear, is that sometimes they can see and hear you but don't run until they smell you. I don't think they recognize you as human when you are in a canoe and are curious.
 
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it is one of those strokes that I just naturally morph into for slow motion manduvering progress when in farily deep water near shore. It gives you time to inspect what is on land or perhaps to see and maneuver to avoid occasional shallow rocks, snags, or debris just under the surface as you move along. Like any such long practiced stroke it is one that you just "do" without ever having to conciously think much about the mechanics of how you perform it.
 
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it is one of those strokes that I just naturally morph into for slow motion manduvering progress when in farily deep water near shore. It gives you time to inspect what is on land or perhaps to see occasional shallow rocks, snags, or debris just under the surface as you move along. Like any such long practiced stroke it is one that you just "do" without ever having to conciously think much about the mechanics of how you perform it.
I still have to think about it quite a bit. And it’s something my wrist lets me know about too.
 
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I have a lot of fun with silent strokes sneaking up on deer at my home lake in Pa. For best results be mindful of which way the wind is blowing and paddle into it. I have also snuck up on a couple of black bears, getting within about twenty feet of one last spring. What I have noticed is that, for deer and bear, is that sometimes they can see and hear you but don't run until they smell you. I don't think they recognize you as human when you are in a canoe and are curious.

It also helps to keep your arms tucked into the silhouette of your body. There is something about arms that also tells deer its time to run.
 
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It should be easy on your wrists as the paddle rotates with gentle manipulation from the fingertips of your upper hand on the grip and spins freely in your lower hand around the shaft.
It’s the J portion that bugs me after a bit. Maybe I need to involve my shaft hand more instead of relying on my top hand?
 
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Video of Marc Ornstein showing how to blend maneuver into forward stroke shows the palm roll if you look closely. Watch the knuckles of his grip hand change sides of the grip at the end of the stroke to begin the slice into the plant position for the turn.
 
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it is difficult to properly describe without being on the water, but as I hold a paddle here in my living room, It appears that near the end of the power phase of the stroke, I push away on the far side of the grip with my thumb to bregin the process, as if I were entering that early portion of doing a "J". But then my shaft hand fingers assist to complete the rotation to put the blade in a position parallel to my keel line, slicing the paddle forward through the water during recovery without resistance to the power catch position. Midway, my grip palm automatically rolls over the top of the grip to grasp it on the opposite side, as the blade completes its rotatation to the opposite face at the top of the stroke. A slight final rotation of the foward edge of the blade into the flow stream assists with bringing the blade to the perpendicular power position. Makes sense to me, but it has to be done to experience where everything happens in detail. Practice and get the feel of the water and boat response, then just do it without thinking about the precise mechanics of how it is done.
 
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It’s the J portion that bugs me after a bit. Maybe I need to involve my shaft hand more instead of relying on my top hand?
The beauty of this stroke is that because you rotate the paddle you don't need to do that thumb down maneuver that you do with a J stroke, if that's what's bothering your wrist. Otherwise, after the power portion of the stroke I rotate the paddle 90 degrees so the blade is parallel to the keel and do a pry until I get the desired amount of correction. Your paddle will now be in position to feather forward and do a draw for correction then rotate for the next power stroke.
 
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The beauty of this stroke is that because you rotate the paddle you don't need to do that thumb down maneuver that you do with a J stroke, if that's what's bothering your wrist. Otherwise, after the power portion of the stroke I rotate the paddle 90 degrees so the blade is parallel to the keel and do a pry until I get the desired amount of correction. Your paddle will now be in position to feather forward and do a draw for correction then rotate for the next power stroke.
Oh interesting. I’ve been doing the J then slicing forward to grab a C. I’ll get something going that works. Just need more time in boat!
 
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Oh interesting. I’ve been doing the J then slicing forward to grab a C. I’ll get something going that works. Just need more time in boat!
So what you were doing probably looked a lot like a very ineffective Canadian. No need to put a C at the end of the Canadian. The directional control portion of the Canadian is achieved not by the push of an Initial "J", but rather by the angle of the blade as it is being sliced horizontally underwater during the recovery. Done properly, no "C" is required for straight line travel.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Oh interesting. I’ve been doing the J then slicing forward to grab a C. I’ll get something going that works. Just need more time in boat!
You don't have to do much of a J at all.

Go grip thumb down as you near the end of the pull on your power stroke, but don't push outward for the J. Just let the paddle freely rotate (palm roll) 180° in your shaft grip hand. This automatic rotation will itself impart some correction.

Then, on the in-water return, do a Canadian stroke return. That is, don't return the paddle in the water perfectly vertical. Return it at an angle, slightly pitched so the leading edge is turned slightly downward. As you push the paddle forward in the water with this pitch, you can completely correct the remaining off-side yaw or (by increasing the pitch further downward) even over-correct to an on-side yaw by the time your in-water returning paddle reaches your hip.

This is yet another stroke that is more easily demonstrated by instruction than describing in words.

In this video, Burchill does the corrective Canadian stroke in-water return first without palm rolling. But around 18 seconds in, he precedes two consecutive Canadian returns with palm rolls, which could be called the Indian stroke. The important point is how correction can be attained via the properly angled and pitched in-water return—not necessarily with any forced J-outward-push at all.

 
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@yknpdlr and @Glenn MacGrady thank you for the helpful description. I’ve also done a lazy full or partial in-water return without much J; I started the partial in-water recovery with a bent shaft paddle because that’s what I had, but have started working on full recovery with palm roll since getting an ottertail. My paddle ends up away from the gunwale at the front of the stroke which is where the C sort of begins. Do I need to work harder at pulling the bow over during return with that angled slice, or do I need to turn the paddle more so the slice stays more towards parallel with the keel? There is a lot of nuance in these strokes that isn’t quite visible in a video, nor does it fully convey in text.

P.s. Glenn, you’d asked about flexibility if my Bruce Smith OT. Yes it’s flexible, and yes I can feel it in the water when I put the coals to the fire. I used it on the Econfina, and was glad I’d also taken a bent shaft for the areas with some hidden obstacles and shallow areas. The bent shaft I had felt like a log by comparison, with its thick shaft and large grip. My favorite bent shaft was in the other boat because the paddler was shorter than me.
 

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When I want to go silent I go much slower than the guy doing the Canadian stroke in the above video. I may not have enough momentum to do a bonafide Canadian stroke.

I agree. In the video, he is demonstrating the Canadian return correction at cruising speed, not a fully in-water silent Indian stroke, which would likely be done at a lower speed. I just quickly chose that video because I noticed that he does two palm roll strokes, which are key to the Indian stroke.

Palm rolls themselves can be done not only at the beginning of the in-water return, but at the end of the return, just before you begin the pull on your next forward stroke. I think some have named that variation the Florida stroke. The nuanced variations are numerous.

There is a lot of nuance in these strokes that isn’t quite visible in a video, nor does it fully convey in text.

Yes, for palm rolls and everything else—stroke length, paddle angle, blade pitch, draw component, pry component, paddle placement fore and aft, paddle placement left or right, on-side or off-side, in all four quadrants—the subtle combinations are endless.

The good news is that, with enough years of practice, all of this becomes virtually automatic and unconscious, and the subtle combinations will flow into each other smoothly and continuously. How to make the boat do what you want, when you want, in reaction to wind, waves and currents, becomes automatic as you feel the varying pressures on your boat and paddle.

And to do this with a single blade paddle with an arsenal of forward, turning and correction strokes is, in my opinion, the most sophisticated, difficult and rewarding form of paddle craft propulsion. It becomes aesthetic motion pleasure, both physically and psychologically, and not just a task of traveling from A to B.
 
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I compare it to riding a bike. If you are cruising down a hill, say, and a pot hole is looming up ahead, you do not have to think much, if any , about what to do to maneuver your bike to avoid the hazard. It just happens automatically. You've done it before and it is a non-issue. Selecting what to do with a single blade paddle to move your canoe to precisely obey your will may be somewhat more complex than riding a bike, but with practiced muscle memory and fair vision, it is easily done.
 
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