Rethinking 30 years of soloing tandems

Joined
Jun 3, 2015
Messages
1,490
Reaction score
668
Location
Anchorage Alaska / Pocono Mts.
Years ago I read about paddling tandems from the bow seat facing the stern. The benefits of increased stability and better trim where enough for me to adhere to this technique 100% of the time and I thought it was the only way to go. When I would see someone solo paddling a tandem from the stern with their bow way out of the water I assumed that they were either inexperienced or uninformed. This changed for me earlier this summer when for whatever the reason I don't remember I started paddling from the stern seat and realized the benefits of it. Firstly the more narrow seat position makes for more efficient and comfortable paddling. The second thing which is counter intuitive is that the boat turns on a dime because it is pivoting at the stern with little resistance from the water on the hull. This was with an empty boat, with a load you will loose the benefit of pivoting at the stern for easier turning but you will get the benefit of better trim and stability and still enjoy the ease of paddling.

I would like to add that the boat makes a difference. My 18' guide is pretty stable from the stern seat even having some secondary stability, same with my winona spirit II. The 18 footer is so stable I can paddle it while sitting on the deck. My 16' Yankee is also pretty good. My 16' OT guide which is a tippy boat to begin with is very doable but not too forgiving. Although the one time I had to use a brace to prevent a swim in it I was in the bow facing the stern, so there is no gauranty either way.

I would like to emphasize that it is safer to paddle from the bow seat, especially for the inexperienced who may not be confident and proficient with braces. It would also be easy to flip if the bow rose up on a submerged or at the surface obstacle like a stump. It works equally well if you are a hit and switch guy or using correction strokes. I was surprised at how easy it was to keep the bow going directly into a stiff wind, but once you get a few degrees off wind it will spin you around. I also found that I prefered using a longer paddle, especially in a breeze.

So what I once thought was the rule,(sitting in bow seat) is now the exception for me, and the guy paddling in our logo from the stern seat has it right.
 
Joined
Aug 21, 2018
Messages
1,280
Reaction score
1,057
Location
Preeceville, Saskatchewan Canada
Interesting comments, Al. I have never solo tripped, but if I had, I would probably have done it like the guy paddling in our logo. With his gear stowed toward the bow, his canoe is well trimmed and stable. His bow is not rising high out of the water.

I have done a fair amount of solo white-water paddling in my Mad River Explorer. I would be reluctant to do so from the stern, because of tippy-ness, and the longer reach toward the bow. I have always paddled from the bow, often with my butt just leaning up against the seat. In Class II-low Class III, I even move more forward, toward the centre of the boat, similar to where the seat would be in a true, and shorter white-water play boat. Next time I am out on the water for a day trip in my tandem boat, I will give it a try from the stern. As you say, it would be easier to turn the boat. Could be quite elegant!

This will have to wait until spring, though. Here in east central Saskatchewan, it's starting to be cold. We had snow on Friday. The snow has gone, but it is still only a couple of degrees above freezing. Am thinking about setting up the wall tent!
 
Joined
Jun 3, 2015
Messages
1,490
Reaction score
668
Location
Anchorage Alaska / Pocono Mts.
I should have stated that I would only recommend it for flat water. When the stern is so deep it does not respond well to draws and prys.

I think you will like it Michael. My guess is that it was commonly done in the past because it feels so good, but fell out of favor. I was also surprised how well my 18' guide carved a turn when leaned over from that position.
 
Joined
Nov 28, 2015
Messages
92
Reaction score
23
Location
London, Canada
I believe the guy in the logo is Robin, and that, in fact, he is paddling from the bow seat. Nonetheless, as you say, Al, it's fun to question orthodoxy from time to time. I watched an instructional video yesterday featuring Bill Mason: "Path of the Paddle", which I hadn't watched in years. He mentions situations wherein paddling solo in the stern makes sense. A little like carving P-turns on tele-skis. Sometimes it's a smart thing to do! Yeah, I'm guilty, I'm starting to think ski season already!
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
Messages
6,797
Reaction score
791
Location
Raymond, ME
And some of us prefer to paddle true solos from the middle as you can adjust the loads a little easier.. that is in the bow.. you can move the weight from just in front of you to further up when you are faced with headwinds.


Now there is merit in sitting back there in a tail wind. You are less likely to broach But not for me.. I want control over bow and stern with the paddle and not slewing around the stern like a backward driven shopping cart.. especially when there is a little current coming at you.

Back ferries also require a loose stern and stern weight makes that difficult. We had to do this on our descent of the Snake River in the Yukon and found the stern person had to lighten up that end by coming forward/

Nobody is right or wrong but back in the day of Bill Mason there were not dedicated solo canoes.. He ran on traditional Canadian designs.
 
Joined
Aug 21, 2018
Messages
1,280
Reaction score
1,057
Location
Preeceville, Saskatchewan Canada
There was a time, early in our canoeing career, that Kathleen and I became enamoured with back ferries. We started doing them even when we were already descending a rocky chute. Not just for setting up the entry. This sometimes got us in trouble, and we reverted to forward strokes, draws and prys for most situations.

That being said, back ferries are lotsa fun. Since most people trim their tandem canoes a little bow light, the canoe is a little stern heavy. We came to realize that the bow should set the angle before the stern starts back paddling. A reverse sweep or reverse j from the bow sets the angle more easily if the stern paddle is not in the water, which acts as a drag. After the angle is set by the bow, the stern paddler springs back into action.
 
Joined
Jun 3, 2015
Messages
1,490
Reaction score
668
Location
Anchorage Alaska / Pocono Mts.
YC I think I missed your point, you can really only go forward from that position, paddling backwards would be awkward even on flat water.

Martin, I'll have to watch that video again to see what Bill says about it. In both skiing and tripping it all about efficiency for me and I think there will be more paddling from the stern seat and more P turns in my future.
 
Joined
Feb 14, 2013
Messages
989
Reaction score
64
Something I'm going to have to try - seeing as how I already do stuff you "aren't supposed to do". Actually, I find paddling from a more central kneeling thwart with the boat heeled to one side to be about the easiest thing when solo. Same as your paddling from the stern seat, it has its limitations in wind and rough water - but I suspect it's a more efficient waterline. But mostly, I still prefer to do solo work in tandems standing with a pole, where I have command of both ends from the middle, and am not limited to flat water and windless days.
 
Joined
Jul 11, 2014
Messages
4,489
Reaction score
790
Location
Ontario Canada
I'm only a day paddler when solo so my experience is not much to go by. The stern seat feels better placed in our asymmetrical hull for paddling rather than sitting reversed in the bow. I've done both. Not really sure if I was biased about it or if there really was a significant difference, but I could more comfortably reach all my strokes from my stern. I have some minor knee problems that make kneeling uncomfortable. That's frustrating and too bad because from my kneeling thwart I am happiest paddling my canoe leaned, although not in windy conditions obviously. On those days I sit upright to hit and switch. A double blade would improve that situation immensely. All of this is with no load or very lightly loaded.
I have thought about how I would solo trip and seriously considered the stern position. I'm not sure if my tripping gear load would adequately trim my own weight which is well north of 150 pounds. 100 pounds sounds like a lot of gear to be tripping with. This might be the one time my gear acquisition syndrome of lighter/smaller stuff is working against me. I doubt even with a food barrel my solo stuff is much more than 50 pounds? (Looks like Brad is going on a diet.) I have seen solo trippers in the stern position in well trimmed tandem canoes cruising along on flat water. That appeals to me.
It wouldn't take much to remove seats and replace the kneeling thwart with another seat, and buy a kayak blade. Lots to think about as the cold weather sets in.
 
G

Guest

Guest
Same as your paddling from the stern seat, it has its limitations in wind and rough water
But mostly, I still prefer to do solo work in tandems standing with a pole, where I have command of both ends from the middle, and am not limited to flat water and windless days.

I have, because of thwart placement or style of seat, paddled some tandems solo from the stern seat with lots of gear weight forward. Even properly trimmed the biggest challenge for me was always winds on a beam reach. There was just too much boat up front to hold on course in side winds.

A friend on one trip paddled a Sawyer Champion, his only canoe, solo from the stern (bucket) seat; despite being well trimmed with abundant gear weight up front the canoe became unmanageable when the wind picked up from the side. A tandem team had to take him in tow to make it to camp.

Most dedicated solo canoes are undersized for my weight and usual tripping gear load; they are fine for daypaddling, but not so suitable for multi-day trips.

My solution has been to soloize 16-ish foot tandems with a single well-back-of-center seat, with the seat up to 20” back of center hull. Not as close to center as with most designed solos, not as far back as in most bow backwards guises with a two-seater.

(There are some tandems in which the bow seat is almost at my sweet spot paddled backwards, but too often they are 17+ foot canoes - bigger than I care to manage - or are asymmetrical in design)

That (not) center distance seems to hit my sweet spot, perhaps because I grew up solo paddling tandem canoes bow backwards and it feels familiar.

The canoe is not absurdly wide at that solo paddling station, and I have plenty of uncrowded space in the bow for gear to trim the boat as desired for the wind, can even push or pull packs around while afloat to change the trim, and on the rare occasions where I drop to my knees the hull does not go bow heavy.

It may even help with unloading gear at difficult landings where I can only access one end of the canoe. Unloading in awkward places becomes even more of an issue on solo trips, where there is no partner to help stabilize the canoe or pass up packs.

With ¾ of the gear bulk/weight in front of the seat I can grab a heavier pack or two from up front and pull the boat further and further ashore as the bow rises. By the time the bow is empty I can more easily get to the remaining gear in the stern.

That unpacking awkwardness is perhaps not as problematic for lightpackers with only a single bag or two, where a true solo would be advantageous in design.

To each their own.
 
Joined
Sep 13, 2015
Messages
200
Reaction score
114
Location
Northern NH
I should have stated that I would only recommend it for flat water. When the stern is so deep it does not respond well to draws and prys.

I think you will like it Michael. My guess is that it was commonly done in the past because it feels so good, but fell out of favor. I was also surprised how well my 18' guide carved a turn when leaned over from that position.

Better have a strong brace ready on those leans! A friend of mine was trying that in an OT Tripper. When he reached back for his water bottle it was game over. Only a few inches of beam when the bow is skyward.
 
Joined
Aug 21, 2018
Messages
1,280
Reaction score
1,057
Location
Preeceville, Saskatchewan Canada
No commentary, Odyssey? I note that Tom is not wearing a PFD. Looks to me like he is sitting happily in the stern. It could be, though, that his bow paddler will soon be joining him, and Tom is not really solo.
 
Joined
Jul 11, 2014
Messages
4,489
Reaction score
790
Location
Ontario Canada
I just came across the photo in a book I'm reading and thought it might fit in this thread that's all. He did often solo as well as guide with a fishing tourist in the bow. No confirmation from this photo what the circumstances were. He did paddle Chestnuts so we must give him some credit where credit is due. Ha.
 
Joined
Mar 20, 2013
Messages
3,355
Reaction score
455
I don't have dedicated solo, my boats of choice is either a 16' or 17'9" both tandem and both large tripping canoe, If I paddle the boat empty, I'm paddling close to the center of the boat on a pedestal in the kneeling position( I always kneel) if I'm on a trip with lots of gear I usually paddle from the bow seat looking back in a kneeling position with gear behind me and gear in front of me from the yoke up the the bow(stern) if need be I can change the trim of the boat easily by having a huge space in between me and the yoke. I like paddling tandems solo for tripping cause I find them more confortable, they cary a load more efficiently, they are more stable if I have to pole, fish or hunt from. I paddle them regularly down class II III rapids, line them up and down creeks, and pole them often up stream to access area that are seldom traveled, especially during moose hunting season!
 
Joined
Jun 3, 2015
Messages
1,490
Reaction score
668
Location
Anchorage Alaska / Pocono Mts.
I don't have dedicated solo, my boats of choice is either a 16' or 17'9" both tandem and both large tripping canoe, If I paddle the boat empty, I'm paddling close to the center of the boat on a pedestal in the kneeling position( I always kneel) if I'm on a trip with lots of gear I usually paddle from the bow seat looking back in a kneeling position with gear behind me and gear in front of me from the yoke up the the bow(stern) if need be I can change the trim of the boat easily by having a huge space in between me and the yoke. I like paddling tandems solo for tripping cause I find them more confortable, they cary a load more efficiently, they are more stable if I have to pole, fish or hunt from. I paddle them regularly down class II III rapids, line them up and down creeks, and pole them often up stream to access area that are seldom traveled, especially during moose hunting season!

I always did it that way too. Next time I'm gonna sit in the stern and leave room to kneel in front of the thwart when you need to manuever. I don't mind kneeling. The
stern seat is more comfortable for me and I'm sorry I didn't use it more over the last thirty years.
 
Joined
Sep 13, 2015
Messages
200
Reaction score
114
Location
Northern NH
My canoes are 17'6",18'6" and 20' When solo I kneel just foward of the stern thwart. That gives me lots of trim options up to the carry thwart. It's pretty easy to heel the canoe to the paddle side for ease of turning and effectively narrows the beam as regards reaching over the gunnels. When loaded with gear and the wind is mild I can move back to the stern seat for a change.
 
Joined
Jun 12, 2012
Messages
3,886
Reaction score
1,527
Location
Appleton, Maine
I only paddle tandems (15' and 16') solo also and 99% of the time that's from the bow seat facing the stern. I have paddled solo from the stern seat but I can't remember much about it. I do remember loading up the canoe with firewood I collected from the shoreline and paddling back to my wall tent in the stern. You sure can haul a lot of gear if you sit in the stern solo.

I think that's kinda what the guy in the logo is doing (maybe me in another life..haha). In the old days hauling gear into the Canadian bush took up a lot of room in the canoe. We always sat in the stern and cruised down the lake, stopping for tea and a pipe at our leisure...opps, daydreaming again.

Nice discussion. Thanks
 
Top