I have often contended that open canoes cannot paddle in class 4 and 5 water. It simply eats them. I will, however, concede there are a few who can make it work (and their name tends to be Scriver). But for most mortals, paddling in this kind of water is out of reach. So do open canoes have a place in class 4 or 5 rapid? Yes, they most certainly do but they need to find the dry line through the chaos.
Some weeks back I posted about the Fantasy Line- the crazy moves tried in a straightforward rapid. The fantasy line is about creating a class 4 or 5 level challenge within a class 2 or 3. It’s a great way to up your game and take your paddling to the next level with little to no consequence. And when you arrive at the more challenging set, you have made the necessary moves many times in easier water.
But the line is the same. Only this time it’s about finding the class 2/3 line within the class 4/5 rapid. There usually is one and it’s a matter of finding it and nailing it on your run. Sometimes, however, your line is only a few inches away from disaster (read: a meaty hydraulic). There are two things that are necessary here: the ability to stay on your line and the ability to keep the nasty stuff from wigging you out; a head game and a body game.
What makes a higher class rapid is certain water features- ones we typically want to avoid. Let’s take the example of McCoy’s rapid on the Ottawa River, and in particular Phil’s and Sattler’s- two large, nasty and overlapping hydraulics. A well known, and much loved piece of water which many of us know intimately (sometimes too intimately). No matter how many times I have paddled this set, it always gets my heart beating and my bodily functions “moving”. It wigs me out. The line, though, is really a straightforward class 2 line through them.
Here is the head game: if you are freaked out about going into Phil’s, you will go into Phil’s. Here is the body game: if you are not practiced in staying exactly on your line in class 2/3 water, you are going into Phil’s.
So we practice and practice on the easier stuff so that we can nail the same lines in the tougher stuff; and do it with enough confidence that we can tune out the distractions of boat-eating consequences all around. Although new boat designs are making it possible to plunge into more difficult water, the skill of finding and staying on your line will pay off over and over to keep you out of trouble.
In upcoming posts I will address some strategies for success, but it all starts with boat control to stay on your line.