Eddy, My Friend

Canada was built via the canoe.

It was once the main mode of transportation across the country; today, canoeing is a pastime, a sport, a fitness tool, a social event, an adrenaline-seeking tool, a vehicle to explore the wilderness and so much more.

Canoes and canoeists are as varied as Yukon weather.

If you have a canoe, you can travel to any corner of North and South America and back again if you have the time. Ultimately, a canoe and the ability to paddle represent freedom.

I have been very fortunate to have spent the last 30 years messing around with canoes. The canoe has allowed me to travel to some very special and spectacular wilderness places and secret fishing holes, has helped me harvest meat and berries for my family’s winter food supply and introduced me to people from around the world.

One of my big canoe passions is teaching others to paddle and I get great satisfaction seeing the joy on a student’s face once they start to connect with the water.

Over the course of the summer, I will share with you stories of exciting paddle adventures, offer you tips on paddle gear and canoe technique and suggest places you can paddle.

This week’s column is about eddies. Eddies are places of slow or slack water behind an obstacle in the river.

They are created as water flows around or over a rock, or a change in shoreline. As water flows past, a vacuum is created and water is sucked back upstream to fill in the void behind the obstacle.

An eddy can range from a nice tranquil place of slow or still water to a ranging river flowing forcefully back upstream, sometimes equal to the force of the main current.

Think of parallel moving sidewalks, flowing in opposite directions.

Eddies can be places of trouble if you do not understand some basics and how to utilize an idea. But once you understand them, eddies become our friends, a place to stop and take a break from travelling downstream.

You may use them to plan your next move in a rapid, to get out and scout around a blind corner or to stop and fish for that big trout that is also taking a break there.

When you start river canoeing, one of the first things you should learn is how to get off the river and out of the moving current, otherwise, here in the Yukon, you are likely to end up in the Bering Sea.

Imagine a freeway with no shoulder or no pullouts!

An eddy has three main parts: the main current, the eddy line (or eddy fence) and the eddy-the-slack (or slower water behind the obstacle).

Where people typically run into trouble and become “fish counters” is at the eddy line’s transition zone.

Let’s get back to our moving sidewalks at the Calgary airport. The non-moving floor is our eddy, the conveyor is our main current and the end of the conveyor is the eddy line.

Using the moving sidewalk requires some basic understanding of movement and technique that we experimented with when we were infants. Without the right technique getting on or off of the moving sidewalk, we may end up flat on our faces. The same applies with our canoe entering or leaving an eddy, except we end up with the wrong side of our canoe facing up.

We teach our students the “APT” method of catching an Eddy.

A is for angle of the canoe in relation to the eddy line; you want to be more perpendicular than parallel so that you punch through the eddy fence instead of glancing off of it.

P is for power; you need to “drive” your canoe through the eddy line or fence with the right amount of power for the eddy. You need to match your power to the eddy just as you match your foot on your car accelerator pulling into a rest stop.

Last, you need T, for tilt. You need to drop your wings as if you were a bird catching a thermal; you want the current pushing on the bottom of your canoe and not your upstream gunnel.

You tilt the way you want to go.

Successfully combining these three elements and, suddenly, you are out of the eddy and into the main current; or, you are out of the main current and taking a break in the eddy facing upstream.

Since every eddy is a different combination of factors, practising your eddy turns is the best way to perfect them so that when you really do need to stop into that eddy on your wilderness trip — because that big ol’ grizzly is having a salmon feast — you have the tools to successfully do an eddy turn.

The feel of a well-executed eddy turn may give you the sensation of flying.

If it stills sounds complicated, it would be best to learn on the water with a seasoned canoe instructor.

Remember, eddies are our friends and we want to visit them.

Next week, we will discuss choosing a canoe that’s right for you.

Until then, catch every eddy and surf every wave.

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