Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Who's in Control of the Canoe?
Recently I took my teenage son to an early evening Campfire and Canoe event at a nearby reservoir. For the first hour, we received instruction on canoeing and water safety from two parks department employees. Then we donned life jackets and selected our paddles. Gathered at the water’s edge, we got a quick lesson on the basic strokes we would need to maneuver our canoes. Then we were launched. And that’s when the fun began.
On the beach our guides had recommended that the heavier person or the person with more canoeing experience should be seated in the stern (back) of the canoe to steer it. Based on those criteria, the choice for us was obvious. I sat in that position because I had canoed before (more than a quarter of a century ago) and I outweigh my son.
We started out fine but quickly went off course directly into some fishermen’s lines. Oops. I was shouting out directions to my son that I thought were helpful “Paddle left. No, no. Paddle right. Now!” At the same time he was yelling guidance back at me. Since I wasn't wearing my hearing aids for this activity, I had told him to raise his voice at me.
With our inexperience canoeing together, we kept veering off course. Straight into rocks, a buoy, and other hazards. One of the park guides helpfully hovered nearby in her canoe to offer us encouragement and advice. Meanwhile the other eight canoes were heading off to the far reaches of the reservoir. I felt embarrassed. My son was exasperated. At one point he laid his paddles across his lap and announced that I could just paddle the canoe all by myself.
The guide suggested we trade places. It was her observation that my son’s strokes were stronger than mine and that he would do better in the leadership role. I’m sure she was right on that. But I had a huge fear of trading places while on the water. I was sure we would tip our canoe if we tried it. This had happened to me before and I was determined to stay dry that night. We tried coming in close to shore to make the switch but naturally ended up headed towards the middle of the reservoir instead. Secretly, that was fine with me as I really didn’t want to risk overturning the canoe.
At that point, my son told me he would paddle the canoe on his own. Doing that seemed to work a whole lot better for us. Every once in a while I would dip my paddle in to help steer right or left but he provided the main power for our voyage. With the pressure off, I began to relax and take in my surroundings. The sun was starting to set and it was very peaceful on the water. I gently put my paddle back in the water. Now that we weren’t trying so hard, my son and I were able to paddle together in rhythm. We caught up to the other canoes and even paddled over to the far side to see a beaver dam.
All too soon it was time to head back. We did just fine until I got a bit anxious about our ability to reach the shore without hitting any of the other incoming canoes. My son reasserted his authority and took over the paddling once more. Thankfully, we managed to beach our canoe without any collisions. We were dry and still speaking to each other. Well, sort of. My son announced that next time he would go out on the water in a kayak - a boat for one person.
Next, the park guides graciously hosted a campfire with hot dogs and s’mores for everyone. This improved my son’s mood immensely. Before leaving, we were asked to fill out an evaluation card. I was happy to give the park guides excellent ratings. But when I came to the question about whether this was an enjoyable experience, my son forced me to be honest on our rating. To explain the lower score, I wrote an apologetic note explaining “my son gave me a hard time”. Somehow I’m sure they’ll know whose card that was. Ha, ha.
Actually I can’t wait to go back but I think I’ll go canoeing with someone else. Or perhaps I'll convince my son to give it another try. Either way, I can guarantee you I’ll be sitting in the bow (front).