By Nancy Chambers – BCU Level 5 Open Canoe Senior Instructor at Glenmore Lodge.
You are bouncing down a rapid enjoying the ride when suddenly you notice one of those just hidden underwater rocks dead ahead and you need to keep the boat running straight to make the rest of the line. This is where the hanging draw and running pry are indispensable strokes. Both allow you to move the boat sideways and continue running the boat straight.
These strokes can be used in tandem and solo boats, I will describe their use for both. It is a good idea to try these strokes on flat water before taking them onto moving water.
Solo boat hanging draw
In a solo boat as you are paddling along do a power stroke, then recover the blade out of the water to the side of the boat. Place the blade fully into the water opposite your hips. Feather the front of the blade so that it is slightly open creating a v shape with the hull, this pulls the water inwards and you sideways. The blade should be placed around an arms length away from the side of the boat; however, you need to ensure that the paddle shaft is vertical to create maximum efficiency. This generally means that the top hand has to be outside the gunnels of the boat. When doing this manoeuvre try to have a slight bend in your bottom arm to allow movement in the stroke and also if you accidentally hit the paddle off the bottom of the river then it gives you some flex to absorb this and less strain is put through your joints.
Once you have got the blade position correct the boat will move sideways, whilst still allowing you to keep the nose of the boat running in a straight line. If the nose of your boat veers off course, then try pulling the blade either forwards or backwards through the water to correct this. If you have a narrow canoe you can edge the boat away from the paddle side allowing the boat to slip more easily through the water, in a wider canoe this is sometimes difficult and you can edge the boat gently towards your paddle, if doing this be aware that if you edge too much you can catch the side of the boat and this can become very unstable for you.
Solo boat running pry
If you want to move your boat away from your paddle side, then try a running pry. To set this stroke up, paddle forwards. On your last stroke before you pry, don’t do a correction stroke unless absolutely necessary. Take your paddle out of the water and bring it forwards towards your hip. Now slice the paddle into the water just behind your hip and bring it in towards the boat until the leading edge of the paddle comes in contact with the hull, creating an arrow shape. This arrow shape deflects the water and pushes you sideways away from your paddle. If you find the boat veering off at the front or back of the stroke then try placing the blade in further backwards or forwards, changing the angle of the paddle underwater or running the blade forwards along the hull whilst doing the stroke to correct the veer. You will notice that the running pry will slow the boat down.
For both of these strokes if you are not quite getting the feeling of it, ask a friend to stand on the edge of the water holding onto the back of your canoe. Set up your paddle either in a hanging draw or running pry and get your friend to push you away from the edge. This simulates the forward motion that is required and if you have your paddle set up correctly it will either push or pull you sideward. It is a great way to get the feeling of where you need to put your paddle in the water to complete the stroke.
The hanging draw and running pry strokes: Tandem
To go sideways as a tandem team you can both do a hanging draw on the same side (the bow paddler doing a cross deck hanging draw) or hanging draw and running pry together. Both strokes if done correctly will get you moving sideways without any veering of the canoe. Communication is the key to success in both strokes. Ensure you have talked through what language and words you are going to use in the strokes to avoid confusion, does shouting “right” mean go right, or obstacle on the right?
In a tandem team, the bow paddler will usually be the person who spots the obstacle to avoid, so they are usually the best one to co-ordinate the strokes. You first need to decide which way to go to ensure avoidance. This will dictate which strokes you use. If you need to go towards the side that the stern paddler is paddling on you have two choices of strokes, these are:
- The stern paddler will put in a hanging draw as described earlier and the bow paddler will do a cross deck hanging draw. To do this stroke, the bow paddler takes their paddle out of the water and keeping it square to their shoulders, will rotate their trunk around and place the paddle in the water on the cross deck side in a hanging draw position. The power face of the paddle will be towards you. A key indicator that your hand is in the correct position is that your top thumb will be facing forwards. The blade should be slightly open and the paddle shaft vertical with your hands outside the gunnels of the boat. Once you have moved far enough sideways, slice the paddle forwards out of the water and return your paddle to the normal side.
- The stern paddler will do a hanging draw as before and the bow paddler will do a running pry, as described for the solo paddler. Timing is often the key for this and it is important to keep communicating throughout the manoeuvre.
If you want to go towards the side the bow paddler is on, reverse the previous steps so the bow paddler will do a hanging draw stroke and the stern paddler will do a running pry.
Once you have mastered these strokes on the flat, take them onto a gentle piece of river and practice there. Finally taking them onto faster moving water with real obstacles once you get more confident in your skills. Using these strokes are a great way of increasing your manoeuvrability in bigger water.
Nancy Chambers is a BCU Level 5 Open Canoe Coach who works at Glenmore Lodge, the Scottish National Centre. She is passionate about paddling and will be found in many different craft. She is also a BCU Level 3 Coach in Sea Kayak and Inland Kayak.
Nancy’s paddling has taken her to many different parts of the world to journey on rivers and waterways, but she always says that Scotland has some of her favourite open canoe journeys.