Barb’s Story – Learn to Canoe Course

Learn to Canoe – June 2008

A cattail-fringed duck pond like Lakeview Lake in Saskatoon is not the most tantalizing place to take a refreshing dip while canoeing. But as luck would have it, Barb, an eager learn-to-canoe student, did take an unexpected swim and survived, and learned a lot about being a capable victim in a canoe over canoe rescue and how to keep your mouth closed in a less than pristine swimming pool! Read how bad luck even hounded her on the last day of the course while taking a break during the trip on the South Saskatchewan River!

Learn to canoe course on Lakeview Lake in Saskatoon

Launching the discovery craft on a Learn to Canoe course in Saskatoon

Learn to Canoe – A Full Immersion Version!

by Barb Stehwien, June 2008

Barb Stehwien

During a nice spring bike ride in Lakeview Park with my daughter, I asked “What if we fall in that lake!?” Chantal smirked and replied, “That would be disgusting!”

We had signed up for the CanoeSki Learn-to-Canoe program at long, long last. Having met Cliff and learned about the tours offered by CanoeSki many years ago, I decided the time had come to get involved (after years of being cooped up, having babies and so on).

As a family of six, we had decided to perhaps buy a canoe and enjoy its oneness with the quiet of nature. Power boats have no appeal for us.

In selling at least three of us on his paddling course, Cliff had e-mailed me: I’m glad to see that you’re thinking about taking canoeing lessons. It’s definitely preferable to the usual trial & error approach that many people take by default.

Something we certainly had considered as well: Where would I find the time out for a two-day course, when I rarely even find the time for a couple of hours to myself? But I thought of the potential frustrations of not really doing things right, and also, after so much time off, a refresher in the basics would only be a good thing.

And so it was! We arrived at the urban reservoir, Lakeview Lake, on a cloudy Saturday morning and introduced ourselves to about eight others also eager to get more pointers on canoeing.

In an unassuming, and perhaps surprisingly thorough manner (after so many years of teaching), Cliff covered all one needs to know about a canoe, as well as getting into one. His quiet passion and enthusiasm for canoeing was evident throughout the course and actually quite contagious. I think we were all eager to get started. Some safety and rescue topics were also addressed, but only the theory, as actual demonstration would require someone in the water. And this was not the place for that! In the case of someone unintentionally ending up in the lake though, Cliff’s first advice was to keep one’s mouth closed! It definitely is not potable water.

Once we were all safely on the lake, stroke practice and canoe partner communication seemed to work quite well. It was a calm day, the lake perfect in size and without currents or waves, and the physics of moving around in a canoe were as predicted. The tight turns didn’t work for me, indicating improper application of the stroke, or the wrong combination of strokes with my partner.

Time came to switch partners and see how things differed. Indeed they did. I was now with a less experienced partner and felt somehow unsafe in this also slightly different canoe. We practiced our strokes, moved around the buoys and then took a small break to decide what to do next. That’s when, without any apparent warning, our canoe tipped too far to recover and both of us were suddenly under water. Mouth closed!! Oh my, what just happened!? My first concern was my canoe partner, who, at lunch time, had admitted to loving to be in a canoe, but not being able to swim. Life jackets had brought us to the surface quickly and our overturned canoe wasn’t far, so I reached to bring it to my partner. She hung on and stayed calm, while we tried to alert our instructors.

Cliff was quick to come to the rescue. He suggested my partner be helped out of the water, while I could stay in and assist in some rescue demonstrations. I welcomed the opportunity and watched as Cliff pulled the overturned canoe onto his canoe and somehow turned it back on its right side with amazing skill. He then brought two canoes together to allow me, soaked and wearing heavy jeans, to climb back in with relative ease and no further toppling. That trick alone was worth the dip in the lake and the soggy cell phone in my back pocket! Off to shore we paddled to change into the dry clothes that had been on our “what to bring” list.

Learn to canoe course on Lakeview Lake in Saskatoon

Learn to canoe students practicing canoe rescue procedures on Lakeview Lake

My canoe partner was ready to get back in the canoe as well, describing the unpleasantness of trying to climb out of the lake with an unstable footing and a lot of fine black mud, that we were also warned to try to avoid. Cliff held the canoe as I crawled back in, but as I turned to sit, he lost his grip on it – and splat, into the black muddy shore line waters I went. Fortunately, my home is across the park, so I made a quick trip there to acquire my second set of dry clothes! After all that, there was still about an hour of instruction left, as well as tying the canoes back on the trailer, ready for day two of the course. Everyone else had managed to keep their canoes upright for the whole day, but I think we probably learned the most!

Sunday turned out to be a windy and somewhat chilly day. But not bad enough to cancel. Our beginner group met at the Victoria boathouse for a day trip down the South Saskatchewan River. We studied a topographical map of the area and got instruction on the physics of how a canoe behaves with winds and currents acting on it. Theoretically, it made good sense, but I was very glad to have Cliff and another instructor close by. It was the kind of windy day that would have made me cancel the trip. But that wouldn’t be very educational!

So the route was cut short by a few kilometers and we launched our canoes off a steep embankment into the ruffled waters. Again, something I wouldn’t have done on my own and I was glad to have experts close by.

The trip down the river back to the Victoria Boathouse was a most wonderful experience, wind, waves and currents included. Both for the application of paddling skills learned, as well as the get-away-from-it-all feeling. The beauty and relentless workings of nature evident on the river were breathtaking and very therapeutic. I could only imagine how wonderful it would be further north, where there would be little, if any, signs and sounds of modern civilization.

We stopped for lunch and a ‘bathroom’ break high up on the shore. I enjoyed my lunch, some good conversation and wonderful overviews of the river before realizing, that, for the third incidence of my tough luck, I had chosen the spot with the not so obvious doggy pile to sit on! Worth another good laugh after getting up.

The rest of the way was simple: a struggle of skill and muscle (or less skill and more muscle?) against nature’s contrary winds as we approached more familiar shorelines and Saskatoon’s many bridges.

Once back on solid ground and the loading all done, there was laughter and good- bye hugs all around. Also, many thank yous to our instructors and an invitation from them to try out any one of the many tour packages offered through CanoeSki – something I still dream of finding the time for! In the meantime, however, we have purchased a couple of canoes from Cliff and have enjoyed, with much more confidence, some wonderful mini escapes from the power boat noise that seems ever-present around our cabin at Wakaw Lake.

Barb solo paddling

Barb enjoying a quiet solo paddle in her new Souris River canoe.