Saturday, June 23, 2007


The MR340 will be a new experience for me in many different ways, it's a race on a major river, and I'll be paddling in a tandem boat. I'm registered as one member of team Kruger Cruisers with Stan Hanson.

When Stan and I agreed to double up for the MR340, it was done without much thought and planning (at least on my part). It seemed a great idea, I hadn't planned to paddle the MR340, the company in a double would make it a fun event, and it would be a faster race. Since we'd both completed previous WaterTribe Challenges, there was little question about our abilities.

We'll be paddling Stans' Kruger Cruiser. The Kruger Canoes are far from being considered a racing canoe/kayak, but they are a great boat for distance, and have much success in long distance racing events. I am still a dedicated sea kayaker, however, for long distance events I love the single blade and the comfort of the Krugers.

In some ways this race is a challenge that has already begun. Stan and I have never paddled together before, nor have I ever paddled double in a race. And with Stan living in Illinois and I in North Carolina, we will not have had any opportunity to paddle or train together prior to the race.

Thus far, preparing for this race has been more partnership than teamwork. In partnerships, there is a mutual cooperation and responsibility to achieve a specified and agreed upon goal. Our partnership is realized by common goals and interests for the race, realized through our email and telephone communication. Interestingly, through this communication, we have also realized very individual differences in each of our approaches to preparation and training.

Teamwork is the concept of people working together cooperatively. Once in the race, we will have to quickly make that switch to teamwork in order for us to be successful in meeting our goals. We expect our individual differences will blend and meld together such that our team is even stronger.

Those that follow my blog have surely noticed that I'm really big on planning and preparation. To me, it's all part of the fun. As part of my preparation, I've also been learning about paddling tandem; what tandem teamwork actually means, what are the unique challenges and specific duties of each paddler, and most importantly what is the proper etiquette in paddling tandem.

Over and over I've read that the advantages of tandem paddling (more power, more speed, less work for each member of the team) are often wasted on inexperience and ill preparation. And of course we've all heard the term 'Divorce Boat'. I worry a bit for Stan as I'm the one with inexperience in the double, but, I will be prepared :).

Below are some of the guidelines and tips I've collected from various articles on tandem paddling (primarily from 'Paddling a Tandem Canoe' by Tim Sprinkle, published on These are all designed to help maximize time on the water, and minimize the common and easy-to-overcome problems about tandem paddling.

"Know your role: As a general rule, the paddler in the stern of the boat does the steering (and is the Captain). Usually, that means that the more experienced paddler sits in back (for steering), while the other does the grunt work up front. Beyond that, however, it's the responsibility of the forward member of the team to set the cadence, scout upcoming obstacles, and help pull the boat through the water. "

Stan's Kruger Cruiser has a rudder with steering capabilities from either the stern or bow. We will take turns steering as needed. For the MR340, Stan will take the stern, I'll paddle bow.

"Cadence: There's a reason that soldiers are taught to march in time: the cadence, or rhythm, helps the group move and function as one; maximizing their impact and streamlining their efforts. The same principle applies to successful tandem paddling. Both members of the team need to work as one, and cadence is a big part of that. "

I have found cadence to be a very personal and individual paddling trait. Like a persons natural gait, it is not easy to change and still be comfortable. I have 2 natural cadences with a single blade, 50-55 strokes/minute is my low gear, this the cadence that I easily maintain forever, 40-45 strokes/minute is my "dig in" high gear that is not sustained. A similar cadence between 2 tandem paddlers is critical. I've reported my cadence to Stan, until we are in the boat together we won't realize our similarities or differences, yet Stan has assured me as bow paddler I can set the pace and he'll be able to follow.

"Opposite sides: The importance of paddling on opposite sides of the boat (bow on the left side, stern on the right, for example) is the first things many tandem paddlers learn. This, coupled with a proper paddling cadence, will all but guarantee that the boat tracks straight through the water with little need for correction. As with cadence, the paddle side is set by the bow paddler, who should occasionally switch sides to reduce fatigue. "

Proper cadence to help with boat tracking is likely not as much an issue with a rudder, however, it is more efficient to not have to use the rudder to continually correct for cadence differences. And a similar cadence will make for a smoother ride and even workload.

"Communication: As with any partnership, communication is the difference between a successful effort and a day of tiny power struggles and petty bickering. Speak up. "

Stan and I have already been training this aspect, getting experience with communication through emails and phone calls, without even dipping the paddle. I believe each of us will feel comfortable here.

"Practice: It doesn't matter if you've known your paddling partner for 25 years or 25 minutes, an on-water team doesn't develop overnight. You'll be amazed what a few hours of tandem practice before your trip will do for your paddling skills. And it doesn't take much effort. Just paddle around on some flat water, get to know each other's quirks, and you'll be surprised how quickly you develop a cadence and paddling style that you can both live with. "

As I prepare for this race, I have been a bit concerned about our inability to paddle and train together. I figured that discovering differences during the stress of the event would not only make for difficulties, more importantly, it would take the fun factor completely out of the race. Alan (my son who is also registered as a solo male in this race) and I plan to hook up with Stan on Saturday and we will all arrive in Kansas City on Sunday (race starts Tuesday morning). We plan to get in some paddling time together on Sunday and Monday to work on the important teamwork issues, as well as to get the Cruiser properly outfitted for each of our needs.

I can't wait to meet all the other Challengers, and hope to get to know them a bit (dinner?) before the race starts. Only 30 more days.


Capt'n "O" Dark 30 said...

Paddle once eat twice - I'm in!!

Midwest Paddle Adventures said...

Hi Dawn:
Dan again. As I was responding to your comment on my blog, it reminded me to give you a heads up about the Missouri River. You may have already read this, but the nun and can bouys are all but swept away from the river. If some remain, they certainly are not in their intended place. That leaves the reflective channel marker signs on the left and right banks. With your experience, I'm sure you're a pro with these signs, but I didn't want you to make the assumption that the bouys were there to help mark channels.

Even with the rain we had all last week, I can still make out the tops of the wing dykes. This fact alone will make channel navigation much easier. Visual by day, audible by night. The water splasing around the wing dykes will tell you to slide away unless you want to slip behind one to let a barge pass by. That's an option some people exercise depending on their boat and experience level.

Anyway, just a quick heads up about the bouys. Travel safely and tell your son congratulations.