Soloing a Tandem Canoe

by Red Rock Wilderness Store

Paddling a tandem canoe while solo is no big deal. It can be done with various tandem canoes if the seat will allow it and the front thwart is removeable. Many folks do this now using 16 foot canoes which generally do not have a thwart in place behind the front seat. In this example I will be paddling a Souris River Quetico 17 in which I've removed the front thwart with my swiss army knife and a pair of pliers. Took about 3 minutes total.

This is the thwart that I removed from behind the front seat. It's simply bolted in just for this purpose.. In this picture, I'm seated in the front seat of the SR Q-17. If I didn't remove the thwart, my knees would be sticking up funny. In a 17 foot Grumman aluminum, you can clear the front thwart with your knees if you sit on a 2" boat cushion. Can't remove the thwarts in the Grumman unless you use a drill. In a Brand X kevlar canoe you can't even solo them because they usually have tractor (bucket) seats in them. These seats just do not fit right for those seeking to solo paddle. I guess Brand X would prefer that you to buy a solo canoe from them as well. This moves us into the next step. The Reason for Sitting in the Front Seat Facing backwards
removing the thwart from a Souris River Canoe

The Reason for Sitting in the Front Seat Facing backwards is that the front seat is located closer to the center of the canoe. Distributing weight closer to the center (that'd be you) maximizes wetted surface or in other words the amound of canoe hull resting on the water. If you sit solo in the back seat, the canoe rides a HUGE WHEELIE and is very unstable. This is because the stern seat is very close to the back of the canoe. And what is the shape of the end of the canoe? Is it a big flat square area or a relatively sharp point? I'm using my years of experience to opt for the "sharp point" as being the correct answer. Well then, which would be easier for you to balance while on hard ground: Balancing on the flat side of a triangle with the sharp point on the ground or balancing on a square with one flat side on the ground and you on other flat side on top? Go for the square being easier to stand on. If you can get more canoe to rest flat on the water while you are in it, you'll be more stable. You'll also travel faster and have more control especially in the wind.

For a solo paddling a large tandem canoe, you'll still need to add ballast to hold the nose down. Making the bow just touch the water a bit will greatly reduce the wind's ability to just whip the canoe around in a circle as you are flailing about in the back searching for some semblance of control. Most people seek out a large rock. Rocks are great but they weigh more than people do in water and if you happen to swamp your canoe, you might not get your canoe back as it sinks into the abyss weighted down by less than forgiving rocks in the bow. That sucks all the fun out of paddling a canoe. Plus portaging your perfect rock because there might not be one on the other side, seems somehow wrong.

Then there's the Iowan Technique of using 5 gallon pail full of sand. This, too, portages like crap, not to mention the sillyness of using white 5 gallon pails for anything at all on the portage. I get to see this hobo technique all summer long here by those who don't want to buy a Duluth pack, a camping chair, or a dry bag. Just because MacGuyver would have done it while the Soviet agents were chasing him, doesn't mean that you should, too. Then there's the wilderness dignity issue. Just because you're in a really beautiful place doesn't mean you have to look totally sloppy with 5 gallon pails and black garbage bags laying all over the portage. (I have actually witnessed this several times) Get some real gear already!

Without delving further into other silly ballast ideas and inventions, lets make use of the resource upon which we rest our canoe...

Ballast for soloing a tandem canoe
Filling bag with water
1. Behold the Perfect Rock! It weights about 6 ounces. It's a 13" X 36" Dry bag that we sell for about $17.00. Heck, unless you are from Iowa, you may already own one of these baby's!
2. Here I am filling the Perfect Rock with infinitely adjustable (and abundant) water. If there's no water there, having the canoe there doesn't make a lot of sense, either. 3. Still filling by holding the big mouth open.
Lifting water canoe bag
closing canoe water bag
4. Picking up the Perfect Rock.
5. Rolling the Perfect Rock shut. 6. Squeezing a little air out of the Perfect Rock.
sealing up canoe water bag
lifting canoe water bag bag in canoe
7. After rolling several rolls on the Perfect Rock down, I snap the Perfect Buckle together.

8. Picking up the Perfect Rock. for perfect placement. Looks like I'm wearing an itty-bitty lifejacket doesn't it?

9. Set the Perfect Rock in the canoe up against the air tank and in front of the seat. Unlike buckets, rocks, and other crap, this dry bag easily conforms to your canoe. If you drop it, it's less like to do any damage at all.
bag in floating canoe muskrat swimming by get in canoe
10. Notice how the canoe appears a bit nose-heavy with just the Perfect Rock in place. 11. And while placing the Perfect Rock we must take time to watch the muskrat swimming 10 feet away as we dink around on the beach. When you think about it, that's a weird little animal. 12. Get in canoe. Note my paddle which I automatically use as a support on the other side of the canoe. It's hitting the bottom and very useful. Do this whenever possible for boarding and exiting your canoe.
seated in balanced solo canoe paddling canoe paddling canoe
13. Voila! This is how your canoe should look with you in it and the Perfect Rock up front. No riding of wheelies or funny balancing acts were ever in play. It was 40 degrees out. Stability is a good thing. 14. Just another shot of me moving out in a Souris River Quetico 17, the finest tandem canoe ever made! Plus, you can see what a 6'2", 210 lb. guy (with my clothes on) looks like in an SR Quetico 17 when paddling solo. 15. OK, now I'm just showing off for the camera.
And, when I come to the portage, I just quickly dump the contents of my Perfect Rock. , stuff it in a canoe seat and go. Repeat on the other side. Meanwhile those guys with the buckets and other junk are schlepping over the uneven terrain of the portages. I'm already back on the water.

There you have it. The Dry Bag that we use is inexpensive and quite effective. They are not online as of yet, but you can call to order one if you'd like to paddle solo with style using the Perfect Rock. For the rest of you, there is the cheaper and more limited version laying on the ground. Just don't swamp your canoe. Oh, and in all fairness, I've seen people from Wisconsin with 5 gallon pails out there and I'm sure other states have the same issues. Please don't single out Iowa for portaging the silliness - they are not alone. 218-365-4512

See the J Stroke Here

See the Draw Stroke Here

See the Sweep Stroke Here

See Where to Find Great Paddles Online

Learn about Bent Shaft Paddles Here

Red Rock's Home Page Here

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