Solo paddling a 17 ft. OTCA


Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
I will be getting the OTCA out on the water and wanted to get some help on doing it solo. Maybe some sandbags placed as ballast in the bow will help since the wind can just catch the front end and spin the whole boat around. Does a double paddle help? Also for fishing, what kind of anchor system is useful for keeping the canoe in one spot? Thanks for any suggestions.

I've tried the front end weight approach, but long ago concluded that the best way to solo paddle is seated amidship. There are a number of removable canoe seats out there that would make this comfortable. I recently had an Amish leather worker make me a hamock style seat out of leather. It's just a leather sling with four belts and buckles that go through the open gunwale. It cost me less than 50 bucks and works great. You can also go to Toys R Us and buy some foam play pads. They're square pads about two feet square with jigsaw puzzle-like protrusion on them. One works fine as a kneeling pad to use in conjunction with the sling seat when you want more stability.

Paddling from the center gives you really good control. You can also move to one side and heel the canoe over for more control. It provides much better stability than paddling from the stern- a real plus if you are fishing.

I doubt that a double end paddle would be much advantage. Especially if you're fishing since it would be one more long thing to get in your way.

As far as anchors go, a small plastic coated folding boat anchor would probably work well. Of course you can always use the old plastic mesh bag with rocks in it. The plastic coated anchors would be less likely to damage the finish on the interior of your canoe.

Hope this helps to keep you from turning into a hydraulic weather vane!
I saw an ad in Wooden Canoe for "the original saddle seat" by Azland Traditions. Is this something you are familiar with? I can't figure out how this attaches to the boat. Does is attach around the gunwale?

I have an 18-footer, and although I usually paddle with my mate, there are occassions when paddling solo has become necessary. I'm with Andy on this. I wouldn't add weight to the canoe. I would paddle from amidships. I have even found that in some conditions I can control the canoe's direction by moving my body position a little forward or aft thereby adjusting whether the stearn or bow is more exposed to the wind. I have never used an auxilliary seat, but I have seen the Azland Traditions sling seat at the assembly. It attaches with four straps which slip through the spaces created between inner and outer wales and the ribs.

Good luck, Tom
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Assuming your canoe has open gunwales, the straps go between the inwale and outwale between the ribs. If your canoe has closed gunwales, it probably won't work. If you have closed gunwales, Piragis sells an adjustable width center seat for $56. It's item No. E1411. They can be found at Looks pretty comfy to me, but it won't let you heel the canoe over the way the leather sling will.

By the way, I noticed that Piragis also sells a nifty little non coated canoe anchor, item No. E1006, or if you prefer they sell the poly anchor bags - you supply the rocks.
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If solo, sit in the bow seat facing the stern. If you are in an open body of water paddling against the wind and the wind becomes a problem, point the canoe so you are paddling on the leeward side and feather your paddle. Move forward, brace against a thwart and kneel as the canoe becomes harder to handle. The farther forward you go, the more difficult it becomes to 'steer' with a J-stroke or similar. Takes a lot of practice. You can't win especially with the high ends of an Otca catching the wind. I have never tried weights but paddling with a strong partner who know what he or she is doing is a lot of fun in wind and waves.

Paddling a canoe is an art not a science- different strokes for different folks!

Hi Don.

Another idea is to add a kneeling thwart just aft of center so you are very near center. I paddle my 18' HW Low end solo, but not in a wind. Also you can try kneeling and heal it over. That's what I do. Kneeling pads of some kind are a blessing. I've not seen but have heard the Azland sling is the best solution and I believe it. You could also stuff foam in a bag and use it like a saddle, as per Becky Mason solo instructional video. There must be lots of ways to skin a cat. I would think a paddle designed for slower stroke and more control ie. bigger area of blade and maybe longer.
I have an Azland saddle seat and absolutely love it! Good quality, nice rustic look and very comfortable.

A plus for the Azland seat is that Tom Seavey (owner/craftsman) is an avid WCHA'er and a veritable "fixture" at Assembly.
Kneeling is the most flexible. If you put a kneeling thwart amidships, it just gets in your way as you move forward or back in response to the wind/wave conditions. Also, you'd probably not use it if you are paddling heeled-over (the best way). Sitting on some kind of seat also raises your center of gravity, which can affect your balance in difficult water.

If you're not used to kneeling, practice at home on a rug until you stretch your muscles and tendons out. Also, get a good kneeling pad from Piragis Northwoods or your local canoe shop. The ribs can play havoc with your kneecaps. Finally, wear flexible-soled shoes so you can bend your feet.
OK, so I know I already chimed in on the subject of solo paddling a large canoe. To be honest, I hadn't thought about the ramifications of kneeling:rolleyes: even though I put my knees down there every once in a while. I purchased a piece of Minicell foam (for my solo canoe:D ), which is what I believe to be the correct material, from an internet company called Foam by mail. I got a piece 1/2 inch thick and it is probably the same material you'll get if you buy one from Piragis Northwoods or some other place. The difference is that you'll be able to custom fit the raw material to your canoe. Works like a charm, won't absorb water, etc.
Thanks for all the good info. As far as paddling solo using the bow seat goes, the problem is a thwart located directly behind the bow seat. So it looks like sitting in the middle of the canoe is the best. I will have to see how it works out. This forum has been very helpful and I will look into some knee pads.
Bill Mason’s book Song of the Paddle is a very good introduction to solo paddling and “theory” of canoe paddling. The big issues are trim and wind and understanding how they relate. I paddle most often solo in 17 and 18 foot canoes, most often kneeling just back of center thwart, leaning my butt on the thwart by the bow seat. I use two commonly available cheap gardeners knee pads. When I want to sit, I sit on the bow seat, even though there’s a thwart to straddle, that’s easily done.

How often have I seen solo paddlers sitting in the stern seat, with the bow popped way up in the air, making no progress, or getting spun round in the wind because they’ve made the canoe a weather vane?

A recent issue of Wooden Canoe had a cover photo of a trip on the Nemasket. In the foreground are me and Bill Conrad, soling our canoes. That photo shows how it’s done. I started paddling only, what, 14 years ago and in a few years, it was easy as pie. Now paddling that way is as natural as walking to me.

Will kneeling kill your knees? Pads help and the first time or two you might get bit stiff and sore. So stop and take a break and stretch. But the canoe bottom is not a concrete floor and you will find kneeling joins you very firmly to the canoe, like a tripod, and transfers your paddling to the canoe more efficiently than sitting in a seat does. When you sit in a seat, you’re transferring your paddle power to the canoe via mostly your squishy butt! What kind of connection is that! Hell, I kneel when I’m paddling tandem.

Very nice reading. Thanks. Here's a figure eight. You can see the contrail in the background. the last half of the 8 is already started and finished up with one last stir on the paddle, an inside turn.


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Sand bags

Don, One more thought. If you must put additional weight in your canoe, don't use sand bags. In a swamping, your canoe might just disappear out from under you.:eek: I've seen water, pumped into portable plastic containers, used for ballast. With this arrangement, the water containers will float, and the canoe will, too.:D Good luck, Tom