DIRTBAG BOOKCLUB: A White Water Handbook For Canoe And Kayak by John T. Urban

What better way to celebrate Throwback Thursday than with a BOOKCLUB review of a classic from WAAAY back in the formative days of whitewater boating?

The Appalachian Mountain Club of Boston, MA had “A White Water Handbook For Canoe And Kayak” published for it’s members in 1971, and it provides an interesting, informative portal into the formative years of our sport. Chock full of instruction and illustrations for both whitewater crafts, yet written mainly for canoeists, this black and white pamphlet is a rare gem. While the gear has advanced exponentially, the strokes are the same and any lover of paddling lore will enjoy spending an hour or two with this booklet. 
     Mr. Urban covers basic features of the river in the terms of yesteryear; you’ll read the descriptions and find that today’s terms have changed but The River hasn’t. He also includes some basic knots, river and paddler classifications, and a reference of maps, manuals, and guidebooks from the era that will entertain you. This was a top rank source for the aspiring boater back in the day, especially if that boater was seeking to enter the slalom scene, which was hugely popular especially in the Massachusetts community. Welcome to the days of Dunkers, souse holes, fiberglass boats, and painters. 

…Entangled Dunkers. Keep a mental check list to prevent being entangled or caught in case of an upset. These things could all cause trouble – a long, loose painter casually thrown into the canoe; a loose spray skirt which could wrap around your legs in the water; a fabric deck not positively attached to the canoe. The low bow seat of the aluminum canoe is a special case of a foot catcher, particularly if you wear heavy boots. Kneel with your heels pointing out to give clearance for a quick exit. The best precaution is to remove the seat and substitute a simple thwart…

…Choose more conventional clothing for early spring, begin it with long underwear, either of wool or a thermal knit. Heavy wool socks, waterproof boots, and gloves or mittens in cold weather are helpful. Some paddlers make excellent paddling mittens from sixteenth-inch neoprene; these are warm and yet thin enough to keep one from being clumsy with the paddle. A rain suit, parka and trousers, is useful for staying dry in the rain, both on and off the river. Remember that a raincoat or poncho can dangerously impair your swimming ability. Most people prefer to use knee pads for paddling the canoe; the strapped pads for gardeners are convenient, unless you prefer to cement neoprene sponge pads permanently into your boat. A cap with a visor and sun glasses are invaluable when going into the sun; the glare of a low sun can make it difficult to read the water ahead.
     Those who paddle rivers of class IV or higher should consider the use of crash helmets…

…A vital determinant of a river’s difficulty is the volume of water carried at the time. A stream normally considered as grade II or III can, when in high flood, show a brute power which an expert would not venture to challenge. Conversely, low water can tame a tough expert run to the status of an easygoing outing or just a channel hunt with intermittent wading – when it can be paddled at all. The water level is usually specified with respect to the tiver’s normal flow. The widely used International System is summarized as follows:
L (Low) – Less than an acceptable level for satisfactory paddling.
M (Medium) – Normal for rivers of slight gradient, but less than enough water for good passage in a steeper river.
MH (Medium High) – Higher than normal; enough water to provide passage over ledges and through boulders. This is the best level for some of the more difficult river sections.
H (High) – The river is full and the water heavy. Covered boats are necessary on most rivers; some large rivers are at dangerous levels.
HH (High-High) – Very heavy water makes for complex and powerful hydraulics. Even rivers of moderate gradient can become dangerous. 
F (Flood) – Abnormally high water. Extremely powerful effects, with debris on the surface. Not for boating of any kind…
…White Eddy: An area below a ledge or boulder over which water is flowing, characterized by a highly aerated backflow at the surface…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *