When we canoe on open water it is sometimes difficult to tell if our skills are working in a predictable way, water being the fluid medium that it is. To solve this problem we have invented standardized watercourses that create references on the water that we can canoe relative to. The watercourses are simple series of buoys set on the water in standard patterns, allowing us to practice and prove our abilities on the water.
When you begin learning a new skill, the watercourses are not important. At first you needn't even worry too much about where your canoe is going. Your main concern should be to learn to coordinate the new motions of your body while practically ignoring the skill's effect on your course. When a new skill starts to feel natural to you, and you begin to notice that it is taking you in the general course it was meant to take you, only then should you begin working on course precision.
At that stage it is helpful to place some buoys on the water and to practice canoeing around them. Here are descriptions of the bronze watercourse that we use in the Moore Canoeing School and a general explanation of how to use it for greatest benefit.
The Bronze Patterns
The Bronze watercourse uses three buoys arranged in a triangular pattern, 50 feet on a side. When you first start using the course it is important to remember that your purpose is to improve specific skills, not simply to get around the watercourse in whatever manner you devise at the moment. At first the watercourse is there only to help you learn where a specific stroke will take you.
For example, if you are learning a Deep-C stroke (the most basic stroke for traveling ahead while turning gently toward the side on which you are stroking), your first priority should be to repeat the stroke over and over, making each one exactly the same as the one before, and see where it takes you. Then slowly adjust the stroke until you are traveling in a large circle around the outside of the watercourse, as depicted by the largest circle in the top diagram of the Bronze Practice Patterns shown at the right. If you drift off course, don't worry. That is part of the process. Make the necessary adjustments and before long you will be back on a purposeful course and practicing course precision in earnest.
Continue around the outside of the course as many times as you like. As you become more confident, try spiraling into ever smaller circles until you are turning in a very small circle at the center of the triangle. Practice the other Bronze skills, using their respective patterns, in a similar manner. Next practice making predictable transitions between the skills, and before long you will be able to perform the skills with confidence in a natural setting.
Beyond using the watercourses to tune and practice your skills, they are also important aids for demonstrating and proving your skills so that they can be fine tuned and built upon. To demonstrate your skills effectively it is necessary to memorize a standardized routine that will let you demonstrate your ability to perform each set of skills. Performing a memorized routine severely limits the new freedom of motion that your new skills will have endowed you with, but it is the only efficient way for your instructor to observe and evaluate your ability to move upon the water in the place and manner that you choose.
Bronze School Figures
AT START, Using a C stroke, start by passing on the outside of buoy a while moving parallel with buoys b and c. When you pass a, deepen your C stroke to create a circular course which passes just outside of b and c. As you pass c, deepen your C stroke even more, to create a smaller circular course inside of a and b. Conclude the smaller circle on a course parallel with b and c, and pass to the outside of c. Try to complete this figure in no more than 13 strokes.
NEXT FIGURE, At buoy c, perform a static axle that turns you 120 degrees, directly toward buoy a, and use a C stroke to travel straight to a. At a, perform a static axle, turning you 120 degrees, directly toward buoy b. At b, perform a static axle turning 180+ degrees onto a course perpendicular to b and c. Try to complete this figure in no more than 8 strokes.
NEXT FIGURE, As you travel away from buoy b, begin performing sweep strokes to create a course passing to the outside of a and c. At c, begin performing more extreme sweeps to create a smaller circular course within all three buoys. Complete the sweeps on a course parallel with c and b. Try to complete this figure in no more than 15 strokes.
TO FINISH, Use C strokes to travel to the outside of b. At b, perform a cross axle to turn 120 degrees, directly toward buoy a, and use a C stroke to travel straight to a. At a, perform a cross axle, turning you 120 degrees, directly toward buoy c, and use a C stroke to travel straight to c. At c perform a cross axle, turning you 180 degrees. From c, perform C strokes to finish as you began, on the outside of a, on a course parallel with b and c. There, you are also set up to repeat the figures if you wish. Try to complete this figure in no more than 8 strokes.
Precision and grace are the touchstones of sport canoeing. For precision:
- Pass close enough to the buoys to easily reach over them with your paddle, but do not touch them.
- Use only prescribed strokes at prescribed times--no out of sequence strokes.
- Complete the course in the prescribed time, 4 minutes ±30 seconds.
- Exclude both brusque and hesitant strokes, recoveries and transitions.
- Avoid splashes and cavitations (don't get water in the air or air in the water).
- Keep your posture erect and relaxed, for effective motion and trim.
For both precision and grace, you may variously heel the boat to affect carving or skidding turns...or to stop turns. This is not required, however.
There is also a 0-10 point scoring system, with a maximum possible score of 2-1/2 points possible for each of the four figures. The score for each figure is further broken down according to course precision, stroke performance and (for axles) degree of turn. One begins with a perfect score of 10, and then objective deductions of 0.01 to 0.33 points per stroke or move may be deducted for various deviations from the ideal. The scoring system is not meant to be for competition purposes but simply to measure individual progress. When several canoeists have performed on the course, however, who can resist "comparing" scores!? Contact me if you would like a score sheet with scoring guidelines.
© Patrick Moore 1988, 2011
Making a Bronze Watercourse
Below this paragraph is a diagram illustrating how to make an "official" Bronze Watercourse. However, you may wish to start with a more simple set-up. Three half-gallon milk jugs for buoys, thee bricks for anchors, and three lengths of rope to joining each buoy/anchor set together will do. The only issue may be that it will require some fairly precise canoeing simply to get them set out in a true equilateral triangle! Beyond that, if the anchor lines aren't exactly the right length, the buoys will drift around on the anchor lines' slack. The illustration at right shows a simple way for keeping an anchor line taut. Use a line that is at least 2-3 feet longer than the water's depth but not twice as long as the water's depth. Tie one end of the line to an anchor, thread the free end through the handle of a half-gallon milk jug, then tie a one-pound weight to the free end of the line. Drop the whole works in the water. The dangling weight will keep tension on the anchor line, keeping the buoy from drifting on a slack line. A half-gallon milk jug has about four pounds of buoyancy, so a one-pound dangling weight is about right for keeping it in place without dislodging the anchor from the bottom if the buoy gets pressed across the surface./p>
Official Bronze Watercourse
The setup diagrammed below looks complicated for a mere three-buoy watercourse, but it takes only a couple of hours to make (once supplies are assembled), is easier to set out on the water than three individual buoys--at least with any accuracy--and it ensures precise placement of the buoys, all-important to developing consistent strokes, the entire purpose for the course.
The various pieces of line are stored as separate pieces in order to prevent tangling, but all except the buoy lines may be rolled onto one spool for easy management. To set out on the water:
- While still on shore, unspool the first anchor set line and anchor line as well as the triangle.
- Clip the three buoy/buoy lines to the triangle.
- Clip the first anchor line, anchor and anchor setting line to a corner of the triangle and put the anchor in your boat.
- Carry the other anchors/anchor lines along with you as well, and launch your canoe, dragging the course behind you.
- When you reach the desired location, drop the first anchor in the water, with anchor setting line attached.
- Similarly attach and drop the other two anchors, spreading the triangle out as you do.
- To make the watercourse taut, get a running start at one of the anchor setting line handles and grab it from the water as you pass (great precision practice in itself) pulling the anchor line taut. Repeat with the other handles as necessary, until all three anchor lines are taut.
The watercourse can readily be entirely set up from a canoe in a remote location. Starting the assembly as outlined above may be easier the first time or two, however, especially if the location provides an open area to work.
An optional convenience is to splice a 10' length of bungee cord into one of the anchor lines. This will keep constant tension on the course even if one of the anchors slips a little.