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Classic Paddle Shapes for Moving, Shallow Water

Discussion in 'Paddles and Paddle Making' started by caleb, Aug 25, 2017.

  1. caleb

    caleb Curious about Wooden Canoes

    It seems like almost all of the paddle shapes that we now regard as "classic" - the beavertail, ottertail, etcetera - are also generally regarded as deepwater paddles due to their deep draw and rounded tips.

    The one exception I can think of might be the sort of shape Shaw and Tenney call the Algonquin, with sharp shoulders and a flat tip. I think I've also seen this shape called the Huron as well.

    Was there a genre of paddles for moving water that have fallen out of favor?

    Or, perhaps I'm thinking about this question incorrectly. Is the general Sugar Island shape more "classic" than I'm acknowledging?
  2. Tsuga88

    Tsuga88 Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Just came across this post searching for something else. I think shallow-water paddle shape is defined by two factors - blade surface you can get under the water for power, and potential damage.

    For blade surface, wider lower down is better, so no matter how much/little of the blade you can get in the water, you're at least getting the full width of the blade. This is certainly true of the Sugar Island shape as you said, and a classic whitewater blade, which is basically a rectangle. I think a classic beaver-tail or Maine guide blade shape is also better in terms of being wider at the bottom vs say an ottertail or S&T Algonquin, even if you do lose the corners in terms of area comparing a beavertail to a Sugar Island. Both the Graham Warren/David Gidmark book on making paddles and the various design descriptions on the Badger Paddles website discuss the tradeoff between more blade area lower down via a wide base, and having a quiet entry by more rounding. Check out in particular the discussion of the Badger Bonga. See also the description for Shaw and Tenney's Northwoods blade - curved but quite wide towards the bottom, and noted for both shallow and deep water use (thus the staged grip).

    In terms of damage, in the Warren/Gidmark book, they seem to indicate that wider blades are less susceptible to damage in shallow water. I don't really understand why that would be, except maybe that wider blades have to be thicker in the middle to support the edges going further from the spine? Interestingly, they describe what they call a 'Voyageur' design, very similar in appearance to Shaw & Tenney's Algoquin, as susceptible to damage in shallow water due to the narrow tip. But your comment on the flat tip makes sense in terms of the power problem. I also recollect reading somewhere that the Voyageurs and Indigenous paddlers tended to treat paddles as more disposable - presumably they had ample access to large trees, time by the fireside to carve a new paddle when they broke an old one, and the knowledge and skill to make a new one reasonably quickly (*warning - poorly referenced and overly generalized statement alert!)

    Another aspect I've been learning more about recently is canoe poling. There are some good videos on YouTube and great older books on the subject, but in short, when the water got too shallow to paddle in, people used to pole! Poling is much more efficient in shallow water and removes the two issues above, which may also be why paddle designs are focused on deeper waters. I think it's poling that's fallen out of favor and not shallow-water paddles.

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