It was written by then TVCC president, W.D. Hixon, Jr.
“Everybody’s partner is an idiot”. . . . Thus opened the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club’s Third Annual “School of River Canoeing” held each year on Memorial Day weekend just as boating fever reaches its peak.
When the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club was organized in the Fall of 1967 we began our canoeing on the moving water of Tennessee’s. Georgia’s, North Carolina’s, and Alabama’s mildly placid to ragingly swift streams. The need for training and instruction of our predominantly very novice membership (myself included) became painfully apparent. Aside from the obvious benefit of protecting life, limb, and boat from damage, we fe!t training would increase the pleasure and satisfaction of the potential river canoeist. He would have techniques to perfect that would enable him to run difficult rapids with finesse and boat control rather than with a dangerous lets-paddle-like-everything-and-hope-we-make-it attitude.
We knew that because of modern materials for boat construction (such as aluminum and fiberglass) running rock-strewn water courses is now practical. Also, because the lake and reservoir is dominated by powerboat and waterskier, today’s canoeist would usually take to free-flowing rivers. Therefore, to present a program that would be worthwhile, we had to look beyond the classical Boy Scout and Red Cross canoe training. These were compiled in an age of canvas covered wood boats—that because of their delicacy and beauty were confined to lakes and calm water. These classical canoeing courses gave scant attention to the effect of current on the boat which is the sine-qua-non of downriver canoeing skill. Some of the techniques were either not pertinent or were out-right dangerous such as the old stay-with-the-capsized-boat rule. This admonition was good advice in calm water but in a river powerful currents can very well trap the unlucky canoeist between his swamped boat and a rock with crushing force. (This force increases as a square of the current’s velocity).
We were fortunate to have in our club a few experienced enthusiasts who knew where to begin on course instruction that would fit our requirements. We borrowed ideas from the canoeing section of the Buck Ridge Ski Club of Pennsylvania who began their “Red Ridge College” canoe training program several years ago. We adopted the safety rules of the American White-water Association and used them as points to stress. We selected as our text books Basic River Canoeing by Robert E. McNair and the Red Cross Basic Canoeing by J. L. Hasenfus. We then prepared a series of 8mm how-to-do-it films which have since been addcd-to and revised. They are non-professional but certainly get the idea across. Through Mr. Lowell Bennington we enlisted the aid and support of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Red Cross Chapter which has co-sponored all of our training sessions and presented basic canoeing certificates toll the students who passed.
Our initial training session in the Spring of 1968 was rather informal and intramural in scope. The lecture sessions were held during the week in Chattanooga and the following weekend was spent on the Hiwassee for the actual river instruction. There were only about 30 students but despite modest beginnings it was sufficiently successful that we were asked to compress the instruction into a single weekend so that persons outside the Chattanooga area might attend.
Our next training session in the Spring of 1969 fulfilled this request with lecture and “laboratory” crammed into a single weekend. Unfortunately, we were plagued with a lack of water on the Hiwassee. This required moving students, bags, and baggage to the Conasauga River, which of course considerably disrupted the tightly planned schedules. By the 1970 Spring session we were getting both wiser and more ambitious.
We had requested of the Tennessee Valley Authority and been granted a guaranteed water flow on the Hiwassee below Appalachia Powerhouse. We had lined up sufficient qualified canoeists from Chattanooga, Nashville, and Atlanta to instruct a maximum of one hundred students. At the 1969 session we were forced to turn away many late applicants.
After several weeks of fervent planning, instructor briefing sessions, and advance publicity, our training chairmen Messrs. Don Bodley and Lavone Lambert felt we were ready to impart our white-water skills. Use of the pavilion at Quinn Springs Recreation Area, which was to be our open-air classroom, registration desk, and general headquarters, had been cleared with the Cherokee National Forest offices and on Friday afternoon.
May 29, 1970 automobiles bearing students, instructors, and canoes came pouring in from Tennessee and surrounding states. Registration and collection of fees of $6.00′ per person and $3.00 for each additional family member proceeded smoothly. By nightfall the portable electric generator to provide power for the slide and movie projectors was quietly putt-puttin’ away, removed from the class by several hundred feet of extension cord.
The Friday evening lectures, demonstrations, and movies covered the basic items of paddle strokes such as the back-stroke, draw, pry. across-the-bow draw, and more familiar “J” and reverse “J” strokes. Safety precautions, water reading; rocks, pillows, souse holes, up- stream and downstream “V” ‘s. standing waves, and canoe team cooperation; communication, sternman’s job, bowman’s job, who’s captain (everybody’s partner is an idiot) were discussed in detail. After a brief question-and-answer period everyone turned in promptly, as Saturday on the river began at 7:00 a.m.
Next morning the 22 instructors and assistant instructors and the 75 students were separated into small groups. The intermediate students and their instructors put into the river at Towee Ramp just below Appalachia Powerhouse to begin the Hiwassee 6 mile stretch of class II and III rapids. The beginners were started at Reliance. Tennessee just above Webb Brothers store where the mighty and beautiful Hiwassee moderates to much gentler, kinder rapids.
The Class III difficulty rating of the infamous Devil’s Shoals of the upper Hiwassee is just about the most turbulent water that can be negotiated in an open (undecked) canoe. Both groups ran each rapid one by one under the close supervision and watchful eyes of their instructors. Paddle strokes and river techniques such as eddy turns, forward and back ferries, and canoe and canoeist rescue were practiced. Although much “rescue” of boats, equipment, and canoe-less canoeists was staged, needless to say some of it was not!
Saturday evening’s lecture session was attended by exhausted but happy and certainly more confident students. No broken bones were evident although some of the canoes showed the usual minor dents and scratches from the ravages of the Hiwassee. Friday’s material was reviewed and additional paddle strokes were demonstrated. Brief lectures were presented on conservation, camp sanitation, respect of landowners’ rights, basic first aid, and other topics that concern the conscientious river boatman.
Mr. John Kennedy of Atlanta’s Georgia Canoe Association presented the less well-known decked boats, kayak and C-1 to the group. The lecture evening was topped off by two films of while-water racing in North Carolina and Tennessee. Sunday, we returned to the river for more “laboratory” work. Some of the better “beginners” had been moved up to the intermediate group and almost everyone displayed more skill in negotiating what had been merely watery chaps the day before.
Late Sunday afternoon the students began loading boats and gear on their automobiles for the trek home. There was much handshaking and well-wishing and the instructors breathed smiling sighs of relief—the training session was over. Things had indeed gone smoothly that Memorial Day weekend, and we had been blessed with magnificent weather.
The Tennessee Valley Canoe Club is planning another “School of River Canoeing” for 1971, again, on Memorial Day weekend. Although we would be naive to think that a single weekend could produce a white-water expert, we do feel our training session is a good introduction to the rapidly growing sport of river canoeing.