WELL, at long last I've been canoeing! And gone are all my
romantic notions of that recreation. For years I've cherished a
Hollywood-conceived picture of willows drooping to placid
waters, green meadows and summer peace a well-cushioned craft
propelled by a handsome male and myself reclining gracefully to
complete the tableau.
But, somehow, it didn't quite cut to that pattern. True enough,
there are sometimes willows and placid waters and green pastures
and summer peace; but 1 had reckoned without the spiked
casuarinas and gaunt gums and other trees which must, through my
ignorance, remain nameless. My version of canoing had not
included mud and steep banks, and stones and rocky gorges.
Neither had I given thought to snakes and flies and mosquitoes,
nor treacherous snags and rushing waters. And, although it had
not been an effort to even picture myself "reclining
gracefully," I would never have believed I could be screwed into
an incredibly small space amidships, with "gear" fore and aft,
and enjoy myself.
But, honestly, what a thrilling business it is! There's rare
exhilaration in shooting the rapids when the cry is "Paddle or
sink!"—and you usually accomplish bath. There's an eerie
stillness in the deep pools, broken only by the gentle "splash"
as the paddles dip and there's excitement and fear and
indescribable emotion when, without warning, the boat upturns
and you're tumbled inelegantly into the swift-running current.
You're dragged, gasping, to the safety of the bank, or, to be
more truthful you generally rescue yourself, since the skipper's
first concern must always be for his ship; and there you shiver
and talk loudly and pretend not to hear the small voice of
reactionary fear which temporarily grips you. There are times,
too, when the skies are clear and the canoe glides gaily along.
Then you almost burst with exaltation and want to shout aloud:
"God's in His Heaven; all's right with the world."
The First Trip
My first canoeing excursion was made in October of last year, when
the River Canoe Club held an outing down the Warragamba during the
holiday Eight-Hour-Day week-end. The skipper who invited me on that
memorable cruise is an old hand at the game, but the third member of
our crew was a land-lubber like myself. I accepted that invitation
with much trepidation and spent a few sleepless nights in fearful
During those three memorable days my canoeing education began. I was
taught to hop in and out quickly without capsizing the boat, and
learned to sit still and do as I was bid without comment—this was
difficult! I learned to bale out nineteen-to-the-dozen when we
beached, and to regard with comparative equanimity the oft-repeated
process of "drying-out." I learned the difference between bulkhead
and bilge, and the necessity for quick thinking and quicker action.
'Gunwhale itch" was soon more than a name to me, so that sometimes
it was a relief to portage the gear. I saw kindness and fun and
good-fellowship, and gaped in wonder as I watched the canoes being
expertly "roped through." Every time a boat upturned I froze with
Since then I've done two other trips, and each makes me anxious for
more. To those who believe that variety is the spice of life,
canoeing can be recommended. In the rain it is most uncomfortable,
and the sun can be blisteringly hot. A head wind almost breaks your
heart, and portages are usually an unmitigated curse. But canoeing
is a great game and a recreation quite apart. It calls for skill and
strength and courage, and when you haven't these you make the best
of what you have. There's excitement and contentment on a
river—there's malediction and benediction in its Voice.