Share the River
by Ed Greiner, President NNYP
The stretch of the Mohawk River/ Erie Canal between Lock 7 and Lock 8 is used by many groups and individuals both for training and recreation. There are recreational canoers and kayakers out for a leisurely paddle. Fishermen go out in craft ranging from tubby little kayaks to gigantic powerboats of 200 horsepower or more. There are, perhaps, half a dozen rowing organizations between Rexford and Schenectady, and let’s not forget the power boat crowd that tend to buzz up and down the channel any time the weather is nice. Small groups of NNYP racers do training runs from various access points usually starting in March. This can sometimes make for a very crowded waterway.
The crew teams will go out in shells ranging from 1 person, to 8 person shells with a coxswain. Sometimes they go out in small groups and sometimes they qualify as a fleet. The middle and high school teams often contain inexperienced rowers. The launches, the powerboats that escort the rowers, often have inexperienced students at the helm. They are instructed to keep their launch between the shells they are tasked to protect and any other boat that may pose a threat. This can lead to misunderstandings and conflict. Some years ago, I chewed out a young launch driver for the excessive wake he was making while zig-zagging back and forth to stay between his charges and us. I didn’t get to apologize at a later date because he never came back.
As paddlers, we tend to hug the shore going upstream, often choosing which bank in order to minimize the effect of the wind on our boats. In moderate to high current situations, it is fun, as well as good practice, to see how much advantage we can get from the many eddies along the shore. Paddling downstream, we like to get out into the current to maximize speed and minimize effort. Not all of the river users think the same way we do.
Rowing shells, on the other hand, ply the river as if they were in traffic. They try to pass all oncoming craft on the right and overtake other boats by passing on the left. They tend not to go too close to shore as their oars stick out several feet to the side. They do not turn easily and will take up most of the river when reversing direction.
These differences in maneuverability and intent can create conflict and bad feelings between the groups. Since paddlecraft are much more maneuverable than the rowing shells, I suggest we should be the ones to give way in encountering situations. If we see shells coming toward us, we should pass on the right as if we were on a road. I would hope that the rowers will show us the same courtesy during our time trials, and they generally do.
We paddlers have all had encounters with power boats. Some operators are courteous and knowledgeable. They will give small paddlecraft a wide berth and either stay on a plane or slow to an idle. Some try to be courteous by slowing down a bit. When they are at half throttle, they make more wake than at any other time. The fact that the stern of the boat is low in the water causes much more water displacement and, therefore, a higher wake. Good intentions that create a bad situation.
Then there are the powerboats that intentionally create a large wake because they think it is funny to see us in distress. Sometimes they even go around us in circles to create a washing machine effect. These are mostly jet skis, but not all. This type of behavior is no different than a person in a canoe intentionally paddling toward rowing shells to interrupt their training run. I have heard of this happening on the Mohawk
We all need to be courteous so our time on the river is enjoyable and productive. There is enough room for all of us if we cut each other some slack.