Exploring Lake Superior by Outrigger Canoe
Words by Michelle McChristie
Photos by Darren McChristie
“Hut! Ho!” yells Terry Martin, the caller in my six-person outrigger canoe crew. The command “hut” prepares the paddlers for changing sides and on the command “ho,” everyone switches the side on which they are paddling. From time to time, steersman, Richard Culpeper, gives us a one word reminder, “timing!” to ensure our strokes are in sync. When we are, the boat cuts through the waves effortlessly, but when we are not (guilty—I am easily distracted by the sights and sounds in the harbour) the motion feels jerky, “it’s like driving a car when the pistons and valves are out of sync,” says Culpeper. I don’t know much about cars, but I know that pistons are important for an engine to function.
Culpeper invited Darren to join a crew of outrigger canoeists for a morning paddle and I asked to tag along. Both of us have paddled canoes, kayaks, and standup paddleboards but never a 40-foot outrigger canoe—a boat so large, we use a hoist to move it between the dock and the water. We’re paddling the group’s newest vessel—a sleek, lime green coloured fibreglass model built by Pogue Sports in BC. “Whatever you do, don’t lean right,” emphasizes Culpeper as part of his Outrigger 101 overview. The ama (outrigger float) gives the boat extra stability, but only on one side.
With a steady offshore breeze, Lake Superior is a little choppy, and also muddy from the extra silt rivers have carried to the lake after recent heavy rains. We head south from Pier 1 at the marina and cruise towards the Neebing River. “Oops, sorry,” says Darren after leaning to the right, but not far enough to rock, let alone tip the boat. I hear those words repeatedly throughout the trip as he inadvertently splashes me with his paddle.
We clip along at an astonishingly fast pace and settle into a comfortable pace with short and quick paddle strokes. I silently take pride in being able to change sides as quickly as my crewmates at least some of the time. Once on the river, we breeze through the intercity area, saying hello to people relaxing in their backyards and pedestrians walking over bridges. Our destination: Dairy Queen.
While eating ice cream, Culpeper explains the workings of the group. The take home message is that new members of all ages and abilities are always welcome—it’s a great way to explore Lake Superior.
Interested in outrigger canoeing? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.