Last Saturday we did a paddling workout with a twist: 3 of us "novice" steerers sat in seat 6 and wielded a steering blade. Not at the same time. We took turns.
And we did not hit anything! (We did, however, do 2 unplanned donuts.) I think once each of us got a feel for the momentum and the responsiveness (or not) of the boat, we did reasonably well.
Luckily it was calm and we had a good crew of paddlers. No one leaning out away from the ama, no one taking it easy while everyone else was working.
One thing that was obvious quickly: the canoe is more responsive when it's moving at a good pace. When it's moving slowly, it doesn't turn well. And once it starts turning, it doesn't "unturn" very easily. Thus, the 2 donuts!
I have some nervousness about steering, largely (I realized) because I don't like to do anything poorly. I want to be capable of something before I try it. Not a particularly good or admirable trait. It's the kind of thing that keeps a kid from learning to ride a bike, or to body surf. You've got to be willing to fall on your ass in order to stay upright.
Semi-related aside: I can clearly remember my first winter at Colorado College, when I decided after 4 or 5 times of clinging to the side of the ice rink, that I was going to just learn how to skate, even though it was bound to mean I'd spend a lot of time on my ass. And I did. I went one evening and fell (a lot) and got back up and learned how to skate crossing over. In one night I went from being obviously from Hawaii, to being better than some of the mainland kids. I need to remember this more often.
One complication in an OC6 is that a novice steerer is responsible for not only the bruises on their own ass, but also the asses of the other 5 people in the boat, not to mention the boat itself (~$10,000). So it's not quite the same thing as going to the ice rink and taking your lumps until you either learn or give up. But there's no way around it -- practicing is how to learn and I do want to know how to steer. Not necessarily because I want to be the one in charge and/or want to steer, but because it seems an important set of skills, and it seems to me that knowing how to steer will help, no matter where I sit in the canoe. It strikes me that if you have paddlers in 1-5 who understand how a canoe steers and what seat 6 is dealing with, they can help when needed.
Here's our track, as registered by my new (second-hand) GPS:
And some detail from the ship canal:
You can see the wobble in my track (I was steering on the lower part, coming back east (to the right). Jocelyn was steering the straighter part, going west).
I'm glad we did this (thanks for pushing us Melissa!), and I'm almost looking forward to doing it again. Of course, there are all kinds of things I wonder about and wonder about getting experience for, like wakes and headwinds and swells and and and.....
Steering makes me appreciate even more the skills of those who know what they're doing, like Sabine and the Dougs. Seems like a long way away for me though.