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Use Your Words…

30 May 2010 3 Comments AUTHOR: Carrie Clark
Use Your Words…

Sean and I went Kayaking in our tandem kayak for the first time last week. We took it out to a nearby lake, and had a terrific adventure. We laughed and learned a lot–and came home worn out.

I have a few observations to make. So, from my perspective…

Here are some of the things we learned our first time out:

  1. When you fasten the kayak to the top of the vehicle, consider positioning the buckle and strap tighteners on the passenger side. That way, if you have to get out to tighten things, you run less of a risk of getting hit by oncoming traffic. Especially so on a busy highway.
  2. You can never have too many ropes, Velcro straps or carabiners.
  3. Take frequent breaks to drink water, eat a snack and apply sunscreen.
  4. We don’t have spray skirts, so everything in our kayak gets wet with huge swells if we don’t get leans just right. We had trash bags to line and protect the gear inside of our packs, but next time we’ll have waterproof dry storage bags.
  5. Be patient with each other and remember to use your words.

What I mean by #5 is that when we humans get frustrated, sometimes our ability to say what we mean to say falls to the wayside for awhile. Or, we continue to use words and descriptors that are not getting the job done. When you are kayaking in tandem for the first few times, this is no exception. You are distracted by the multiple tasks going on, and that alone can be enough to throw a person off.

Let me sidetrack for a minute. When Sean and I first went shopping for a tandem kayak, we met a terrific salesperson who was patient, helpful and experienced (Tony at OKC Kayak). One of the things he said, made Sean and I kind of look at each other. He said something like, “Well, some folks refer to these as divorce boats.” Here’s a description that’ll make you smile….from UrbanDictionary.com:

A tandem kayak, that is hard for paddlers to synchronize their paddle strokes. In many cases the forward and back seats are so close together that it is easy to hit the person in the head with the kayak paddle or frequently splash them. In some cases the experience of the paddling a divorce boat makes people realize how incompatible they really are. You usually hear the people in a divorce boat a long time before you see it. Even a blind person can recognize one. A couple of really inexperienced paddlers can make any two person boat a divorce boat, however, these kayaks tend to bring out the worst in even the best of us. Any other type of boat where people spend a lot of time in it, or spend a lot of money on it can precipitate a divorce but divorce boats are most helpful in bringing a true and articulate understanding of the fundamental incompatibility in the relationship.

(Source: UrbanDictionary.com)

See what I mean? Cute, huh? Well, Sean and I looked at each other and knew we were equal to the task. Not only do we love each other, but we really genuinely like each other. He’s patient and supportive of me, encouraging me in any task. I trust him, I’m a hard worker, and eager to learn, to praise him right back.

That’s not to say that on our first outing that we didn’t each think of doinking each other on the head with the paddle. Heh! We sure did a large amount of laughing, exploring and relaxing that day, too. If you are a patient reader, perhaps someday I’ll tell you of Bird Crap Island and Ladybug Beach.

Here’s what I think is needed in tandem kayaking…. 1) a “job description” and 2) a glossary of words that two people in a kayak have in common. That will at least get you a starting point that is open to revision.

1) I ride up front towards the bow, and Sean rides in back by the stern.

But of course that’s not all. He does most of the specific steering and keeps pace with me. Seems like he does most of the left to right bracing especially as waves are upon us. I set a pace, watch and tell him about obstacles and do what I think of as a vertical lift, using my weight up and back to help get the bow ready to meet and ride over oncoming waves. Together we work to turn the boat clockwise or counter clockwise. I imagine there will be more to the job description as time progresses. There are lots of great books out there that are really helping me out. Two of them are “The Complete Sea Kayaker’s Handbook” by Shelley Johnson, and “The Essential Sea Kayaker: A Complete Course for the Open Water Paddler“, by David Seidman.

2) A Google search on Tandem Kayak Communication gave me a nice long list of possibilities, but none of the sites I visited indicated specific lingo/words to use.

Just a generic message on how important it is to communicate. What I’m wanting is a glossary, or a set of vocabulary that we agree on and will practice using. I tell my science students that before they begin a science experiment, that they need to agree on what they mean by right or left (is it a sharp left or veering left?), when bubbling begins or ends, etc., and they need to practice and then agree on specifics before the actual experiment takes place.

When we were paddling, I noticed that I would get confused when Sean said “Left”. Did that mean for me to paddle on the left (balance and pacing) or a direction to go in (steering)? If he means for me to help steer to the left, then I need to paddle on the right. So we will need to set up a specific way to communicate. Perhaps “Steer Left” “Steer Right” and “Pace Left” or “Pace Alternate”, as just a few examples. I like how I get the message of function (steer or pace) before direction.

Now, how can I use specific words to help Sean? I remember the other day that I would restate to him what I thought he was asking, just for clarification. That was awesome I think for both of us, so we could double check the message and its reception. If I watch for obstacles, then perhaps we can agree on the point of the bow being 12 o’clock, and I could give the direction followed by an approximate distance. It would be interesting to get some feedback from other tandem folks out there. How do you use your words?

To finish off this post, I thought I would include a picture of our kayak. It’s a nice hybrid, and super comfy. Excellent quality from Native Watercraft. [Note: This is a photo of it in the garage after we transported it home from the freight company and unpacked it.]


Our hybrid kayak, a Native Watercraft Ultimate 16


  • Mox said:

    In the Navy, every order or direction that was given was also repeated back to ensure that the correct order/direction was received on the other end.

    DIVE: “Helm, set course starboard one eight zero.”

    HELM: “Set course starboard one eight zero aye.”

    Been awhile since I have heard the lingo, but you get the idea. Basically that means using a starboard (right) turn, make your course 180.

    Sounds like you guys are going to have some fun, don’t forget the pictures :P

    Be safe,

  • Carrie (author) said:

    Thank you for that suggestion, Rich!

    Yesterday, we had a pretty nice day making our way down the North Canadian River here in OKC, so I tried out what you said, repeating to Sean his direction for me, and it worked nicely. It’s reassuring to both check that you received the message correctly, and for the sender to hear those instructions received correctly.

    The Navy’s got a good system, I’m telling ya…so, if you remember other tips and things from the Navy, we’d love for you to share :)

    Have a great day, sir!


  • Tweets that mention Outside With Us » Blog Archive » Use Your Words… -- Topsy.com said:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carrie and Sean, EQUIPnTRIP. EQUIPnTRIP said: Use Your Words…[or tips for communicating in a divorce boat – great post!] Outside With Us http://ow.ly/1TVdL […]

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