The Desperation of Bucking the Wind in a Canoe

The tragic death of Maeve Kennedy, 40, and her son Damian, 8, who went into a canoe to retrieve a ball in a quiet inlet and ended up in the treacherous openness  of Chesapeake Bay to some may seem inexplicable. How was it they weren’t able to row back to shore rather than losing control of the canoe? Like many things unless you’ve experienced something like that you may not understand.

I remember when Grace Kelley who became Princess of Monaco died in an automobile accident  at age 52. Prior to marrying Prince Ranier in 1956 she had been an actress in Hollywood for only six years starting at age twenty but her career was remarkable. Reading about her accident I did not understand how driving off the road would have caused her death. I suppose at the time I never heard the word “corniche” which is defined as a road cut into the edge of a cliff. Nor had I ever driven on a corniche. But when I did I easily understood how driving off it would toss one down a hundred or more feet off a steep cliff.

Reading about the plight of Maeve and her son Damian I immediately understood how they were overcome by the forces of nature.

My house is on a small marsh (picture  at top)into which the waters of Buzzard’s Bay flow in and out twice a day under a bridge. We have a canoe at the marsh’s edge which we can use only when the tide is high. It is one of those canoes that used to be used at Norumbega Park in Newton (click on picture to below for better view ).  I’ve had it for many years. It is large and made of some type of fiberglass that makes it both heavy and indestructible.

Last year I went out with my five-year old grandson Matty when the waters were sufficiently high. After a little difficulty we had it floating. I got in first and as  I moved to the rear seat I was reminded how unstable a canoe can be. It responds to every little movement. Matty got into the front seat. I reminded him he had to be as still as possible.

It was a nice sunny day. A slight wind was coming out of the southeast as it usually does in the afternoons during the summer. After paddling around near the house and getting used to it we decided to paddle over to the bridge. It was about 300 yards from where we were. The closer we approached the bridge the more open the area became and we could feel the steady wind blowing at us. The canoe became like a sail following the push of the wind. No matter how we tried or the direction we turned in it carried us back pushing us up against a small island pinning us there. When we dislodged ourselves and tried again the same result happened. We finally gave up and turned around and headed back into the quiet of the smaller section of the marsh.

For average people in a canoe you have no chance against a wind. Once it captures you it takes over your direction. Fighting against it quickly tires you out because you have to continue the fight knowing once you rest every inch you gained is quickly erased and you are pushed further and further. Even switching the paddle from one side to the other gives the wind advantage. Fortunately for me the wind pushed me back to safety; had it done otherwise there would have been no way to fight against it.

5 thoughts on “The Desperation of Bucking the Wind in a Canoe

  1. “The tragic death of Maeve Kennedy, 40, and her son Damian, 8, who went into a canoe to retrieve a ball in a quiet inlet and ended up in the treacherous openness of Chesapeake Bay to some may seem inexplicable.”

    They did not understand that the wind force that drove the ball away from the shore of that “quiet inlet” would also drive the canoe and them in the same direction.

  2. I have been canoeing since I can remember. There are two types of canoes in my mind. Those with keels, for use in still water, and those without keels, for use in moving water. In a river you need no keel so you can switch the direction of the craft instantly. The lack of a keel also lets you go perpendicular to the current without getting swept away. In a lake you should have a keel. The wind will not spin you around because the keel provides enough drag, even though it is quite small, to prevent that action.

    I was fishing one early spring up in Great East Lake on the Maine, New Hampshire border. It was April and quite warm for the date, but the water was still cold. Really cold. A large canoe with two teenage boys and two teenage girls went by and it was obvious the party had started early that day. Shirts off for the guys and bathing suits for the girls with beer holders along the gunnels. Lots of noise and we were glad when they got well out onto the lake, welcoming the return of silence. Its a big lake and the afternoon wind whipped the lake to froth. Two of them died of hypothermia that day. The two that made the swim to the nearest island were both hospitalized. It only takes a second.

  3. Matt,
    I had a similar experience on the Potomac River around 1969, Woodstock Era. I took a young beauty (never seen again) for a canoe ride. We left D.C., heading south; after sometime, I turned to return, the current forced me downriver. It was an exhaustive struggle to row back. At one point, I didn’t think we’d make it.
    Wind, “time and tide wait for no man”, and “whichever way the wind doth blow some would have it best.” and “these are the times that try men’s souls” and those currents on the Potomac tried my spirit.

    (2) We learn more from our mistakes, than successes. I’m glad in addition to much formal education, I walked on the wild side for several years and made a million mistakes. Jesus said to forgive seventy times seventy times, and that means we each should forgive ourselves 70×70 times, and when fall down or get knocked down, just get back up, dust off, and get right back in the game.

    (3) I’ve learned to never be afraid to make a mistake, never hesitate to speak or write your opinion, it is not just I who learn more from my mistakes, we all learn more from each others’ mistakes.

    (4) Sometimes we linger too long on our failures or on others. Sometimes we focus too much on a person’s weaknesses, and downplay their strengths. I will always extol the entire Kennedy Family. They strove for the heights. Some, like Howie Carr, prefer the muck, but even he has his strengths: he writes well, speaks well, has a nice family.

    (5) We learned in the law that every person deserves a defense, even Presidents.

    (6) We learned to be kind and kindness sometimes means standing up to bullies and mudslingers, and speaking the truth as we know it. Like Joe Biden said, “We prefer truth over facts.”Like I said, we all make mistakes. Let not our inherent human failings and infallibility deter us from striving. Think, even the greatest baseball players swing and miss and err daily and that don’t stop em from playin’; Have fun!

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