Nowadays, when any Tom, Dick or Harry can roll an open boat, it is becoming less and less likely for a canoeist to exit his boat while in the water. (Of course, the necessity to roll is equivalent to an exit in my book). As a result when such a phenomenon is observed the common response is to exclaim, “Oh, look, he’s swimming” or “That’s a nasty swim,” or some such comment.
This lack of imagination in describing all such happenings by the simple word “swim” is, in my opinion, deplorable and results no doubt from a woeful lack of experience. It misses all the nuance and variety of the experience and displays a total lack of understanding of the important differences in the causes which could have precipitated the event. It is as though the Eskimos had only one word for “snow” when, in fact they have different words for wet snow, dry snow, large flake snow, mushy snow, freezing snow, horizontally blown snow, wind whipped snow, etc. – probably 30 or more denotations for that form of frozen water.
The number of descriptors is in proportion to the importance of the phenomenon. This is as it should be. Anything less would downplay the critical nature of snow in the Eskimos’ lives. Can one imagine an Eskimo peering from his igloo and calling back to his wife “Oh look, snow!?” This is ludicrous on its face. Such a fellow would rightly be thought to be dim-witted or worse.
The same scorn should also be heaped upon the boater whose only exclamation while observing an out of boat experience is “He’s swimming.” He is slow witted indeed who, having spent hundreds of days on (or in) the water, can think of nothing better to describe the important event which he is witnessing.
And so, I shall attempt to explain here, for the edification of those who may have the pleasure of boating in my company, some of the huge variety of possible sights which you may see, and which, without having had the benefit of this note, you would have embarrassed yourself by terming it simply “a swim.”
Before entering into the full details, it is important first to note that there are three distinct categories of events which the uninformed generally call “swims.” Attention to these distinctions will help the reader in retaining some of the details below, and will enable him, perhaps, to conduct further research (on this already thoroughly researched topic) and even contribute a new idea or two.
These categories are: (1) the Moving Exit (2) the In-place Exit and (3) the Abandonment. Though some experts use slightly different terms for these, I have found these the most descriptive and most useful for analysis and categorization.
I. The Moving Exit
This is by far the largest, and some believe the most important, category. To fall under this heading, several factors must apply. The event must begin with the boater in his boat. The boat and boater must be moving through the water, making headway in some direction. This is crucial for understanding this category and for distinguishing it from the category of in-place exits. Finally, within a very brief period of time, the boater must be in the water. If these three factors apply, then it is correctly classified as a Moving Exit.
A. The Down-Stream Difficult Water Exit (Forward)
The boater is moving along nicely downstream with bow forward, when suddenly a river feature appears which causes him to leave his boat involuntarily. The feature can be a wave, ledge, hole, rock, seam, boil or any of a variety of others.
To classify as a Difficult Water Exit, the feature must be generally acknowledged to be at least one class of difficult higher than the typical skill level of the boater. Thus, a common variety Class 3 recreational paddler encountering violent Class 4 waves at the bottom of “Table Saw” might have an experience that would fall under this category.
Note that the relative position of the boater and his equipment during the final phase of this event is immaterial to the classification. Whether the canoeist maintains a hold on the boat, and/or the paddle, and indeed, even if a “yard sale” should ensue, makes no difference in the classification. Though onlookers may find these aspects amusing and even worthy of comment, and some may even believe them to be sub-categories within the Difficult Water Exit category, scholars of the subject are in almost universal agreement that these “accompanying, extraneous features,” as they are called, should not be allowed to muddle the basic simplicity of the concept set forth here.
Finally, the violence of the ejection, while providing amusement, and while worthy of comment, does not alter the classification. A fine location for observing violent Down-Steam Difficult Water Exits is at “The El” on the Big South Fork.
B. The Down-Stream Difficult Water Exit (Reverse or Lateral)
These are essentially the same as IA except that while proceeding down-stream either the stern is downstream (reverse exit) or the boat is sideways to the current (lateral exit). All other descriptors and comments are the same as in IA. Frequently occurring in connection with negotiating a ledge, these events are among the most colorful. Particularly good examples can sometimes be seen at the final ledge at “Broken Nose.”
C. The Sideways Difficult Water Exit
Here, the canoeist is engaged in either an upstream (forward) ferry or a downstream (back) ferry with the boat moving laterally when the event occurs. Commonly referred to as a “blown ferry,” these exits also provide amusement particularly if executed above fairly large rapids. A slight upstream motion is sometimes involved, particularly while leaving an eddy to begin the ferry. All other criteria are the same as in IA.
D. The Exit Due to Indecision
This is the first of a group of exits whose cause lies not so much in the difficulty of the water but more in a certain lack of mental acuity, alertness, or the like. For an exit to qualify for this category, the boater must be required to make a decision, usually whether to pass left or right of a rock or which of several chutes to negotiate while passing over a fairly simple ledge.
The decision is delayed (sometimes termed “phasing out”) beyond the time when it can be acted upon, and, as the canoeist finally makes a flailing attempt to choose, the boat spins wildly around the rock or tips drastically in one chute or the other and the exit follows. Onlookers are frequently dismayed and comments such as “How did he do that?” can he heard. But the dismay and comments are truly testimony to the woeful ignorance of the spectator who fails to realize that he has just witnessed a classic Exit Due to Indecision.
E. The Exit Due to Ennui
This is, to the uninitiated, one of the most puzzling of the Moving Exits. Rarely occurring, but fully authenticated by this author, the exit begins with the boater starting a maneuver (approach, ferry, peel out, etc.) and realizing that the position, speed or angle of the boat is inadequate to the task. There is sufficient time to correct and begin again and moreover, the boater is fully capable of this. At this stage, rather than take corrective action, the boater is overcome by a certain lassitude or ennui and decides to “see what happens.”
Onlookers fully appreciate the resulting exit but fail to appreciate its underlying cause. They sometimes attribute the cause to indecision, which it certainly is not. The entire point of this exit is that it results from a deliberate decision induced by an unexpected attack of lack of interest in the task at hand. Examples of this exit can sometimes be observed at “Power House Ledge,” resulting from an attack of ennui as the boater begins to ferry out of the river left eddy. [See Footnote #1].
F. The Aftermath Exit
The Aftermath Exit is quite common though sometimes confused with the “Difficult Water Exit” (either down-stream or lateral). The distinction here is that the exit occurs in the aftermath of a rapid and not in difficult water.
To execute this exit, the canoeist, having successfully negotiated the rapid, turns the boat smartly toward shore. The ensuing exit is a surprise to all onlookers but not to the canoeist who, while gargling his fill, analyzes the situation after the fact.
Common causes here are (1) a slight body list while raising the paddle overhead in celebration, accompanied by a high volume of water in the boat; (2) a slight body list while turning toward shore accompanied by a full boat; (3) premature relaxation, typically while crossing an eddy line at river’s edge; (4) rapid and excessive motion while attempting to grab onto riverside branches; (5) failure to recognize the existence of one final small hole at the rapid’s end; (6) failure to recognize a fully submerged rock in the rapid’s run-out, etc. The experienced boater will no doubt be able to add other sub-categories to these causes.
An excellent spot to observe this graceful maneuver is at the bottom of very long wave trains or after very long stretches of “boogie water.” Exits occurring while bouncing in holes below vertical drops do not fall in this category since in those cases the boater is not moving through the water making headway in some direction and the exit cannot qualify under the basic criteria for “Moving Exits”
 An experienced open boater, on hearing the description of this exit, opined that it was perhaps due to low blood sugar rather than ennui. This would move the underlying cause from the class of psychological into the physical. If the author should have the opportunity to consult his physician regarding this opinion, and should the opinion appear plausible, a correction will be issued in this journal.
Needless to say, it is possible that the entire sub-category may have to be modified or even eliminated. This however would open up several new categories with physical causes including, but not limited to, unexplained twitches, bee attacks, spider bites, etc.
G. Two Craft Exits
Exits which are precipitated by near contact or by actual collision with a second craft can be very exciting, not just for their intrinsic worth but also for the events which follow, which may include shouts, flailing paddles, inappropriate language, etc.
(G1) The Two Boat – One Slot Exit.
Two boats approach a ledge with a single passable slot, wide enough for only one of them. If an eddy is available, a collision can be averted but, if not, a very interesting series of events occurs.
The two boaters first make eye contact, each attempting to ascertain the other’s intentions. [See Footnote #2]. In 82.5% of the recorded cases, this fails. Secondly, both boaters make independent decisions either to slow down or speed up. Again, if they make opposite decisions, a collision is averted (24.6%).
In the remaining cases, both boaters speed up or slow down. If they choose the former, a collision generally occurs approximately four feet before the ledge, leading to one or perhaps two involuntary exits with the further possibility of a brief or not so brief pin. (Two simultaneous exits are very exciting.)
If they both slow down, an amusing sequence ensues. Realizing that the other has slowed, both begin to paddle aggressively forward. Then, realizing that both are paddling forward, both attempt to slow down, etc. The inevitable follows, and this most interesting of the “Two Boat – One Slot Exit” proceeds to its natural conclusion.
This “Alfonse and Gaston” event reminds the author of an experience which took place at a university with which he was once affiliated, where it was not possible to board an elevator when two elderly and distinguished German mathematicians repeatedly stepped to the side and intoned, “No, no, after you, professor.” Finally each put a friendly arm around the other’s back and, as they entered simultaneously, they became momentarily (and very slightly) wedged in the door. A graceful sliding maneuver allowed both to enter on practically equal footing. This sliding maneuver does not seem to be available in a single slot ledge!
(G2) The Moving Peel Out Exit
In this event, the upstream boater is proceeding downstream while the downstream boater, who had been positioned in an eddy, decides to peel out into the current. The ensuing collision generally causes one or more involuntary exits with, sometimes, long in-water experiences.
A little known, but very useful distinction, may be made between those cases in which the downstream boater peels out because he doesn’t see (or doesn’t look for) the upstream boater (a common occurrence: type I-G2-a) and the rare case in which the downstream boater, having sat in the eddy quite a while and finally screwed up courage to peel out into difficult water, is overcome by anxiety and is compelled to peel out even realizing that the other boater is approaching (type I-G2-b).
An authenticated occurrence of type I-G2-b occurred a number of years ago on the lower ough, just a few feet above “Dimple Rock.” In this case both boaters (the upstream boater being the wife of the downstream boater) experienced a rather long and bumpy float of several hundred yards, completely through “Swimmers Rapid” below.
(G3) The Moving-Surfing Exit
Frequently observed on the Ocoee, this exit involves a law-abiding, innocent open boater moving properly downstream under perfect control while approaching a surfing wave or hole and an unthinking, Neanderthal raft guide who surfs his fully occupied raft onto said wave or hole at the last possible moment.
Accepted as a fact of life, these events nevertheless cause the canoeist to utter many foul words as he swims to the nearest eddy. In the rare variation in which the offending surfer is a kayaker, the collision is of no consequence, since the kayaker is simply run over and the canoeist continues downstream. [See Footnote #3]
H. Miscellaneous Moving Exits
There are, of course, an enormous number of miscellaneous moving exits, most of which are not of sufficient interest to merit a category of their own and in any event, are easily understood. Among these, we may cite the “Easy Water Exit” (downstream or lateral), the “After Lunch-Full Stomach Exit,” the “Lost Paddle Exit,” the “Falling Asleep in the Boat Exit,” the “That Tree Wasn’t There Last Week Exit,” etc. Before assuming that he has discovered a new category of Moving Water Exits, the reader is cautioned to consider carefully whether the “discovery” fits into one or more of the above classifications.
II. The In-Place Exit
This category of exits differs from the Moving Exits in that the boater is not making headway in one direction or another (except possibly downward, which doesn’t count).
A. The Side Surfing Exit
Very common among In-Place Exits, the boater, while displaying his expertise in side surfing, gradually finds his boat full of water and gracefully slides from the boat on the down stream side. Alternately, in bouncier holes, the boater may be ejected quickly on the upstream side.
In either event, much cheering and or jeering generally accompany these exits. Rarely serious, the boater generally extricates himself from the hole in a brief time and continues with a graceful downstream swim.
B. The Stopping Hole Exit.
Here, the boater, proceeding downstream, is stopped by a hole of some size and after bouncing up and down for a second or two spills from his canoe. The exit frequently occurs just below a wide ledge.
Occasionally frightening, the boater may spend a considerable time testing the buoyancy of his PFD and wondering why the sport used to seem so much fun. Onlookers with rescue skills generally assume the best and delay rope throws, etc., adding to the time for the boater to consider his future (and past).
C. The Bouncing Below a Drop Exit
The boater, having successfully negotiated a vertical drop, finds himself upright in his boat in very frothy water. An almost imperceptible lean to one side initiates the necessity for a brace. As the paddle slowly sinks into the froth, the boater has ample time to consider what alternatives he may have chosen.
Perhaps a forward stroke – paddle sinks deeper. Perhaps a slight lean to the offside – paddle sinks deeper. Perhaps more speed at the top – paddle sinks deeper. Following the inevitable exit, the boater is bombarded by his fellow paddlers with many helpful hints, practically all of which he considered as the paddle was sinking deeper and deeper.
Very good paddlers may sometimes stay in the boat and roll up, but that is beyond the scope of this article. This exit can be observed on the Chattooga either below “Second Ledge” or below the slide at “Bull Sluice.”
D. The Rock Exit
Proceeding downstream, the boater is accosted by a rock that stops the canoe (hence removing the possibility for a Moving Exit). Despite heroic efforts at climbing, scrambling, etc., the rock wins and the boater must again practice his breathing skills. One of the most ignominious of all exits, this exit is frequently seen on smaller creek-type runs and among paddlers of advancing age.
E. The Strainer Exit
Not fun to contemplate.
F. The Getting Into the Boat Exit
Self explanatory and not very exciting, except when accompanied by graceful, flailing movements.
G. The Getting Out of the Boat Exit
Similar to (F) but in reverse.
H. Miscellaneous In Place Exits
Again there are a large number of miscellaneous In Place Exits, most of which occur so infrequently that they do not deserve special classification. One of the most entertaining ever observed by the author occurred on the Nantahala River in the large hole on river right just above the final drop at the falls. A private raft entered the hole, ejected its passengers, and was bouncing happily in inverted position.
A kayaker coming from above paddled into the hole and landed upright in his craft on top of the raft. After taking one or two strokes in the air, and realizing his position, he toppled over, popped his skirt, and swam through the falls, followed by his kayak and the raft. Purists may object that this is simply a double case of (B), the Stopping Hole Exit. They are probably right.
III The Abandonment
At long last, we come to the final category of “swims,” the Abandonment. This category was long thought to be simply a slight variation on the Difficult Water Moving Exit, but detailed analysis has shown that it is indeed a new and distinct class worthy of explication.
(A) The Abandonment (Stationary Position).
In this “exit” the boater finds himself in his boat, completely stationary. Careful inspection usually shows that the boat is resting on a large rock surrounded by moving water.
The boater could, in such a case, attempt to wiggle the boat back into the water which would result either in a totally uninteresting and unremarkable experience or perhaps in one of the exits described above. However, to qualify as an abandonment, the boater simply steps from the boat onto the rock, and after signaling to his comrades downstream, gently pushes the canoe into the water. With the boat rescue complete, the boater signals again, this time making the “please set up a rope” gesture, eases himself into the water and awaits the verbal abuse which inevitably follows.
The author has observed and can authenticate at least two instances of this exit: on river right just above “BOB” on the Tellico and also at “Decap Rock” on the Chattooga.
B. The Abandonment (Stationary Position) with Preliminary Difficult Water Exit
Strictly speaking, this exit is a combination of two exits as indicated by its name. It is, however, so intricate as to merit a separate discussion and classification.
Here, the boater experiences a Difficult Water Exit of any of the types described above. With heroic effort the boater manages to attach both himself and his craft to a large midstream rock and with further effort climbs upon the rock while maintaining a grip on the canoe.
The canoe is now maneuvered in such a manner as to disgorge most of its liquid contents, either by inverting or by the “lean over and bail” technique. The boater is now in position to attempt a reentry or, if the position is too difficult, to proceed with a standard stationary abandonment. With the advances in paddling techniques, instances of this exit have become commonplace in recent years.
C. The Moving Tandem One Person Abandonment
This is among the rarest of exits and has only been authenticated once, in the late 80’s at “Double Trouble” on the Ocoee. In this exit, an anxious and not too experienced tandem pair, female leading, enters the rapid head on. (Is there any other way?)
As the first large wave crashes down and knocks the lead paddler for a loop she quickly makes an executive decision. Before the second wave can strike, she deliberately abandons the boat with a vigorous dive to the right, and being a strong swimmer arrives safely on shore shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, the canoe, its trim having been disturbed, performs a cart wheeling motion spilling the stern paddler out and then landing on top of him. The author can certify that, to this date, the couple has never paddled tandem again.
Leaving aside the obvious variations, this concludes our exposition of the Abandonment and of exits in general. It is the author’s fondest hope that the reader will, by careful study of the foregoing, be brought to a state of knowledge and appreciation which will enable him to comment intelligently on exits he may observe, to understand the phenomena in greater depth and to never again be limited to a simple “Oh, he’s swimming.”
 If the second craft is a raft, the canoeist’s decision is made simpler, since it is a fact of nature that rafter will never attempt to avoid a collision or to make eye contact.
 Canoeists should make reasonable attempts to avoid crushing kayakers as this breed is populated by pleasant folk who are sometimes useful during out-of-boat experiences and hence should be preserved in spite of their obvious other shortcomings. A simple “sorry about that” may suffice in most cases.
by David Vezzetti