"Paddle Your Own Canoe"
From Baden-Powell, Rovering to Success, 1930

Paddle your way through it with head, heart and sinew.

One of B-P’s more popular books was Rovering to Success, published in the 1920’s. Subtitled "A Guide for Young Manhood," it was addressed to older Scouts in the "Rover Branch" of Scouting. In his preface, B-P outlined the book and, as he said, "what is meant by success."

A canoe trip is lake a voyage of life.
An old ‘un ought to hand on piloting hints.
The only true Success is Happiness.
Two steps to Happiness are: Taking life as a game and giving out Love.
Happiness is not mere pleasure not the outcome of wealth.
It is the result of active work rather than passive enjoyment of pleasure.
Your success depends on your own individual effort in the voyage of life,
And the avoidance of certain dangerous Rocks.
Self-education, in continuation of what you have learned at school, is necessary.
Go forward with confidence.
Paddle your own canoe!

While much of what B-P has written is set in the context of earlier days (his "Rocks" are Horses, Wine, Women, Cuckoos and Humbugs, and Irreligion), much of what he says has direct value to youth today. Really, the book is written much in the manner of fatherly advice. One could do worse than to listen carefully to one man’s thoughtful insight into success.

The Voyage of Life

I was once caught in a gale when paddling in a birch-bank canoe across a lake in Upper Canada. It was a pretty exciting experience while it lasted, but well worth while.

We had voyaged along rivers and streams, sometimes in the smooth, sometimes through the rapids, but always amid the ever-changing glories of forest scenery.

It was a new experience to come out of our stream on to the wider expanse of the lake and, after starting out in sunshine, to find ourselves presently under a darkening sky involved in a rising gale and a choppy sea.

The frail little canoe, which before we had merely looked upon as a vehicle for carrying us along the river, was now our one hope of life. If she shipped a sea, or if she touched a snag (and there were plenty of them about) we were done for.

Our paddle, instead of being looked on as a mere propeller, became our one means for dodging the attacks of waves and of keeping us going. All depended on the handling of that one implement.

"In a four hour run across an open bay you will encounter over a thousand waves, no two of which are alike, and any one of which can fill you up only too easily, if it is not correctly met," writes Stewart E. White, in that delightful book of his, The Forest; and he proceeds to tell you exactly how you deal with them.

"With the sea over one bow you must paddle on the leeward side. When the canoe mounts a wave you must allow the crest to throw the bow off a trifle, but the moment you start down the other slope you must twist your paddle sharply to regain the direction of your course.

"The careening tendency of this twist you must counteract by a corresponding twist of your body in the other direction. Then the hollow will allow you two or three strokes wherewith to assure a little progress. The double twist at the very crest of the wave must be very delicately performed or you will ship water the whole length of your craft

"With the sea abeam you must paddle straight ahead. The adjustment is to be accomplished entirely by the poise of the body. You must prevent the capsize of your canoe when clinging to the angle of a wave by leaning to one side.

" The crucial moment, of course, is that during which the peak of the wave slips under you. In case of a breaking comber thrust the flap of your paddle deep in the water to prevent an upset, and lean well to leeward thus presenting the side and half the bottom of the canoe to the shock of water.

" Your recovery must be instant, however. If you lean a second too long, over you go."

Jumpy work!

The author goes on to tell successively, in similar detail, how to deal with a sea coming dead ahead, from a quarter or from dead astern.

In every case all depends on your concentrated attention, pluck and activity. The slightest slackness and down you go. But the contest has its compensation.

"Probably nothing can more effectively wake you up to the last fibre of your physical, intellectual and nervous being. You are filled with an exhilaration every muscle, strung tight, answers immediately and accurately to the slightest hint. You quiver all over with restrained energy. Your mind thrusts behind you the problem of the last wave as soon as solved, and leaps with insistent eagerness to the next. It is a species of intoxication. You personify each wave; you grapple with it as with a personal adversary; you exult as, beaten and broken, it hisses away to leeward. "Go it, you son of a gun," you shout. "Ah you would, would you ?—think you can, do you ?" And in the roar and the rush of wind and water you crouch like a boxer on the defence, parrying the blows but ready at the slightest opening to gain a stroke or two of the paddle. You are too busily engaged in slaughtering waves to consider your rate of progress. The fact that slowly you are pulling up on your objective point does not occur to you until you are within a few hundred yards of it. Then don’t relax your efforts; the waves to be encountered in the last hundred yards are exactly as dangerous as those you dodge four miles from shore."

Yes—and it is just the same with a busy life.

The whole thing—the early voyage through the easy-running stream, and then coming out on to the broad lake, the arising of difficulties, the succession of waves and rocks only avoided by careful piloting, the triumph of overcoming the dangers, the successful sliding into a sheltered landing-place, the happy camp-fire and the sleep of tired men at night—is just what a man goes through in life; but too often he gets swamped among the difficulties or temptations on the rough waters, mainly because he has not been warned what to expect and how to deal with them.

From Sir Robert Baden-Powell, Rovering to Success, London, 1930, pp. 11-13.

The Baden-Powell Home Page

Return to the Pine Tree Web Home Page

Your feedback, comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Please write to: Lewis P. Orans

Copyright © Lewis P. Orans, 1997
Last Modified: 11::30 PM on July 3, 1997