Using the English Gate for Better Canoe Control

Americans call it the English Gate, the English call it the Wiggle Test, but the blame needs to end up somewhere. A method for improving personal control of a kayak or canoe without having to travel to great lengths to large bodies of water, the English Gate or Wiggle Test is easy to set up, invaluable to use, and will provide you with hours of priceless practice in maneuvering your canoe.

Every boat is different when it comes to control. Just like every bicycle, motorcycle, or car has its own quirks based on not only the make and model type but the individual wear and tear it has seen, every boat, canoe, and kayak, handles differently. Some may pull more to one side or have a tendency to arc over time. It’s important to learn about your vessel’s eccentricities before putting it to actual, rigorous use, and the English Gate will help you to do just that.
First of all, you need a small body of water—even your swimming pool or a nearby pond will do. Any body of water with enough room for a little more than three lengths of your vessel and one or two widths will be perfect. For beginners, it’s better if the water is standing still, at least for the first few tries, and wind could cause unnecessary complications. Find a quiet puddle to set up in and claim it as your own.
As the name implies, you will have to build some kind of gate. This is easily done. There are two easy ways to build your own English Gate; one involves buoys and the other broomsticks.
For the buoy method, use empty milk containers of a gallon or more or empty bleach or detergent bottles. For increased float-ability, shoot these full of insulating foam that you can find at any hardware store. Grab some nylon twine or other strong string and tie each of your buoys to a brick or a concrete or cinder block. Make sure your rope is exactly the right length to keep your buoy partially submerged in the water with the line taut.
Or you can string a rope across your body of water and tie two broomsticks to the middle, also about four feet apart. Make sure the tips of the broomsticks dangle haplessly in the water like shark bait.
It’s important to have a watch that is waterproof so it doesn’t get damaged with all the cool stuff you’ll be doing. Use the watch to time yourself and try to beat your top time every time you repeat a pattern. Soon you will be seeing obvious and genuine progress.
Here are some standard patterns you can use with your improvised English Gate to improve your skills with the canoe.
Start by paddling straight through the gate, turning around when you reach the other side of the pool or pond, and paddling back through the gate. Complete this exercise by turning around once again and once again paddling back through the gate for a third time. How did you do? Try it again and see if you can improve on your first time.
Next, start by paddling backward on the outside of the right pole or buoy. Once you reach the opposite side of your body of water, switch directions and paddle forward this time going through the gate. When you’ve reached the opposite side, once again paddle backward, this time outside of the left pole or buoy. To complete this exercise, switch directions one last time and paddle forward through your English Gate. Quickly check your watch to determine your time. After a short rest, try this pattern again and this time try to make a slight improvement on your time.
Feel free to invent new patterns or ask more experienced boaters for tips. If you’re human, you will probably cheat a little bit occasionally by pushing against the side or bottom of the pond or pool. After all, there’s no one around. That is fine at the beginning. Once you get more proficient with your vessel you won’t need to cheat to make excellent time and you’ll find yourself more skilled and challenged than ever before.