Barle & Exe Trip 2018

Mark in action

Don’s account of his White Water Kayak Leader assessment

I’d like to share my experiences from recently completing the new 2-day British Canoeing (BC) assessment, White Water Kayak Leader (previously call 4 star white water kayak). The BC web site provides details, but the main aim is to be able to lead a group of four paddlers of BC 3 star standard on river graded 2/3. You also need to demonstrate personal paddling and rescue skills, and theory. www.britishcanoeing.org.uk/courses/white-water-kayak-leader/

I did the training last year with Andy Turton (tynantoutdoors.com) and since we had a good time we booked him for the assessment and I’d certainly recommend them. It was a dry January week leading into our weekend in North Wales. You need two days on different moderate white water and they can’t both be the Dee, so when we heard the Tryweryn was not releasing it was almost cancelled. But the less paddled Vyrnwy, another dam release river, was. It was also a really good river for this grade and leading newer paddlers. Lots of interesting sections, small rapids, eddies to catch, blind corners, small waves to play on.

There were 4 people being assessed, including myself, 4 intermediate paddlers to be led and one assessor. The assessor rotated who was leading, the others had to mostly hold back and not assist. When I was up to lead the very first obstacle was a low bridge whose arches were full to varying degrees of tree branches. So first bit of leading was a portage and walk round a field, interesting start. Back on the water things picked up, with a number of rapids and tricky corners successfully behind us. Only main difficulty was trying out an eddy hop on a longer rapid section which ended with a swift change to “all down!!” as people started falling out of the small eddies.

Although my leading ended I managed to demonstrate my rescue skills, racing to a paddler stuck in a tree. I quickly pulled him and boat out, while being live baited. Unfortunately said paddler took another little swim on the next rapid and I decided to walk out with him. But our walk was not long as most of the rest called it a day due to the failing light levels. The second day was on the mighty Dee and covered all you would expect up to Mile End Mill. We got on above Horseshoe Falls and this section is really good for beginners.

I’ve paddled a number of years and much of the course felt familiar as I’ve picked up directly and indirectly good practices from experienced Regents paddlers. Every time I’m on the river I observe really good skills or ways of communicating, but also learn from mistakes which inevitably happen. River leading is not easy and it is a continual learning process. The dynamics of the river and multiple paddlers places a great responsibility on the leader.

Usually with Regents we peer paddle or have groups with a range of experience. This is a great help to me but can mean I rely on other for things I’m less good at. In the assessment you have to demonstrate good all round ability, which is challenging but focuses your attention to improve on those known weaknesses or less practiced areas.

Some things which the course made me think about are: planning, preparing and thinking ahead; visualising the river in terms of the ability of those you are leading; quickly adapting to situations; instilling confidence in those around you; creating a fun adventure for all the group.

I think the course is valuable for all intermediate paddlers who are looking to develop or more advanced paddlers who may or may not be already leading.

I started a River logbook, which is required for the course, and provide this to fellow members as an example. I think it’s really useful and wish I started it earlier in my paddling career.

Mark Donaldson

Mark's first aid kit

Don’s first aid tips

Mark Donaldson on the importance of first aid training for kayakers

In December I took a 2-day outdoor first aid course, the type recognised by British Canoeing as suitable for kayakers who will often be outdoors and not immediately accessible to emergency services. Since kayaking this is the second time I’ve taken such a course, and this time I booked: www.reactfirst.co.uk/First-Aid-Outdoor.asp

I highly recommend React First, they were very professional and knowledgeable. The 2-day course was well structured and paced, cover a wide range of topics and focused on the essentials with a real hands-on practical approach. I came away feeling much more confident and felt the careful repetition and building up of exercises means key steps have stuck in my mind.

I think there is little point is giving you a blow-by-blow on what happened on the course. It’s my opinion that everyone, whether kayaking or not, would really benefit from such a course. But being a kayaker it really is essential. Beyond the course I recommend we all give time to continued learning and practice. There are many good books, on-line guides, and free videos.

There is no substitute for the training, but having the right first aid kit is also important. So along with this article I have attached a spreadsheet with a breakdown of what I currently (or intend to) carry. This includes some web links to example products with prices I’ve found on-line. I hope you find this helpful, and also welcome any advice others have on this topic. Click to view the spreadsheet.

In addition to first aid, I think it’s important we all ensure we have a copy of our emergency details about our person and ensure those who are your contacts also have a copy. I’ve attached a template I use myself (click to view). I keep a small print copy in my wallet, and in my dry wallet with my mobile on the river.

Other tips:

  • Lots of free useful videos at: www.youtube.com/user/stjohnambulance
  • Register your mobile for 999 text service. When reception is too weak for calling 999 a text may get through and your phone will repeatedly try sending. www.emergencysms.org.uk/
  • When planning for trips, make a note of the nearest NHS services:

https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/Accident-and-emergency-services/LocationSearch/428

http://www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk/LocalServices/?s=Hospital

River leader assessment

For the first time in months we were heading to North Wales and it was raining. It was raining hard and there was more rain forecast.

Gemma and I were heading up the motorway. Off to Bala to meet up with Hannis and undertake our River Leader (formerly 4 Star) Assessment. We were excited by the idea of getting to paddle something other than the Dee or the Treweryn. Even though were were constrained to a grade 2/3 remit, paddling a new stretch of water is always exciting.

We met the rest of the group at the Rug Estate on a very wet Saturday morning. Three students, our assessor, Alex, who was also being assessed and Hannis. Here we checked water levels, found out our students previous paddling experience and came up with suitable river options. We decided to try the Conwy and if that wasn’t suitable it was a short drive to the Llugwy.

As we were driving to the Conwy the rain kept coming and coming. It was warm and wet, Ideal paddling weather! We arrived at the get-on and went to check the levels. As we looked over the bridge all we could see was a seething boiling brown mess tanking through the trees and round the corner at high speed. It looked fantastic! However, it was too far out of remit for the assessment to even be a consideration. So we got back into the cars and headed further west to Plas y Brenin and the lake which would serve as our get on for the Llugwy.

After getting changed in a very wet and windy lay-by and shuttling we headed down to the lake. Here we had to give a full briefing to the group. This includes kit check, safety brief, medical questions, signalling and answering any questions or concerns anyone in the group may have.

After getting in our boats and onto the water we had a warm up session on a small wave. Myself, Hannis, Gemma and Alex were broken into two groups of two. Two of us would take charge of the students while the other two hung back out of the way. It was here our assessor could observe how we dealt with leading a group down river.

It soon became apparent that we were dealing with pretty high conditions as the river was up in the trees and eddies were small, filled with tree branches and barbed wire fences! Along with the added pressure of being constantly assessed the game was on!

The river starts off easily enough. Meandering through tree lined banks and small relatively simple rapids. This gave us the chance to really watch how the students paddled and their ability to carry out certain crosses and eddy catching ability. However, after a couple of portages the gradient started to drop and the rapids became chunkier and faster in nature.

The river was also rising so we knew any swim would have to be dealt with fast and efficiently. Many of the eddies were quickly become too hard for the students to catch so we often had the whole group moving at once which added to the risk of multiple swims. Luckily this only happened on one occasion and was dealt with quickly.

One group member decided the river was too much for her at this point and opted to walk around the remaining rapids. I spoke to them after and they said it was the hardest stretch of water they had paddled to date. Quite an achievement for all of us I think!

We made it to the get off. The students were all beaming with smiles (even our walker) and had had a great day. We had also had lots of fun but I was also wondering if we had just led them down an out of remit stretch of water. If we had it could cause problems with our assessment.

Day two, and after meeting a different group of students and a new assessor we came up with another paddle plan. Today we would head to the wonderful Dee. Here we would lead the students down the upper section to Horseshoe falls and then they would leave us there. From there the plan was for myself, Gemma, Hannis and Alex to continue on down for the skills based part of the course.

The paddle down to Horseshoe falls was a world away from the first day. The water was still high but the river much wider and deeper. The raids were fun but forgiving and the eddies large enough for twenty people and not a submerged barbed wire fence in sight!

We breezed through this section, waved goodbye to the students and had a bite to eat. From here we were peer paddling. Getting on at Horseshoe we paddled down the route on the left hand side. It was at the bottom of this I unintentionally passed the rolling section of the course by relaxing a little too much in a boily eddy.

We eddy hopped, surfed and crossed our way down to Serpents Tail. It was much higher than usual and the water had covered much of the rocks which we usually use for inspection. However, some still remained and we got out for a quick look. Turns out rivers can change in nature pretty fast! The tail on the feature is now horrific (especially at those levels) – it had changed from a small sticky hole into a huge monster! Our assessor for the day has named it “The Coach Eater” as it has made a few pro coaches swim recently! Most of the group paddled the feature skirting around the hole to the left. I definitely advise this line.

A little bit more surfing and eddy hopping, some throw line practice and we were done!

Arriving back at Mile End Mill we got changed, packed our kit, stopped a Landrover rolling into the river and had a bit more food. We all passed the assessment with flying colours.

I can highly recommend the course for any budding river leaders. The skills and techniques learned are a vital part of safely taking people down a river.

James Mogie

See our links to course providers across Britain.

International Women’s Day 2016

A not so chilly Christmas Dart trip

Andrew and Alex share a couple of memories from this year’s Christmas Dart trip…

Andrew

There’s a first time for everything and this time it was being led down the Dart Loop by an inanimate object (no not Krzysztof), albeit one with a great deal more charisma than most. Congratulations must go to our newest paddler and river leader, the inflatable punchbag minion with some silly name, who was given to Christine by Secret Santa and judged river worthy enough to handle whitewater on his first outing. Even though he didn’t take the perfect line and was really rather slow (everyone else was fully changed and waiting by the time we got off) he was was willing to join in all fun activities and surf some waves with a mesmeric spinning gyration.

 

Regents’ newest club member – Dave the minion

In other news, congratulations must also go to those others practicing their river leading skills for the first time. Water levels were good, first time I’ve paddled the Dart with a decent amount of water, and much fun was had. I’ll just let the pictures do the talking…

 

Craig & Adam C in a flurry of paddling glory

 

Alex

The Upper Dart is legendary, a thing of folklore, a notch that every aspiring Regent’s paddler needs to have on their belt alongside the Olympic course at Lee Valley and the Briancon Town Gorge.  Having secured the first two in 2015 it was time to hit the triple whammy for the season.  And who better to be next to me than my stellar teammate from the 2014 River Gyronde high-water swimming and hitchhiking championship –  Debs.

 

The start is innocuous. If you didn’t know what was ahead you’d consider it rather dull.  But one shouldn’t rest on one’s laurels as  they navigate downstream, because it doesn’t take long before you realise this isn’t the Loop any more.  Everything is rocky – boulder garden after boulder garden.  It would be foolish to try this river before feeling confident in your technique  – you’d spent the entire time hugging rocks (probably upside down) and that wouldn’t be fun.  The need for that technique becomes starkly apparent as you approach, and get stuck into, the Mad Mile.  You need to be limber, to have confidence, and to know how to turn….quickly. And to THINK! I swear my brain had more of a workout than my arms!

 

But I seemed to be getting it, and when I chose perhaps the very worst line on one rapid and flipped, my roll seemed to be working.  I even dropped the permanent grimace that I possess while paddling, as fear turned to sheer joy.  My fantastic Upper Dart chauffeur squad (Benjo, Christine, Mogey and Amy) had counselled me to look back as much as you look forward.  Why?  Because the rapids are so damn impressive to look at.  Of course you don’t appreciate that until you actually see them, but rapid after rapid along the way I couldn’t help but marvel what you’d just been through. Need I say it again, this really wasn’t the Loop anymore.

 

I’d already convinced myself that I’d portage the mega rapids at Euthanasia and Surprise Surprise, so when I did set eyes on them I was relieved that I wasn’t going to tackle them.  I can see myself taking on the former in the not-too-distant future.  The latter, no chance.  Christine’s perfect line through Surprise Surprise showed how it was meant to be done; Benjo’s sad outcome demonstrated just how risky an encounter it is.  Christine and Benjo headed off swiftly to get that man some medical attention, which left us with two boats. A sterling group of paddlers from Leicestershire ended up guiding those down the river – an amazing job.  It’s important that you keep your wits about you after the big rapid because there’s yet another surprise around the corner.  Blimey! That was almost the worst of the day.  And so on we went, but the fun had been lost when Benjo went down, and the rest of the route was about getting through it without a scrape.  That, of course, didn’t happen.  As with the Gyronde swim, a nasty rock came and bit me on the eye.  That took the final fun out of it. The last stretch – max Grade 3 – couldn’t go quickly enough.

 

But when the dust had settled, and the carnage that the afternoon had turned into had faded a little, I couldn’t help but think of the day with pride.  The Upper Dart is a real ‘step up’ river – sublimely beautiful, technically challenging, a thrill a minute – an outstanding experience.  2015’s progression had been sealed. The Loop, which we did on Sunday, will never be the same again.

 

 

Selina, Dave & Dave taking a moment to get to know each other

Images by Rachael & Carol

The never ending coaching ladder…

Sean shares his experiences from his recent Moderate Water Endorsement Assessment…

The journey so far

Moderate Water Endorsement is the next coaching qualification for White Water after becoming a UKCC British Canoeing Level 2 coach. Getting to the point of assessment was a long and bumpy journey not without its trials and tribulations but you can read other articles for those.

Dartmoor in the cold and wet

The assessment is for a maximum of two assessees at a time. I had no friends ready at this point and was determined to get my assessment done before my big birthday in December so I booked onto an assessment with Darren Joy of Fluid Skills. I’d heard about Darren but never paddled or been coached by him before. So off I headed on a dark and dismal Thursday afternoon for the drive down to Dartmoor. I had planned on boating the Loop on the Thursday just to get my bearings as it had been almost a year since I was last on the Loop – but that never happened. I got sidetracked talking to folks at Lee Valley and got some helpful handy hints for the assessment from Dan.

I checked into the hotel and had a terrible night’s sleep as I couldn’t stop thinking about everything that could go wrong on the assessment! Needless to say I woke somewhat shattered and not ready for the assessment. I then was a bit gobsmacked that even Ashburton gets morning rush hour traffic so my plan to check the levels before I met Darren at the Dart River Country Park wasn’t the wisest. Luckily I made it time and didn’t appear too flustered (I hope).

Having never met Darren before and my efforts in Face-stalking had failed – I didn’t really know who I was meeting. Luckily his van is branded!

 

The assessment

There wasn’t really any time to sit back and relax. The assessment started pretty much straight away with Darren reviewing all my pre-requisite credentials and giving me a very thorough grilling over my coaching logbook. There was a point during this that I thought I had already failed before we even got on the water!

I was then given two students: Sarah & Jordan. Both very nice people and got to chatting with them. Apparently I’m long winded and need to just get to the point! Oops! After a quick chat with the other assessee, we agreed to both take our groups on the Dart Loop a) because we couldn’t go to different rivers and be assessed and b) it was pretty damn convenient.

The start of my session on the Loop was awful. In hindsight I felt sorry for Jordan and Sarah. I was so worried about the assessment that I forgot to actually have fun – I was delivering textbook coaching techniques but with about as much enthusiasm as getting out of bed for work! Darren pulled me aside at one point and gave me a couple of review points. Being so hung up about the assessment, I thought he was telling me I’d failed. I think that was the best thing to have happened because I completely changed from that moment and decided to have fun and make the session as much about Sarah & Jordan as I could. During the debrief after the assessment, both Sarah & Jordan both commented that it was 100 times better as soon as I switched. God I hate assessments!!!

Sarah & Jordan were great guinea pigs for the day. Not a single swim between them so I had to have a “staged” rescue scenario for Darren to observe my rescue skills. Jordan stepped up to the plate and swam down Triple Steps for me to rescue him. I then had to demonstrate rolling for my self rescues – thankfully no mandatory self swim!

Shortly after this Darren paddled up to me and shook my hand and congratulated me on passing. Expletives almost fell out of my mouth at the sheer excitement! I was so happy and we hadn’t even finished the Loop yet. As we set off paddling downstream, Jordan then told me the whammy – he had actually just done his MWE training the previous week with Darren and was looking to see what the assessment was like. For his little fib, I pushed him over 🙂

The wrap up

We all met in a pub in Ashburton that I’d never been to before but will do again – though its name escapes me! It has a big fireplace! The debrief and signing of paperwork was perfect – relaxing and good fun. Got personalised feedback from the students and from Darren which was great. Darren’s parting words were to just get on and do my 5* assessment and then do my Advanced Water Endorsement training. Urgh! And just when I thought I’d done enough….. there are more steps to climb!

I wish I could say that’s where it ends – but that wouldn’t be doing British Canoeing justice. My certificate arrived in the post three weeks later along with a coaching logbook to become a 3* assessor…. MORE coaching, more logbook hours, more paperwork! It never ends *sigh*

Sean on a recent trip to Scotland

A chilly time to be jumping in midstream!

Rachael shares a couple of quick memories from the recent White Water Safety & Rescue training that a few of our members got involved in…

We work together as a group well

We picked the coldest weekend of the winter so far to head to Wales for a weekend of swimming down the rivers. We arrived in Llangollen to snow and a very chilly wind. Looking at the roaring Town Falls we realised we had some mental preparation to do. We spent the weekend with coaches Chris and Pete from Getafix, who were full of cheers and enough banter to keep us going. We spent the weekend on Bala Mill Falls and at Mill End Mill both running on medium/high.

Throughout the weekend the coaches were determined to remind us how our main aim is to prevent swimming. With adequate skills and good river reading we can try to reduce the amount of rescue we need to do. All I could hear was Sean in my head ‘you should be learning to stay upright on the water’. [Editor’s note: Rachael: this is why I like coaching you – you remember the important bits!! 🙂  ]

We were split into groups and asked to head down river, in Regents’ style we got straight on it with river signals, we went off eddy hopping our way down and signalling to each other on the way. I think Chris was very impressed with our ability to signal and it was very clear we all paddle together regularly. He did remind us how important it is to discuss signals before getting on the river, just in case someone in the group has a different interpretation of signals. An interesting thing I learnt here was thinking about eddies in front of you, making sure you have at least 2 eddies in line of site. One to aim for and a backup eddy, it was great to actually start thinking about reading the river myself instead of relying on someone to lead me down.

Steffi & Jan practising for their roles in the upcoming film: 50 Shades of Regents Paddling

Learning the acronyms

One of the many acronyms of the weekend is LAST. What we should all be thinking when we are leading down river:

Location – Where are you placed on the river, can we see what is ahead?
Access – What is your line down, have you got out and had a look?
Support – Is there support on the side to rescue should you need it?
Transport – What is your plan out if you are in trouble?

Pete spent the weekend telling examples of situations where recuse techniques have been needed (horror stories). I liked this approach it made me listen very carefully. First of all he went through equipment, the importance of understanding everything you are carrying or wearing. If you don’t understand what it does, don’t wear it. Some of the most basic equipment we went over was helmets, BA’s and shoes. All revolving around hazards and fitting.

He also talked us through where to keep equipment on person or in the boat. The sling brought up a discussion, where should this be kept? In the BA pocket vs up your cag / BA. A recent accident occurred due to a sling being carried up the cag; the person swam and got their sling tangled around their feet. The outcome was anything you carry on person should be inside the BA pocket and not a snag hazard.

There was also a discussion about BAs with a chest harness and how we should set up the quick release buckle:

  1. For general paddling and performing swimming rescues: thread the webbing through the plastic quick-release buckle only
  2. For bank-based rescues and belaying: thread the webbing through both the plastic buckle and metal back-bar to prevent the harness slipping under load
  3. Close the buckle firmly and store any excess webbing away. Check that the webbing is not twisted during threading

[Editor’s note: Further details on chest harnesses can be found on the individual producer’s websites e.g. the Palm equipment website here.]

We then got on to the swimming, something I am getting too familiar with. This is where the fun started and we all started to get a sore throat. Who knew you could ferry glide without a boat? Something I took a few swims and rock collisions to learn.

Christine & Andrew played tug of war with all the throw lines everyone left lying around

Shout
Get the swimmers attention; remember the swimmer may not initially hear your shouts so get their attention visually. Combine this with shouting their name before instructing them what to do. I am pretty certain Steffi had the best shout on the whole of the Tryweryn.

Reach
Do you have anything at hand that you can reach out to the swimmer with? A paddle, sling, boat etc. Sometime just making the swimmer look and swim towards you can be enough to get them out of danger.

Throw
We covered how to hold a throwline, where to aim and how to pull someone to safety without putting yourself in danger. I learnt the hard way to let go if you feel you may end up in the water too.

Go
Live baiting, in some situations (should you have a chest harness on your BA) you may be attached to a throwline and sent in to get a person or equipment. This was an experience!

The Conga Line looked a little chilly so was lacking in uptake

My key learnings?

  • Equipment: What I should be buying and what is important when buying.
  • River reading and signals: How I should be thinking for myself and not relying on others. Starting to think about what is ahead and how we can work together to make it down safely.
  • Swimming: How I can think about getting myself to safety when swimming. Spot an eddy, roll over and swim like your life depends on it. Like a boat don’t stop until you are firmly in the eddy.
  • Throwlines / reach equipment: How to use equipment properly, how to hold, move along and move your catch into an eddy.
  • Keep Warm: Buy more thermals and invest in some very good socks. Cold feet are the worst.
  • Practice: I will be aiming to practice boat chasing / emptying and throwing straight as often as possible on the canal.

I definitely recommend this for people of my level, it was really good to start thinking about my own safety and learning how I can help myself and others get out of situations. Plus now I can help out on trips. I just have to buy a throwline….. Good job I know the benefits of different throwlines. Where is the nearest kayak shop?

Images by Rachael

Regents Canoe Club on Dart Loop October 2015

Kayaking the Dart Loop and River Barle

Dave Preece tackles two new rivers and Dulverton Jager Bombs

Having heard tales of a dry Scotland being recounted and the forecast rain never materialising, we set off on Friday evening more in hope than anticipation of paddling the River Barle and the River Exe in the beautiful surroundings of the Exmoor National Park. I arrived at the accommodation late (well after last orders) but found the traditional Regents Friday night social in full flow. A good few glasses of Merlot and some Babybel related shenanigans later it was time for bed.

Next morning we awoke to find that our prayers to the rain gods had not been answered and instead of the mighty Barle we were to take a short trip to paddle the Dart Loop. Following a trip to the Lower Tryweryn on the last Mile End Mill trip (10 T-rescues, no swims, 1 quiz question), it seemed like myself and Racheal finding ourselves on rivers harder than what we signed up for was fast becoming a tradition. Always good to push yourself I kept being reminded…

After the standard faffing including attaching some devil horns to my helmet for Halloween, we did some warm up ferry gliding it was time to set off. I really enjoyed the Dart Loop, with its good mix of features, wave trains and more mellow moments it was ideal for practicing the skills required for white water paddling. Helped by the expert leadership of Ian and Mel and possibly the low water levels, my paddling confidence increased and although nerves were aplenty this was the first time I was able to enjoy going down rapids at the time rather than after a few beers in the pub afterwards.

I was told that the river was at a good low level for beginners; however the flood debris high up on the banks served as a frequent reminder of the levels and power that this river is capable of. Aside from Racheal becoming a bit too closely acquainted with a fallen tree and a few minor swims, the river gods were feeling kind. After some food, drinks and a couple of stealth Jager Bombs the whole group agreed that we’d had a great time paddling such a beautiful and enjoyable river.

The following day after some well needed tea and toast we walked to the get on point of the River Barle, our adventure for the day. After the invention of a new word (Faffet, noun, someone who causes faff, a combination of faffer and muppet) we set off. The River Barle, I’m reliably told is a lovely paddle when there is some water. However the aforementioned lack of rain made it much more of a rocky affair. Undeterred we carried on with groups of paddlers frequently doing very good impressions of beached whales, desperately trying to dislodge themselves from rocks and find some water. There was however some entertaining weirs to run and a fun little play wave near the end which along with the beautiful surroundings and good company made the day worthwhile.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend and I loved every minute. My thanks must go to Ian for efficiently organising the weekend and also to all the group leaders who were fantastic as always. Cheers to everyone for a great weekend and I’ll see you all on a river soon!

Image credit: Craig’s dodgy Go-Pro