Ian ‘Jaffa Cake’ White shares his experiences of planning a sea kayaking adventure

Lockdown gave me an opportunity to reflect on a trip Steffi, Tokey and I embarked upon in September 2019.

Tokey is a regular and welcome guest at our home in West Mersea, Essex. Mersea island is just off the coast, connected to the mainland by a causeway, known as the Strood, which often floods at spring tides, cutting us off from England.

Living 300 metres from the sea has its advantages, one being 24 hour access to the Blackwater Estuary which we explore regularly with our sea kayaks. During one of Tokey’s visits we started to discuss venturing further afield and multi-day trips to Devon, Cornwall and Dorset were mooted. Tokey suggested a paddle from Minehead to Ilfracombe which he had done before with Lucy Gill (an ex-member now living in Dorset) which takes in spectacular views of the highest sea cliffs in England. It is also in the Bristol Channel which has the second highest tidal range in the world (Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia has the highest) creating very fast currents.

It was decided that I would plan the trip as I have the most nautical experience, having started sailing at the age of ten and attaining most of the sailing qualifications on the way through life. The first purchase was ‘South West Sea Kayaking’ by Mark Rainsley (Mark is probably best known for starting ‘UK Rivers Guide’). This is a really good book. He breaks down the coastline into sections which he grades according to difficulty, which gave me an excellent selection from which to choose. Along with Mark’s guide, I bought the relevant charts(sea maps) and O/S maps of the areas under consideration. It is important to have both charts and maps as you need information from both. For example, the charts will give you speed and direction of flow of the currents at different states of the tide ,while the maps will give you the location of footpaths and contours should you need to make an emergency evacuation.

Between us we discussed the possible dates and the weekend of 14/15th September 2019 seemed to suit all and was also best in terms of tide times and heights. I planned three trips, all for the same weekend. If the weather was less than favourable to paddle plan A then we could do plan B or C.

On the buildup to the trip I bought lots more kit, like flares, a comfortable sleeping mat and to strengthen our knowledge, Steffi and I completed a two day Sea Kayak Leader Training course in August.

As the trip date drew nearer I was obsessed with checking the weather forecast and I continued to review and check our kit until I was satisfied that we were prepared.
Finally, the week arrived and on the Friday, Steffi and I drove to the camp site chosen by Tokey, which was half-way between the North and South coasts of Devon, as I was still weighing up which coast to paddle.

After pitching our tents we headed for the local pub, armed with charts, maps and a mass of tidal flow predictions and suggested get on/off times for the three paddle plans. Over a pint and dinner, we discussed the options in conjunction with weather forecasts. I try to get three forecasts which will give me a range of views from which to make an informed decision. Also, a forecast is not a guarantee as I experienced earlier this year when sea kayaking. The forecast 21 knots of wind blew up to 35 knots(that’s gale force 8). I found it impossible to make any headway and paddling a course just off the wind was very difficult. We survived, obviously.

The weekend forecasts were showing a breezy North-westerly wind which would have made the North Devon trip tricky, with large waves crashing onto the sheer cliffs. Plan B was to paddle from Hope Cove to Plymouth on the South Coast with an over-night stop on a beach. We would be protected from the wind by the cliffs and the wind was due to veer (go clockwise)to an Easterly.

Plan C was to paddle the Fowey estuary, which is very sheltered, should the wind be too strong for Plan A and B.

Day 1

We chose Plan B.

After a reasonably comfortable night under canvas, we drove to the get off, parked Tokey’s car and then proceeded to Hope Cove. I remember this fishing village cum tourist magnet from my very young years when I spent a summer holiday there with my family. Essentially, it hasn’t changed.

A conveniently located car park was a few paces from the beach where we loaded the boats with all the kit. There was no rush as I had calculated that we needed to get on after 10.30 a.m. to catch the current going in the direction we were headed. We hugged the coast, rockhopping as we went and exploring around the landward side of rocky outcrops not knowing if there was a way through, often timing our paddling to coincide with the waves so that we didn’t run aground.

The arch in Thurlstone rock beckoned so we paddled through and then made our way to our lunch stop, Arymer cove. We want to check out Arymer cove because not only was it our lunch stop but was also to be our overnight camp site. Part of the plan was to investigate the Erme estuary. The upper part of the Erme is known to whitewater paddlers for its tight rocky gorge and a well deserved grade four label. The Erme we paddled into was nearly at low tide and was a narrow, shallow channel with sand banks on either side that met the verdant tree-lined shore. Families were swimming in the waist deep water while we worked our way upstream until we ran out of water, gawping at the beauty of this stunning estuary as we went.

The tide had turned as we paddled out of the estuary, back to Arymer cove where we set up camp for the night, or at least Steffi and I did. Tokey, on the other hand, spent an hour just off shore with his hook and fishing line hoping to get ‘catch of the day’ for dinner. Total catch-one piece of seaweed. Oh well!
A delicious five course meal with silver service and crockery…….was not what we had. I do remember Steffi putting together a tasty concoction which filled the inner Ian until breakfast. And so to bed.

Morning came and I peeked out of the tent’s half undone zip to see the moon wedged between two rocky outcrops. Probably the best photo I have ever taken.

Day 2

Egg and bacon sandwiches with tomato ketchup was what I wanted but I seem to remember porridge- the food of kings. The previous night we had washed the pots in the sea and one pot had to be soaked overnight to soften the burnt residue. We shouldn’t have been surprised to find small shrimps swimming in the soaking pot. Porridge with shrimp anyone?
Tents down, boats packed. We’re off. If we had time I was hoping to paddle up the river Yealm and visit Noss Mayo and Newton Ferrers ,two beautiful villages tucked inland on the Yealm. We ran short of time and energy so we made a lunch stop in a small bay at the Yealm’s mouth. Just before lunch, I was paddling slightly ahead of Tokey and Steffi when I heard a splash and a large snort of air. It wasn’t Tokey taking a roll, but a seal which had come to check us out. Obviously not impressed, the seal disappeared into the deep not to be seen again.

Lunch over, we embarked on the final leg of our trip which would take us to Bovisand , a beach overlooked by Bovisand Fort which was built in the 1860’s to protect the naval fleet from pesky invaders. I remember feeling tired as we neared the beach which was full of families sun bathing in the glorious September heat. I took a couple of celebratory rolls and then ran my kayak into the yellow sand, marking the end of a fantastic two day adventure.

The guide book says the trip is 28km although we probably did another 5km visiting the Erme. The hardest part of the trip was transporting three sea kayaks up the steep path from the beach to Tokey’s car in 25 degree heat, while still wearing my drysuit. We are planning to do some more trips this year, Covid 19 permitting. Where will we go next?

Like whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking is great fun but you need to know what you are doing. The environment and dangers are different to whitewater, so if you want to stay safe, take some training and go with an experienced guide or coach. If you want to go unguided then choose a sheltered estuary as a start. If you want more advice you can contact me on [email protected]

Steph recounts those precious last few days when kayaking wasn’t just a distant memory.

Firstly I must start with an apology, this has taken me three months to get round to writing… being a freelance musician and having work disappearing quicker than bog roll in the supermarkets, I thought I’d have plenty of time to write this during lockdown. In reality it has taken all this time just to settle (scramble) into “the new normal” and figure out what being a musician in lockdown really means (but I won’t go into that here, that’s a whole other blog topic right there).

Right! Let’s get to it! RCC Lakes trip, it’s one of the most looked forward to trips of the season for many reasons. The North West is the wettest part of the country which means good rivers, the accommodation is far too nice for 30 kayakers to be allowed to stay there (yet we are and do!) and the breakfasts are worth the 5-6hr car journey alone! However, excitement about going to this trip was mixed with anxiety about the now apparent spread of the new virus, Covid – 19. I was already debating on whether or not to go as my only gig in March was on the same weekend…turns out it was probably my last gig in at least 6 months… but hey-ho, I gave it up and came on the trip, doing the maths that it was only 30 people and the likelihood of one of them having C19 was low enough to risk it (back then we didn’t know quite how serious it really was, since new info was coming out daily).

I don’t regret it. I miss gigging but kayaking is a wonderful escape from the pressures of normal life (and in this case a brilliant escape from worrying about C19, it just didn’t exist for those hours we were on the river).

So, 30 odd, excited and slightly apprehensive kayakers descend (ascend? It is up north…) to the Lake district, with not one but two copies of the topical board game pandemic to play in the evenings. After initial chat and wine, people headed to bed dreaming of rain, rivers and tomorrow’s breakfast.

The next morning, river levels were looking good and the group split in two, one headed to the beautiful Eden (Lazonby to Armathwaite) for a long but rewarding paddle, the other taking on the Greta: a good fun grade 3 with a nice gentle warm up stretch and lots of boulders to navigate (especially after the floods we had earlier this year). I was on team Greta, from what I remember, I had fun! It was just high enough to be in the ‘goldilocks’ zone, any lower the boulders would have been too many, a little higher would have been even better!

Those on the Greta were keen for either another run or another river. After some faff, the logistics were (mostly) sorted out to go to Troutbeck, a shortish, smallish river with a gorge section. It doesn’t hold its water well so it was a rush to get there, but it was JUST high enough to run it. It was hard work, if I thought the Greta was boulder… this was something else. More water, it probably would have been a good fun rapid.

However, the gorge was running and very nicely, the speed was just right for me and I really REALLY enjoyed it! More water would have made it faster and harder, so I was glad of the scrapey boulder maze at the start in the end (personally) but I’ll gladly try it again with a slightly higher level once we’re back doing trips!

The next morning, we were split into 3 groups each tackling a different river the Crake, Kent and Esk followed by a blast down the river Tees. Each group had their own stories of heroism and tragedy to tell when they came back, the Crake group had lost a paddle and it sounded like the group on the Tees had a time that would make a Laurel and Hardy scene look organized.

The Crake is a grade 2/3 river that’s narrow, tree lined and fast flowing in places with interspersed rapids and weirs to keep interest up. The Esk (Langholme to Canonbie) is grade 3(4) river on the edge of Scotland and I’m told it was misty, foggy and magical! The Tees (low force section) is a short but fun section of river with a couple of rapids and pool drops, I’ve not paddled it yet but it’s a pretty river and looks like it’d be fun and easy to re-run a few times if you wanted.

I was in the Kent group, here’s what I remember:

The Kent (Scroggs Weir to Sedgwick Bridge) is a grade 4 river which starts of fairly flat and calm, but once you get to the ‘S’ bend rapid, you’ll realise why you’re paddling this river. We had to do a recue here, as the first drop line is very misleading and if you take it where you think you should you end up being thrown over! One paddler in our group was unfortunate and suffered a face injury. Once safely on the bank and a Mars bar scoffed she was happy to carry on though! What a trooper! After the S Bend the features are fun and fairly close together, culminating in what some people in RCC call the best feature in the Lakes, Force Fall. It’s certainly the steepest Rapid I’ve tackled, 3 metres flushing down into a large pool (perfect for a rolling recovery if you hit the hole and forget to put your paddle stroke in!). I’d made the mistake of looking at this feature as its pretty much at the get-off it looks gnarly (to a relative novice) but I’m told, “It’s not what it looks like, it’s totally fine!”. So, I’m at the top of the feature (having survived all the other tricky features) and I gear myself up, the last to go down in my group. I line myself up to go down the tongue (which you can’t see as its actually really steep, although not really a waterfall drop).

Ok, paddle, paddle, paddle!

It feels like the river just falls out beneath you and you are totally at the whim of the water! But I get my line right! My only mistake is that I didn’t paddle at the bottom (DOH) I flush out next to the cliff face but I manage a roll (oddly because I manage to find a shelf to push up from… but a roll is a roll right!?). It’s exhilarating! 4 of us are mad enough to drag our boats out to the top of the 3 main rapids and do it all again (just 3 or 4 hundred meters from the get off) … this time I nailed Force Falls.

The Final day we all pile (quite literally) on to the river Mint, a close and convenient river to our accommodation as the get off is in a supermarket carpark, perfect for getting your snacks for the long journey back.

It’s pretty narrow river so we have to stagger the start. If I’m honest, I can’t remember much from this paddle, but as I read my guidebook to trigger some memories I can remember some exciting moments. There is a fairly technical weir on a corner to navigate (I did this perfectly… obviously…. Shhh be quiet at the back there). Then there are some very technical rapids as it is steep and fairly rocky in low levels (as it was the day we paddled), my guide tells me this is more fun and flushes well in high water (however the trees are more of a problem in high levels). There are some gentler moments and some weirs to run (right lines are necessary) but I can’t remember much more now so rather than regurgitating my guidebook I’ll finish my little blog there!

It was a great trip and I am very glad I chose to go on it, even if I did miss my last gig for 6-12 months. It was worth it (and as far as I know, no one in our group caught corona from this trip either). #NAILEDIT.

Sean’s shares his thoughts on becoming an advanced white water leader

I joined the club in May 2011 as a complete novice not knowing a canoe from a kayak or a spray deck from an air bag. I got hooked immediately and haven’t looked back since.

In my second year of paddling I recall on my third or fourth trip down the Dart Loop having a discussion with Gemma and Clarissa how I’d be comfortable kayaking on water up to Grade 3 or maybe a single G4 rapid. I kind of stuck with that principle for the first two years but then was dragged (never kicking and screaming) off to some steeper creeks and bigger volume water. By this stage I’d started my progression to being a coach but wasn’t ready for the leadership challenge – at that point this was for the gods of kayaking (Christine, Mark Rowe etc).

On a cold and wet Scotland trip I met my paddling buddy Daryl and over too many scotches he convinced me to head out to Uganda with him the following February for some Grade 4/5/6 water. That is now water under the bridge and I make the trip to Uganda every January now.

Club Wave

My mindset on water gradings has changed as too have my thoughts on coaching and leadership.

Within the first three years of paddling I was leading on G3/4 rivers and it was then that I decided to do my Moderate Water Leader (Kayak) (or 4* as it was known then). I did this in North Wales and when I’d finished I thought to myself that the qualification was great but the club was paddling harder water and I was leading on harder water but not actually qualified to do so. The Moderate leader is for grade 2/3 water and I was then leading on 3/4 water.

I did my 5* leader training (as the Advanced Leader award was called at the time) up in Scotland over two days in May 2015 on the Loy, Coe and Orchy, Levels were up high and chunky and the rain was pouring out of the sky. Paddling the gorge of the Lower Coe in these flows definitely put the group on edge. I left the course thinking I’d had a great (even if nail biting) course but that I’d be taking my time to get ready for assessment – if I even went for it. The step from moderate to advanced is actually quite large – you’re assessed on Grade 4/5 water.

Later that same year I did my Moderate Water Endorsement (coaching qualification for moderate water) training and assessment. I was comfortable at this level of coaching and wasn’t really pushing leadership on the harder water except on club trips. In the January of 2016 I started showing friends and newbies down lines on the G4/5 rapids of the Nile in Uganda – and loved it! So I signed up to do my 5* assessment that September.

The provider I went with did a two day skills refresher followed by the two day assessment. We trained on the Etive, Spean Gorge, and a whole day running laps of the Upper Moriston. The first time over the first big waterfall was eye opening to say the least – I was not in my comfort zone. I got it into my head that the assessment was going to be a nightmare and really didn’t get much out of the training days as a result. I absolutely loved the Upper Moriston and can’t wait to run it again – I will however skip the rope work practising of lugging boats and people up and down cliff faces! I don’t like edges at the best of times so dangling over the edge self belaying down the cliff was one of the worst experiences in my kayaking career!

The training and assessment had us clamboring up and down rocks, ridges and cliffs, paddling blind down rapids with no paddles and taking on some G4 rapids forwards and backwards. We paddled the Meig which is a river I really want to get back on – total wilderness canyons, gorges, steep drops, pool drops and big rapids.

We finished the assessment on the Findhorn Gorge and that is where I found out that I failed the assessment. My paddling skills were okay but I was not displaying the confidence required of a leader on the water and appeared to be second guessing myself – all of which was pretty accurate. I’d got my head out of the game and then I kept asking myself what the assesors wanted to see and trying to deliver that – instead of just getting on with leading.

Eight months later I pulled my finger out and did the assessment and skills refresher again. This time with a resounding positive outcome. Back up to Scotland and onto the Etive, Spean and Findhorn again. We also paddled one of the most complex rivers I’ve paddled – the dam release River Conon which hadn’t released in over five years starting with a grade 6 pourover into a grade 5+ rapid, onto another grade 5 drop, to a grade 5 rapid we ran, to a grade 6 complex rock slide which was one of the major assessment factors then onto a couple more grade 5 drops and rapids before we were all so exhausted that the grade 2 paddle out had us second guessing ourselves.

It was a long journey in getting the qualification and I’m very happy to have it now. Does it make me paddle any differently? Yes. More time goes into the planning and then the scouting and river running – I’m no longer just a member of the group. As a qualified leader I need to be able to take control at any moment and be ready to enact rescues and extractions if required. It’s also why I will adamantly refuse to take someone in my group on a river – if I’m to be responsible for the person, I’m not taking that person on water or into scenarios that they cannot cope with – I don’t care that it might be there one and only chance to run that section or that no one else will take them – there’s usually a reason for that!

Would I recommend doing the advanced water leader qualification? Absolutely. Even if you only do the training – it puts so much of club trips into perspective and really points out hazards and huge gaps in your own and other people’s paddling and rescue skills that need to be addressed.

I’m still planning on doing my advanced water endorsement for coaching but right at this point in my life, I’m focusing on my raft guiding, racing and rescue skills. I’m still paddling rivers – I like to get out and enjoy a river – from G2 to G5 – it’s about experiencing the river and nature and the friends you share it with.

Steffi introduces us to her progression to White Water Kayak Coach

I suppose my coaching journey started back in October 2010 when I attended a White Water Safety & Rescue course facilitated on the Tryweryn. It was after my first Alps trip, and my first white water roll in anger on Rabioux wave on the Durance. This was my first experience of ‘fast and furious’ water and it felt right to learn a bit more about river safety. All I remember is how cold the accommodation was and that the dishwasher was broken. In fact, that whole place was a bit broken. It was probably even more broken after we moved several pieces of furniture when practicing our rope work. The stopper above the ‘chipper’ on the Tryweryn was also the first time I swam in a stopper – yes, back then we body surfed stoppers. On day two we covered some basic peer paddling and river leading. All that is a mighty long time ago.

In January 2011 I went on the leadership course with Regents Canoe Club – yes, we did the Vynwry and yes, we did get off in the dark.  I did actually look back on my notes after the 2020 RCC run course. My feedback from Dan Tattersall was: ‘Quicker follow up; in fact, more decisiveness.’  Sound familiar?  ‘Don’t explain too much (the upcoming features) and trust each other’s abilities.’ Boat rescues – not my strong point either.  The follow up trip that us ‘newbies’ organised brought the first tooth breaker – I believe there were three that year, me being one of them.  It didn’t put me off…

In April 2011 I did the old 3* assessment on the Nene that both Christine and Mark facilitated. My first formal qualification. The next opportunity arose as part of the ‘hashtag this girl can’ campaign in September 2011 – I had literally just finished chemo but was raring to get back to kayaking – I took part and completed my level 1 coaching qualification, again, with the club. Thrown into it, the 2* open boating and Foundation Safety & Rescue.  Inspired particularly by the many strong female paddlers in the club, I wowed to continue with the aim to ‘give back’ to the club having been given all these opportunities, fun times and encouragement.  I doubt that without these coincidences and opportunities I would have bothered.

That journey wasn’t without challenges and hiccups. After cancer and a meeting with a rock that split my lip and knocked out a tooth [two teeth now as after a 10 year break the second tooth that was hit decided to give up] I had quite a hard time to get back into paddling. Confidence!!! At least a three year battle and I still have ups and downs. Not wanting to give up, I attended a few confidence courses over the years, and I finally learned to ‘let go’ and focus on the joy aspect. I had a look at my notes from these courses and these are some which I go back to regularly:

  •         Can I see a line?
  •         Can I do that line today/right now?
  •         Do I need to set up safety?
  •         Does it look fun?

Make your decision and don’t tell anyone.  Just go for it.

From the start of the river, don’t get fixed on the features – put them in a box and decide how you feel when you get there. Visualise yourself running them and then put that into a box.  Features are boxes that we can look at later.

So, I didn’t go back to formal coaching training for some time. Again, the next opportunity came through a fellow female paddler at the club that encouraged me – Clarissa. In April 2014 I started the level 2 coaching training. Much session planning and practice ensured before the assessment later that same year. I also completed my 4* training, a pre-requisite for the Level 2 coaching award, with one of my favourite coaches – Dan Daly from Rock the Boat in December 2014. It was quite technical, but it was that detail that I really enjoyed. It might be my work, but I find the technical and psychological side interesting.   A quick brush up with a WWSR training in November 2015 before I took my level 4* assessment in March 2016 – on Ian’s birthday.  Reflecting back, that level of coaching has opened up another level of reward. I remain in contact with a number of people that were completely new to moving water. I was their first leader/coach [it still sounds weird to me] and have seen them progress since then. I have bumped into them at Lee Valley quite a few times. Both keep referring back to those two days on the river we had together as a starting point for their newly found love of kayaking.  [still weird]

In April 2017 I completed my Moderate Water Endorsement (a qualification to coach on moving water up to grade 3) training; in February 2018 I failed the first assessment attempt but after a focused development plan passed in November 2018.

Next steps?  I have done my advanced WWSR training but for now, the focus is on enjoying my paddling, build up my confidence by exploring more grade 4 and see where the river takes me.

Well, it has been a journey of many ups and downs, not least because of serious illness that led to many emotional battles; accidents that massively affected my confidence; a journey of rediscovering the actual fun; the love of a technical understanding but also the theory of learning/basic psychology which I use so much at work. It has been a journey of inspiration by many club members, yes, particularly female ones, but also some damn good coaches that engaged and encouraged me. 

Ian White introduces us to the first part of our how to get ahead in kayaking series

For more information on the accredited BC awards available for personal paddling, leadership and coaching take a look at our training resources.

Five years ago I did the 4* leader training with coach Dan Daley, the award is split into two parts with two days for training and two days of assessment and covers leading on grade 2-3 water. This has now evolved into the White Water Leader award following the restructuring of British Canoeing and their award systems, but the old training accreditation and the award itself are still valid in the new programmes. Equally the same is true for the 5* leader award which has now become the Advanced White Water Leader award.

The training accreditation only lasts for three years at which point a refresher is required. Incessant procrastination, work, house refurbishment and a desire to go on kayaking trips all took precedence and I never made time to take the assessment.

Last May Steffi, myself and Olga were paddling with Dan on the beautiful Soca river in Slovenia. This is something we do every few years. As well as being a great guy, Dan is a terrific coach and we both enjoy his ability to impart his skills and knowledge. Dan asked me to lead on a grade 3 section of the Soca called Srpenica 2, although it was running with a lot of water which made it feel like grade 4.

Dan asked me why I hadn’t taken the 4* assessment, it was the jolt I needed and the fact that I hadn’t really irked me. Over the next few months, whilst still being really busy, I resolved to complete the task. There are certain pre-requisites, however, to taking the assessment. In addition to the training including an up-to-date White Water Safety and Rescue certificate and a First Aid certificate are also required. I had done the advanced White Water Safety and Rescue course with Darren Joy in within the last year. That just left me requiring a First Aid refresher course, mine had just expired but with good timing I was able to join the upcoming course arranged by the club and run by Ian ‘Scotty’ Scott [what a great name, must be a great guy]. We managed to complete the course on the second attempt after Scotty damaged his knee and was forced to pull out of day two upon instruction from the A&E department at his local hospital. The rescheduled date in was in January went without issue and so now I was ready to do the re-do the training and then go for the assessment.

Coach Dave Kohn-Hollins was advertising a White Water Leader assessment on the 22nd/23rd February 2020. I still needed to redo the training though, and fortunately Dave was able to squeeze me into his busy schedule on the 30th/31st January 2020. Ruth Hughes and her Machno came too. Prior to this, I had printed off the three relevant documents from the British Canoeing Awarding Body (not to be confused with British Canoeing, which also has information about the awards):

  1. Syllabus
  2. Course notes
  3. Assessor notes

White Water leader Training, Llangollen

This will give you all you need to know about what is expected of you and what the assessor will be looking for during the course.  The training was based in Llangollen [I think we need to set the mood here; the storm clouds were brooding overhead, the crowds were gathering on the old town bridge and just out of sight round the corner Ian White was squeezing all his Jaffa cakes into the back of his oversized dry bag].

I stayed at the Llangollen hostel right opposite our morning rendezvous spot with Dave. We kicked the morning off with a chat about the things we need to take into consideration when leading a river trip. After this we met our “tourists”, the paddlers we were to take down the river. After resolving the “forgotten helmet” issue (I think Regents have caught this virus [forgive the use of foul language, I believe Ian wrote this a few months ago]) we got on at the Upper Dee section and made our way down to Horseshoe Falls with Ruth leading. I took over at Horseshoe Falls while Ruth and I discussed whether we should or should not run the weir. Was it within our remit? Can we see a safe line? Are the “tourists” good enough paddlers to make it? We discussed our findings with Dave and he was okay with our decision to run it and our decision making process. Next was Serpent’s Tail. We broke out above and took the “tourists” to have a look at the feature. I was happy that the ability of the “tourists” matched the technicality of the feature and they all agreed and wanted to paddle it. We got off at Mile End Mill after one small swim at Serpent’s tail.

Day two – just Dave, me and Ruth. We paddled from Llangollen to Trevor while practicing leadership and boat rescue techniques while being amazed at the huge viaduct and aqueduct that cross the Dee.

White water Leadership Assessment, North Wales

An email had been sent to me and the others being assessed, asking us to prepare a list of rivers to run with our “tourists”. North Wales had been deluged with huge rain fall for the past week/month. Every river/catchment area had a flood warning and the A5 road at Corwen bridge had flooded. The river was about a quarter of a mile wide as it tried to squeeze its bloated self through the confines of the bridge. It managed to find a gap under a gate, two fields away from the river to flood the busy A5.

I again stayed at the Llangollen Hostel which was much busier than last time, as it was the weekend. I shared a room with three others, one of whom looked very melancholy. A brief chat revealed all. His girlfriend had kicked him out of their home, which he shared with her and the baby after he got drunk and smashed up the car. He had been arrested for DD and was due in court in two weeks. No girlfriend, no home, no car, no license, no job and probably a fine [just another weekend in North Wales]. And there was I, dealing with the concerns of whether I could deliver a safe river to paddle. It seemed so trivial in comparison. Before I left, I wished my sorrowful roommate the best of luck for the future. Surely, life could only get better from now on.

I had an idea. We were to meet at the Rhug (pronounced” rhig” in Welsh) Estate Cafe. This is where they have a metal bison sculpture beside the A5. The river Alwen is nearby and the get off is next to the Rhug Estate. Early in the morning, before the meeting, I went to check the get on and get off. At the get on, the water was running through that trees on the bank! At the get off, the water coming through the bridge’s arches sounded like a steam train at full speed. Maybe not the best choice. I was clean out of ideas.

One of the possible venues was the Tryweryn. The dam normally release at 9 cumecs. Today it was releasing at 16. If you add in the water from the tributaries, it was expected to be 30 cumecs at Bala Mill. I couldn’t see that this was viable either.

I met Christ Eastabrook (an assessor) and the other two people to be assessed plus the “tourists”. Chris was interested in our plans but he decided that we should paddle the Tryweryn. So we jumped into our cars and made the 40 minute drive to the T. We got changed and went to look at Chapel Falls. Wow! It was bigger than I have ever seen it and a definite class 4 rapid. I could see a line but not one which I could lead some inexperienced paddlers down. We got on below.  

I had three “tourists” – Mark, Charlotte and Paula. Mark had been paddling two years and was very good. Paula was a decent paddler but her nerves were shredded as she had previously been caught in a tree on the Tryweryn. It didn’t settle her nerves seeing Chapel falls and now she was about to paddle the river at nearly twice the volume.

Charlotte was the least experienced, nervous and wobbly. All three of my “tourists” we’re really nice and I did my best to put them at ease before getting on with an Ian White warm up and stretch. I was hoping that we could use the get on section to do a few warm up ferry glides to and from the eddy. I broke out and went to have a look at the eddy on the other bank. Looking downstream I saw a tree trunk at the bottom of the eddy where it joined the flow. Anyone taking a swim here after an eddy line wobble would be under that tree. That would be a very bad start. I signalled “all down”.

I had a great time. The river is great fun at this level, far better than I could have hoped for. We did have a couple of swims in my group but swimmer and kit were reunited and we paddled to the road bridge where the “tourists” got off (except Mark). We blasted down to the get off at the car park, missing out Bala Mill Falls.  

Day two – no “tourists” today. Met Dave Kohn-Hollins at the Siobod Cafe at Capel Curig to discuss our options. A two river day – the Glaslyn followed by the Llugwy. Mount Snowdon feeds Llyn Dinas which is a lake which feeds the  grade 2 section of the river Glaslyn. We all took turns to lead on the Glaslyn with Dave assessing our leadership abilities and styles. We got off before the Aberglaslyn gorge, which is spectacular at these levels.

Back to Capel Curig to run the Llugwy where we did three different rescue scenarios (1)broken arm (2)dislocated shoulder (3)unconscious paddler. When it was my turn to fall in, I was the unconscious paddler. I really felt sorry for the other two who had to get my 18 stone carcass to the riverbank and then haul it up onto dry land while I was motionless. I am waiting for an Oscar nomination.  

Got off at Forestry Falls and then back to the Siobod Cafe for a debrief, coffee and cake. Dave gave me some excellent and valid feedback with the news that I had passed.  


Our safety officer Ben offers a break down of the new training and awards programmes

Regent’s club trips are all organised and led by volunteers, and paddling with a club is a great way to learn kayaking through informal learning from more experienced members. Many of our leaders don’t have any formal qualifications, but their experience and enthusiasm enable us to run a whole range of white water kayak and canoe trips.

That said, doing formal coaching or leadership training can be very rewarding and a great way of improving your own personal paddling skills. The few qualified coaches we have in the club are always in high demand and it would be great to see more members pursuing these qualifications. Qualified coaches bring so much to the club, we currently offer generous subsidies to anyone interested in doing this training.

What’s the difference between Coaching and Leading?

Coaches teach people to kayak and have improve their personal paddling skills. The real skill of a coach is being able to watch someone paddle, identify what they need to improve, and then devise a task or a set of lessons for them so that they significantly improve their paddling. To run any coached course for RCC or otherwise a coach must have a recognised coaching qualification.

Leaders are always experienced paddlers who can judge the conditions and group ability and lead that group safely down the river. We focus on peer paddling, so everyone in a group is empowered to act if necessary, and nominated leaders are normally the most experienced peers in a group. They can offer “top tips” to paddlers following them but are not qualified to coach people further. At Regent’s leaders often don’t have any formal qualifications, but we do recommend getting the training as a way to improve your skills on the river.

Why might people be interested in getting Coaching or Leading qualifications?

These awards have been developed by paddling experts at British Canoeing. At Regent’s we learn from each other all the time, and that’s great. But there’s also something to be said for doing a structured course which follows a syllabus designed to cover everything you need to know. It can consolidate what you’ve learned already and fill in any gaps. In addition, you will have an award which is recognised wherever you go paddling.

Learning to coach has benefits both on and off the water. On the water one of the best ways of improving a skill is working out how to teach it; off the water, coaching is a transferable skill. Coaching techniques in other walks of life are heavily influenced by sports coaching.

What awards does BC offer and what’s the difference between them?

BC offers training and awards in pretty much every paddlesport discipline you can think of, from SUP to canoe polo. For Regent’s paddlers the White Water Kayak and White Water Canoe awards will probably be the most relevant. There’s a lot of information on the BC website, and a summary of the basic whitewater kayak awards is listed on our Training page including:

Personal Performance awards

These awards are about improving your personal paddling skills. This includes decision making and group skills as well as technical ability.

Leadership awards

These recognise the additional skills you need when leading others. Three levels are relevant to Regent’s club paddlers:

  • Sheltered Water (paddlesport leader)
  • Moderate Water (white water kayak leader)
  • Advanced Water (advanced white water kayak leader)

All these awards focus on personal paddling skills, rescue skills, safety, leadership and group skills. There is a two-day training course for each award followed by a one day assessment, though you will need experience as well as training to pass.

The training can be an excellent way to improve your river skills and we’d recommend this for all members looking to feel more confident on the river, the assessment can be taken up to 3 years after the training.   

Coaching awards

These awards are about teaching kayaking. This could be helping complete beginners to learn the basics, or helping more advanced paddlers improve. Either way you would learn to plan and deliver progressive coaching sessions. Coaching well is a real skill and a lot gets covered in this training, from understanding different learning styles to assessing progress and making sure your coaching is enjoyable.

To do these awards you would first do core coach training, which is not discipline specific. Then there are awards for many different paddlesport disciplines. For white water kayaking the awards are:

  • Kayak Coach (sheltered water)
  • White Water Kayak Coach
  • Advanced White Water Kayak Coach

Becoming a coach takes time and commitment – as well as completing the training you need to show that you are putting what you are learning into practice and keep a diary of your coaching experience.

What other training could I think about doing?

White Water Safety and Rescue – this is another BC course which is strongly recommended for anyone who is paddling white water regularly. It covers safe paddling strategies and a variety of different rescue skills. It’s typically a two day course.

First Aid – also strongly recommended. Any first aid is useful but Wilderness First Aid is a popular choice, as we often paddle in rural locations where help could be several hours away. This is a requirement for the leadership and coaching awards.

Personal Paddling skills – there are lots of ways to improve your own paddling skills, starting with paddling regularly at the canal to strengthen your forward paddling (the foundation of all white water skills!) If you are thinking about paying for coaching, Lee Valley offer some good evening courses or you could team up with some friends to hire a coach. The BC Personal Performance awards have replaced the old ‘star’ awards and offer progression in personal skills from flat water to advanced white water (grade 3/4 (5))

OK I’m keen – what should I do now?

It depends what you’re interested in. If you want to do a course (leadership, personal paddling, first aid, safety and rescue – whatever) it’s cheaper to team up with some other members interested in the same thing and hire a coach together. Do some research into courses and work out what you want to do, and contact [email protected] to put a shout out in NfC to see if anyone else is interested.

If you think you might be interested in becoming a coach, get in touch with our safety officer Ben ([email protected]). Ben is currently going through coaching training himself so can talk you through what’s involved in more detail. There’s also a heap of information on the British Canoeing website.

If you have any other questions about coaching and leading, or about training generally, get in touch with Ben and he’ll be happy to help.

Ruth spews her thoughts on another fine weekend

After a tricky trip to the lakes involving rush hour at Euston, luckily not with a kayak, and checking that Boaty II was securely attached on a grade 6 motorway (or perhaps the M6 Motorway, or both) I arrived at the wonderful Hyning Estate with no energy and a strong desire to bimble.

The last time I got on the river was the Dart loop when Mark used his wooly hat as an impromptu cod piece, I was leading (even though I’d swam on the lower) and my newbie went right in off the slaps.

Better luck this time? Yes.

The Crake is beautiful in Swallows and Amazons country form idyllic Coniston, source to sea. It begins at grade 1 gently sliding through overhanging trees like a mangrove swamp but chillier. It glides past chocolate box hillsides and deceased canoes. Did you see that Hugh?

Andrew read his notes from the last time: Rekha had flowed down the grade III rapid blind after approximately 7 weirs! To begin with all the action is in front of us, Hugh is stuck on the first rapid and Caroline crashes into Jane who is pinned on a tree.

Then the action arrives with us, I lead Andrew down a braid with only a limited way out but signal to the others to try the other way. It’s quite disconcerting because Andrew has a cold that makes the river seem a bit like a TB ward. Then we are at the Rekah rapid. Andrew goes down the “entry” rapid and under the bridge, I follow but take the other side of the bridge which is low. My paddle gets stuck in the bridge and I go over. I try to roll but the sweep gets rocked. But I remember the swim on the lower Dart, I think – I’m probably in the bridge eddy I’ll ask for a T-rescue. I take the T-rescue. Thanks Andrew. Andrew thinks I’ve lost my paddle but I’ve hung on and that is lucky because I’m not in the eddy I’m in the flow. I’m over again but this time I roll. Now I’m going backwards down the feature but at last I’m at the bottom. Stella leading Ruth – that’s the way to do it. Stylish.  

It is flat from thereon in and Claw and I paddle out of the mouth of the river. The sun is shining and I feel lucky to be alive, especially as I know there are chips to be scavenged at the get off.

In other news Ben “Mr Safety” has decided it is worth taking his splits with him after needing them on the Upper Upper Barle – that’s a good decision as when he is on the river his paddle literally comes apart in his hands.

I get set into drinking back at the accommodation, decide it’s a good idea to insist on trying out my rusty language skills on French Johann. This went quite well but I’m sure he said to me that he was quite a dominant person… perhaps that got lost in translation? Something else that seems to have got lost in translation is the sandwiches order. Marmite peanut butter. Not Marmite and peanut butter. Marmite peanut butter. Did someone put McPhee in charge of the Asda order? Was that wise?

What next? Chasing the water – that’s what, up to the Tees to do a new section. Ben is giving me Elise and Claw a “crash” course in leadership. Is that wise? Boaty II doesn’t want to crash and neither do I.

It is cold but the dark rock formations are beautiful, there are ducks, herons, what is probably a cormorant but might be a shag (I find it difficult to tell the difference – don’t laugh it’s not funny) and some ponies that no one really notices I go totally crazy over. It’s normal to shout “horse horse horse” as you go down the rapid? It’s not?

Ben is like a cross between a little kayak angel on my shoulder and my Land Law tutor from Cambridge. Can you see the line? Do you know that there aren’t any trees in the rapid? Do you know there aren’t any nasty rocks? I’d be surprised. Do you know? Er? Do you know? No. Let’s get out. Can you make the see the eddy? Er maybe. Can you make the eddy? Can I make the eddy? Can I? Probably, but now you are asking maybe I can’t. That looks like quite a substantial ferry glide. Let’s send Kryzstoff down as a probe. What’s your authority? Tulk v Moxhay (1848) 41 ER 1143 – restrictive covenants run with the land.  

When I explain this to Ben it turns out that he has a PhD in some kind of chemistry I don’t really understand – clever. So I can call him Dr Safety without causing offence. Doesn’t he understand that I put the offence into charm offensive?

Using your historical brain what’s that? It’s an Abbey. So we are probably at Abbey rapids. It’s not rocket science. At least I hope it isn’t. I’m allergic to physics – but something I have never understood is why the rocket scientist did not impress Shania Twain much. Why not? But I digress. Do you feel confident leading me down the rapid? Yes. Actually, no but we will gloss over that. Swoosh, splash, nailed it.

Then there is something I’ve never seen before. The river is reefed. Half of it drops like a natural weir off a shallow cliff, but half of it keeps going and there are play wave on the part that hasn’t dropped. Have a go on that Kryzstoff, but he doesn’t fancy being dumped off the reef/weir feature into the tow back.

It’s back to the accommodation for some excellent apple pie, I can’t remember feeling so happy (spoiler actually in the Alps). Articulate gets real. Caroline is recorded at 89 decibels calling time. Theo is on the right wave length. My clue – not Norway. Sweden obviously. Well done Theo. Good game.

So it’s day three and the logistics are more complex than Brexit. There are two rivers. The Leven and the Kent. There are circa 30 paddlers. All paddlers cannot go to the same river.  Parking space is limited. There are some numbers of cars. Each car holds 3 passengers. Some cars hold up to 4 boats. 3 cars are not going to London. There is a van. The van hold an infinite amount of boats. The van keys are lost. Who should do which river? You will do the Kent.

Gnar isn’t helping tho. Andrew’s bought a new boat. Obviously. That isn’t really helping either. Andrew’s gone the whole 9R this time. Gnar is day dreaming out of the window [at a blue boat on a red car]. That’s a beautiful colour boat you’ve got Andrew. So blue. So pretty. That’s your 9R Gnar. That boat is yours. The one you’ve been paddling yesterday and the day before. What a lovely boat. Love. Don’t tell April.

Gnar’s dreaming does not last long as Andrew and Claw pie him like a clown in an orange Typhoon on the river side. Andrew asks me to please protect his paddle from retribution as he does the shuttle.

Oh no. Hugh the Canoe’s boat is damaged.  He was on the Leven yesterday and went down a weir. The kayakers said it was fine so Hugh didn’t look at it and ran it. But we are kayakers – what is a canoe even for?  

It’s a crack team down then Kent which we do in about 45 minutes. There are beautiful wag tails, and the level is good. I roll every feature. There are salmon trying to hop up Force Falls. Good luck. There are those weir inflatable canoes going down it. Some have two people in. Watch out salmon.

The group above are having fun. Andrew’s doing his Maradona impression with Jane and then he’s getting out to video the big drop. And probably committing an offence under the Fisheries Act. Don’t enter those salmon steps. Don’t slip over. Don’t fall over again. That looks painful. Simon, why didn’t you film that?

It’s also worth mentioning in dispatches that Jane and Octave did their first white water rolls this trip – well done. And the van keys were found.

Can’t wait for my next lakes trip. Thanks to all those who organised, drove and were willing to put up with my unreasonably aggressive manner of playing articulate.

Frankie pumps up her first white water trip to Mile End Mill

After completing the Introduction to White Water Kayaking course with Regents Canoe Club, a few of us signed up for our first ‘proper’ white water trip. The Intro course was great and taught us lots of essential skills and knowledge. This was, however, my first serious attempt at putting it all into practice. I was full trepidation, excitement and panic.

I felt a bit like a kid who had been allowed to go to the movies for the first time without an adult, I didn’t know what I was going to see, I wasn’t quite sure how to get there and did I have enough money to buy the popcorn?

So, here’s my very personal reflections of being that kid again who’s full of excitement of the unknown.

Everyone was down for breakfast early; the dining room was full of energy and anticipation. The experienced kayakers shared stories from previous trips and the new kids on the block listened with bated breath. We were keen to absorb as much as we could in the hope it would make us better kayakers. The sun was shining and the water levels high, so a good day ahead was anticipated.

We squeezed ourselves into the living room for the river briefing. The trip leader, Jo, outlined the format for the day; who was in which group and with which river leader. The tension was rising [already??] as we checked each other out eagerly hoping to be in a group with someone we knew. Important messages about listening to your river leader and water safety were interspersed with jokes and frivolity. Although good humoured the risky side of this new sport was beginning to sink in. Briefed and ready to go we packed ourselves into the cars, headed for the riverbank and waited for the movie to begin.

One of the many impressive features of Regents Canoe Club is the quality of the river leaders/coaches [we did not have any part in the aggrandising of this post]. They are all volunteers and are great enthusiasts for kayaking. We gathered into our smaller groups appreciating the ratio of 1-2-1 or 2 – 1 leaders to beginners. The number of leaders per beginner ensures you get personalised, focused coaching and lots of attention to help build up a trusting relationship with your coach who in turn inspires you with confidence and self-belief.

Launched into the water we ferry glide to the other side of the riverbank, find an eddy and take stock of the River Dee. Simple indeed to an experienced kayaker but to beginners like myself it was my first achievement to get across safely, wobbly in bits but I can correct myself and I remembered to breath.

My river leader Emma talked us through the next stage of trip. Jo went ahead and set the line for us to follow.  We hit our first small but significant rapids. “sit up straight, gently lean forward, angle your boat into the eddy and paddle. Don’t forget to smile.” Paddling hard, concentrating on the eddy line, feeling the water and wow, I’ve made it. I’m shaking, happy and breathing again. Thank god for the eddy to have a few moments to be still and gather myself.

We do this routine again and again working out way down the river, meeting bigger, faster more furious rapids. The relief of a peaceful eddy increasingly becomes more precious and welcomed. Throughout our paddle Emma encourages, advises, demonstrates and believes in me. This is almost becoming fun.

We stop for lunch and the chatter is as loud as the water gurgling around us. More of the same for the afternoon as we are encouraged to face more challenging rapids, have fewer rests in eddies, paddle higher upstream into the white water, manoeuvre breakouts and break-ins. The aim is always to raise our standards, improve our technique and build up our confidence.

Someone has capsized and is swimming, their boat flashes past, a helmet pops up in the water and the river leaders are there, saving the person, catching the boat, checking the person is OK. They make time for the swimmer to regain control and find some calmness, continuing to give encouragement and talking through what happened and what to do the next time.  The focus on learning and support never ebbs. They go hand in hand at RCC. It is so reassuring to kid who has got herself into the movies but is not quite sure this the film she wants to be a part of.

Tired, heavy muscles and wet bodies drag themselves back to the hostel. The chatter is endless, the energy high and enthusiasm infectious. A quick shower, curry and bed – exactly what the doctor ordered. A lovely end to a good day.

Morning briefing again. Energy levels lower, a few bad swims the day before have left their bruises and dented confidence. We are heading for the Serpent’s Tail, which is not for everyone. We are told that your river leader will let you know if they think you can do it; always respect their decision; be prepared to swim. The tension is palpable, nervous rattle around the room and then Jo tells us they are mixing up the groups. “No!” I scream inside. My group was my comfort blanket, they know me, I know them, Emma said I could do it!

Nothing to fear as my new river leader Kate is wonderful and instantly picks up on my anxiety and reassures me. [Really? Kate?] My new river buddy is great too and together we are up for the next challenge.

We check out the next stretch of river. The Welsh mist is slowly draping itself around us, noises are muted, the mood is sinking, the dankness seeping into our minds. The horror movie is about to begin.

We have a short paddle to warm up, practice our ferry gliding, breakout turns and try to pick up our energy. We reach Serpent’s Tail. Everyone gets out, surveys the river, watches aghast at the size of the rapids, cowers at the power of the water, feels humbled by its strength, respects its beauty. There’s much talk about which line to take, who is going to do it or not, the sickly feeling of fear is upon all the beginners. We watch again as some other kayakers brave the rapids, they bob about in the water like a used cork, some swim, only one or two make it. These are experienced kayakers, yet they are not winning against Serpent’s Tail.  More contemplating about should I or shouldn’t I do it? Kate assesses the risks and talks to both myself and my river buddy about the river conditions and consequences.  She thinks I can do it. ‘Holy Shit” that means I’m on, Emma catches my eye, “You can do it Frankie, go girl!” I’m physically shaking by now and start the short walk across the rocks to my boat. The collective nervous energy and nattering rocks gives way to peacefulness. Kate talks me through the line we are going to take and tells me to follow her, keep the line, lean forward, paddle hard and breateh. Once in the water a strange calmness overtakes me. I can and will do it I tell myself.

We’re off. The first stretch uncharacteristically tranquil. I hear the roar of the water but can’t see anything except enormous brown waves frothing over the rocks like the Guinness advert but with fury and ferocity. Keep the line Frankie, PLF and lean forward. I’m following in the eddy line down; I can’t see Kate but am heading for the left as agreed and keep leaning forward.  I’m over, out of the boat, travelling faster than ever before. I see a slither of green on the rocks and there’s a throwline for me. I grab it, hang on, but I’m still under the water not coming up, think my shoulder is about to dislocate, the tension on the line is rigid, suddenly my head is above water. I scramble over the rocks, I’m overjoyed, feel top of the world, where is Kate I want to hug her? I managed a mere 8 seconds in the boat but I’m as high as a kite & the adrenalin rush is making me giddy. I want to cry with joy.

After a lot of deep breathing, words of comfort, encouragement and support from everyone I calm down. I’m emotionally and physically shattered.  My movie has exhausted me, worn me out, left me wabbit.

Would I do it again? You bet.

Words of advice? Be prepared for the emotional journey of your life in just 8 seconds. It’s the best movie ever.

Steph reflects on an eventful White Water Safety and Rescue course

Our little paddling ‘clique’ who all met at the Intro to White Water course last summer (with a few exceptions who were assimilated into the group along the course of the year) decided we were ready for the next step in our paddling careers. We wanted to learn to become a better asset to the club and learn how to be safer on the river and gain confidence in safety and rescue so that we could go on peer paddling trips (most of us bought safety gear for the Alps trip and didn’t have a clue how to use it properly).

We set about researching course to go on [for those looking for a course we have a list of suggested providers]. Ever since the Regents trip to the Tryweryn we were all obsessed with getting back there, they run WWSR courses so it was an obvious choice. It was the first time we’d organised a trip on our own so the usual faff ensued for a couple of month but eventually boats and people were loaded into cars and we were bound for North Wales.

The Tryweryn is an amazing river with a guaranteed flow and with the fantastic facilities of the National White Water Centre from which we could hire most of the kit we needed. The benefit being, if like me you had none of the kit and there were 100 people telling you 100 different bits of advice, you could try it all out there and make your own decisions based on what you learnt and what you liked (most of us were trying out drysuits for the first time, honestly, it was life changing, if you have the money go for it).

I’m no expert but this looks more like being a secret agent than white water safety and rescue.

The course. What did we do?

We learnt how to:

  • Throw ropes
  • Tie knots
  • Rescue boats
  • Rescue people (in all sorts of imaginative ways, see below)
  • And… a lot of swimming (for everyone)

This was what I was most nervous about, I’m the kind of paddler that would do anything to stay upright, I have a roll and I have fairly good balance. So, I didn’t actually have much experience swimming in a river situation and I was apprehensive. So much so I weaselled my way into being last in the group to swim down the rapid and even watching 3 of my colleagues successfully swim to safety I was so nervous I was literally shaking [kudos for practicing the things you don’t like too]!!

Turns out I was fine.

Our coach had taught us how to swim defensively and aggressively so that we could successfully self-rescue. Did you know you can Ferry Glide whilst swimming?!

Whilst feet first in your defensive position, point your shoulder to the side of the river your eddy is and do windmills with your arms to slow yourself in the flow and you will (hopefully) reach that side of the river, then spin over and do your fastest front crawl over the eddy line! Hey presto your safe! Ideally at least, if not make sure there is a friend with a throw line on the bank just in case.

Learning is a process, and on this course (even if some of us had thrown a line before) we were all learning. One of our group (who shall remain nameless) thought that they were the swimming champion, they’d had lots of practice in the past but proper defensive form was harder than they’d thought, which resulted in a teary (and slightly snotty) crisis of identity on the bank after a failed swim (we can all laugh about it now).

But failures will happen, we have to be aware that even if we know all the proper procedure, sometimes things go wrong. In fact, I had taken the brunt of all the failed rescue attempts in our group. This was not 1 but 4:

  1. The Missed Throw line – resulted in me swimming down the rockiest part of a rapid! Good thing I was wearing my helmet! Luckily, we had a 2nd throw rope ready to go!
  2. The Missed Live Bait – playing dead (face down) in the rapid, my rescuer was meant to jump in and catch me before I disappeared down the river… but they missed… I went into the chipper, but I was fine. Keep cool and your feet up, you can bounce along it to safety.
  3. The Failed boat rescue – I’d nudged the boat in to an eddy, but it wasn’t properly secured by the person on the bank. I hadn’t waited to see if they secured it before getting out of my boat to go help on the bank. The boat sailed past me as I had one foot out of my boat. Oh No! Luckily the Tryweryn was fairly populated and a kind person had nudged it into another eddy whilst I was trying desperately to get back into my boat. We then did another rescue and made sure it was safe before I got out of my boat.
  4. Successful throw, but held in a hole for what felt like an eternity – this ironically was probably the most uncomfortable situation. So much so I considered letting go of the rope, and I would have if they hadn’t changed their strategy on the bank when they did.
Checking your phone?! Another very important safety and rescue principle.

WWRS techniques are useful and important skills to learn as a kayaker, especially when considering peer paddles or going for the next grade up, but the most important philosophy I learnt was; if you think the only way you’d paddle a rapid is to have safety set up on it, should you really do it?

Its sensible to put on safety as a precaution if your paddlers are strong but mistakes happen and that’s fine. But if you know you or someone in your group will definitely get into trouble on it, it might be wiser to walk around it.

We all loved the course and came back having learnt so much, I recommend those [who want to keep kayaking] go do one! WWSR, a course, a way of life.

In case you missed it, here is Becky’s account of her Grand Canyon paddling adventure

In July of this year I was very lucky to be part of a group of friends who went to kayak and raft the Grand Canyon self-supported. This trip was different to previous self-supported kayak trips that I had been on in the past, as this experience was not just about the kayaking but exploring the beautiful canyon, with all its side hikes, side creeks and caves.

One of the things that appealed to me the most about this trip is that I got to do it self-supported with my friends. This means no guides. No guides means you lead down the river. Therefore it is even more important that each member of the group works together as a team to make sure everybody gets down the river safely. You get to plan how far you go each day. You get to decide when you leave each morning and when and where you stop at the end of the day. You decide what hikes you go on and what you want to see and how long you stay there. Basically you and your team get to make up all the rules! What I loved most about being deep in the Canyon was that you lost all sense of time, and that everything you needed to survive three weeks away from the rest of the world was all rigged on the raft.

After a year or so of planning, launch day finally arrived. We launched from Lees Ferry and here we were shown how to rig the rafts. I was issued with my kayak – a fun RPM! Even though I kayaked the whole river to the take out at Pierce Ferry, it was also important for me to know how to rig the rafts properly as it was a team effort every single morning and evening for the next 15 days to break down camp and set up camp.

And then we were off, and it wasn’t long until we were in the beautiful canyon. There were so many cool and fun things we saw and hiked. However, my favourites were red wall cavern and visiting the side creeks of the Little Colorado and Havasu. The colour of the Little Colorado and Havasu creek was just the most amazing turquoise blue, and the water was so warm. There were also many fantastic waterfalls and of course rocks to jump off in to the water.

Having fun at Red Wall Cavern

I am definitely a big water kayaker. I have been very lucky in that I have managed to get to a few big water destinations so far. However this is definitely the biggest water I have ever kayaked. Those rapids were huge! The Grand Canyon has its own grading scale. It goes from 1 (being a riffle) to 10 (with monster waves and big holes and rocks). The biggest rapid on the river is a rapid called Lava, and this is graded as 9. It was fun going down this rapid first, and therefore important to remember all your markers that you looked at when scouting – there were some big holes! The waves were massive and it was such a great feeling to get down it having run a good line and then to see the rest of the team in kayaks and rafts nailing it too.

The next biggest rapid was a rapid called Crystal. There was a nasty hole in the middle of this rapid that was big enough to flip a raft. The kayakers went down first. Two rafts down safely – great. However the third raft ended up in the hole and in a blink of an eye the raft flipped. Immediately we left the eddy to people chase and then…raft chase! I have to say it was an interesting (but kind of fun too) experience people chasing and then raft chasing down one of the biggest rapids I have ever paddled. Everyone got out okay and luckily the raft ended up in an eddy. We lost a bit of kit and food and broke an oar lock of the raft. It then took five people to right the raft. But we managed in the end, and needless to say, with more big rapids coming up everyone was much more careful when rigging the rafts. ‘Rig to flip’ as they say.

‘Rig to Flip1’ Caught out at Crystal

My most favourite rapid of all (but there were so many great rapids) was a rapid called Hermit classed as an 8. This is the biggest and most friendly wave train I have paddled, and I felt so lucky that I got to paddle this rapid. There are no nasty holes on this rapid. The reason it is given an 8 is because the waves a just so huge. It is the coolest feeling riding up the diagonal of the wave and then being able to boof of the top of the apex of the wave if you manage to get the timely right. I get filled with pure happiness and joy when I think about that rapid – it was ace!

Dropping into my favourite rapid –Hermit!

If anyone of you are thinking of applying for a permit to do a self-supported trip like we did, you should definitely do it. I would definitely go back to get to spend 15 or so days kayaking and living outdoors every day. I think I might have to try my luck for the 2021 lottery!