“I’m going to lead from the back.”

Grandma Hurrell was ahead of her time.

“For a second I get confused every time you say that you are going to do this White Water Leader Assessment.  Why are you doing an assessment on Schubert singing when everyone knows you would fail?” – My best friend’s characteristically damning indictment of my vocal talent the Friday before I head off to undertake a White Water Leader Assessment (aka 4*) with Dan, Daly, oh… and Jane (must not forget Jane).

It might be said that Jane and I took slightly different approaches to preparing for this assessment.  Jane spent many trips practising and seeking to prevent Liza from executing any boat recuses.  I decided that if Jane could do this, then so could I, gamed the assessment by deciding the best venue was the Dart, allowed Jing Jing to swim into a tree on Lovers’ Leap and then had to “lawyer” British Canoeing because of their misrepresentations.   Learning point: they were very easily lawyered.

What could possibly go wrong?

Would the assessment be cancelled because there was not enough water?  Birtles informed Jane that she and the coach were using different apps with different levels so that is why he felt confident and Jane was glum about water levels.

Would there be too much water?  What if it rained all night?

Also, to begin with I didn’t have a boat I could roll (after the whole New Year’s, Llugwy, kayak munching pour over incident).  Happily, I saw a second hand Machno for sale in Devon.   So, we set off at 6.30 (I wanted to leave at six but that was because my sat nav was stuck on no-motorway mode again) on a Sunday morning to go do Newton Abbott only to learn that having lent it to Aime Williams at Lee Valley the previous day, Jane had forgotten her nose clip.  Catastrophe!

When we all had a lunch on the dry February Dart at the White Waters hotel Kate had left her bag there so Jane and I went to rescue it and thought we would stay there.  We also thought we would practice first aid in the deserted bar.  So, I diligently showed Jane the recovery position and (as I had been taught) started with “Hello I’m Ruth, I’m a first aider, help, help, help” and help did arrive in the form of a troubled looking receptionist.  Sorry.  We are just pretending.  No emergency here.

The hotel was nice (Lucy would have liked the geese), but the service at breakfast was reminiscent of Fawlty Towers, minus the laughs.  It took them nearly an hour to get us breakfast as they were only taking one table order at a time.  We thought that Dan would arrive before the guinea pigs for our assessment, but we were wrong.  We arrived basically last and in the rain and not fully changed!  Jane kicked off by explaining about her fear of assessments.  I kicked off by cross-examining the students vigorously on their previous paddling experience.

The students had a range of abilities: one was excellent paddling a slicey boat and the other two were nervous, but better than they thought.  I headed off in the lead and Jane took over a washing machine explaining all the different possible lines.  Dan made me paddle backwards into the flow causing me to go over but luckily auto roll on the new Machno was engaged!  Dan encouraged me to lead from the middle or the back of the group to allow the students to begin to get confidence using their own lines.

In good news Jing Jing’s tree in Lover’s Leap was gone but apparently you are supposed to stop in the middle river left eddy so you can do something if the students swim at the top (oops).  Jane’s expertly deals with all the students diverging in between the second and third step at triple steps as I distract Dan by high crossing.

Then it is on to the rescues: I am an unconscious casualty out of the boat.  Jane has to rescue me.  This is not something we have ever been taught.  It takes a long time to get be out of the water and I learn a lot from seeing Jane cope with it.   I then am supposed to rescue an unconscious Jane in her boat.  I plan to hand of god her but I can’t get my boat close enough.  This didn’t happen to Maradona.  Eventually (and very reasonably) Jane bails (this is particularly bad as her dry suit is leaking) and then I am able to get to the side using one of the students to pull me using the techniques I’d just learnt.   I try to redeem the fiasco by knowing how to do a damage check on Jane, where we are on a map and exactly what I would do to go and get help from the emergency services.  Do you come here often?  Would you like me to show you my group shelter?

We also have to rescue a (conscious) swimmer, boat and paddle.  Jane is excellent at this having spent the winter gazumping Liza’s rescues and I’m ok at the swimmer and the paddle but the boat is a mare.  I do eventually get it to the side and I need to paddle back across but I decide I want to take it up river.  I tether it to a tree.  I get out of the boat.  I empty the other boat.  I carry both boats upstream.  I decide that there is no good ingress point.  So, I go back to where I started and re-tether the other boat where it was.  Meanwhile one of the student’s paddle has broken.  Do you come here often?  Would you like me to show you my splits?  All this takes ages, but my swimmer is safe on the bank so that’s ok.  Good job its warm in late February.  She doesn’t have hypothermia.

After we get out below the weir, Dan tells us we’ve passed.  Woop.  Liza will be relieved.