In many cases, before one can be assessed against a standard or syllabus, one must first become familiar with, practice and reflect upon the necessary skills and underpinning knowledge that is deemed to be necessary. So it was that this weekend saw me run the first day of a modular BCU 4* Sea training programme for willing participants from Shrewsbury Canoe Club.
Successful performance at this level indicates that a 4* Sea paddler has the skill level required to lead a group of competent paddlers on journeys between 5 - 10 miles in 'moderate waters'. Holding the award demonstrates that a 4* Sea leader can judge the conditions and the standard of the group to make appropriate decisions, understanding the need to modify plans when required.
The intention of the training course is to introduce the principles of safe group leadership; such as identifying hazards and avoidance strategies, the use of effective communication, good positioning for likely rescue scenarios as well as such things as access, environmental issues and equipment. The programme does cover seamanship and navigation within the context of leadership, but it is not the main focus of the training, as most potential candidates need to complete a day course in coastal navigation and tidal planning (or equivalent) prior to assessment. The training also sets out to ensure that an aspiring leader has the personal skills and self rescue abilities to be a safe in moderate sea conditions, especially when in charge of a group.
With a inshore forecast of South Westerly 5 to 7 being issued by the Met Office on Sunday, and the weather almost persistent rain, the judgement was made to spend the day on the Menai Straits. The appropriateness of that decision was confirmed by finding four other sea kayak groups launching from the slip way in Menai Bridge.
The plan for on the water was to provide a number of shake down activities that got the participants thinking and reflecting on both their personal paddling as well as their leadership skills. Whilst seemingly sheltered, the Menai Straits can offer its own set of challenges for paddlers and leaders especially if they venture in to the area between the two bridges know as the Swellies, which offers up a number of interesting and at times fast flowing water features depending on the state of the tide.
Needless to say, it was a wet day for all concerned. Whether it was a result of the incessant rain during the various leadership sections or due to the obligatory rescue sessions (and leaking dry suits) but nevertheless, the group were keen, able and cheerful throughout. Leading and rescuing partners and peers in never easy at the best of times but it does enable one to challenge perspectives within a supportive environment, establishing the role of a critical friend to aid personal development.
With day two on the horizon, the group have the luxury of some breathing space to practice, consolidate and review what they have done so far. With all good will, this should mean they come back fuelled with more questions and the application of what they have learned can be observed in earnest in the context of a full coastal journey.
Get in touch if you are interested in completing a similar training course or just wish to look at your skills development in a boat.
More pictures of the day can be can be found here