Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kokatat Supports Oz Circumnavigation

In 1983 Paul Caffyn made paddling history as the first sea kayaker to circumnavigate the 16,000 km circumference of the Australia continent. Since then, only one other expedition, by Freya Hoffmeister in 2010, has repeated this accomplishment. Kokatat, the 39 year-old independent paddlewear company, is proud to sponsor sea kayaker, Stuart Trueman and his 16-month goal to successfully circumnavigate Australia.

The Australian coast presents many formidable obstacles for sea kayakers to overcome including: jagged steep cliffs, surf, lack of potable water, high winds, invariable tides, and underwater wildlife predators such as crocodiles and sharks. Additionally the colossal paddling distances require extreme endurance and excellent paddling skills.

Trueman departed from Broome, located on the Northwest coast of Australia, in April 2010 and is scheduled to return to Broome in July 2011. Trueman has extensive experience with years of sea kayaking, mountaineering and outdoor adventure to draw on including having kayaked across Bass Strait by three different routes and he was one of a three man team to have paddled 800km of the Antartic Peninsula. He has also worked as a guide and instructor for the NSW Sea Kayak Club.

“It’s taken three years of preparation to be able to get to Broome to start my trip”, says Trueman. “There are many problems beyond the actual paddling side that have to be addressed which if ignored can be just as much of an obstacle as a 200km set of cliffs.”

Kokatat has outfitted Truman with the appropriate gear for multiple conditions including: GORE-TEX® Paclite Anorak, MsFIT Tour PFD, Rear Pocket for PFD, Surfskin Pants, Destination Paddling Shirt, Destination Surf Trunk and Destination Vent Cap.

To follow updates from Trueman’s expedition and learn about other Kokatat sponsored expeditions, please visit Kokatat's blog.

About Kokatat Watersports Wear 

For the past 39 years, Kokatat has built a reputation as a friendly company of paddling enthusiasts, dedicated to creating innovative paddlewear and accessories. Kokatat is a highly trusted brand known for its independence, high level of quality in addition to an extremely well respected, service-driven business model. Kokatat is an incredibly strong brand and is known for authenticity and launching game changing paddling products. 

As always, Kokatat continues to support experienced paddlers attempting first descents and expeditions. The company proudly provides the athletes with the best paddling gear in the whitewater industry.

Please visit and follow Kokatat on Twitter “@kokatat” or via the blog

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

BCU Assessment Weekend

Last weekend was my penultimate BCU Level 3 Coach (Sea) assessment as a course provider in the current scheme. As previously mentioned, after the December 2010, the award as we know it will no longer exist and will be replaced in part by the Moderate Water Endorsement.

With Dave Evans on hand as my second assessor, 6 candidates joined us in Trearddur Bay on Saturday morning along with a group of trusty volunteers from Snowdonia Canoe Club who would be acting as students for the team. Simon, Debbie, James, Meaghan, Peter and Joy had travelled from near and far to present themselves as prepared and proficient coaches, brimming with energy and enthusiasm ready to teach and lead. In the case of Meaghan, she had come a very long way to sit this assessment...Vancouver to be precise.

After dividing up the candidates amongst the two us, Dave and I set about watching the coaches in action as they employed a number of skills and strategies to improve and encourage their students. It is always a fascinating study of human behaviour as one observes each coach goes through well rehearsed routines and see them deliver effective learning episodes. The reason I say fascinating is because no matter how supportive and open an assessment team try to be, individuals can still put themselves under tremendous personal pressure even when they are doing a good job.

On this occasion the coaches where confined somewhat to the inner sanctum of Trearddur Bay as a strong swell was still present in Penrhos Bay. However, this didn't prevent them for offering up some exemplary on the water sessions, along with interesting and interactive beach based presentations on subjects such as tides, equipment and shore ecology.

Sunday saw us relocate for to the north coast, launching from Bull Bay and heading on a westerly course towards Porth Wen Brickworks. As each candidate took turns to lead the group they faced a number of issues, as one might expect on assessment. It is often easy to exploit an opportunity and turn it into an incident, especially when a coach turns their back on a group member. For instance, as someone explores a cave with heavy swell present, it is almost guaranteed they will take a swim. However, it is important not to create too many artificial situations and sometimes it is easier to see people perform towing duties and deep water rescues by simply asking them too.

One of the great pleasures of working with Dave Evans is that he is a consummate professional and highly knowledgeable on matters of seamanship. He also has a knack of testing and probing what candidates know in novel yet constructive ways. So it was while the candidates showed us the equipment they were carrying and justifying the reasons, Dave was hatching one of his group quizzes. As expected, the candidates took to the task and even enjoyed the humour of the situation as they both answered and asked questions on matter relating to the sea.

After the pleasant break at Porth Wen, the return journey continued in the same vein as before. And perhaps because Dave and I are traditionalists or maybe because this was the penultimate course, the assessment finished with an 'all-in' rescue with a cry of 'thank heaven for drysuits' from the swimming coaches. Once all were safely ashore, Dave and I took time to reflect and deliberate on the performance of each candidate. On this occasion it is pleasing to report we were both in full agreement that all the candidates should move forward to being Level 3 Sea coach. Well done one and all :o)

Get in touch if you are interested in completing a similar assessment course or just wish to look at your skills development in a boat.

More pictures of this course available here

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

BCU 5* Award - Assessment

The last stage of the Level 5 process that I need to complete is that of becoming a BCU 5* Sea course provider. This requires me to undergo a period of observation amongst my peers and second staffing a number of courses until I am deemed suitably knowledgeable in the delivery of both training and assessment dimensions. On this occasion I was fortunate enough to have been invited along by my good friend Nick Cunliffe and was given the chance to watch the likes of Dave Brown and Olly Sanders on the water in full assessor mode.

For those who don't know, the BCU 5 Star award is conferred upon those individuals who are extremely competent leaders and highly skilled paddlers within a particular discipline.  They able to lead groups in advanced conditions and are familiar with the relevant safety and rescue techniques for that environment and discipline. The award is available for white water, canoe, sea and surf.

Saturday morning saw eight candidates from across the UK and Europe gather at Anglesey Outdoors for what would be a very intense couple of days. Nick settled the aspirant 5* leaders down with a calming introduction before setting them their first task which was to plan a significant open water crossing. This allowed the assessment team to discuss the plan for the rest of the day, and address a number of emergent issues. Namely, who gets to have me as their shadow and was there time for more tea before the candidates finished their trip plans.

It is worth noting at this point that the 5* is set out as being the appropriate test for paddlers who wish to lead groups of other paddlers in appropriate locations in advanced tidal waters and in dynamic weather conditions typified by the climate of the British Isles. The idea being that a 5* leader has the skills and judgement to select appropriate trips for a range of ability levels, though it is not a coaching award and is considered not to be a suitable mean of introducing beginners to the sport. It is no wonder then that the 5* is coveted amongst those paddlers who are successful because of the sheer hard work and lengthy preparatory steps required to get to this stage.

So with the first task completed, the candidates gathered again to be briefed on the rest of the day. The intention being that two pods of four plus assessors would launch from somewhere on the north coast and make use of the prevailing conditions and tides. With a north-westerly force 5 and a spring ebb, everything was in place for the teams to take on one of the classic advanced trips in North Wales, that being out to the Skerries which sit off the main Anglesey coastline near Carmel Head.

To that end, 4 candidates along with Dave and myself set of from Cemlyn Bay with the intention of visiting the Skerries, whilst making the most of what the sea had to offer along the way. The outward journey gave rise to opportunities for each paddler to be tested as a leader with regards group management and navigational ability, as well as having their personal skills put under scrutiny. West Mouse offered an appropriate haven for questioning candidates on matters of chart work, whilst the surrounding overfalls offered suitable conditions for a number of personal challenges including rolling and self-rescues.

However, things were far from over and the team set off to complete the next leg of the voyage, which was to get to the Skerries themselves. This was done with enough time to enjoy the last light of day and listen to the seals snort and roar as everyone ate as much as they comfortably could knowing the return journey might be an arduous one. And so it was, as the team launched in the hope of enjoying a flooding tide that would return them to Cemlyn in the dark. Each candidate being aware that their skills of navigation were of paramount importance to ensure the correct course to steer was taken. To further complicate matters, the weather brought with it stinging cold rain that later fell on the hills as snow. Nevertheless, after several navigational stages and relocation exercises, the team paddled wearily back into the bay happy in the knowledge that, for now, the assessment was over till the morning.

Sunday dawned bright, and despite the long night, the candidates faced the new day with vigour and humour. Most claiming that they had slept soundly and were fully prepared for what they might face next. The candidates were divided in to three groups on this occasion, of which I followed one under the mentoring presence of Olly Sanders. This day also saw the aspirant 5* leaders take charge of a small group of paddlers. Most of whom were local club paddlers who had volunteered their time to be lead, and perhaps gain an insight into the 5* process.

Each team set of from Porth Dafarch with the intention of making use of conditions at Penrhyn Mawr, North Stack and South Stack. It gave the would-be leaders a chance to guide and manage some very real people in their care. The autumn light on the cliffs was impressive as we approach Castell Helen and then South Stack. What was even more impressive were the climbing team about to ascend Lighthouse Arete despite the chilly conditions. With that distraction aside, we continued on past South Stack and eventually came to play in the overfalls at North Stack. This came after a brief floating lunch stop as landing at Parliament House Cave was avoided due a seal and her pup being in residence.

The day continued from here with each candidate facing a number of issues and incidents to take care of including group members with suffering with ill health or broken equipment or both. The process of questioning and the tasks set out were both fair and reasonable considering the level of the award. The trip itself was very enjoyable having taken in the most popular tide races and overfalls Anglesey has to offer. Certainly South Stack provided everyone with a few moments of personal surfing thrills on the return to base.

I gained a tremendous amount from seeing my peers in action and discussing their perspectives about the 5* process as they view it through a particular lens. Having previously delivered on a 5* training course, observing the assessment helped me set out the full picture in my own mind as to not only what should be expected of the candidate burt also the obligations incumbent upon any trainer as they set aspirant leaders on this particular path. On this occasion not everyone was successful and at times like these the assessment staff take as long as is practical to explain the reasons why and set out clear actions plans for improvement. The hope being the right guidance will give the candidate renewed impetus to come back stronger and better next time.

The BCU 5* award is an ideal benchmark for those paddlers who journey on the sea in areas where tidal races, headlands, open crossings, swell and challenging coastlines will be encountered. It is intended that this award is accessible to all those people who lead on the sea on a regular basis and should not be seen as the preserve of a few elite performers. It is envisaged that a committed club paddler, sea kayaking regularly in a suitable range of situations, sea areas and conditions should be able to obtain this award within a period of three years.

Get in touch if you are interested in completing a similar assessment course or just wish to look at your skills development in a boat.

More pictures of this course available here

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

5th UK Storm Gathering

As previously publicised, this years UK Storm Gathering was held in Northumberland near Berwick Upon Tweed. The event was organised and hosted by Ollie Jay of Active4 Seasons with a strong yet eclectic supporting cast. The intention of the event, by way of guided trips, was to showcase the fantastic Berwickshire and North Northumberland coastline, which is classed as an area of outstanding beauty.

Despite the strong winds and at times heavy rains on Friday, Saturday dawned with a clear fresh outlook as folk began to rise from their various modes of accommodation at the Pot A Doodle Do Wigwam Village, Borewell. As participants and leaders gathered round the breakfast table it was good to see some familiar faces in attendance from both sides of the fence, past Storm Gathering attendees and guides alike. Justine Curgenven and Barry Shaw had come up the day before to explore the area, as had Aled Williams of Tiderace Sea Kayaks. Holding court at the table in his own inimitable way was Jim Krawiecki, who had been paying tribute to Bacchus the night before and was feeling very philosophical as a consequence the morning after.

The plan for Saturday was to head out to the Farne Islands which lie two to three miles off the coast midway between the fishing village of Seahouses and the magnificent Bamburgh Castle. The Farnes are home to numerous nesting sea birds as well as as large colonies of Atlantic and Grey seals. Two groups launched from Beadnell Harbour, with one travelling out via Crumstone and on to Longstone island whilst the group I was with went along the coast before crossing to Inner Farne.

On the journey out we saw numerous Eider ducks, or Cuddy ducks so named after St Cuthbert who lived on the island and imposed a law protecting all the birds but in particular the Eider. This may have been the first ever bird protection policy, created in 676 AD. The group enjoyed moderate paddling conditions for most of the outbound leg but a welcome break was nonetheless taken on Inner Farne and folk took advantage of visiting St Cuthbert's Chapel and the Victorian lighthouse.

From here the group made its way across Staple Sound where we received numerous visits from curious seals. After taking time to enjoy playing in the swell found in the various channels between Brownsman and Longstone Islands, the group landed for a brief stretching of legs under the lighthouse. A point of interest being that Longstone Lighthouse was built in 1825 and lived in until 1990 when it became automated.  It was from here that Grace Darling and her father set out to rescue the survivors of a wrecked paddle-steamer, the Forfarshire, when it ran aground on a nearby islet in 1838. Longstone is now owned by the National Trust, but managed by Trinity House

The journey home took us via the Pinnacles which looked particularly impressive as they were awash with swell and white foaming water. This was clearly an opportunity for Ollie to demonstrate his intimate knowledge of this feature by negotiating the raging seas as that roared through the passage between the Pinnacles and Staple Island. The day finished at St Aidan's Beach just outside Seahouses where everyone delighted in playing in the surf under the setting Sun.

That night saw everyone congregate at the nearby the 'Barn at Beal' centre for evening entertainment curtousy of that master raconteur and pompatus of wit Jim Krawiecki. His slide show was a mixture of pub quiz, educational tour and quite promotion of his impending guide for the North of England which will be published in 2011 by Pesda Press. The audience was also treated to samples of Lindisfarne Mead, locally made cheese and steaming bowlfuls of hot stew. However, the evening did not stop there and for some it went on long into the night as guides and participants alike engaged in jolly japery and daring do.

Sunday morning brought another cold start and after discussions the decision was made to  travel up  along the coast between Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Scottish town of Eyemouth. Whilst shuttles were set in the place for the end of the day, some folk took advantage of the last remaining surf at Berwick. After which symposium attendees set of on mass to enjoy a myriad of rockhopping challenges and cave exploration.

Our lunch stop was Marshall Meadows Bay which is a huge sandstone amphitheatre. Part way up one of the cliffs there is an inclined tunnel that leads to the caravan site that overlooks the area with panoramic views along the coast.

Further on up the coast, we made our way between, behind and sometimes beneath rocks all the way to Eyemouth. All too soon the gathering was over. Many were saying their goodbyes here whilst packing up kit in the descending evening cool before heading off home.

Over the weekend I took the opportunity to take the new Tiderace Extreme on the water. This a boat with a pronounced rocker and very low deck profile in comparison to the other members of the Tiderace fleet. It felt dynamic to paddle and responded well in the surf and swell. Aled set himself the design remit of a boat for big water play and the consensus was he had achieved just that. 

Also on this trip, I had brought along  a number of sets of Mitchell paddles supplied by Peter Baars of Summit to Sea on Anglesey. On the Saturday I used a set of Eclipse paddles with a straight shaft and on the Sunday a set of Bomboras also with a straight shaft. In this instance, both paddles where adjusted using the Varihand 'Quiklok' connector. Having used Mitchell Archipelagos for over four years now, it was good to try other blade shapes and sizes. As one might expect the construction and performance of the paddles are of a high standard, confirming for me that I prefer a large powerful blade and straight as opposed to cranked shaft.

My wish is that the events go from strength to strength, as I have the firm belief that there is a place for such a symposium at this time of year. Ollie did a great job of bringing folk together, as well as providing some interesting souvenirs and entertainment. Role on UK SG 6 which I hope will be run in Pembroke in 2011, so watch this space.

More pictures from the event can be found here.