Wednesday, October 27, 2010

BCU Assessment Weekend

This weekend saw me on the water with Erik and Colin who where being assessed for their BCU 4* Sea Award. What was particularly enjoyable about this course was that it had been organised by Nick Cunliffe, and I was fulfilling the duties of second assessor. In practical terms, this meant I could focus on the task in hand without worrying about the paperwork. Another noteworthy point was that Erik had come over especially from Denmark to complete this course as a means of personal progression, and seemed particularly taken by the tidal waters of Anglesey.

The team had spent the first day paddling from Sandy Bay on the East coast up to Ynys y Fydlyn, near Church Bay, where their personal skills were assessed by Nick. So for contrast, and because the coastline lends itself so well to this level of assessment, Erik and Colin along with a small team from Snowdonia Canoe Club whom they were leading chose to launch from Trearddur Bay and head out to Rhoscolyn and back.

With clement conditions by comparison to the previous day and in fact the preceding weekend, the two candidates where able to negotiate an interesting route for the group, not all of whom had experienced going through the White (Bwa Gwtn) and Black (Bwa Du) Arches. Tidal conditions where also favourable for almost continuous rock hopping to Borthwen from Rhoscolyn Head including some tight passageways usually reserved for the very brave or very foolish sea paddler.

The weather seemed to hang in the balance for most of the day, with large cumulonimbus forming over Snowdonia threatening to bring rain our way. Yet despite the North Easterly F4, the paddlers seemed to fair well and the clouds merely added to the dramatic autumn light. So after a pleasant lunch break in the confines of the beach at Borthwen, Erik and Colin took the team out to Rhoscolyn Beacon.

As one might expect after taking a rest on the beach in the warming sun, paddlers can become soporific and make mistakes or even become fatigued form eating too many treats. So it was that the candidates began facing an number of issues including a group member who had lost a day hatch. Another with a blister and yet another who became sea sick. All of which are very real things that can happen on a trip, though not always in quick succession, requiring Erik and Colin to deal with the problems as well as coordinate the other paddlers not directly involved.

One issue that did arise, which was not contrived by me in anyway, saw the toggles of two rafted boats get locked together. Somehow, perhaps through wave action, the bow toggle of one boat that normally hangs down had looped over the stern toggle of another boat which is normally secured uppermost by an elastic. Now in this situation it was easily resolvable through the intervention of a third party but it may well have been a different matter had it just been a pair of paddlers on their own who had rafted up for a chat. Solutions on a postcard!

On this occasion, I had the opportunity to try out some Mitchell Bombora paddles with a cranked shaft. These had been kindly supplied to me by Pete Baars of Summit to Sea on Anglesey. It has been some time since I paddled with cranks and I found these to be comfortable, achieving a powerful catch as well as an allowance for fine tuning via the Vario S Lock system. Alongside this, I was also putting a pair of Kokatat Tempest Pants through their paces. These are paddling trousers with dry socks, worn with a pair of Kokatat Seekers to protect them. The trousers are high waisted and accommodating using a neoprene cummerbund with velcro tabs for adjustment. The integral socks makes for a very warm and dry foot experience with the Seekers offering sturdy covering in the form of a low profile shoe. A highly recommended combination for autumn paddling without the need to break out the dry suit.

So once the team had safely landed and all the necessary 'thanks yous' and 'goodbyes' had been said with the team from Snowdonia Canoe Club as well as having the obligatory ice cream, the assessment team and candidates retired to the Trearddur Bay Hotel. Nick and I took the opportunity to debrief Erik and Colin of their progress over the two days. On this occasion both of them had been successful so hearty handshakes and 'well dones' where exchanged, and it was nice to be able to direct them towards bigger and more challenging horizons for the future also.

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, October 20, 2010

BCU Training Weekend

Last weekend saw Chris, Ruth, Claire, Mark, Bill and Nigel from Shrewsbury Canoe Club return to Anglesey for the second part of their BCU 4 star sea training programme with yours truly.

The plan was to use a coastal journey to consolidate everyone's leadership and group management skills, as well as allow for further practice of boat handling skills in close quarter environments. The break between the training days had given the team a chance to reflect on what they might want to work on the most this time.

As such we decided to launch from Borthwen with the intention of heading up the coast towards Trearddur Bay and then returning from where we came from. Force 4-5 Easterly winds created great conditions and gave the group plenty to discuss with regards to leadership techniques and styles. It was nice also to enjoy some autumn sunshine, unlike our very wet day previously.

Each paddler took turns to lead the group, sometimes individually and sometimes in pairs to look at how each approach can help or hinder the journey and the group. A key issue emerged that leading peers with whom you are very familiar with can present very different challenges to when guiding a group of relative strangers. A essential conclusion being that good communication is always essential, and the leader(s) must adopt the most fluid position within the paddling formation.

By now, we had paddled in and around Rhoscolyn Head as well as having explored but wisely avoided going through the White (Bwa Gwtn) and Black (Bwa Du) Arches due to considerable swell. So on reaching Porth Y Garan, the decision was made to take a lunch break and use the time to discuss matters of planning and navigation that are important to sea kayakers on the water.

The return journey, via Rhoscolyn Beacon, now saw the various leaders experience problems amongst the paddling group. The intention being that they would be faced with the kind of things that can and do occur most often rather than incidents of epic proportion. For instance, sea sickness, blisters, leaking spray decks, a missing day hatch as well a leaking boat due to hull damage. All requiring simple solutions that prevent matters from worsening and may well involve everyone in the group to lend a hand in some way.

With everyone patched up, repaired and towed to safety, the team retired to the ambient surrounding of the White Eagle to review the course. Overall, this was seen as a successful day which highlighted a number of matters in relation to leading others on the sea. With a sound paddling plan and clear briefings, so many issues can be avoided before they occur. Good communication and observation between participants on the water can overcome many others. I wish everyone the best of luck as they work towards assessment.

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 this course available here

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Storm Gathering USA - Urban Paddler Event

On a recent visit to the United States, I had the opportunity to catch up with my good friends Warren Parker and Taino Almestica. Whilst it is always a great pleasure to see my paddling buddies from across the pond, this occasion was particularly special as the guys had been busy organising their first ever sea kayak symposium, and it meant I had the chance to lend a hand.

Having participated in and been guest coaches for previous UK Storm Gathering events on Mull and Anglesey, Warren and Taino had gone away feeling suitably inspired to create their own unique experience for paddlers in New York City, naming it Storm Gathering USA - The Urban Paddlers Symposium. Putting together an event of this nature is never without issues, yet with time and effort they had managed to bring all the right elements together to create something worthwhile for those who signed up to take part.

The workshops and locations chosen provided a suitable blend for those 'urban paddlers' that attended, who in this instance were mainly members of the New York Kayak Club though other interested parties showed up including one keen lady from Ohio. There was a balance between classroom activities and on the water seminars. The weather played its part in providing strong winds and rain, making the Hudson very atmospheric at times and as well offering up at least one sunny day at Manhattan Beach.

So there was coastal navigation, incident management, 3* training and assessment as well as rough water handling at Breezy Point. There was plenty of interaction between coaches and participants, which all went some way to enlightening each other about the concept of urban paddling as well as demonstrating there are further horizons to explore as well. I must admit the Hudson and its environs makes for a very special paddling experience as well as creating some unique conditions for sea kayakers. Its quite something for a 3* assessment to occur under the watchful gaze of Lady Liberty.

The event was hosted by Randall Henriksen who is proprietor of the New York Kayak Company which is located at Pier 40, just off West Side Highway. I had the privilege and pleasure to be a guest coach for Randy in the summer of 2003, so it was nice to catch up with him also and see how business was going. One major development is that NYKC is now the North American dealer and Northeast distributor for Tiderace Sea Kayaks. Along with this, Randy's store holds probably the most complete collection of Kokatat products anywhere I know, and he assures me shipping overseas is not a problem.

So a big well done to Warren and Taino for getting their first Storm Gathering USA off the ground and on to the water. I look forward to future developments. In the meantime, I also want to say a big thank for involving me and for the cold beers and laughter. 

More pictures can be found here :o)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Kokatat Supports Rio Huallaga Expedition

Kokatat announces their support to outfit an white water expedition attempting the first descent of the last major un-run tributary of the Amazon River, the Pongo De Aguirre Gorge on the Rio Haullaga, in Peru.


The expedition team is comprised of seven experienced Class V+ whitewater paddlers from the USA. Kokatat is supporting the team with top-quality gear such as the Rogue Dry Top and Ronin Pro PFD. Expedition leader, Matt Wilson, has completed many first descents all over the world, including Peru. Wilson returns to Peru with Ben Luck, Ryan Casey, Evan Ross, Matt Klema, Nate Klema, and Fred Coriell to attempt the first successful descent of the Rio Haullaga.

Described as the last major tributary of the South American Amazon River, the Pongo De Aguirre Gorge has been previously attempted by two teams of paddlers. Variables such as weather, rising water, low supplies, inept scouting, and huge whitewater forced both teams to abort their mission. Wilson’s crew has implemented an expedition strategy, learning from the experiences of the prior attempts, by making the descent in the height of the dry season and preparing for over two weeks on the water with plenty of supplies and equipment. 

“If successful, we will have paddled nearly 100 miles and dropped 4000 feet from the Andes to the Peruvian Jungle,” said expedition kayaker, Nate Klema. 

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.

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