Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Back up to the Tees

On a very cold Sunday in February Fiona and myself ventured back up to Barnard Castle, this time to be lead by some aspirant coaches completing Moderate Water Endorsement training. Snow and sleet was falling as we parked up by the bridge.

A couple of excellent hours being put to work on a shoot of water just below the town and we where done. The coaches did really well and I think all of us students benefited from the time on the water - all undertaken under the watchful eye of Ken Hughes. Worth the long drive up and battling with the weather? Absolutely, yes...

Canoes on the Humber

Along with many friends, I've paddled the Humber quite frequently in the past but always in sea kayaks. The Estuary does require some forward planning, tides need to be correct and wind speed / direction needs to be within limits. Sunday proved to be one of those days although visibility was fairly limited at our time to launch - approximately two and a half hours prior to high tide.

With this in mind we decided to put the open boats in near the bridge and stick to the north bank, leaving the crossing of busy shipping lanes to another day. Non the less we had a pleasant day using both the wind and tides to our advantage.  A couple of hours up towards Brough and beyond, a quick lunch stop and then a return journey on the building ebb... well there's no need to work too hard...

As high water was reached the wind swung around and dissipated to almost nothing, the mighty Humber turned into quite a millpond - although a quick check on transits soon confirmed we where still making very good progress. 

Tides where never going to be big, forecasted at being just below six metres and not much fresh water coming down the rivers.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Canoe Leadership Training with Ken Hughes - Part 2

With two days of being lead by a group of lovely people under my belt I was quite ready to get stuck into some training. So at 8.30am on a Monday morning we all met at a convenient garden centre on the A66 where we sat around a large table and introduced ourselves. It was lovely to catch up with a couple of old paddling friends and just as nice to meet some new faces, it soon became apparent that the next few days where going to be very pleasant with everyone focused on the task ahead - excellent fun learning..

Ken took plenty of time to take on board all of our needs and wants while also explaining the course syllabus, this was definitely going to be a very full and busy four days.

So down to Barnard Castle and we launched at the 'The Sills' just east of the road bridge and on river right. Without organising a shuttle I wasn't so sure on how we where going to fill our day on this short stretch of water - how wrong I could be..

Lots of time was spent on fundamental paddling skills, skills I thought I knew, breaking these skills down to component level and then re-building them into technical linked strokes. Ken delivered the sessions in many, many styles, I personally seemed to gain the most information from the silent demonstrations but the group discussions revealed much information that we just either overlooked or took for granted.. My power pry is a completely different stroke to what it was - and yes, a lot more efficient and powerful...

Everyone's technical templates for working with the water where fast becoming just so much more efficient....  I think we all went home that evening just a little exhausted, elated and completely buzzing.... Apologies, no photographs, just too busy to get the camera out.

Day two saw us back on the same stretch of river but this time we would be taking on a slight journey so a small shuttle was organised. First of course the previous days learning was discussed in depth. Then onto more learning, a great deal of the morning was taken up with the understanding of trim and edge and how this effects a boat in the context of flow. Again I thought I knew lots of this - it was soon obvious i had very much more to learn and I think all of the students thought much the same too. Everyone of us was like a sponge taking in more and more information, we where all so very keen to learn...

I certainly do not wish to give too much away about the course content but be assured Ken had us working hard, having fun, thinking for ourselves, everyone was involved in discovering solutions to problems. We moved on to other practical skills too such as tracking and lining...

We then made our way down the river a short way enjoying a few small rapids and drops 

And then onto everyone's favourite poling...

Love it of hate it, Ken took much time on both the bank and on the water so show us that actually it isn't a black art and is just a simple set of fundamental skills which once mastered makes for a fun time progressing along the river..

Finally we made our way down towards the top of Abbey Rapids and to a large safe pool, here we went through some simple rope work to assist in the recovery of a pinned boat.

And to end the day we all took part in some simple self rescue skills, that water was so cold.. 

Day Three and there was much excitement in the air, the river level was a little higher and we where to complete a journey form Cotherstone to Barnard Castle. Today would mostly be about leadership skills with a few personal skills thrown in..and the day certainly did not disappoint...

Personally I knew this was my weak area - leading on a river but the day was delivered in a contextual and simple manner to understand. The day included lots and lots of content and Ken worked us all very hard but it was all very rewarding..

We even found time to have a little fun on standing waves - all in the name of personal skills of course...

Again, another day of jam packed content all delivered in an excellent manner, I think we all left that evening tired but totally satisfied in our own personal achievements. Of course, we all had enough energy left for a quick social that evening of a curry and a couple of beers in the town, a brilliant day and excellent company. 

So finally day four, it seemed to come around just too fast. Today was going to be a windy and blustery day, ideal of open water skills on Ellerton Water.

This was yet another full day of learning skills. Who knew crossing strong winds in a canoe could be so much fun - I'm not giving too many details away but the day had me looking at edge and trim in a completely different light. This took a great deal of the morning up but every minute was so very worthwhile. We also looked at leadership skills in great content and then of course a very informative session on efficient deep water paddling skills.

Rafting was covered in great detail and of course constructing a sailing rig aboard the diamond raft was always going to be great fun.

So with boats away and everyone changed we met at the cafe to discuss personal gear and participate in the group debrief.. Ken discussed in detail of what our pathways would then entail on our road to assessment. 

So how do I feel after six days of paddling and learning? 

I came home quite exhausted but totally elated and very keen to move forward with my personal and leadership skills - these really where four jam packed days of learning, I have purposely tried not to go into course content in too much detail as, to be honest, I just couldn't do it justice.. 

I feel I have been equipped with everything I need to know to move forward to assessment confident and keen. Anxieties and fears have been put to bed and replaced with confidence and enthusiasm. I have a clear understanding of what I must do, I'm really looking forward to the next few months...

Personally I don't want to just scrape through an assessment and this is one of the reasons I booked this extended course, I would rather pass assessment with ease and more importantly have the tools to be an excellent paddler and a skilled leader.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Canoe Leadership Training with Ken Hughes - Part 1

So having had quite a lazy year in advancing my skills I thought it was about time I addressed the issue. With the exception of an amazing expedition, a few exciting sea trips and a scattering of white water canoe journeys it has all been just a little benign with no further development by yours truly. Far too much time in warm waters on Stand Up Paddle Boards

I had of course undertaken the four star canoe training twice before, firstly with the most excellent Kim Bull four years ago where I learned many new skills on both Kielder Water and The Tyne. Then again a couple of years ago with the legendary Ray Goodwin in North Wales. But I felt I had let my skills lapse and needed further assistance.

I had heard of Ken Hughes and briefly met the guy on an update course a few years ago in Sunderland. Everything I had heard about his courses was always positive so after a little thought I booked myself onto four days of 4 Star Leadership training. On the back of this Ken also invited me to be lead by some candidates taking their assessment just prior the beginning of my training..

My concern was to how I would cope with six consecutive days on the water, I'm sure I would survive.

Day 1

I had been lead by others before who where taking an assessment but this was usually on the sea, I saw this opportunity to get to see how a canoe assessment pans out, to get to know this part of the Tees a little and of course to have some jolly good fun.

Meeting in Barnard Castle, the candidates quickly turned up and ushered those of us being lead to our cars where we made our way to Cotherstone.  After a most excellent introduction with lots of exchanging of information we where ready for our journey - these guys where just so organised.

It was very confidence inspiring being lead by the candidates, everyone involved was very relaxed making it a very pleasant day. 

We all practised our skills as we descended the river..

Personally I found it very rewarding just watching those with much greater skill than myself..

Before long we where heading back into Barnard Castle and some lovely welcome sunshine. What was so apparent was how relaxed and free flowing the whole day was. It was obvious that all of the candidates had done a brilliant job of bringing us down the river safely while still making it a fun and exciting experience.

Day 2

We where to meet at Ellerton Park, situated not far from Catterick. This was the candidates open water assessment day. Conditions where slightly on the benign side but I was aware that the candidates had spent a day here on the 'two days refresher' prior to their assessment days and conditions on that day where much more challenging.

The day again was quite relaxed and we journeyed around the lake being guided by those being assessed. The journey was broken up with much development and demonstration of skills. Some of the deep water paddle skills where very impressive and although I was just one of those being lead we took much away from these sessions. It was fun watching the construction of a diamond sailing rig and it was most effective as they sailed down the lake. 

The rescue skills at the end of the session was undertaken quickly and efficiently by those being assessed as we looked on, brrrr that water looked cold..

At the end of the sessions it was excellent to hear that all those who had completed the assessment had passed. Those of us being lead where so pleased for all those involved, so much work had obviously been undertaken by those being assessed. I personally do not like assessments but I would have loved to have been a part of this one..... maybe soon, we will see how the next four days training goes...

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Driffield Canal by Canoe

So just to get a little fresh air we headed to a favourite and chilled launch at Brigham. In the back of my mind I was also aware that this would be my last chance to paddle the Silverbirch before I again take on more Four Star Leadership training, I had to make the decision to take the boat or leave it at home..

Fiona and Ant paddled tandem in the Prospector 16

At the end of our little journey I had a little practice at a couple of rescues, the Silverbirch was quite easy to recover and empty.

 So shall I take it to 4 star training? Damn right I will :-) 

Friday, 20 January 2017

Commute Home from Work in the Silverbirch Broadland 16

So just how lucky am I? Working 50 metres from the river and living no more than 200 metres from the same waterway, albeit a fair few kilometres  apart, occasionally when the tide is right I can paddle home. It was nice to paddle this boat on a slightly longer journey today, I'm really starting to bond with this canoe...

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Silverbirch Canoe

Fiona had brought in a couple of these nice looking boats and after a full morning of rigging and fitting out the Silverbirch Broadland 16 was ready for the water..

So on a fairly mild Sunday we took the boat up the river behind the nature reserve.

I had briefly paddled this model before and knew it was a very pleasant boat to control. It soon became very apparent that this was a completely different ride to the Prospector 16 that I'd spent much time in recently, in fact I even struggled a little to begin, it just seemed so slow and quick to turn off course...

But in no time I started to find myself building up quite a relationship with this boat, the secondary stability was huge which really allowed me to edge the boat quite a long way in confidence, something I had missed in a craft for quite some time. It also became clear that just small alterations in the trim of the boat had quite a desirable effect. I'm very much looking forward to paddling this canoe a lot more in the coming months..

Fiona on the other hand, still very much full of cold, was enjoying her short journey in 'Rhubarb and Custard..