I think last weekend was the fourth out of the last five weekends spent kayaking (or doing something kayaking related). This time I was one of the six beginners who got a full weekend's coaching from Chris Dickinson
, who has taught many a generation of St Andrews Canoe Club paddlers. And I have to say, even though I have learnt a lot since September from other club members, I have basically relearnt almost every single river skill and my confidence on the river increased immensely. Yes, Chris is a great coach :)
On the first day, we started with the basics - getting in and out of the boats, breaking in and out, ferry-gliding. We learnt all about the importance of using the edges of your boat (some by experiencing the consequences first hand) and how to use your paddle to help you with turning the boat or keeping it straight. When we were done paddling, we got to look at ourselves on video to see the kinds of things we still needed to work on and headed to the hostel, where we met with the more advanced club members, who were paddling on their own. A home cooked dinner, complete with dessert (yummy ;) ), made a great start to an evening of Monopoly and good chat.
Sunday paddling started with a lesson in speed, control and a bit of racing on a loch. This was followed by a bit of revision and learning how to surf, to make things a bit more interesting. Then we had a while to practice our newly acquired skills with the opportunity to test them just before lunch on the most difficult bit of the river - a grade 4 rapid. After thoroughly inspecting it, determining the line and seeing Chris run it, myself, Izzie and Byron decided we wanted to give it a shot. It was a great practical demonstration of why trees/bushes are kayaker's biggest enemies. This was because there was a bit of growth sticking out a couple of feet into the stream, right over the ideal line. Unfortunately, it was not possible to see from either of the inspection places and even though Chris warned us, I mistakenly thought he meant a different one. So, coming down the rapid I suddenly notices these branches right in my way, just before the important drop and hole. Thankfully, I was able to manoeuvre out of the way enough to be able to tuck in and get through without any major issues, just brushing the branches. Then, Izzie demonstrated that leaning back when going through branches is not a good idea because you will get flipped, while Byron showed that it is much better to lean forward. With all this exciting stuff over, it was time to have lunch on an island in the middle of the river, just overlooking the tricky rapid. After we thoroughly stuffed ourselves, we paddled some more, practicing everything from ferry-gliding to surfing waves and avoiding tree branches (sometimes with somewhat mixed results), we even got to do a 2m drop, which was fun and which also gave us an opportunity to see a couple of safety/rescue situations. At the end, we enjoyed a bit of quiet time and an amazing view on a loch at the take out.
Since the others came back from their river run not too long after we arrived to the take out and there were still hours of daylight left we decided to paddle one more a river all together. And how was I to test my newly found confidence? How about the Etive again? Oh yeah! And this time, rather in a Jefe, I was going to paddle in an inaZone with chewing gum plugging the holes (MacGyver style ;) ) where the bolts securing the seat in place should have been. I was expecting it to be much more interesting.
And it was. Where the jefe just bounces off stuff and basically does most of the work for you, leaving you to enjoy the ride, you have to actually work the inaZone. So, as you probably have guessed by now, I swam for the first time in a couple months on the first feature of the Etive, just after the first drop in Triple Falls. This put my confidence to a much more appropriate level, which meant that I had loads of fun for the rest of the day with no more need for swimming. I think I actually enjoyed it more this way because I was learning more about the river, the boat and myself all the time and actually felt like I kind of knew what I was doing once in a while.
So thanks Chris for teaching us so much and to the Canoe Club for being awesome :)