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Canoeing: Plan B!

Over the past while have put together articles that have been around a few psychological principles and how we might go improving our coaching and / or paddling. I have written with coaches that I have been mentoring and then giving a report from a trip with a group of young paddlers that was to do with long term development.
By Dave Rossetter

This one is different…again!
This one is all around me as a paddler and pushing myself to explore surrounding areas as well as developing my understanding to aid others.

My philosophy has sustainability and development at the heart of it. This is underpinned by ‘context’. Why we do what do!

So in November 2016 it was time to put a few miles in paddling. This was around testing existing knowledge and seeking a great depth of understanding.

This article outlines ‘Plan B’. This was two canoe coaches and a canoe manufacturer seeking to test, challenge and develop their understanding of canoeing. My challenge to all – when did you last test, challenge and develop your skills or your understanding of what you do? Do you always do what you have always done?

The Plan
The idea started as many an idea does – in the pub after a few beers. The conversation revolved around taking a canoe and doing a trip that involved the sea. If it was on the sea then it had to involve a tide race, an open crossing and an island. These three components are part of the tradition of the canoe. Early Polynesians regularly took to the sea to visit / explore nearby islands. These often included open crossings and through tide races.

So this became Plan B! – The ‘B’ refers to Bardsey Island – ‘The island of 20,000 Saints’. An island that sits 3km off the Llyn Peninsula off the coast of Wales offering great potential for open water, tide races and of course a great island to visit. The Welsh name for the island translates as ‘The Island in the Currents’. That gives a sense of the movement in the sea!

The history of the Island goes way back. From being a refuge for persecuted Christians in the 5th Century to the Bardsey Apple and now a haven for wildlife.

To be able to paddle across utilising open water skills in the canoe became the challenge.

Team Hou

Team Hou

The Canoe
This is where Hou Canoes come in. The word Hou means new in Polynesian. As Hou Canoes are new (relatively new) on the canoe manufacturer front it made sense to have them involved. So the link between the manufacturer and an area that the canoe was used as a means of travel, hunting and exploration was strong.

We chose to use a 17ft canoe. At just over the 17ft mark and 35inches at the widest it gave plenty of comfort, speed over the water for eating up the distances. The canoe isn’t deep at only 13 inches but with the addition of a spraydeck this didn’t prove to be an issue.

The deck is something that isn’t used that often in the UK. Often seen on the wider bigger rivers in Canada where being exposed to big wave trains far from the shore are not unusual. We therefore wanted to be self-sufficient out at sea and the deck was part of the answer.

It had to have a few features – ease of getting in an out. Access to put mast for the sail up and down and be robust enough to deal with the sea and keep us afloat.


Out in the race

Solo or tandem
Now sea canoeing isn’t new by any manner of means. This wasn’t about being first to do something more a nod to the past and a nod to celebrating what the canoe can do.

The UK has a fascination of doing everything solo in canoes. From getting qualified, mainly as a solo paddler, to the amount of posts you see on social media of solo canoes. Now I am as guilty of that as anyone but this was about testing, challenging and developing my understanding of the canoe so it was to be done in tandem. I have been passionate about tandem for a long time having completed many trips as part of a tandem crew. I am passionate about coaching tandem as I see this as something that, in general, doesn’t get enough attention. So tandem it was to be.

River to sea
There is always something satisfying while canoeing about connecting waterways together. So what better way to start our sea adventures than starting high up on the Afon Soch down into Abersoch and then out to sea. For me this was a great was to start. I love the sense of journeying from one environment into another. Linking the range of skills required. The narrow waterway is no more than a reed bed for the most part lying on the moorland before growing wider and deeper before entering the village and ultimately spilling out to sea.

We started off with use of a half pole then onto paddles with a bit of sawing along the way!

Out at sea

Out at sea

Open water
Out onto the open water gives a great sense of where you are in the world. The vast openness staring out on front as you paddle away from shore to some distant land. Setting the compass bearing and off you go.

We had a great wind behind us as we went out across the bay. This gave us the ability to set the sail and crack out the miles. Keeping the mind occupied and the body comfortable was the order of the day. Ensuring that the hands are relaxed and not over griping, getting the sitting / kneeling position correct when out for 8 hours all of this was vital for us.

That done then enjoying the sense of freedom, enjoy the conversation and keep on paddling!

Round Bardsey
Well the island lived up to its name – ‘ the island in the currents’! It is also windy. Sitting out on its own with the full force of the wind able to travel up / down St. Georges Channel in the Irish Sea it captures big winds. Put some tide into the mix and you are all set for a bumpy ride.

The spraydeck came into its own for us. Without this we wouldn’t be able to travel the distance round Bardsey. We got a bit of sailing, we got a bit of surfing and we had to work hard to make headways at times. That lighthouse – arrghh it was just there. It is fair to say that it was tough! However, it was also magical. Seeing the crashes of the waves on the shore as we roll over the top of another wave, the surprise of the seals as we enter the calm of the eddy and shelter of rocks was just a magical moment. As with many things gaining the reward from your efforts gives a great sense of achievement.

The wildlife

The wildlife

Tide race
Taking a look at the chart for around Bardsey area gives a sense that the area has a lot going on. Between Bardsey and the mainland there is a little rock – Carreg Ddu – that creates some amazing tide races. We wanted to see where we could go, what we could achieve and of course have some fun. That is where the learning can happen.

Due to the nature of this we took the sail away, the deck came off and the drysuits went on. What a giggle! The canoe is truly a wonderful craft. The ability for it to dance and come alive is truly awesome. We danced with some amazing water and picked up some speed. Would be really interesting to keep the deck on and go again. However, we survived and got away with it. That will do – until the next time.

So with all of this is was about testing and challenging what we currently know. It was then about developing our understanding. This allows to shape new knowledge to inform not only our own paddling practice but also what we coach.

This ensures that the ‘context’ is there. Without the context then it is difficult for the paddlers to make sense of the world around them.

“Without context words and actions have no meaning at all.”
Gregory Bateson – English social scientist

“Without context, a piece of information is just a dot. It floats in your brain with a lot of other dots and doesn’t mean a damn thing. Knowledge is information-in-context …. Connecting the dots.”
Michael Ventura – Novelist and cultural critic

Afon Soch

Afon Soch

Having done a lot of bigger expeditions around the country and world is was great to test and keep challenging my skill set. To do this tandem and share it with another experienced paddler / coach allowed both us to have congruence in our canoeing beliefs, philosophy and skills.

To use a spraydeck – British made on a British made canoe allowed us both to see the relevance and potential. Look forward to using these on upcoming coastal courses with clients.

The other area is travelling many miles in testing conditions allows you to focus on what strokes are required when and why. The teamwork, the need for the bow paddler to stay up front with their strokes. Short and often became the mantra.

To deepen the understanding of the requirements of each end of the boat and how one effects the other.

The boys on Bardsey

The boys on Bardsey

Paddling Companion
Jules Burnard

Jules is an adventure paddler plus a full time coach and guide specializing in open canoe. He is a well-established BCU Level 5 Canoe Coach, and respected ‘Safety and Rescue’ provider. As well as open canoe Jules is also qualified in both the inland and sea disciplines. He has a wide depth of experience to draw on from the ventures he has undertaken and trips he has lead around the world.

With the world of Open Canoeing being his real passion plus his enthusiasm for coaching and guiding this lead him to develop Voyageur Coaching. He prides himself on delivering high quality coaching, guiding and training to individuals and groups who want to develop personal skills, achieve awards or simply discover and experience the magic of the Open Canoe. This has been furthered in his many solo expeditions where he relies upon these skills, and he is very enthusiastic to share his experiences and pass his knowledge on to others. He is also a regular contributor to the Open Canoe community with magazine articles, blogs and attends several events/symposiums throughout the year delivering various workshops.

When Jules isn’t busy delivering coaching he particularly enjoys the challenges presented by solo expedition paddling and can often be found paddling in some remote location, or carrying his boat from loch to loch in Scotland with his trusted four legged companion! And in more recent years he has been enjoying exploring the thrills and spills that the OC1 has to offer.

Dave is Head of Paddlesports at Glenmore Lodge – Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre. He has been involved in the development of the new awards and provides expert advice throughout the industry on all things to do with coaching, safety, leadership and personal paddling. He is passionate about all things paddling and specialises in white water kayak and open canoe where he will most often be found.

About thepaddlerezine (699 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK and Windsurfing UK magazines

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