A Fool and Their Kayak …

The weather forecast for Thursday night revealed a low pressure system moving in at precisely the time we were due at Kilbirnie Loch for our canoe club session. We wondered momentarily if class would be cancelled, but somehow knew that the folks of Garnock Canoe Club were made of hardier stuff than to let a wee bit of wind and rain hold them back.

Indeed we were correct as we arrived to a veritable tempest in the company of most (although not all) of our usual classmates. Admittedly, there was no great rush to enter the fray. As several small children put in ahead of us for their class, however, the adults soon followed albeit with a little less enthusiasm (and a little more trepidation) than normal. I’m sure I saw an evil glint in Richard’s eye as he pronounced that the blasting wind was a mere Force 2 and that we would be using these “ideal” conditions to practise edging and to continue with our self-rescues. Helpfully, he mentioned that hardly anyone had died during previous sessions in such conditions.

My first hurdle was actually putting in without being immediately spat back out again by the elements. Richard showed me how to “reverse” in by pushing my boat out stern-first and plonking myself into the cockpit whilst it was in motion. This worked, of course. A great deal of the rest of the evening was spent disentangling myself from the inner reaches of the banks of the loch to which my boat had been pinned. This was when I learned that a paddle can also be used as a punt (note to self: as long as it’s positioned behind the paddler when moving out bow first).

Edging practice went very well as we graded our edging from 1 (pretending to edge) to 5 (capsizing). Alan achieved a 5 on a couple of occasions. I reckon I achieved a 3. It was interesting to lean into the wind and waves and I didn’t feel as close to collapse as I’d anticipated.

Next up was rescue practice and this is where it all went horribly wrong. I was reluctantly keen to try out my skills in true(r)-to-life conditions. Just as I was about to insert myself into the tumult, I heard a voice of authority say, “Take off your paddle leash”. Tracing this instruction to a newly arrived senior personage (composite kayak, confident bearing, boat’s got a name – you can always tell), I shot him one of my you-talking-to-me looks. To my consternation, he confirmed that he wished me to remove my paddle leash and place it in my pocket. By this time, Alan was giddily self-rescuing unsupervised with paddle leash securely attached (the injustice!). I petulantly removed the offending leash and tried not to fixate on losing my paddle. To console myself for my lack of assertion, I still managed a small act of defiance by ignoring Richard’s encouragement to try to stand up in my kayak. I quite deliberately threw myself over the side at the first opportunity (so there) and I believe I caught a glimpse of Richard standing on one leg as I went under.

My mind racing as I surfaced (“must not lose paddle, must not lose paddle”), I triumphantly grabbed my paddle. After a short moment of celebration, I then scrambled to recall what came next. Was it getting to one end of the boat? Getting the water out the boat? Righting the boat? As I became aware of a sense of time elapsing and a certain distance emerging, it dawned on me … it was the boat! I’d made the classic mistake of losing contact with it. A vigorous swim was called for and I immediately unleashed my powerful, record-setting freestyle stroke … OK, no, I floundered about helplessly, my feeble breaststroke (sorry, never learned any other) severely hindered by my buoyancy aid, my sopping fleece (bad idea to put that on) and my (expletive deleted) paddle. Like a scene in slow motion in a bad B-movie (or more like Scrat the squirrel in Ice Age), I watched my beloved boat float further and further from my grasp until there was no hope. What seemed like hours passed and a state of near-exhaustion ensued. Just as I was giving up the will to paddle, I became vaguely aware of a presence beside me. The words “Shoogle Nifty” floated past my gaze and a familiar voice asked if I was getting tired. In view of the hopelessness of my predicament, I replied in the affirmative and was told to grab some decklines. I was then towed along unceremoniously to my kayak which another angelic presence had retrieved. A flurry of instructions followed and soon I found myself back in my cockpit, right way round. Upon realising the identity of my rescuer, I was instantly torn between expressing gratitude and issuing a strongly worded complaint about the enforced leash removal. I meekly thanked him and became preoccupied with the embarrassing prospect of returning to my no doubt rapt audience of classmates who were probably at that moment dissecting this recent demonstration on the dire consequences of being an eejit. Actually, they appeared to be too busy bobbing about in the swell beside their capsized boats to care much.

I felt that I could not let the evening pass without another attempt at self-rescue and so, furtively, I re-attached my leash and was good to go. This time it went flawlessly. Well, the boat had a bit more water in it than I’d have liked, but generous allowance was made for the conditions and my weakened state. I was happy to be able to flip it, get back in and paddle away. All that combined to boost my flagging morale, especially as Alan confirmed that he was carrying a lot more water too. So, I think I can officially say that I can paddle, edge, self-rescue and be rescued in less than calm conditions. Another notch up on the learning curve. I will leave arguments concerning paddle leashes to another time.

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