Monday. First thing was meeting Phil Clegg of Sea Kayaking Anglesey for a little bit of admin and theory before going through kit and choosing boats. I had met him before as I had done a 2 day almost-beginner course (intromediate as he calls it) 2 or 3 years ago when I had sat in a sea kayak for the first time. I chose the Romany (2nd smallest of 4 sizes) as that was the one he had picked out for me then. Zoe picked a Romany too. This was promising, as it is nice for a paddling couple to be close enough in body size and shape to be able to swap boats when they fancy.
We went off to Rhoscolyn Bay which is absolutely gorgeous for paddling – a deep sandy bay surrounded by jagged rocks and little islands. The boats performed beautifully and felt about half the weight of our own cheap plastic Tempest and Skerray. We got used to the boats by ‘rockhopping’ and then went out to a rocky islet which was the home of some big fat grey seals. They are much less skittish than our East Coast common seals and one sat high on the rocks snoozing within 10 metres or so of our boats.
Another was in the water, and curious. It swam around and underneath us and came up behind my boat and nibbled the rear carry toggle. When I turned around to look it took off at speed and then tried the same with Zoe’s boat. There were also some puffins in the water. It is the first time I have ever seen them. Small but cute.
Time for the ‘wet work’ which is compulsory to qualify for the 3*. Three tasks, which I will try to explain to the non-paddlers:
1. roll – capsize, stay in the boat, and right yourself by going around the full 360 degrees. The ideal method of recovering from a capsize, if it works.
2. eskimo rescue -you hang underwater in the boat holding your breath until someone comes alongside your boat, and you then right yourself by grabbing them.
3. wet exit +deep water peer rescue – you have come out of your boat, and your partner comes alongside, drains your boat, and stabilises it while you jump back in it.
The second two skills, as you may guess, are oft practised when learning the first.
I had been practising the roll all winter and was dead chuffed when my first roll was successful, so I ticked off all three in about three minutes. Then it was Zoe’s turn. She unfortunately couldn’t get the roll working, and then I made a bit of a hash of rescuing her because I still had a bit of a buzz from the roll. I say ‘buzz’, but there is definitely an unsettling feeling from suddenly going upside down, sea up the nostrils and in the ears, looking around underwater and seeing the sun shining through the water in the direction of your feet, resisting the urge to pull away the elastic deck keeping you inside the boat and get the hell out of there because a bit of your brain is telling you that you are about to drown…. Ignore that, fight the urge to twist around to get your head above water, but instead twist the other way and sweep the paddle around while keeping your head underwater for as long as possible, rotating the boat back the right way around with pressure from the hips and knees. If it works, suddenly you are upright in the boat, above water again, and the salt water is streaming from your hair and nose while the rest of your body is still perfectly dry, apart from one or two distracting ice cold trickles of water down the back of your neck (if you are lucky, you don’t get the trickles, but in that case you may end the day with a hangman’s noose style red mark on your neck from the tight neck seal – life is compromise.) Hold your paddle up and shout ‘yee hah’. Everyone sees you upright and dripping water, and congratulates you on your roll.
So, that is a successful roll. Zoe’s weren’t working, but she was getting far enough out the water to get her head out, take a breath of air and roar in dismay before going back in again with a big splash while the rest of us, alerted by the noise, gathered round her in our boats ready to rescue her if she didn’t try again. Failed rolls are harder work than successful ones, so after a while she got tired and we switched to an optional wet skill, cowboy self rescue. This is where you climb back on the boat in deep water unaided. Very strenuous, and no use in rough water, but a lot of fun both to try and to watch (and for betting on whether someone will succeed or fall in). At this point I had an eye on the smaller boat, the Pilgrim, that one of the blokes was using. We swapped boats and although the Pilgrim was tippier and harder to scramble aboard, it was a beautiful fit for paddling and I felt much more in contact with the boat, more contact leading to more control.