16th to 17th of October, 2010 – 4* Preparation Weekend, Connel and Easdale Island

Five of us headed to Oban for two days of coaching with Tony Hammock of Sea Freedom Kayak to prepare for our 4* Sea Kayak assessment in a few weeks time. This was planned as a preparation session to iron out any issues and get a better feel for what would be asked of us in the assessment because though we have all done the pre-requisite training for the award, we had each had varying lengths of time pass since then and had each had varying content delivered in those trainings as well.

We had two quite different days, with the Saturday being anything but 4* conditions; it was blue sky, warm, flat calm and there was little in the way of tidal movement too. Sunday as predicted by the forecast – sometimes they get it right – was a much more realistic session for what we expect to be assessed in with winds of F4-5, waves at times up to 2m, some tidal movement and it was a bit chillier too.

Saturday kicked off with us paddling almost out of Tony’s house at Connel and we started off with fine tuning our manoeuvrability so that rescues could be executed more quickly with less time involved getting on the scene. We also covered various scenarios we might be asked to deal with from hypothermic paddler, heart attack, self rescues, rescue of a capsized paddler be it an able one, an unconscious one and one with a dislocated shoulder. We covered a lot but in doing so opened up more and more that we could have covered with more time.

After all the work in the water and the with the sun getting lower, Tony doesn’t rush you off the water with any deadline which is great, we were tiring and getting cold and so we headed back to the ‘get-in’.

We were treated to a stunning sunset as we changed and packed cars before nipping in to Tony’s place for a cup of tea and some analysis of the day.

Sunday had us excited about the rougher stuff we were about to play with but this was mixed with the reluctance to don gear still cold and wet from the previous day. We were soon warm though, after leaving Seil Island and heading out in to rough water off of Easdale island, we were refining over and over the manoeuvrability techniques in rough water and aiming for tighter and tighter turns in both the downwind and up wind phase. This was knackering; only half an hour in and I for one was developing rubber arms. Between this and other subsequent sessions in developing these skills, we would retire to the shelter of one of the flooded quarries to discuss and refine things.

A lunch stop followed with some chat about the assessment and possibilities for its structure and content as well as plans for the next bit. What followed was some contact towing in much bigger waves off of the other side of Easdale. Beyond 4* conditions but we were all comfortable enough and in the end had a great time. Very exhilarating being in the waves and realistic too I suppose, giving another paddler support where it may be likely to be needed. A quick attempt to surf back where we could discuss out of the roaring wind the next activity.

We headed back out in to the relatively calm side and did rolls, capsizes and rescues then some towing in the waves appropriate to the level we will hopefully get on the day.

A stop at Easdale’s cafe for some tea, cake and analysis / theory before one final, short session to finish off with more towing,

A very constructive weekend’s coaching from start to finish and though I am glad to have done it, I don’t seem to be any less nervous about the assessment itself – fingers crossed though and lots to think about / prepare for before then.

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