14th to 15th of May, 2011 – Canoe Training at Kinlochleven and on the River Spean

A weekend of training, half on open water at the head of Loch Leven, and half on moving water down a stretch of the River Spean.

Saturday
After a chat about boat set up and some theory, we set off out on to the loch in F4 winds which was ideal for the purpose but hard work. We began by circumnavigating a small island nearby in both directions and therefore got to work on paddling into, across and down wind. I really found sticking to a straight line whilst paddling into the wind was a challenge even when using the ideal position (weighted forward) within the boat combined with other techniques too, this is something I will need to work on which means changing my approach to canoeing. I enjoy kayaking in rough and windy conditions but stay clear of canoeing in windy conditions as it is just so difficult. However, I will have to learn to ‘enjoy’ doing this a bit more in order to develop the skills to find paddling in wind more manageable in future.

Next, we ferried across the loch with the wind funnelled between the hills against us, holding level in one direction then back again this time dropping to a desired spot downwind on the original side just in time for lunch and chat about the next bit … sailing.

We sailed downwind to Kinlochleven having joined pairs of canoes together as rafts with sailing rigs set up on top, a bit of a Blue Peter challenge but fun and it definitely worked once the wind caught the sails. Once there we worked our way up the river using poling technique and tracking (with lines attached) until we reached our get-out. A session on theory followed over coffee.

Sunday
On to the Spean and first off a paddle upstream to the first of half a dozen rapids (of up to grade 2) we would encounter over the day. This first one involved a paddle upwards, hopping from one eddy to the next before rounding a large rock and back down – definitely the way to get warmed up quickly. A good few attempts and paddling like the Duracell Bunny finally got me to the desired spot.

Whilst at this high point, we chatted about leading on rivers and positioning and group management among other things then set off downstream, using each rapid along the way to work on some paddle skills and river reading too. Challenges included ferrying across strong then stronger flow, both forwards and reverse, and also the descent of a trickier rapid which involved first getting out on to the bank and discussing the ideal approach to avoid a potential boat wrecking ‘pin’ against a rock mid-stream. Limited success on that last one but thankfully no carnage – must remember power at key moments going forward rather than relaxing too early!

We wrapped up the day with more theory over coffee and cake ending a really constructive and worthwhile couple of days on the water – lots to digest and work on now though.

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