White Water Safety and Rescue on the Tryweryn

Whilst Simon and Ben had a relaxing but slightly faffy weekend paddling the upper and lower sections of the Tryweryn, the rest of us spent the weekend working hard to complete the BCU White Water Safety and Rescue course we'd signed up for. It was an awesome weekend.

Following an introduction in the class room and after getting ourselves sorted out with flattering adult romper suits and bright yellow dry suits we got to work on the practical aspects of the course. Wearing all-in-one furry suits on a hot day isn't always a wise idea, but after sweating and struggling up to the very top of the Tryweryn we were soon swimming in the cooling river, perfecting our defensive swimming technique, on our backs keeping our feet facing downstream, with knees bent to absorb impacts, protecting our faces as we went underwater through the hole. Swimming even a short distance in white water is tiring! So after some recovery time we moved onto offensive swimming, which as well as involving lots of swearing, allowed us to ferry glide across the main flow of the river and when using the rolling stroke technique allowed us to effectively eddy out and in theory avoid getting washed onto the 'chipper' (a large metal grate spanning the river). We learnt how to deal with any strainers we might come across during a swim and how to body surf across the face of a weir, spreading ourselves like sky divers to maximise the amount of time spent on the surface, this was good fun.

Both singly and in groups we learnt the best ways to wade across a river, hmmm... I wouldn't say we excelled at this, but with a combination of laughter and controlled slipping on submerged rocks we managed to get an injured casualty across with us, hopefully Isis won't need to make use of this particular technique.

We learnt about the various methods for throwing lines and then put these techniques into practise, hauling each other out of the river. Live baiting was covered and along with the instructor's facial hair it proved to be one of the highlights of the course as we leapt into the water with a line attached to our backs to grab our drowning colleagues, we learnt about belaying the live baiter and the importance of having a quick release harness if you are the live baiting superman.

Talking and shouting instructions to each other was crucial, making sure the person you were rescuing knew exactly what they were meant to be doing, this was essential but proved kind of tricky when doing the boat based rescues, during which as well as bracing yourself in the main flow you had to time your approach to the casualty just right so they could grab your boat, as well as calmly telling them what to do.

We learnt about rescuing kit, boats and paddles, about synching and about rescuing people that are pinned or entrapped. Good use was made of our boat rescuing knowledge when after a failed attempt to save the instructors boat we had to make use of pure man strength and a vector system to haul his boat off of the chipper. It had totally filled with water and the bung had popped out. We did eventually get the boat free and we even had the bonus of finding Helen's shoe which had gone missing and floated off earlier on, it was a joyous occasion. We practised using throw lines to make a tension diagonal to help get people and kit across the river and learnt about paddling signals and effective and safe ways of paddling in a group.

Armed with all this information and knowledge the final part of the course on the Sunday involved a number of scenarios. We had to rescue our assessor from 3 different situations. I got the distinct impression he was a bit annoyed with us after our first fairly poor attempt to rescue him. So as we dragged his grumbling body to shore we vowed to do better on the next scenario... And we did. By the end of the course and after having successfully saved the instructors life a couple of times we were a slick safety and rescue unit, ready for anything!

We had enough time after the course to have a couple of runs down the upper Tryweryn, thankfully not having to make use of any of the techniques we'd learnt and then it was back in the cars for the drive home to Oxford. It was a really good weekend and all of us came away having learnt a lot and with an increased confidence when it comes to dealing with white water situations... Roll on the next white water trip!

- Joe

Photos by Jen.