Open Canoe Association White Water Training Weekend

River Dart – Friday 30 November to Sunday 2 December 2012

During November, the Open Canoe Association run a series of white water open canoe training weekends on the lower reaches of the River Dart for budding white water canoe paddlers and those who want to brush up on their white water skills before potentially tackling the bigger stuff! As Isis is affiliated to the OCA, we get to go along to their meetings and events at members rates. This year, Adam, Roger and Kevin travelled to Buckfastleigh in Devon for the third weekend in the series. As this was a training trip for canoeists, we needed slightly more sedate water then the monster conditions experienced by our kayakers on the Dart the previous weekend so I was keeping a watchful eye on the weather forecasts and the Environment Agency website during the week hoping the water level wouldn’t be too high to prevent the trip from running (which seems strange as usually there isn’t enough water in the Dart for trips!).

No notices of cancellation meant that Adam and Kevin arrived at the shed on Friday afternoon and loaded up kit; Roger was to travel down on Saturday morning. This was a weekend of firsts for Kevin; first time he got two canoes on the roof of his car (which fitted nicely, once the centre thwart was taken out) and the first time he’s paddled ‘white water’. We made it to the bunkhouse in good time and after we registered, had a cup of tea, and said a few hellos’s a few of us who weren’t cooking at the bunkhouse went to a nearby pub for dinner. The Abbey Inn on the River is (unsurprisingly!) right next to the Dart and is a regular haunt for OCA members on these weekends. The pub is several metres above the river and whilst it didn’t experience flooding itself, the water got a bit too close for comfort during the previous week. Unfortunately, parts of Buckfastleigh had been flooded and even David Cameron stopped by during the week on a visit to the flooded areas. We had a lovely dinner there and swapped a number of stories, some canoeing related and some definitely not so…! We stayed until closing (by which point we were the last people in there) and then headed back to the bunkhouse to greet a few more of the paddlers who had arrived and then to bed.

Saturday started with a lovely breakfast cooked by Neil and Zoe, from the OCA, and a general briefing about the days’ paddling. After this, we had the usual chaos of getting everyone out of the bunkhouse and then headed to the get in which was only a few minutes’ drive down the road. The lay-by at the get in could only fit a couple of cars and as there were quite a few people (around 25), vehicles and boats, a tried and tested system was in place to carefully manage the traffic (which can be summarised with 3 P’s - park, put down, p*** off). Once the boats and kit were sorted (I made sure I remembered a screw driver and spanner to put the centre thwart back into the canoe!) and the drivers returned, we went into our allocated groups. Mark, our coach (he’s the one with the green marigold gloves to keep his hands warm!), talked in a bit more detail about what we would be doing during the day and we were soon on the water. To start, it was a bit crowded by the stone bridge near the get in but the other groups soon moved downstream and we practiced ferry gliding by the bridge for a while. We then slowly made our way downstream, making use of the various features to practice breaking in and out of the flow, ferry gliding, reverse ferry gliding, keeping a good lookout for upcoming features etc. The importance of keeping a good look out was definitely emphasised; canoes are somewhat less responsive then kayaks when you are being swept towards those rocks! A rock garden about a quarter of the way along is normally a good spot to stop and

have a play in features; however some very low hanging power cables meant that we just ran the rapid. We stopped for lunch about half way down; the lunch stop was close to the railway line - a large part of this section runs alongside the preserved South Devon Railway - however we didn’t see any trains running. After lunch, we continued downstream, practicing our technique and soon we reached a section of rapid containing a stopper big enough for a canoe to have a play in; so most of us in the group did! After descending a few more rapids, we soon reached the get out at Staverton station and into the chaos in getting boats and kit from the river to the cars! To save me from having to take out my centre thwart again, my boat went onto Rogers’ car; he could fit two boats side by side, having improvised some nifty roof bar extenders. We returned to the bunkhouse to have a cup of tea, shower, change etc, and a few of us headed back to The Abbey Inn for dinner. Again, we ended up staying until closing and headed to bed soon after; tired but happy at an excellent days paddling.

Overall, Sunday was very much like Saturday, however the day was shorter because people needed to head off home. Dropping off kit at the get in seemed to be more efficient, I guess because everyone had by now some practice at it. On the water, we once again ran the Buckfastleigh to Staverton section and made use of the features for technique practice; this included the rock garden we just ran the day before as the power cable as not hanging quite so low. Mark introduced setting- into an eddy and one member of the group practiced poling. I was going to but in the slight chaos of unloading the boats and kit at the get in, I got handed the same ends of two poles. I only noticed when I came to put them together; the moral of the story being always check your own kit yourself! Happily, over the two days, none of our group went swimming, which must be a first for Roger on white water as, with an 18ft canoe, he has become known in the OCA for going for a swim on white water trips! Once the boats were loaded up at Staverton, we headed back to the bunkhouse to help with the cleaning, pack kit and then headed off home, after a great weekend. Thanks to Pete Seymour for organising the weekend and to Mark for the coaching.


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