Open Canoe Association: Wales White Water Weekend

So what happens when you take a white water kayaker and put them in an open canoe and throw them down some moving water? That was the question going through my mind as I set off from Oxford with Roger and Adam with two opens on top of the car and one on a trailer at the back. We arrived at the Brecon YHA by 10pm, settled in and relaxed with the other OCA members.

River Wye: Builth Wells to Boughrood (including Hell Hole)

We woke early for a cooked breakfast at 7.30am and a briefing an hour later where the various trips were described and people signed up. The coaches were really helpful to ensure you were placed on the correct trip. Adam, Roger and I signed up for a section of the Wye with our coaches for the day Clare and Gideon. With us for the day were Julia, Mike and Patrick, who was testing out his new white water spec open canoe.

We had a quick kit check on the bank, where it was -5°C!, went through the pros and cons of using various techniques for keeping your kit in your boat and then launched just above the bridge. We sailed down through the arches to our first rapid where we played with ferry gliding and edging. It was beautiful paddling down some of the flatter sections where we could take a look around at the frozen scene unfolding before us. The icicles on the trees were so plentiful that it looked like spring time blossom. The fields were white with frost, which didn’t lift all day, and we had cormorants and herons flying overhead against the grey sky.

As we stopped for a warming lunch we had completed about 6km. Clare and Gideon impressed us with their fruit tarts still in perfect condition from their dry barrels. It was a short stop though because we started to get very cold, the temperature definitely hadn’t risen much since the morning, despite the sun trying to shine through the cloud. So we soon got back into our boats and set off for the final 10km.

After about half an hour freezing fog set in making it difficult to see much beyond about 20m ahead of us. We pressed on down various sets of bouncy rapids, some more technical than others, which were all great fun, pushing us down wave trains of different sizes and testing our balance skills. A large group of kayakers started to appear out of the fog behind us, shooting past while we awaited the rescue of Patrick’s boat from a stopper.

The biggest challenge of the day came in the form of Hell Hole, a grade 3 rapid. The kayakers were going through one at a time as we approached to scout it from the bank. We checked all the options and then continued to check the line we were going to take as we moved back up to our boats – an excellent piece of advice from Clare and Gid as the river looked very different once we were back in our boats. Then one by one we set off into the fog, only barely seeing what was happening to the paddler in front silhouetted in the fog.

After another 6km Clare spied the bridge with the lamps on it, which was the sign for our get out, and the end of our paddle. Hero of the day was definitely Patrick for persevering in his new boat, which both Adam and I tried while the shuttle was taking place, and found extremely tippy. Back at the hostel we warmed up significantly, showered and had a three course meal followed by presentations in the lounge of two expeditions to Canada and Greenland, which sadly I couldn’t quite stay awake for (it was only 9pm!) but Roger and Adam flew the flag for Isis.

River Usk: Aberbran to Brecon

Sunday started the same with breakfast and a briefing. For the day’s paddle we chose a section of the Usk with Mark as our coach for the day and set off for the official get in at Aberbran. After a quick briefing we were on the water and one by one popped down the small drop under the bridge.

It was a mixed group but Mark did a fantastic job of focussing on different people and helping them to get as much out of the short trip. As with the previous day we made the most of as many features as possible giving Adam, Roger and I the opportunity to practice setting in and breaking out, Kate and Ben got their tandem skills perfected on the drops and Patrick got used to his boat once again. We were led down various sections by Mark, Zoe, Debbie and John, and by the end of the day I think we had all achieved our goal of improving our skills and confidence. Debbie even had a chance to paddle Patrick’s specialist white water canoe for a while and was an absolute pro, she confessed that she had paddled in one quite a lot and loved the boat!

While this section of the Usk was a little shorter than the Wye, it was still great fun and had enough small drops and rapids to keep us entertained. Sadly though, we were soon at the get out in Brecon and another brilliant trip was over. We loaded our boats, said our thanks and goodbyes and set off for home...secretly wondering when we’d next be out on the water with the OCA and their brilliant team of coaches and river leaders.

So to answer the question, what happens when you take a white water kayaker and put them in an open canoe, it is very simple...they have an absolutely brilliant time, realise that big boats can be a LOT of fun and start planning their next trip with the Open Canoe Association who are a fantastic group of folks.

- Jen

Photos by Jen.