Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A four day sea kayaking guide course

I spent last week's Thursday to Sunday on a sea kayaking guide course in the archipelago of Ingå/Inkoo. In the Finnish canoeing association, Suomen melonta- ja Soutuliitto ry, the guide level is based on a four day course and an assessment weekend.

I actually passed the assessment last fall, but still had the course left to do, if I wanted the sea kayak guide level (avovesimelontaopas) in the Finnish system and not only the NIL sea kayak guide level. A somewhat inflexible system and it feels a little funny taking the course after having passed the assessment, but the things practiced during these courses can never be practiced too much and I looked forward to learn from Anssi Nupponen from RollingKayak. Every instructor have their own systems and this far I've mostly had Benjamin Donner as my instructor. The course turned out to be excellent.

The prerequisite for the course was EPP3/BCU3* level skills, which meant that we had a fairly homogenous group. Everyone also got along very well, and we had lots of fun even though the course was quite intensive. I won't go through everything in detail, but rather show some glimpses from the course. Not all pictures are great, since we spent a lot of time in the water as well, which is not easy on camera gear.

We met on Thursday morning at nine. After introductions we packed our kayaks and got going.

It didn't take long before things started to happen.

We landed and set camp for the rest of the week at Stora Fagerö. After lunch we went out with empty kayaks for more training, now that we had some wind. We started with some basic towing...

... and scooping up an unconscious paddler.

No pictures from the rest of the day, which focused on personal skills in waves. Rolls, rodeo entries and some pair rescues.

Early in the morning.

Going through the next day.

The fog didn't seem to disappear, so Anssi switched the planned night paddling to fog paddling, which I think was a good choice. Always make the most of the circumstances.

Coming up to a lateral mark after having been on compass course.

Almost everyone got to lead a section going on compass only.

On the final leg before lunch I got a (simulated) mild heart attack. As a sea kayak guide you are expected to recognize this and manage the situation on sea.

Picture by Tarja Paavola.

During lunch, the sun finally broke through the fog.

After lunch it was my turn to lead the group. Some standard (simulated) incidents occurred, like a kayak getting a big leaking hole in the hull and a paddler with wave-fobia capsizing.

Picture by Petri Lindström.

 And paddling with only half of a spare paddle.

The landing on the Sadeln island was made in British style, i.e. you swim to the beach towing the kayak, getting ashore first and then dragging the kayak up.

Picture by Petri Lindström

The island had an open cabin...

... as well as a loo with a view.

After a Brit style landing follows a British launch: Push the kayak into the water, with the tow line attached and then get into the water yourself. Enter the kayak e.g. through a rodeo entry.

The rest of the day was an 8 km open water crossing back to Stora Fagerö. There was a number of incidents, with a hysteric diabetic finally going unconscious etc.

The rest of the night went with dinner and some theory.

Saturday was mostly dedicated to learn how to teach techniques to others. Not really an easy task and there are many aspects to consider.

Some more incident management in the afternoon. Here my rear hatch had disappeared into the sea.

Nope, the storm cag was of no use here.

Finally some use for the inflatable paddle floats. No problems paddling after this, since there was only limited space for water in the rear compartment now.

Saturday evening had a big thunderstorm pass us. No pictures, though, due to the limited camera equipment.

After a while the sun returned, though another rain front would still pass during the night.

Sunday again saw a little more wind, which naturally suited us well for more incident management training. It is really amazing how much can happen at the sea.

Before lunch we again used the waves for some pair rescues and personal skill training with rolls and stuff.

Surf landing, new for some of the participants. Not a big surf, but a slightly suboptimal landing place.


Surf launch. With the right timing it was quite easy.

Now it was time for the Grande Finale.

I was to simulate dislocating my shoulder after a failed high brace. My acting was faultless, but happened mostly under water, so I couldn't hear any possible applauses. I was scooped back into the kayak and could help only with one arm myself. It was still fun, but at this point the others made a mistake, which would cause things to escalate later.

Picture by Juho Paaso.

I was towed, but the mistake made was not to empty my kayak. After a scoop rescue the cockpit is full of water. None of us was very warm before this, even in our drysuits, but sitting in water did cause some simulated hypothermia for me. Naturally this wasn't it, and there were other capsizes as well.

After having sat in water for 30 minutes my simulated hypothermia became a little worse and I couldn't hold on to the kayak supporting me, resulting in us both capsizing. From now on everything went downwards. We again had a (simulated) diabetic towing us and when she ran out of energy there was really a lot of things going on at the same time, and everything took too long. At this point I was actually coming closer to real hypothermia myself and started to shiver a little. I would have given it maybe five more minutes myself, since I do have some experience about how I react, but Anssi could naturally not trust that and called the exercise off. There was nothing more to be learned from taking it too far. My kayak was emptied with three pumps and I took off as fast as I could towards a landing place a few hundred meters away, with Anssi coming with me hoping that I would not capsize in the waves. I walked and jumped and then changed into dry clothes and warmed myself in the sun and on the warm cliffs and eventually got my warmth back, while we went through the case. I seldom get low on energy when paddling, and also had plenty of energy this time, so I recovered quite fast. In my experience mild hypothermia with no energy left in the body is a lot worse and it usually takes hours to get the warmth back.

A good exercise anyway, in part slightly unrealistic since so much happened, but on the other hand more severe accidents happen just like that. Some problem grows bigger and leads to a chain reaction where the end result can be really bad.

After this we just paddled to the camp, packed down everything and paddled back to our starting point, where Anssi held one-to-one feedback sessions for us.

All in all a really good course. Thanks to Anssi for the instructions and everyone else for good company and a lot of fun.

PS: Some gear ponderings.

I think I have a fairly good setup for harder use. The Northwater paddle britches keep the spare paddle firmly on the front deck and the spare paddle is still very easy to get out. In between the spare paddles halves I have a pump, which also stays firmly there. There were some other pumps, paddle floats and spare paddles floating around, but the only thing that didn't always stay in place for me was a sponge in the cockpit. The foredeck setup is seen here.

Behind the seat I have an inflatable paddle float, that can be locked to the backrest. A paddle float isn't really of much use for its primary purpose, but it has other uses. (I think a lot of people get a false sense of security from having a paddle float, since it isn't easy to use. A rodeo reentry would be a better choice for most people).

The Reed spraydeck is otherwise nice, but it is much too slow to fasten, and therefore a poor choice for exercises like in this course.

The hf Throw tow is an excellent tool for a sea kayak guide, but the rope is too long (15 m) for Finnish purposes. The instructions say that you can put it through the rigging of the kayak to be towed and then pull it pack and clip it onto you, giving a double rope, but that is just a recipe for a really horrible rope mess (I've tried it a couple of times). A much better way to shorten it is to put an extra loop about halfway and then clip that rope into the bottom of the rope bag with a carabiner.

And finally, we discovered that my hf Throw tow looked like this, after three years of use. It could have broken any time, which in a real situation could potentially be really bad. I'm having it fixed now.

That's it.

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