This was written by Ian S White he is also a member of Regents Canoe Club.
Five years ago, I did the 4* training with coach Dan Daley, which has now evolved into the White Water Leader award. That was when British Canoeing was the British Canoe Union and personal skills were measured in * awards from 1* to 5* with five being the highest achievement. The award is split into two parts – two days of training and two days of assessment.
Due to incessant procrastination, work, house refurbishment and a desire to go kayaking in my spare time, I never made time to take the assessment.
The training accreditation expires after three years, so I had to redo the training as well as do the assessment.
Fast forward to May 2019, Steffi and I (Oh, I mustn’t forget Olga too) were paddling with Dan Daley on the beautiful Soca river in Slovenia. This is something we do every years with Dan who now has his own outdoor training company ,Rock The Boat , which he started after leaving his job as head of paddlesport at Lee Valley. As well as being a great guy, Dan is a terrific coach and we both enjoy his ability to impart his skills and knowledge. Dan asked me to lead on a section on the Soca called Srpenica 2 ,which is a grade 3 section ,although it was running at about 40 cumecs which made it feel like a grade 4.
After this section Dan asked me if I had ever taken the 4* assessment which I said I hadn’t. Dan said that I really should do it. He was right of course and the fact that I hadn’t really irked me. Over the next few months, whilst still being really busy, I resolved to complete the task. However, there are certain pre-requisites that have to be in place. Firstly you have to have the 3* White Water certificate or the current equivalent plus an outdoor 16 hours First Aid certificate and a two day White Water Safety and Rescue certificate. I had done the advanced White Water Safety and Rescue course with Darren Joy of Fluid Skills in March 2019. I had passed the 3* many years ago. That just left the First Aid to be completed. Mine had just expired-they last for three years. Cue Ben Ainsworth’s email about running a First Aid course at the club in October 2019. I signed up immediately. Ian Scott (Scotty) ran day one of the First Aid course. He was complaining of a sore knee when we met in the morning, which expanded in size as the day progressed. It was very swollen. Day two was postponed due to a diagnosis from the A&E department at his local hospital on the way home from day one. The rescheduled date in was in January 2020. Day two finished with a certificate ,so I was now ready to do the training and assessment.
Coach, Dave Kohn-Hollins, of River Flair was advertising a White Water Leader assessment on the 22nd/23rd February 2020. However, I needed to redo the training before I could do the assessment. Dave was able to squeeze me into his busy schedule on the 30th/31st January 2020. Ruth Hughes and her Machno came too. Prior to this, I had printed off three things from the BC website. Just to confuse you, there are two BC websites. You need the awarding body website which has the following:
- Course notes
- Assessor notes
This will give you all you need to know about what is expected of you and what the assessor will be looking for or asking you to do during the course. The training was based in Llangollen.
I stayed at the Llangollen hostel which is opposite the cafe that we were due to rendezvous at in the morning. Cafe latte accompanied a chat with Dave about the things we need to take into consideration when leading a river trip. After this we met our “tourists” who were the paddlers we were to take down the river. After resolving the”forgotten helmet” issue (I think Regents have caught this virus) we got on at the Upper Dee section and made our way down to Horseshoe Falls with Ruth leading. I took over at Horseshoe Falls while Ruth and I discussed whether we should or should not run the weir. Was it within our remit? Can we see a safe line? Are the “tourists” good enough paddlers to make it? We discussed our findings with Dave and he was okay with our decision to run it and our decision making process. Next was Serpent’s Tail. We broke out above and took the “tourists” to have a look at the feature. I was happy that the ability of the “tourists” matched the technicality of the feature and they all agreed and wanted to paddle it. We got off at Mile End Mill after one small swim at Serpent’s tail.
Day two – just Dave, me and Ruth. We paddled from Llangollen to Trevor while practicing leadership and boat rescue techniques while being amazed at the huge viaduct and aqueduct that cross the Dee.
White water Leadership Assessment, North Wales
An email had been sent to me and the others being assessed, asking us to prepare a list of rivers to run with our “tourists”. The backdrop to this was that North Wales had been deluged with huge rain fall for the past week/month. Every river/catchment area had a flood warning and the A5 road at Corwen bridge had flooded. The river was about a quarter of a mile wide as it tried to squeeze its bloated self through the confines of the bridge. It managed to find a gap under a gate, two fields away from the river to flood the busy A5.
I again stayed at the Llangollen Hostel which was much busier than last time ,as it was the weekend. I shared a room with three others, one of which, looked very melancholy. A brief chat revealed all. His girlfriend had kicked him out of their home,which he shared with her and the baby, after he got drunk and smashed up the car.He had been arrested for DD and was due in court in two weeks. No girlfriend,no home,no car, no license,no job and probably a fine. And there was I, dealing with the concerns of whether I could deliver a safe river to paddle. It seemed so trivial in comparison. Before I left,I wished my sorrowful roommate the best of luck for the future. Surely,life could only get better from now on.
I had an idea. We were to meet at the Rhug (pronounced” rhig” in Welsh)Estate Cafe. This is where they have a metal bison sculpture beside the A5 .The river Alwen is nearby and the get off is next to the Rhug Estate. Early in the morning, before the meeting, I went to check the get on and get off. At the get on, the water was running through that trees on the bank! At the get off, the water coming through the bridge’s arches sounded like a steam train at full speed. Maybe not the best choice. I was clean out of ideas.
One of the possible venues was the Tryweryn. The dam normally release at 9 cumecs. Today it was releasing at 16. If you add in the water from the tributaries, it was expected to be 30 cumecs at Bala Mill. I couldn’t see that this was viable either.
I met Christ Eastabrook (assessor) and the other two people to be assessed plus the “tourists”. Chris was interested in our plans but he decided that we should paddle the Tryweryn. So we jumped into our cars and made the 40 minute drive to the T. We got changed and went to look at Chapel Falls. Wow! It was bigger than I have ever seen it and a definite class 4 rapid. I could see a line but not one which I could lead some inexperienced paddlers down. We got on below.
I had three “tourists” – Mark, Charlotte and Paula. Mark had been paddling two years and was very good. Paula was a decent paddler but her nerves were shredded as she had previously been caught in a tree on the Tryweryn. It didn’t settle her nerves seeing Chapel falls and now she was about to paddle the river at nearly twice the volume .
Charlotte was the least experienced, nervous and wobbly. All three of my “tourists” we’re really nice and I did my best to put them at ease before getting on with an Ian White warm up and stretch. I was hoping that we could use the get on section to do a few warm up ferry glides to and from the eddy. I broke out and went to have a look at the eddy on the other bank. Looking downstream I saw a tree trunk at the bottom of the eddy where it joined the flow. Anyone taking a swim here after an eddy line wobble would be under that tree. That would be a very bad start. I signalled “all down”.
I had a great time. The river is great fun at this level, far better than I could have hoped for. We did have a couple of swims in my group but swimmer and kit were reunited and we paddled to the road bridge where the “tourists” got off (except Mark). We blasted down to the get off at the car park, missing out Bala Mill Falls.
Day two – no “tourists” today. Met Dave Kohn-Hollins at the Siobod Cafe at Capel Curig to discuss our options. A two river day – the Glaslyn followed by the Llugwy. Mount Snowdon feeds Llyn Dinas which is a lake which feeds the grade 2 section of the river Glaslyn. We all took turns to lead on the Glaslyn with Dave assessing our leadership abilities and styles. We got off before the Aberglaslyn gorge, which is spectacular at these levels.
Back to Capel Curig to run the Llugwy where we did three different rescue scenarios (1)broken arm (2)dislocated shoulder (3)unconscious paddler. When it was my turn to fall in, I was the unconscious paddler. I really felt sorry for the other two who had to get my 18 stone carcass to the riverbank and then haul it up onto dry land while I was motionless. I am waiting for an Oscar nomination.
Got off at Forestry Falls and then back to the Siobod Cafe for a debrief ,coffee and cake. Dave gave me some excellent and valid feedback with the news that I had passed.