4 February 2007

BCU four star training and assessment

BCU four star training and assessment
“Njord storm gathering” at Bulandet, Norway, 6.-7. Oct 2006

My photos from this course are quite popular, and I couldn't find much info on the net about it, so here is my review in english this time:

I worked a little for the kayak adventure company Njord in Western Norway the summer of 2006, and because of that I was offered a place on “BCU four star training and assessment” with Olly Sanders. As I had met Olly
's friend Leo Hoare earlier this year (he had a lot of amusing stories about Olly) this seemed like a good way to spend a weekend. This ment that I saw little of my friends in the BSI paddling club, but also that I was the one who spent the most time on the water.

We were six exited kayakers who met our coach Friday morning. I knew three of them – Torbjørn, Therese and Xavier and there were two new faces, Erik and Juan. All of us had quite some kayaking experience. Olly lectured us about judging of situations and risk analysis. He introduced the word “bulls eye” to the kayak vocabulary. Bulls eye is where you don`t want to be. The further out in the circle the better.
Olly informed us that the “assessment” part would be something he would do continuously. There would be no test of skills in the end of the two days, we would just be having fun and do our best, and he would be assessing on the go.

We got on the water after having looked at, and judged equipment for serious sea kayaking. Dry- or wetsuit plus extras, west, helmet, towline, cowtail, repair kit, flares and mobile phone vs. VHF. Everything had to be well thought of, down to the tiniest detail like “Why did you buy the NRS towline and not the Palm? How long is it, and why? Is that an appropriate length for towing in a following sea? How could you modify this item so that it suits your needs better?” and so on.

First lesson was turning in strong wind, with tips for improvements and some new tricks. At this point I were a little too eager and got my head wet but the roll training payed off and that is always a good feeling! Olly commented it all, always with humour and seriousness in a lovely mix. He had a remarkable ability to share his knowledge about nature in general and kayaking in particular.

Then more turning in more wind and waves as we used the relaxed grip. It was what Olly called a “salty day” and some tasted more than enough salt when we were allowed to surf in following waves, and some spontaneous rescue training was seen.

After a cold and wet lunch it was time to have a look at forbidden fruit. Olly found a really scary place, flat sea for a long time, then suddenly an explosion of foam, spray, dumping surf from all directions and rocks everywhere. ”THIS IS WHAT I CALL A BOOMER!” Olly shouted, ”Totally unpredictable! This is the bulls eye, this is where you don
't want to be!” Everybody got the point.

The last exercise of the day was towing of seasick paddlers in dangerous waters. While towing, we had to pick the best route to safety. Back on shore it was time for theory about tide and meteorology.

Next day, we were so fortunate to be able to observe and feel the effect of a low pressure passing by, wind increasing and veering, troughs and fronts with heavy rain and wind.

Olly had a small homemade book full of useful information and funny drawings. Here we were introduced to “the kung fu death grip”, the opposite of a relaxed grip, something that isn
't that easy to achieve in four star conditions... ”the windshield wipe” is the way to go, open your upper hand in front of your face on every stroke and tenosynovitis is avoided. Before lunch we practised linked strokes and tight turns, tilting and leaning, all the time with the relaxed grip in mind.

After lunch there were time for some self rescue, sculling and rolling training in placid waters before we went out in the exposed zone.

Then Olly came up with a series of cases and we had to deal with them on our own or direct some friends to help with the task. Injured paddler had to be supported during a fan tow, rescues of injured and/or panicked paddlers and so on.

I got the message ”I`m going to capsize and you must rescue me alone or with help from some of the others.” This would have been easy hadn't Olly found a spot where you could see the waves felt the bottom and I knew if a big one hit, we would be in trouble (and of course it would sooner or later). Then, suddenly, everything went wrong. The other group`s towing exercise was becoming more than an exercise when one of the paddlers weren't able to turn the kayak downwind, as the low pressure moved closer and the wind increased. One of my group capsized as I was calling for help for a towed rescue of Olly away from the shallow waters. He had to be rescued by my other helper and I was left alone rescuing Olly who played quite helpless. It didn't break just then and everything went well. On the way back, we got half an hour to play in a smaller boomer, something Torbjørn and I happily did while the Latinos Juan and Xavier went home for a shower (something that probably payed off later at the party, I wouldn't know as I was so tired I got to bed after just three beers!)

Before dinner it was time for individual feedback, tips for further improvements and most important, did we deserve the four stars? Not everyone did!

So, was this course different than the ones I have attended through The Norwegian canoe Union and Njord? A lot was similar, but it was a lot more theory about meteorology and tides. It was a more complete course that not only was about kayak technique, but also about the environment we in which we paddle. The fact that the coach was one of the best there is, was of course no drawback!

Rumor has it there will be a new chance on the Norwegian Sea Kayak Symposium this spring. Highly recommended!