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  • Writer's pictureDean Macken

5 Star Open Canoe Training - 1999

Friday, 1st January 1999


5 Star Open Canoe Training Weekend, Lake Padarn And Afon Llugwy Written By Adam Brewster Our weekend in North Wales in the middle of January had a mixture of weather, from sunny and almost windless when we wanted wind, too heavy rain and horrendous gusts of wind at other times.

Saturday’s venue was Lake Padarn which is near the Dinorvic Hydro Electric power station; unseen but contained within the nearby mountain. The area is also world famous for the high quality Dinorvic Slate quarried from the locality. I saw several fences around fields made up of six-inch wide slates buried with four feet length above ground, wired together for additional support; making stock proof boundaries from the local material.

We accessed the Lake about half-way down its length on the South side and polished up our paddling skills in a small bay. Each of us took turns in assessing, constructively criticising and coaching an assortment of strokes: Off side pivot turns, compound back stroke, draw strokes, edging the boat and Indian stroke to name but a few.

Lake Padarn had been chosen because it stood a good chance of being a windy location, on which we could practice setting the trim of the boats to suit the direction of travel in relation to wind direction. After a very windy Friday night there was just enough to get two or three decent downwind sailing runs but not enough to produce any good waves.

I appeared to be the only paddler who had a sailing rig designed for immediate use. It utilises half my canoe pole plus a short extension piece to make a nine-foot mast, on-top of which a cap with a hole through across the top takes a line through, to draw up the sail. The line, when pulled, draws the sail up the mast and a knot in the line locates in a slot in the thwart, which acts as a cleat; if the sail needs to come down, the line is yanked free from the slot and the sail falls into the boat. My sail is rip-stop nylon, a triangle 9-feet high by 6-feet base with eyelets in each corner. The bottom eyelets are to attach the bottom of sail to the thwart through which the mast passes and the outboard eyelet has a line that is held as taught as needed to catch the wind. All stored in a small plastic container when not in use.

After our sailing and lunch-stop we journeyed along the lake. Some of us were given instructions to become unwell or too tired to continue at critical points of the trip, to assess the response of one of our group who was being assessed.

At 5.45pm after dark, we did an “all in rescue” in the middle of the lake, It was cold!!! I didn’t recall seeing any mention of “all in” in the syllabus, just awareness of rescue techniques. There were 9 boats capsized and we took 3 minutes to sort and re-board. After paddling back to shore we each made a bivvy camp, and some of us changed into warmer clothes before all going back on the water threequarters of an hour later, to do some night navigating. (Paddling on the river Soar at night is no preparation for this, trying to find little inlets on a wooded shore by torch-light and judging distances travelled on the map [1:25 000] is very difficult.)

We got off the water at 8.00pm and headed back to the Centre for a sauna and evening meal. Map Ref. OS SH636640.

The next morning, we launched at Capel Curig onto the Afon Llugwy, the rain reduced to drizzle and the wind dropped as we set off. The first capsize in the group was within 10 minutes, due to hard-to-avoid overhanging branches; quickly sorted out we continued. We each took a turn leading the group, each in a different style but all aware that our safety knowledge of rivers was vital at a couple of key points due to serious falls that none of our opens or occupants would ever wish to challenge, especially with water at the present level. The last decent eddy before the first fall was tree lined shore river right; it caught out someone for their second capsize, unfortunately the paddler hung onto tree but boat continued. My boat was against the bank and I asked the current leader if I should run after the boat. Her immediate response was NO, thinking I meant chase in my boat but YES to my intention to chase on foot. A steep clamber up-hill along a muddy path gave good views of the torrent below and the boat’s fast rough progress down the falls under a footbridge and finally catching in trees across the river; from which I was able to retrieve it. (Falls at OS 729577). Boat and paddler unharmed.

We all portaged the falls, which was quite a haul, especially as we all had the kit needed as if for an expedition, had a rest and lunch stop during which I found a dead Peregrine Falcon. Continuing on, a wave train swamped another boat causing a capsize and displacement of air bags; I got turned around at the top and came all the way backwards rather than turn the boat around in the waves, shipped no water. I led to the next falls which have a deadly reputation; another long portage, which I needed help with due to tiredness and the wind picking up. Get out river right before the bridge. (Falls at OS 734572).

After resting briefly, we re-launched and continued to the final fall (OS 741571); a do-able one that I felt too tired to attempt with darkness closing in and a possible swim on offer. I did witness a paddler miss the line she intended, pivot on top of the rock we all agreed we would avoid; drop into the hole in the water behind it, only to be ejected vertically out of the hole and safely to one side. The look of astonishment would have been a prize-winning photo. Although losing grip of her paddle I was impressed by the speed in which she reached and used her spare. I must make mine more reachable!!

Off the water river right at 5.45pm (OS 751574); very tired, ached for a couple of days from the portages but still an enjoyable, worthwhile weekend.

Many thanks to Colin Broadway, Dave Barwell and the rest of the group.

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