Sleningford - Introduction to White Water

Posted by Swaledale Outdoor Club on 2012-10-03

by Tony Johnson

So, the great debate had taken place and the conclusion drawn that, not only is coaching allowed within the SOC, but it should be actively encouraged to attract new and retain existing members. With that in mind I set off to Sleningford Mill to meet up with Terry and a group of like-minded students for our Introduction to White Water.

I've paddled with SOC before but have never been particularly confident on moving water and hadn't been in my boat for eight months so I was feeling a little apprehensive about the day. Driving into thick fog around Bedale I was even thinking the course might be called off, but, as if by magic, the fog lifted as I approached West Tanfield.

Introductions were made, I'd met Terry, his glamorous assistant Clive and fellow student Duane before. It was nice to meet Pat, Kay and Alistair for the first time and we took time out to introduce ourselves giving an overview of our previous experience and what we wanted to gain from the day. Experience was broadly similar although Pat's paddling had been mainly on flat water and it became clear that we were all lacking in confidence. Terry outlined the programme for the day. He'd sent out a training needs questionnaire ahead of the event, but made it clear that this was flexible and could be tailored to the group.

Boats were carried upstream from the car park and we spent some time on the bank identifying the various features of the stretch of water we would be paddling. An introduction to safety and communication on the water including hand signals followed before we got on the water. We started with a few ferry glides back and forth across the flow to give us a feel for the water and give Terry an opportunity to assess our ability.

Terry started to introduce new techniques for each of us but all based around the principles of Balance, Accuracy and Timing (BAT). We continued ferry gliding, trying various techniques and getting a feel for how varying the three BAT elements affected our ability to paddle effectively. Having "mastered" the ferry glide we moved on to breaking in and out and practicing our "Ninja" turns. This was certainly a new breaking in technique for me as I had previously been taught or advised that an effective break in consists of a sweep stroke and low brace. After much practice it was time for lunch so we took the short paddle downstream to the get out practicing our breaking in and out skills on every available eddy.

Most of us had expressed an interest in being able to read river features and work as a group on the river so after lunch we carried the boats further back upstream where we could paddle a real rapid. We discussed the river below and, after agreeing a running order, Clive paddled into an eddy in the middle of the river where he could keep an eye on everyone both upstream and downstream. The first eddy was reached with no real dramas except for a couple of boats beaching on a particularly shallow section. The next manoeuvre was to negotiate a faster running stretch, over a small drop before turning upstream and ferry gliding into an eddy near the far bank. Again we all achieved this though a variety of styles were deployed in reaching the safety of the eddy. The final element was a ferry glide back into the middle of the river before Ninja turning down stream to the end of that section of rapid.

Unfortunately Alistair and Kay had to leave us early and Pat was starting to feel the cold so we decided to paddle back down to the get out just above the main rapid. Terry and Clive took Duane and me off to look at the larger rapid below. After a short discussion Duane decided he was up for the challenge of running this rapid and a little apprehensively I also agreed to give it a go. There were a number of other groups on the river so we had a chance to watch how it should, and should not be done before it was our turn. Terry led down the first section catching an eddy river left and I followed with Duane and finally Clive regrouping in the eddy. The next stage was to paddle further down the rapid with the aim of getting out in an eddy river right to inspect the final drop. Again Terry led with me following, Duane came next and he somehow managed to recover from a fairly hefty contact with a rock to stay in his boat. Clive joined us and we inspected the last drop with Terry explaining how the various features would affect us as we paddled the rapid. Back in our boats Terry led and waited in an eddy river left just below the drop while Clive took up a position river right. I ferried out and turned downstream concentrating on getting the line just right and, even if I do say so myself, I got it spot on negotiating the drop and pulling through the wave at the bottom just as Terry had described. Duane followed me down and also nailed it to finish the day on a real positive.

Those of you who've paddled with me before might be wondering how I managed five hours paddling without a capsize so, not to disappoint, in the rapid below the main drop, I failed to negotiate a large rock and kept up my record of failing to stay dry while out with SOC. Though slightly annoying this couldn't spoil my day and I would recommend anyone taking advantage of similar coaching sessions if and when they appear in the paddling programme.

A huge thank you to Terry and Clive for making the day so educational, challenging and above all enjoyable.

Tony Johnson

Article copyright © Tony Johnson 2012

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