Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Underwater in an upturned kayak in the sea

A cross-channel kayak is probably a challenge at the best of times, but I've been facing up to something which makes it even more so....I'm not at all happy being underwater in an upturned kayak in the sea.

This can be a bit of an inpediment to kayaking, especially when you are planning to cross The English Channel, because you are inevitably in constant danger of......being underwater in an upturned kayak in the sea.

Kayaks can be a bit.....tippy.

I have occasionally lost sleep over this fear during the last 18 months, especially since Jon and I got dragged about The Solent by a ferocious tide on the way to the Isle Of Wight (see Abortive Solent Attempt), but I never anticipated it would be much of a problem on a sit-on kayak, because you'd just tumble off, no problem.

But the difference with sea kayaks is that you are inside the body of the boat and you the water is kept out by a tightly elasticated spray-deck. When we took delivery of these a couple of weeks ago and had our first paddle at Calshot, I realised that I wasn't at all comfortable. Jon and Stu were merrily capsizing away and I was just trying to stay upright.

So I thought this through and decided that, given I was signed up to this and desperately wanted to do it, and that it is less than two months away, it was something that needed addressing.

I managed to get myself out onto two short trips last week, both from Marchwood to Eling and back. These were great and I began to feel more confident in the kayak. But still very worried about tipping, so this wasn't really enough.

In the end I contacted Rich Pearsall at New Forest Activities (Liquid Logistics) who agreed to help, and I also booked onto a BCU Level 1 course, because as part of that you've got to be able to capsize and get to the shore. This meant that I was forcing myself to get this issue out of my system.

So tonight I met Rich at Buckler's Hard, and we went for a paddle (this was the coaching session which Rich very kindly agreed to provide gratis, and which Jon/Stu had back in April when I had to pull out at the last minute), during which he gave me various coaching and tips. Before we started I'd fronted up about my mental block, but said that I wanted it sorted before I got out of the water at the end of the session.

We paddled down the Beaulieu River for a bit, I learned how to turn the boat and how to improve my paddling technique. He was very encouraging about our challenge and said that, as long as we had the right weather, then it wouldn't be a massive problem. It might even be as calm as the river we were on tonight, in fact. He also said, reassuringly, that the change of tipping up on The Channel was very limited and probably wouldn't happen at all.

But then the moment came. We arrived back at Buckler's Hard and Rich said it was time for a dip! He talked me through what to do under water and the moment of truth arrived.

Now this all sounds a bit over-dramatic because, in reality, most people should be able to do what is, effectively, not much different to jumping in the water and bobbing to the surface. For some reason I found this far from simple.

I took a deep breath. Then exhaled again. Caught Rich's eye....he was waiting patiently, encouraging without being pushy. I took another deep breath. And then I went. I tipped the thing up and then scrambled for the surface in a barely controlled panic. What I discovered was that getting out of the kayak was no more difficult than my rational mind had expected, and far easier and less death-inducing than my irrational fear had predicted.

I did it another couple of times and, although it's not perfect and needs practice to develop a calmer and more measured approach, it's definitely progress.

Either way, at least this particular monkey is off my back. Being being underwater in an upturned kayak in the sea is less of a problem than it once was.

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