Last weekend six club members travelled up to Wales for a White Water Safety and Rescue course run by Lowri Davies of Flowfree coaching.
A slow but ultimately uneventful journey saw me, Tim, Dave and Gordon arrive mid-evening with Shaun and Mark joining us later at the bunkhouse – Tyddyn Bychan.
We had arranged to meet Lowri in the cafe at the Tryweryn at 09:00 so it meant an earlier start than most paddling weekends and with the forecast of wind and rain for most of the day we were all keen to make as much of the time in the cafe as possible. However we couldn’t put it off for too long and we were soon at the top of the river ready to get wet.
After a bit of a briefing where we talked about the merits of various bits of kit we were wearing – buoyancy aids, helmets, drysuits, boots etc. and the need to keep it as clutter free as possible we started with swimming and manoeuvring in moving water. We then took it in turn rescuing with throwlines and being rescued – lots of swimming about in quite cold water!
We also had a go at body surfing across the front of a river wide stopper – a bit of an eye-opener as we all thought that we would be pulled into the hole, but no, in the right conditions you can use the tow-back to position yourself on the river. A word of caution here though – this was in a very controlled situation under the guidance of a Level 5 coach – don’t just go trying this at your local weir!
We then had a go at using the quick release mechanism on the rescue harness on our buoyancy aids – this had to be one of the most enlightening bits we did all weekend. Out of the six of us we had two complete failures – Dave’s failed to release as the strap got twisted on the “D-ring” – under a plastic clip designed specially to keep it straight, and Shaun’s (eventually) released only for the carabiner on his cow’s-tail to attach itself through the neoprene pocket so no matter what he did he could not get free!! The biggest lesson learned – no open gate carabiners!!!
Some different throwline techniques and live-bait rescues followed. Again another big learning point. The strain on a rope with the casualty (or casualty and live-bait) even in simple moving water can be huge. We will all be thinking differently about how we set up protection from now on.
The end of the day was more rope work, setting up Z-drags and Tim showing us his toys – that TIBLOC is great!
Saturday evening saw us with another ridiculously large Chinese meal and together with a few beers we were done for the night and turned in for a good sleep (except for the dog barking and Dave’s snoring).
Sunday morning was a 9 o’clock start again but at least with the prospect of spending some time in our boats. We had a normal run down the river with the occasional debrief about group dynamics and signals – keep it simple.
It was then time to get wet again (at least for some), some boat rescue and towing techniques were followed by swimmer rescues/carries and we discussed the merits of front and rear carries etc. Dave and I decided not to bother rescuing Tim’s boat after it decided to have a little play in a hole all on its own and we just carried on past it (well it did stop eventually).
Up to the top again and a bit more theory on on foot entrapments and possible rescues for that before we were in the water again for wading. It was here I discovered that drysuits aren’t always dry – well not if you leave the zip open. .
The day was rounded off with a scenario where Lowri set herself up on a rock in the middle of the river and we had to come and rescue her. Mark used his new found stopper body surfing skills a useful addition to get to the middle of the river as we set up the system to get Lowri out. It seemed to work out quite well and we had that confirmed as Lowri set it was one of the best ever rescues and because we had completed the it so efficiently there wasn’t any need for another scenario as we had covered everything.
A quick paddle back down the river, get changed and into the cafe for a final debrief.
Given that we were a relatively experienced group we all said we had learnt a lot and that the course was a really valuable addition to our skills. It was also a really enjoyable weekend that I can thoroughly recommend.