Until recently I've not really been interested in whitewater coaching. However, having seen how handy it can be on big volume water a few of us from BCC decided to get together and go on a 5 star training course. We booked through G17 and gave Simon a pretty open brief of - something along the lines of the 5 star syllabus.
As we were all arriving from different places we ended up with 3 cars between the 4 of us - not winning us much favour with the environmentalists. Will and I decided to take the Friday off work in order to get a warm up run in. Unfortunately my rather luck based plan of 'turning up at Dartmeet at 2pm and hoping we bump in to another group for a shuttle' didn't work out so we resigned ourselves to a blast down the Loop. Pete rocked up early evening, 'fresh' from a weeks steep creeking in North Wales and Al made it down in time for last orders. We were staying in Lowertown Farm B&B which is about 5 mins from Newbridge. It's a great B&B and definitely recommended if you are planning a small trip to Dartmoor. They even dried out all our gear in their kitchen (this was definitely the deal clincher for Will).
So Saturday morning we rocked up at the RDCP and met Simon. We gave him a rough outline of what we wanted and then shot up to the Upper Dart get on (via the B&B to pick up some forgotten kit...) at Dartmeet. Once there, we went through a gear check. We were fairly well kitted out as a group so there weren't too many complaints. Points that stand out were that my BA was designed for someone a lot smaller and wouldn't float me, that Pete's boat looks like an oversized Topolino and that Al's boat was a little small and might be quite hard work...
Once on the water we took turns in leading down the first section of the Upper Dart. This was a rather bimbly affair as we were all still half asleep and the group dynamics really weren't too hot. Still, after a few words from Simon things started to improve. We stopped at a couple of ledge drops and spent a while sessioning them. This was handy and we learnt 'the lazy ferry', 'lateral momentum' and 'to look for the window' amongst other things. (check out those buzz words)
Carrying on down the river we continued switching around the leading and although we knew the river it was still fairly challenging, especially making sure the person behind was always in line of sight etc. With the weather closing in we bombed straight over Euthanasia with a few interesting lines and reached Pandora's Box/Surprise Surprise. Here we discussed the line and what possible scenarios could occur. We then ensured we had safety in place to cover all outcomes. With the level just over the slab the line down wasn't as rocky as normal. The group behind us showed how not to do it with three out of their group of seven swimming and no safety in place. Our lines were variable but it gave some of us a chance to warm up our rolls.
The rain was torrential as we loaded the boats back on the car at New Bridge, which was good news for Sunday. The debrief at the RDCP was accompanied by soup which was much appreciated, especially as we somehow forgot to take lunch on the river... :)
Sunday arrived and we got the text we were hoping for from Simon, which was to meet at IvyBridge as we were paddling the Erme. This is a river most of us had wanted to paddle for a while but we had never got round to doing. Sunday started off in a similar way to Saturday with us taking it in turns to lead down the river except it was more demanding as none of us had paddled this river before. Simon was up front with the lead paddler and was passing on tips and advice. We would them meet up after a while and discuss how the dynamics and the leading were going. The first third of the river was a nice grade 3-4, while the middle section was a bit flatter with a few trees to skirt around.
Having been told we were entering the more entertaining last third of the river, there were a few nervous looks on our faces. These weren't helped when we reached the slot drop. This is a nasty looking drop with a walled in cauldron at the bottom. Al and I were a little surprised when straight away Pete and Will said they were keen to run the drop. Reinforcing the idea that stopping incidents before they develop in to something nastier is the best course of action, Al and I setup livebait at the bottom of the drop. Pete was up first with a great line although there was a slightly nervous moment on the right wall before he escaped the drop. Will was up next and he hit the line nicely but didn't carry as much speed through and got caught on the exit to the cauldron. Despite wanting to see Will hit some freestyle moves in the hole, the urgency in Simon's voice suggested that wouldn't be particularly nice so paddler and boat were livebaited out. Luckily the paddles were recovered just downstream and we were ready to carry on.
With the river at a decent med level when we got on and the fact the rain had been coming down all day Simon suggested we get a move on so he took the lead and we ran most of the next rapids with minimal inspection. This was a great grade 4-4+ pool drop river. The Viaduct signalled the arrival of the gorge section of the river, which is the main event. We got out and inspected the whole gorge for trees and to remember the lines. We all safety negotiated the first Viaduct rapid and got ready for the last section which included a couple of dog leg sections. Having watched Simon disappear off we started to follow down. On this section I learnt the following:
1) Relaxing at the wrong time isn't a good idea 2) Being sideways in a slot doesn't make for a pleasant swim 3) My BA was designed for someone a lot smaller 4) Emptying a boat with broken airbags is hard when perched on a small rock in a gorge.
Still, after that small mishap we all made it to the bottom in one piece. I think we all agreed that the Erme was a cracking river and it certainly got the adrenaline going. This was confirmed by the elation in Al's voice after successfully negotiating the gorge section - particularly impressive considering the boat he was paddling.
Once again we met back at the RDCP for a debrief which included what skills we need to work on. Despite the weekend being pretty tiring it was excellent and I'd definitely recommend it for people who want to progress their leadership on the water and personal paddling skills.
There are a 5-6 videos of the weekend at the following link (pages 1 and 2):
Click below to view some vide of the weekend.