Wednesday, September 30, 2009

ACA L4 Certification: Day 1

I ended up missing about half of the day. I was actually unable to get the full day off due to some work but I really didn't miss too much. The first part of the day was similar to the first part of the Whitewater training, basically going over how the ACA works and what they can give me as an instructor. I manage to catch up with the group at lunch time and we paddled around Widewater learning how to teach the various strokes.

Introductory Kayaker (L2)
The 6 day course is designed to take students through the various levels building up a foundation. As I have no certification in sea kayaking I need to go through the whole course. So today we started with the Instructor Development Workshop (IDW). This is where we learn how to teach, how people learn and how to teach the strokes in an effective manner. We also learn how to give effective and useful feedback. We learned how to teach the forward stroke, forward and reverse sweeps, reverse stroke, pivot maneuver and stopping.

We were five in the class. There were two people from out of town going for their L2 certification and three people going as far as we could. We were aiming for an L4 but that isn't guaranteed. We get the award for the level we are capable of comfortably teaching and the conditions we are comfortable in. So it is possible to go through the entire training and come out with nothing, or only an L2 or go all the way and get an L4.

Tomorrow the two going for L2 get assessed for the L2 certification and the rest of us will move on into the L3 development and certification. I was a little bored with the learning today as most of it wasn't new. Tomorrow will be a big day with some video taping as well as immersion.

Monday, September 14, 2009

BCU 3 Star Sea Kayak Assessment

Today was the big day. After all that training and paddling I moved on to the assessment to see if I was able to paddle at a 3 star sea kayak level. Today was actually fairly calm compared to the last two days. We actually had to go out of our way to find conditions that would meet with the minimum requirements. We ended up doing a lot of rock gardens. In Maine, with the high tidal difference, there didn't really seem to be many beaches and more there were rocky outcroppings and cliff faces. With the ocean swells we worked our way in as close to the rocky walls as possible even moving through some of the rocky gaps as the swells would allow. It was quite a bit of fun. I had never had a chance to go rock gardening as there are none down here that I am aware of. With the swells moving in, the boats would get pushed close to the rocks and as the swell receded, we would move away. This turned out to be an excellent time to really work on doing hanging draws. A hanging draw is a static stroke taken to help move the kayak sideways while on the move. It really is a very cool stroke when mastered. I feel I have mastered it both in forward and reverse.

Today I was the only girl moving forward into the assessment. We were a group of 6 people with 3 of us having gone through the training together. It was nice to move into the assessment as a group and know we were in it together. For the most part we all did well. At one point, just to make things more challenging, I was asked to trade boats with someone who also had a Force 4. The catch was we were not allowed to get wet. Since the other guy was a little shaky on his skills, I ended up taking over. I grabbed another kayaker to help and we rafted up creating a nice stable platform allowing me to get out of my boat and him to get in before I crawled over all three boats and hopped into his. It was a pretty cool feat to do on a dynamic surface. His outfitting was a little odd with a higher seat. A few minutes later we traded back in a similar manner on as part of a tow.

Towards the end of the day, we were goofing off and playing in the rock gardens again. I went through a small gap in the rocks with no problems. The next guy through also had no problems. When I turned around to go back, the water lifted me up, turned me then drained out leaving my bow and stern up on the rocks while I was hanging head down in the water. I ended up having to exit the boat and came up laughing. I had just been part of a controlled rescue a few minutes ago and had just warmed up then here I was back in the water trying to push my boat off the rocks for another rescue. Everyone thought it was funny too, I am just sad that no one managed to get a picture.

After all was done, we got back to Bar Harbor safely and exhausted. We opted to get our assessment as a group and 5 of us passed. We later found out that the one guy who didn't pass, had known ahead of time that he likely wouldn't and wanted to come for the training and practice. He realized after seeing us paddle that he really did need more work to get up to that skill level. The rest of us went back to the symposium site and partied a bit to celebrate. My individual comments were that I needed to pay more attention to surroundings when doing rescues (or at least designate a looker), and try to keep myself tucked in more to prevent shoulder injuries. The one piece of praise I received which was the same as yesterday was that my finesse strokes are beautiful and well done, but the strength strokes require a bit more work with timing.

I ended up going out for supper that night with a bunch of the instructors who were still in town one more night. I knew two of the instructors from before, Alison Sigethy and Kevin Black, and had kayaked with Russell Farrow at the Mid-Atlantic Kayak Festival as well as saw his talk both at MAKF and ECCKF in the spring so it was cool to actually talk with him. I hadn't met Any Sparks before but he was pretty cool to kayak with and I feel I learned a lot with him over the two day training. The people who run the Carpe Diem Symposium, Mel and Mark, are great people and I hope I can get out there again next time. They let me shower in the bunkhouse. Nothing like a hot shower to feel human again. I hate campgrounds that have coin-operated showers.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

BCU 3 Star Training, Day 2

After a very intense day one training I think we were all expecting another heavy day of training. Today wasn't nearly as intense but we did still go over a lot of drills. This time we were able to focus a little more on navigation as we ran into some fog that lingered into the late morning. Navigation is an interesting challenge on the water.

First, it is hard to plan a bearing and course on the fly because looking down onto a map is a really great way to wind up sea sick and sometimes even dizzy. There are devices, like the Nav-aid that are supposed to make it easier to get a bearing quickly so as to spend less time looking down. I don't have one. I think some preplanning and rafting of boats together went a long way to getting a bearing quickly and relatively accurately. Having the chart folded out to show the interested areas also helps.

Second, once we managed to plan out our route (straight line across a channel), we found that we hadn't taken the current into account. Our destination was the lower point of a small island. In order to make sure we didn't miss the island altogether, we aimed for the center of the island. This makes it easier to correctly reach our destination. The problem was we didn't account for the current in the channel, which was actually moving quite quickly and we ended up getting pushed quite badly. If the fog had been thicker, we would not have seen the island materializing in front of us. With the current in the channel, it would have been quite possible for us to be pushed right past the other end of the island. As it was, the fog was lifting as we made our way across the channel and I could see how skewed our course had become. We corrected on the fly as we could start to see where we were going.

Lunch was a much more relaxing affair, at first. We landed on a small fishing island and enjoyed a nice lunch. We did have some fun trying to land on the extra high docks. The instructor chose the slightly lower dock and I opted to go that route too. I had some trouble levering myself up off the boat to a standing position. My knees just didn't seem to have enough strength to get me up from a seated position. Once I managed to get my butt up onto my back deck I had an easier time of it. We basically got out, walked the boats to the other side then hopped back in. The lunch spot was a rocky beach and nicely enough a picnic table. We did have to determine our precise coordinates for an "emergency" call. Our coordinates right down to the decimal seconds. Luckily we had a good chart to read off of. And at least one person who knew were to find the decimal second readings.

This day seemed to focus more on paddling as a whole, we did work on some skills and some rescues but I feel like we actually went somewhere today rather then paddling in small circles. The small circles were nice yesterday and I like the fact that each day was entirely different while still covering about the same material. I'm just glad I didn't have to tow as the tows were for long distances not quick little tows. Although that is likely a great way to get in shape.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

BCU 3 Star Training, Day 1

I wasn't sure what to expect on my first day of training for the 3 Star Sea Kayak Award. I had read that conditions needed to be at about 10-15 knots of wind, 3-5 foot seas and at least a couple of knots of current. So in my mind, I was picturing big waves, big winds AND big current. My imagination got the better of me and worked me up into a worried state. Turns out it should be at least one of those conditions and not necessarily all those conditions. Once out on the water, I realized the conditions really were not so bad. In fact I didn't think them bad at all, which is a good thing. This means I was ready for this type of water and comfortable with it. I did figure out I wasn't in very good shape in spite of all the whitewater paddling I have been doing. Time to start working on attaining so get in shape.

I already have a membership for my whitewater L3 certification and an L3 personal achievement award through the ACA, the American Canoe Association. I wasn't sure why I wanted to get another membership and personal achievement award in the BCU system (British Canoe Union). After looking at the levels of the two systems, I realized that there are advantages to training in both systems. The ACA L3 is not quite equivalent to the 3 Star. In fact the 3 Star is a bit of a step up and is a great stepping stone in bettering myself. This way it looks like I can take smaller steps and bounce between the two systems. I had not taken any ACA training with my L3 assessment, rather I got the 3 Star training but with no conditions. My understanding is that the BCU system is focusing on the journey and leadership where the ACA system focuses on the skills to do the trip.

We started out with a foggy and overcast day. Temperatures were not too bad but the water was definitely on the colder side of things. I had chosen to wear my light-weight wool thermals over my mid-weight wool thermals. I had an extra top layer just in case. We started off with a very long and winding back paddle through the ships and various ship buoys littering the harbor. I thought my arms were going to fall off. I don't think I have ever paddled that far backwards before, ever! Definitely worked out some muscles. We moved on through the morning, paddling around to the various small islands, landing on one and "saving" our paddle from hypothermia. Of course it is a good idea to save someone above the high water line. I didn't realize we didn't have to actually open up the space blanket, those things are like a can of worms. Once I got it out of the bag, it expanded beyond belief. I ended up shoving it into my dry bag to fold up later.

We had a working lunch. There were so many things to go over from navigation, to tides, then strokes and concepts. We worked on some navigation and tide work over lunch as time seemed to be in short supply. After lunch we took some time to surf the wave that forms over the little rock shelf. This was lots of fun. I hadn't had a chance to surf in quite a while. I had some control over my boat but I could still tell the wave was pushing me along to surfer's left. Not a good place to be as it was shallow there. One guy managed to do a bow stall with his 18 foot sea kayak, quite impressive. We also had a bit of a traffic jam, one boat plowing over another.

In the afternoon we worked on rescues and boat repair. I found out that my light-weight wool thermals were not going to keep me warm for prolonged sitting or immersion. Good thing for the borrowed dry suit but damn it was cold. Various rescues then on to boat repair. My partner for the training got out of his boat and sat on my deck while we pulled his boat up between us and tried to "repair" it. We found that the Gorilla Tape he had didn't stick to it, neither did the Hippo Tape I had. I found out afterwards that the Hippo Tape really needs to be applied to a dry surface. I might have to try it again some other time. In the meantime, we found out that Duct Tape seemed to be the winner. Window flashing is also supposed to be a great item which I have seen in use before and really should go out and buy.

We were supposed to be on the water until about 4:30. Our trainer asked if we were okay with staying out later. For extra training we were happy to but we were getting tired. I finally asked if this was a two day class or if I was mistaken. He thought I meant is this normally a two day class to which his response was that this could take up to six months in England. I restated that I meant this weekend, and after a show of (tired) hands, we headed back. He was a little apologetic yet happy to keep working on us tomorrow. So we headed back exhausted but feeling good. Almost all of us were signed up for the class tomorrow and only a small few were signed for the assessment on the Monday.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning

In an effort to continue my training and increase my abilities, I registered for a symposium in Maine with the hopes of getting more on the water experience and learn how to better handle myself, my boat and deal with tides, and navigation. When I saw the Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning course listed on the curriculum I thought I had found the perfect class. The class is part of the new BCU 4 Star Sea Kayak Leader Award. Although I was not yet heading towards that award level, I thought it would still come in handy. I was more then a little surprised and slightly disappointed to discover (after showing up) that the class was not an on water class. It was actually a classroom class. But it was still well worth it. I feel that I got a lot out of the class and I just have to remember how to use what I learned. The class was broken down into four major topics.

We learned about tides and the various types. There are spring tides which are the biggest and neap tides which are the smallest. Spring tides occur when the moon and sun line up, so basically at new moon and full moon. Neap tides occur when the moon is halfway through waxing or waning. Spring tides can be affected even more in the spring when the earth is closer to the sun causing an even stronger gravitational pull. Tides are caused by the water sliding across the surface of the earth. Water is not lifted, it is moved. Based on the continental shelf, tides may be only a few feet in height or they may be tens of feet in height. Charts with depths marked show lowest mean depth. As this is a mean average, it is possible to have a negative tidal difference. Recently, the UK switched over to lowest astronomical depth meaning that when everything is in alignment, that is the lowest possible depth. While it is still possible for a negative tide, the tidal difference is almost trivial.

The period of the tide is just over 6 hours from low to high or high to low. The moon travels around the earth in the same direction that the earth is spinning. The moon has a 28 day orbit. Over the 24 hour rotation of the earth, the moon has moved 1/28th of an orbit. So the earth is constantly playing catch up with the moon. This causes the tides to slowly move forward each day.

Wind and Waves
Wind causes waves but where does the wind come from? Wind is caused by changing temperatures in the air. The air near the equator heats up and rises heading towards the cooler air at the poles. The cold air at the poles, moves down towards the equator to head up. This circular motion of air moves both on a grand scale and at smaller scales. As the air moves towards the poles, some of the air loses it heat and sinks back down to the equator causing smaller circular currents. All this is what happens in an ideal world. But once land is involved, air heats up faster over land during the day and cools off faster in the night. Water is a great temperature regulator. The air over land will shift with day and night causing on-shore and off-shore breezes. Add in the rotation of the earth and the wind now twists around.

Waves are formed by off-shore weather patterns. The wind from the weather patterns stirs up the water and the waves travel out from that point until they meet the shore. Waves can be generated miles away from the shore. There tends to be a period or pattern to the waves. While no two waves are the same, there is a period to the wave sets. Watching waves on shore, waves will start small, then build up to larger waves then decrease back down to small waves again. The breaking of waves occurs when the water has no where to go but up, generally caused by the beach shelf, sand bars, reefs and other obstacles on the ocean floor.

Just as air can be heated and moved, so to can water. The ocean is similarly heated at the equator and travels up to the poles in a great heat exchange. The continents provide some resistance as well as more water from rivers. As water flows between islands, stronger currents are formed as water is pinched and forced through narrower gaps. With the tide and movement of the water, there is various types of current. A slack current is when the tide is at its slowest, typically at the high or low portion of the tide, just before it changes direction. The current can ebb or flow, ebb meaning it is going out and flow meaning it is coming in. The fun part about currents is the cool things that are created that make for great play spots. Swells and waves moving along rocky shores are fun to paddle around and through. Swells moving over ledges create waves which can be surfed. Tidal races are standing waves formed when water moves through a constriction.

Weather affects the tides and even affects the tide height. With a high pressure system, the pressure of the air pushing down on the water causes the tide height to diminish. The opposite is true with a low pressure system, less pressure allows the tide to become higher. High pressure systems do not have fronts associated with them while low pressure systems do. The clashing of fronts causes weather changes either in the form of thunderstorms, or rain.

This can be broken down into three sections; bearings, courses, and headings. Bearing are the straight line direction to any object whether you intend to travel there or not. Bearings can be used to triangulate a position in the ocean when several markers or land features can be seen. Headings are the direction of travel, whether that takes current and wind into account or not. Courses are the path actually taken, as in how the wind and current actually affected the path of travel. Bearings, courses, and headings can all be the same or they can all be different. Knowing how strong the current or wind is in a particular area can allow for compensation.

So much more
This is really only the barest amount that I learned from the class. There was so much more. It was a very good class and I found it useful. We actually walked down to the beach and took a few bearings and discussed how to triangulate and plan a trip. We learned how to read charts and obtain locations from a chart. Most charts are in both true north and magnetic north so we learned how to correct between the two. The rule of thumb was when going from the small world (chart or map) to the big world (real world) you add the deviation. When going from the real world to the small world, the deviation is subtracted. The compass rose has all the needed information about deviations and annual change.