Open Canoe (2)
Inverness Canoe Club is a busy club, active in sea kayaking, white water and open boating. We have fantastic rivers, lochs and coast line on our doorstep or in easy reach for a day trip, for every kind of boat and ability.
After a season of training in 2015, with introduction and refresher courses in spring, 2 foundation, safety and rescue courses in the spring/summer and a Level 1 course in the summer, quite a few people were eager to consolidate their new skills and use our fleet of 8 open boats. The club trailer was fine for our sea kayaks, but too small for so many open boats. This dilemma heralded the purchase of a brand new trailer in late autumn, which opened a whole new bunch of travel possibilities. First use was made for a 3* open boat training weekend in November, with 7 boats taken from our Inverness base to the venue at Loch Oich.
About the same time Malcolm Wield announced 4 Sundays in December and January for day trips. The last trip of the year was a fantastic trip down the River Oich. No coaching, just enjoying a crisp, dull, misty but mystic atmosphere on a river running on high and with each of the 7 participants as a solo paddler.
For the first trip of the year, in January, a training day was planned as preparation for the season ahead and hopefully some multi-day trips. On a very chill Sunday, 13 paddlers and 9 open boats met at the Dochgarroch Locks and headed for Loch Dochfour and the wee bay there. A lesson followed on how to erect a shelter using a tarp, rope, poles and different knots, including the rigging and test of a hammock. Another task was also very welcome on the cold day: lighting a fire and getting the kettle on! As this was not a real camp, we cheated a little bit with some pre-prepared kindling for the fire, as the woods where damp and frozen. Anyway- who doesn't take kindling in the boat when going on a multi-day trip!? Purists please note!
After our lunch we carried on paddling by using our poles. The bay is shallow enough for poling and further out deep enough for propelling using a variety of pole strokes. Some needed a wee bit of encouragement to stand up, but in the end everyone was enjoying it and had a big smile on their face. The old wooden trawler wrecks were a welcome obstacle course. For those not using poles (we had only 3 pairs) an exercise in reverse paddling skills.
Unfortunately we had to skip the lesson in canoe sailing as there was no wind, not the slightest breeze. At least we saw an open boat prepared with a fully rigged sail, thanks to Colin.
On the way back to the locks there was the option of a wee detour down the weir, which was tackled by half of the group. For 1 paddler at least, it was the first time down the weir in an open boat. A wild ride, a slightly swamped boat for some and great fun for everyone!
I can't wait for the next trip with an open boat, even if it means a difficult decision further on in the season, as actually I'm usually a sea kayaker. But I have really started to enjoy hearing the song of the paddle!
"In the ever varying conditions of wind, waves and rapids the possibilities for acquiring skill in the control of the canoe with poetry and grace are unlimited." Bill Mason, Path of the Paddle.
From Day 1 onwards, everything you do in a canoe will allow you to enjoy what Bill Mason knew better than most after more than 40 years of canoeing. There is nothing in paddlesport quite like working out how to handle a 15 or 16 foot boat so that every trip becomes an enjoyable series of one sweet move after another. Regardless of whether you want to paddle as a tandem pair or as an independent solo, your very first lesson will give you the elementary skills you will continue to sharpen with every successive lesson and trip thereafter.
Paddling a canoe skilfully on flat water is something that can be picked up very soon and can lead to a lifetime of safe pleasure on the water. There are inland lochs and expedition trails in the Highlands that can't be bettered anywhere. Imagine a three day journey through Inverpolly National Nature Reserve, or four days on the Great Glen Canoe Trail.
Flat water is one thing. Paddling a canoe on moving water is something else. Quite suddenly the boat comes alive, like a horse. From the minute the power of fast water affects the boat and your strokes counter the movement so that you go where you want to, when you want to, you begin to appreciate how responsive and agile the boat really is.
On slow sections, the stability and effortless travel of your craft introduces a combination of tranquillity and surprising pace, unique to canoes. Your connection with the river world becomes special and unlike anything else. It's just, well, different.
Unlike tooty little river kayaks, it's a bit more difficult to get 4 canoes on the roof of a Ford Focus. So club canoe trips are a bit more difficult to organise logistically. In contrast, it is much easier to move around and carry your kit in a canoe; there are no spray decks to worry about and the only roll you need is the one in your sandwich box.
Basic training (perhaps as part of the club's Introduction to Paddlesports course) will give you enough skills and safety awareness to recognise your limits and use a canoe as part of your outdoor activity with peers, regardless of whether there are enough club trips organised. It is hoped that the club trips on a variety of canoe friendly rivers like the Beauly, the Oich, the Conon and the Spey can be arranged about once a month during the year. These will be led by a Level 3 coach, who will aim to progressively smooth your skills and widen your experience of different conditions.
Whatever, like Bill Mason, you need never stop enjoying the canoe and you can look forward to discovering something on every canoe journey for the rest of your paddling life.
by Malcolm Wield
The Club has 10 open boats which can be hired, along with paddle, buoyancy aid, etc. We aim to have a regular calendar of trips throughout the year. Please be aware that no club boats are to be used on water rated above grade 3.
Photos: J Hooper