The last day of Graham’s killer canoeing sessions and he couldn’t have booked a better day, if he had a hotline to the big man himself! The sun was splitting the skies, predictions of 18°, and apparently no wind. So I cast off my old faithful dry-suit and didn’t bother bringing my pop-up sail. I was totally up for a nice leisurely paddle on Loch Eck and shades were at the ready.

The scenery didn’t fail, it was picture perfect as we were kitting out our Open Boats.

Having passed around the 5L bottle of screen wash Graham R. kindly helped me carve my very own bailer. Graham S then declared we were going to get wet – great, the one day I didn’t bring my dry suit! Fortunately you can always count on Sandy to save the day, he only had a spare dry-suit.

On the water we did a warm-up. Stupidly I thought it was genuinely “warm-up” and got caught out when Graham later asked us all to cover off what skills from the previous sessions we were practicing – busted! “Eh….power starts, J-strokes, and bow turns”.

Graham then had us all perfecting our technique for maintaining a relatively effortless cruising speed using a Canadian-J (or Indian-J). Sadly it wasn’t effortless for me, the boat kept veering to the left when it was meant to be “effortlessly” tracking in a straight line. As Graham was giving the guys some tips I summoned the guru (Sandy) who explained my strokes were in 3 parts and I needed to have a more fluid stroke. I also had to employ correction throughout the stroke, rather than just at the end. This is when Graham’s previous advice popped back into my head – think of an aeroplane wing as it’s landing. Graham then came over to build on Sandy’s advice. We did a bit more practice on this and by the end it was starting to feel like a Canadian J – if perfected you should be able to cruise in a straight line, without a sound.

Graham then introduced us to pitch and 45° paddle angles to make a tight turn at the bow – OMG. There was a lot of power transfer, a lot of pushing water, a lot of leaning forward, a lot of heeling (and balancing), a lot of straight arms, a lot of twisting of paddles (not twisting of wrists), and a few “no keep the paddle vertical……pitch Leigh, pitch”. Yip Graham was very firmly in that coaching throne and my head was starting to hurt again. But I think I finally nailed it! It is definitely a very effective technique which enables you to keep in better control of the boat and turn more effectively in wind. As Graham explained the sweep stroke will give you a wider turn but as it glides, you will lose power and speed.

Sandy pointed out a perfect lunch spot so our next task, set by Graham, was to paddle in a straight line only using pitch and paddling only at the bow. Really not as easy as you’d think!

After lunch Graham got back into the theory with the sand as his black-board……..head was hurting again. After lunch it was rescue time. We talked through X-rescue, the Curl, the Scoop, self-rescue, and all in rescue. We paired off and started practicing them, with speed and sliding being key themes. There may also have been a moment I nearly wiped Graham out, which Sandy kindly caught on camera. I blame the bucket!

Graham then demo’d some self-rescues, with and without the bucket. Then it was our turn – it’s amazing how long it takes to bail out a full boat. Graham then helpfully pointed out if someone has a full boat, it’s quicker if the team help to bail the person out. However every time I helped with the bailing, water seemed to be bailed into my boat. There was definitely something wrong with that scenario. And at one point Graham usefully employed that ****** bucket to launch water all over me – that bailer came in handy.

I can’t remember what we were doing but Ross and I found ourselves in the green room (under an upturned OC), counting to three, pushing the OC up into the air then trying to right it with the least amount of water inside. What I do remember is that the water was cold and it wasn’t really working for us. Graham’s top tip of rocking, and breaking the seal before pushing up, resulted in more water inside the boat and me saying hello to the fishes.

After all our cold water fun Sandy whipped out his pole and sail to effortlessly demo how you sail an open boat. Graham R. admirably stepped up to the sailing challenge and got a very sharp turn under his belt – it was impressive to watch. Ross and I had a go too, under a fair bit of instruction from Graham. Sailing was a lot of fun but I think we all need a wee bit more practice to have any hope of trying to out maneuver Sandy.

It was definitely not a superficial session, lacking substance. It was a brilliant day and final session that definitely packed a technical punch. 😉
We’re all a little sad it’s finished but who knows, there might be a “Return of the OC” coming to a river near you.

Thanks for all your top tips Graham and putting me (and the guys) through our paces. Did you hear the army’s recruiting? No seriously, it’s been brilliant.