Report by Major Jo Billington:
The week started with the distribution of equipment. I think sea kayaking requires more safety equipment than any other sport or adventurous pursuit - radios, EPIRBS, spare paddles, repair kits, rescue lines, tow lines, emergency shelters, flare packs... You name it, it gets packed in a boat. And hopefully where it can be accessed at a moment’s noticed, normally whilst bobbing on a bumpy sea!
After a few hours in the classroom, it was time to get afloat.
As always, the first activity of the practical phase was capsize drills. Fortunately the team were all in only 'slightly' leaky dry suits, so on the whole stayed pretty dry and warm. At this time of year, the bodies of waters around the UK are at their warmest. In April, when the group will have their second practice, they will be at their coldest...
The following couple of days focused on boat-handling skills and actually getting the boats to go where the paddler intended. This year’s group proved to be very accomplished and they progressed quickly.
But then came Ophelia: definitely a day to remain inside and off the sea. After a few phone calls and some 'wheeling and dealing', we managed to arrange a visit to the Coast Guard Station at Holyhead and followed it with a visit to the Lifeboat Station along the road.
The staff who gave us the guided tour were very appreciative of a large box of Miniature Heroes for their troubles. For sea-kayakers, they are most definitely our 'Heroes'.
It was a noisy night in the bunkhouse. The wind was howling like nothing we had heard before and we sat around playing cards as the lights flickered on and off, with the hostel rocking and the sound of crashing debris outside. We feared we might end up with no boats left at all in the morning.
Fortunately, they were all still safe and intact. But we made the decision collectively that for the two days of the expedition, the sea probably would not recover from the storm. So it was agreed that we would head inland to Lake Bala.
The conditions there were perfect: a good strong breeze against us on the way down the lake and then a following wind behind us all the way home; perfect for practising crosswind, downwind and upwind paddling.
The expedition is generally the highlight of the trip. It was a crisp evening, but perfect in every way. We had a fire, marshmallows, popcorn, yummy food, hot chocolate and cards by firelight. In the morning we were met with some extraordinary conditions: a low inversion across the lake, a band of sunshine above the clouds and some fluffy cirrus clouds way up high. The pictures speak for themselves:
Well done to a brilliant team of paddlers. It was a great week!
The paddlers were Marcus Cope, Fingal Dickens, Emma Graham, William Holcroft, Katie Oswald and Lizzie Ware.