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Canoes and Kayaks

Early Morning Swim Practice

The theme around the early morning swim was all about canoeing. The idea was to prepare us for the inevitable swims during canoe and kayak adventures.

We were asked the night before to come to the pool dressed in robust sportswear like tracksuits, but no cotton clothes because they would chill us too much when canoeing. For open water activities you want to dress up according to the water temperature, not the air temperature.

After a good rinse in the showers we all hopped into the pool to practice swimming a few lengths in our canoeing clothes.

Then we were told to wear the waterproof clothes from the drying room. Some of the students preferred the canoeing anoraks, others tried long cagoules, coveralls or sailing suits. Buoyancy aids and life vests were also available to try out.

Moments later we were all splashing around in the pool. It was an interesting experience to swim with all the canoeing kit on. Climbing into the inflatable boats was quite a challenge with heavy waterlogged clothes. This was all great fun and looked very colourful.

Afterwards we had a shower while we took off the waterproofs and put them back into the drying room. Then we changed into dry kit for breakfast and the following canoeing session.

Canoeing in the Pool

The canoeing training this morning looked like a reasonably dry event, at least for the staff. So I dressed in my staff uniform, red jogging pants, yellow tee-shirt and hoodie, socks and tennis shoes. Giovanni suggested we should take our canoeing anoraks, just in case they started splashing around.

Our teams showed up in dry casual clothes. Most wore jeans or jogging pants and tee-shirts, some in sweatshirts or hoodies. Others were slopping around in their wet clothes from the early morning swim and went to the showers to warm up.

Balance Demonstration

We team leaders showed them how to carefully enter the boat without capsizing it right away, and how to use the paddles to go in a straight line.

Joey, the instructor, asked us to stand up and demonstrate how stable the boats are. I stood up holding the paddle in front of me. The boat wiggled a bit but was fairly stable. Easy!

Then he asked us to slowly tilt the boats by stepping to the side. My boat leaned over a bit and became more and more unstable.

"See how far you can go before it capsizes," he shouted across the pool. And I thought this was going to be a dry session. Oh, well, time to get wet in clothes again.

It was quite thrilling to edge slowly towards the point of no return. Steadily I stepped closer to the side which sank deeper and deeper. The water was only a little bit from the edge.

Next to me a team leader fell into the water. The resulting wave washed over my edge and soaked my left canvas shoe. I just managed to keep my balance. Carefully I tilted the boat more. Whenever some water came in, I stepped back a bit, then tried again. Slowly the boat filled up, soaking my feet. Eventually enough had water come in over the side and the boat flipped over. With a big splash I fell into the pool.

The big challenge was to get back into the boat after I flipped it upright again. The wet jogging suit weighed a lot as I climbed back into the boat.

"One more time!" the students shouted and so I fell in again and pushed the boat towards the poolside. I climbed out and water gushed out of my jogging suit, much to the delight of my team.

Now it was their turn

The students quickly got into the boats and paddled around the pool for a while, splashing each other often.

Soon they stood up and tried to keep their balance which wasn't easy with two or three people in the boat. It didn't take long and they were all soaking wet, having a fantastic time.

"I told you, dry is not an option here," said Giovanni after he surfaced next to me. "You're right, and it's a lot more fun in wet clothes," I replied as I pulled the hood of his anorak over his face.

Kayaking in the Pool

After an hour break and a change into dry clothes, we taught the students how to use a kayak, including some safety skills like rolling and wet exit. Most students were dressed in tracksuits or jogging bottoms and tee-shirts, some wore hoodies or anoraks as well.

Safety and Comfort

Two of them came just in swimming briefs. Joey used the opportunity to demonstrate a few safety and comfort issues.

First he asked them to slip into a kayak on pool side, pointing out that the cockpit rim and some parts inside had rough edges. They quickly got the point. Next he asked them to jump into the pool wearing just buoyancy aids and spray covers directly on their skin. They said that this was chafing uncomfortably.

He also asked a volunteer in jeans and tee-shirt to wear the same kit in the pool. He said it was fine as the clothes prevented the chafing. After this short demonstration our two swimmers quickly ran out and came back dressed in jeans and hoodies.

Getting the Boats

The kayaks were tied together in a star shape in the middle of the pool. Joey asked us to climb into the boats without using the pool side. We all waded into the pool from the shallow end and reached the boats in waist deep water.

I found climbing in a bit of a challenge. My wet jogging pants were quite heavy as I lifted one leg out to sit astride on top of the boat. At least my hoodie was still dry and not heavy.

I put one leg into the cockpit, promptly lost my balance and fell back into the water. Now my hoodie was soaking wet as well. After a few attempts I finally got in. Most of the others were still dry on top, but not for long.

Wet Exit

Next up was the Wet Exit. We were told to roll over, push out backwards from the cockpit and come up for air. I was asked to demonstrate that and then assist the others. After I put my hood up and tied it well, I rolled over and got out. This went easier than I thought as I came up next to Timmy's boat.

"That's going to get wet." I said, pointing at Timmy's dry hoodie. He gave me a big grin as he put his hood up. Then he leaned over slowly, sculling with his arm to keep the boat on the side for a while. The water quickly ran into the cockpit over his jeans and hoodie. Whoosh and he was upside down.

"Hey, this is great fun. Let's do that again!" he shouted as he came up. He struggled a bit but managed to get in. "That's a lot harder with a wet hoodie." he commented.

Thomas in a dry long sleeve tee-shirt was watching this from a boat nearby. He asked if he could sink the boat while holding it halfway. I held his paddle alongside his boat as a bar on which he could hold on to. He leaned over and we watched the water flush in. Half his tee-shirt was in the water, the upper half was still dry above. Then he let go and went upside down.

I spend most of the time standing in chest deep water, assisting everyone who needed it. The hooded jogging suit that is our staff uniform for indoor activities kept me comfy and warm in the pool.

We had lots of fun during this session as we practiced a few more rescue and rolling skills. Now we were ready for the lake.

Afternoon: Kayaking on the Lake

An hour after lunch we gathered in the pool hall to get dressed and pick up the boats. Whoever didn't have their own waterproofs was issued a red or blue nylon suit to wear on top of their clothes, so they would stay warm.

A few kayaks were drifting in the pool and two volunteers waded in to get them. Then we carried the boats to the lake and went for a relaxing paddle along the shore.

After just over an hour we came full circle and arrived back to the beach where we started. Most of us were still dry, wondering what chance there was for a good soaking.

As we still had a fair bit of time left, the instructors suggested we use it to play around or practice the Wet Exit. That meant I had get into the water and help the others. With a big smile I put up my anorak hood and rolled my boat.

Thomas was still dry in his blue waterproof suit. He asked if it was difficult to climb in and out of a boat with all these clothes on.

"Yes, the waterlogged clothes weigh somewhat more than dry clothes," I explained. "But it takes longer for the water to get inside your suit."

He gave me a big smile and asked if he could do the slow capsize again, like this morning.

Again I held the paddle out for him to hold on and he slowly leaned over. He said it tickled as the water ran up his sleeve. Slowly he sank deeper in as the water washed over his suit and into the boat.

Soon the boat capsized and he fell out of the big cockpit. With a big smile he came up again.

"Did you enjoy that?" I asked. "How do the clothes feel?"

"Really good, very comfy." he replied. We emptied the boat and he climbed in again, the water flushing out of his suit.

After I helped a few others for a while, we took the boats back to the pool hall and headed for the showers. We took off the buoyancy aids and shoes to rinse them and all our kit.

Most of us then hopped into the pool to swim a bit more in our canoeing clothes. This was too much effort so we just splashed around and had a lot of wet fun. Then it was time for an hour break, change into dry clothes, and preparing the raft building session.

Raft Building

A raft building exercise teaches team work in challenging conditions. We went to the drying room to collect our clothes from the previous events, warm thermals and tracksuits. Then we put on the waterproof suits and headed for the lake.

They said we should make a raft from the available materials to get across the lake. Teams are tasked with building a raft that can support 4-6 members of each team and can be rowed across the lake.

We used ropes, wooden planks and canisters to put something together that might float. Using this, teams must build a sturdy raft that can be manoeuvred through the waters. Risk factors run high and every small detail is integral to the teams' survival.

Raft building involves going into the water quite often. Every now and then we waded waist deep into the lake to see if the raft was stable enough. This was a precision task and we had to make sure it was done well, even if it meant we had to get into the water every few minutes.

Eventually we put a raft together that floated. We climbed all aboard and used the paddles to move it across the lake.

Sure enough half way across it capsized and we all fell into the water. We climbed back onto the raft and capsized few more times before we made it to the other side of the lake.

Some of these capsizes were sort of intentional. It is such great fun to fall into the lake fully clothed and climb out again, watching the water flow out from our clothes.

Finally we rushed back to the pool building to rinse our kit in the warm showers and jumped into the pool still dressed in our adventure kit.

White Party

Last night at the party I got a bit cold so this time I decided to dress up a bit more. A comfy pullover with two tees, white jeans, and my white anorak looked like a warm choice, even when wet. My socks got a bit damp as I put on my wet tennis shoes which made a nice squelching sound while I walked to the pool.

After a while I gave it another try across the ropes. Halfway over the pool I noticed Giovanni coming my way. As we met he said with a big smile: "Hi, Felix. You look like you dried out a bit. Fancy a swim?"

Tricky question. On one hand I had planned to keep my warm clothes dry for a while. On the other hand it seemed like a jolly good idea since I like to see him swimming in his sports clothes. So I simply smiled back and nodded, wondering how he would get me into the pool.

With a wicked smile he let go of the rope and hugged me. The extra weight was more than I could handle and the rope slipped from my hands. He held on tight to me as we fell into the pool.

The nylon of his white anorak felt very soft, I noticed as we resurfaced, still holding on to each other. His black tee-shirt was visible through the almost transparent anorak. We climbed into a boat and I had a good look at his outfit. I could see his wet black hair shining through his anorak hood, and also put my hood up, just for fun.

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