Our base for the two days was Freshwater Bay where Owen has his HQ in the grounds of thew Sandpipers Hotel.
This two day BCU course is designed to prepare candidates for the 4* Sea Assessment. Under the revised BCU awards scheme, the 4* is a leadership course with an emphasis on developing and demonstrating personal skills and group leadership skills in moderate water conditions as opposed to a coaching qualification.Once a candidate passes the assessment, they are able to lead small groups within a defined remit:
…a group of 4 (not including themselves) paddlers, on short (six to eight miles, of at least three hours paddling). journeys in moderate tidal water environment with winds not exceeding force 4/sea state 4.
Day one of the course was focused on leadership skills and rescues (self and assisted). Freshwater Bay provided a sublime location for this. Without straying more than 1km from the launch point, we were able to play around stacks, small rock gardens and in caves whilst experiencing a decent helping of swell and breaking waves.After a warm up session where we looked at ways of using the warm up to gauge the ability of a group of paddlers we might be about the lead, we spent the rest of the morning setting small challenges and activities in and around the stacks and caves considering at all times how best to protect the activity with adopting a leadership ‘position of most effectiveness’.
This moved onto a short ‘coasteering’ session in one of the cave sections. As well as being an absolute blast swimming and clambering about inside and out side the caves in the swell and breaking waves puts you in the position of a potential swimmer and provides another side to your understanding of the conditions you may be leading a group in.From here we moved onto assisted rescues working in increasingly difficult conditions/locations and then balance drills and self rescues. The final part of the day was spent on technical landings which require you to exit the boat and attached by a towline swim to a ledge or outcrop, climb up and then pull in the boat before reversing the manouvere to launch.
I think it would be fair to say all 6 candidates left the water buzzing but exhausted after the day. I came away from day one with a self created list of action points to work on over the coming weeks and months.
Day two was more focused on trip planning and navigation. Working in pairs we planned a crossing from Yarmouth to Hurst Spit which involves careful thought about the tidal race known as ‘the trap’. Interestingly each group came up with a different route which we all followed before reconvening on the the Spit to eat lunch and discuss the merits and issues with each route.From here, Owen worked us through a series of tasks that pushed out ‘in boat’ route planning and execution before presenting a few common incident scenarios for us to work through as a group. This included a sun stroke smitten swimmer requiring a group tow and a holed boat at risk of becoming a ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’.
All too soon we were back at the launch point packing up before the final two sections on running a safe and effective surf session and repair kits and how to use them. The course ended with a discussion on moving forward to assessment.The weekend, albeit aided by stunning weather, was quite simply brilliant. Once again, Owen proved to be an inspiring and considerate course director managing to provide a very laid back atmosphere whilst at the same time packing a huge amount into the course and pushing the candidates at all times.
From experience of attending a large number of courses with different governing bodies, this is a rare skill. It’s all too easy for the course to become overly serious or too relaxed and lack the pace and drive required. Owen knocked one out of the ballpark with this course.The location was also ideal for the nature of the course providing access to a huge range of conditions and coastal features.
Whether you are intending to work through the BCU award scheme, or simply looking to gain some vital skills for use paddling within a peer group situation, the 4* is a hugely worthwhile undertaking and if you are Southcoast based or fancy experiencing the delights of the Isle of Wight, I would heartily recommend booking on a course with Owen, a sentiment echoed by the other candidates on the course.
Now, where’s my after sun…..