August 22nd, 2011


Kayak school

It's been a week now but I'm really meant to write up the kayak lesson I arranged for me, babysimon, shadowdaddy and wechsler to take at the Westminster Boating Base. Why, you ask, oh faithful reader (none of you are, it's okay), would I take lessons after taking them back in 2005 (or so)? As it turns out, in Great Britain kayaking is focused on certifications (the country is mad for them), and in order to kayak in a decent boat here you have to have a British Canoeing Society 1 star "cert" in order to prove to people that you can fall out of your boat and not drown. The cert will also let many of the kayaking clubs here let you rent their boats. I am pretty excited about doing kayaking again as of late, and being able to do it in boats that aren't sit on tops sounded great to me, so I signed up for this class. But then ... the one I was going to be on was cancelled, so I begged for an alternate date, and promised I could find some other students ... then got the guys to come along with me. So there you have it.

The boating base is a smallish building in Pimlico, a ten minute walk from the station. Love Actually's wedding scene was filmed there I found out afterward. We all showed up shortly before 10 then went in and faffed around for some time waiting for our instructor to show up. Then we were kitted out with PFDs (mini-lifejackets) and headed down the pier to where the boats were. We were going to go with three instructors and a whole 'nother group, this one of 15 year olds who were in micro-river canoes (they are very maneuverable). We were given "standard" river canoes, which seemed to be about eight feet long. W, J and I all picked boats quickly, but S was having some issues with his. I went for a bigger boat to accommodate my plus-sized hips; squeezing myself in was just not a good idea since it wasn't like I could just change boats again.

A graceless dock entrance later (I've lost my skill at smoothly getting into or out of a kayak - it was a big emphasis at the Northwest Outdoor Center class but I've forgotten all about it), we were puttering down the Thames, getting the hang of "going forward," basically, with the assistance of the current and non-resistant of gasp of silence that takes place as the tides change. We passed by the Tate and headed to a bank underneath Horseferry road's bridge, then practice a variety of strokes - a long circular "sweep" that turns you quickly in a circle, a "holding your paddle like a rudder" stroke, general going backwards, backwards sweep, etc. I particularly liked the part where we got to get out on the bank and I found an ancient pipe stem and bizarre piece of pottery in a pattern the likes of which I've never seen before. (I don't know where either of these things have gone, but I suspect they might be at the bottom of countess_sophia's washing machine.) S had had to get out of his boat and do some serious adjustment to the footrests - apparently he was cramping up something serious. The pity is that since this was only his second time in a boat it was really hard for him to know just where the right place for his feet was when he was getting set up, so it would have been impossible for him to do it right, I think, and he paid a serious price for it - his face was almost gray with pain at one point.

Meanwhile the 15 year olds were making their canoes spin along the horizontal axis, dunking themselves in the river in the process but almost not even getting wet due to the angle they were holding their bodies. We seemed old and slow by comparison. When we finished our lesson (there was more but I've forgotten it), we headed back up the river, now fighting the current instead of going with it.

We had not been gone for even two hours but we were ravenous when we docked. We changed into drier clothes and then ate our lunches. Then we were given some review materials about safety in preparation for an exam, which we were given around 1:30. Turns out at least three of the questions weren't on either our review material or any of the stuff we'd got in the mail, grr, but we all passed anyway. It helped that many of the questions had three joke answers and then one that was obviously right - though this wasn't true for the ones that weren't covered (i.e. over what body of waters does the BCU hold rights of passage, who owns right of passage over the river Thames, to what did the BCU change its name in 2010 - seriously, HOW WOULD WE KNOW THESE?).

Anyway, we went back, the guys with spray skirts, me without, for a trip upriver, to a little outlet near where the exit for the former river Tyburn. Our instructor got very serious about working on our strokes, watching us go by him and giving us tips on how to do it right. Then we went in the outlet (a little branch of the river that used to be a transit point into a canal of some sort, I think), worked on our strokes out of the current, then were split into two teams played WATER POLO with the instructor as the target we were supposed to hit with a floating ball (hitting his boat and not his person). Of course, he could and did move, so we were constantly chasing his boat around. To be honest this was probably the best part of the whole day, and for once I could see all of the guys having fun. We ended at about 4:30 and headed back in, but only after Christopher, the blond, long haired hippy kayaking instructor (who'd been coaching the kids's group), poured us all some hot chocolate which we enjoyed as we sat in the little pond looking at the fancy condos around us. Bliss!

Back toward the base, it was time for our last event: practicing capsizing. I hate it but it's key. We went to a sheltered area near the base, each of us fell out of our boats (I went first), then we headed back to the docks and BANG! Shower time (it's such a muddy river) and ONE STAR CERTIFICATE: ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED. Then it was dinner time ... and now it's time for work, I'm sorry to rush this but I've got to go!