WW Beginner Tandem Course Report June 10-12

WW Beginner Tandem Course Report June 10-12

The following is what I experienced while doing the YCCC beginner tandem whitewater training.  Others could surely tell you other tales.

On Saturday, May 28th some of our group gathered at Brewers Pond where our instructor, Jay, had us practice our flatwater skills and we were introduced to whitewater strokes.
Tuesday, June 7th in the evening we met with Jay at the shed again to organize responsibilities for the weekend. One person was appointed treasurer and the rest of us, in pairs, were given a meal to bring and prepare. Since most of us were new to YCCC, Jay introduced us to how trips worked and what we needed to bring.
Friday, June 10th in the evening we met at the shed and headed up to Palmer Rapids in caravan style. Upon arrival we set up our tents in a large field next to a chute, which created the background music for the weekend. Together we were 11 students with five instructors: Jay, Malcolm, Dan, Dot and Kate. Our group had people of all ages. There was a YCCC whitewater solo class of eight also present and we happily shared our field with them. We enjoyed a campfire. Some students headed for bed – perhaps they knew they’d need sleep before the workout on Saturday.
On Saturday we awoke early because it was our turn to make breakfast. Jay helped us figure out how to pump up the pressure in the Coleman stove and breakfast went off without a hitch. Without delay we pumped up airbags for our canoes. On the water we reviewed some whitewater strokes on calm water – draws, pries, how to go forward in a straight line. We learned to hold our grip hand up near our forehead and to stop the forward stroke when we reached our knee. We learned “torso rotation”, which could be interpreted as twisting the body, to give us more power to our stroke. We learned how to tilt the canoe using our thigh straps - a concept that was going to be very important. We learned the acronym “MITH” which meant “Momentum, Initiation, Tilt, Hold” and which was used for turns. We all had drinking water in our canoes attached to rings at the bottom of the canoe. I now understand why Nalgene bottles are needed for canoeing. Some of us also took various snacks along in dry bags or tucked into our lifejackets. There were a lot of canoes at the rapids and sometimes we would have to wait our turn to try an “S” turn, an “O” or a ferry. To do a ferry you head your bow upstream and paddle forwards. If your bow is angled slightly towards the direction you want to go, the current will take you across the river. Since we had an abundance of instructors, one pair would often give us instructions on what we were expected to do and another pair would provide us with details on how to improve what we had just done. Our instructors were very encouraging and didn’t expect more than we could do! Great job!
In the afternoon we headed downstream to the lower rapids. We moved as a group from one eddy to another and on one occasion scouted a section of the river to see what was up ahead. At the bottom, the river turns left and we needed to make a quick left turn or head into what looked to me like a crater. We missed the left turn and since the backup plan was usually to paddle hard that was what we did. We paddled full steam ahead through the “crater” and came out the other end upright. Amazing!

We all took our turns at dumping the canoe due to a lack of tilt downstream or an incorrect angle or an unexpected rock or some other error! We had been given instructions to hold onto our paddle should the inevitable happen. We were also to hold our breath if a large wave was coming. We needed to get onto our backs and face downstream with our feet up. We could use our arms in a back crawl motion to slow our speed. We should look for rocks ahead and try to avoid them. If we could see an eddy we were instructed to try to swim to the eddy. (For the novice, an eddy was a place of calmer water and usually occurred downstream from rocks or land that stuck out into the river.) We also tried to stay upstream from our canoe so that it wouldn’t hit us or pin us to a rock. There were signals to tell our instructors that we were unhurt. Since we had lots of instructors, they generally headed after our canoe and sometimes our paddles when a dump took place. There were many things to remember to do but we had lots of practice with our dumping techniques so that was not a problem! The first time I remember letting go of the paddle and getting onto my back. When headed for shore there were rocks approaching that I hadn’t noticed so Malcolm instructed me to swim the other direction. After passing the rocks I could head for shore. It was really hard to swim in all of my gear and in the current. By mid-afternoon Saturday we all did a practice swim beginning at the chute. We jumped out into the middle of the fast moving water and it pushed us down toward some standing waves, which we could see by swimming on our backs. When we got passed “piano rock” we could get onto our fronts and swim front crawl style toward the eddy. That being completed, our instructions were to get into warm, dry clothes & head for supper and a rest. I didn’t hear a single objection! For those interested there was a good-natured massage circle after supper.


Bright and early on Sunday we had our second “land session” telling us about how the river flowed at Palmer Rapids. Pine needles, pinecones, small rocks and a 3-inch baby canoe were the props. We were given detailed instruction about where the eddies were located and which rocks, ledges and holes to avoid. (For the novice, holes are where water circulates in rotation from the surface to the bottom and they can pull you under water where you can’t get out.) This was to prove helpful if we accidentally missed lesson plans A, B and C and headed downstream ahead of the others, perhaps on plan F! That behind us, we put on our gear and headed for the water again to practice paddling backwards and doing backwards ferries. To do a backwards ferry you head your stern upstream and angled slightly towards the direction you want to go while you are paddling backwards. If all goes well, the current pushes you across the river. We also practiced our forward ferries and S curves just below the chute in some standing waves.


After lunch and some practice throwing throw bags, we headed for the lower rapids again. This time we wanted to miss the “crater”! As a group we hopped from one eddy to another, crossing the river using ferries at various places. At one point our ferry was unsuccessful and we missed the eddy. Jay told us to head back across the river to the next eddy. We missed it too and not knowing exactly what plan C might have been we headed for the end of the route. In a timely manner, Janet in my bow, alerted me when we had passed the rocks and needed to turn left. We worked together to make an abrupt left turn and were pushed by the current upright into the calm water below the rapids. We were really happy to have missed the “crater”! When the others finished the various assigned eddy hops they caught up to us at the bottom. Our instructors showed us a demonstration of a canoe-over-canoe rescue. We portaged the canoes up passed the rapids and headed back to camp. Some of us ran the chute. Janet’s version of the chute was as follows: "Dan, in the stern, got our canoe angled nicely on the tongue and we went down the chute fine. On the first big wave I bounced out of my thigh straps and then landed back in the canoe. As we proceeded through other standing waves, with each wave I bounced up and down and was afraid that I would fly out of our canoe! Our canoe was rapidly filling with water but we continued to paddle it until we were passed piano rock. We exited the canoe. I swam for the eddy and shore while Dan rescued the canoe." We packed up our gear. We were all tired but happy to have shared our experience and to have enjoyed lots of good food.


We got supper on the road and headed for the shed where we checked in all of our gear. All equipment being accounted for, we said thank you to our great instructors and headed home. Arriving at home & crawling into a warm bed I noticed that it was rocking gently back and forth on the waves. In the middle of the night, while talking in my sleep, I told my husband that we had just missed the rocks by a few inches! Perhaps in a few days the rocking motion will die away…


We know a lot more about whitewater than we did before – but we still have a lot to learn. Thanks to the YCCC, our instructors and many volunteers for providing excellent training at such a reasonable cost.             - Karen

WW Beginner Tandem, June 11-12, 2011