Students : Jan, Philip, Niamh, Steve & Svetlana
Coaches: Coaches Elaine and Steve
Weather: Sunny on both days.
Tide: low tide on first session, high tide on second section.
Day 1 is basic kit up day. Check everyone has sufficient clothes for the session.
Ask about their paddling experiences and share Coach Elaine’s and Coach Steve’s.
Choose buoyancy aids and check they are tight enough not to fall through them should they swim.
Down to the pontoon on route a little talk about the tides and the particular navigational requirements for paddling on our stretch of the river.
Next it was choose a boat and sit in it. It was very important to explain that the fit should be tight enough to allow full control of the boat, or maintain a dynamic sitting position. There were sitting demos and repositioning of feet to make the fit as tight as possible.
Next grab some paddles. At this stage some previous experience meant the gravitated to a particular paddle and or paddle length. Having demonstrated how to decide whether the paddle was left or right handed and which paddle to put aside if damaged we were ready to load boat onto the pontoon.
A lovely low tide, but we insisted they get into their boat whilst they were on the water parallel to the pontoon. This was because the following week it would be a high tide, hence using this methodology this week meant they would be ready for next.
Coach Elaine demonstrated how she enters her boat and also how she is able to safely exit on to the pontoon. Each of the students followed suit with Coach Elaine holding their boat and Coach Steve their on hand just in case.
Some entered the water and were away, others just needed a little time to get their balance before moving off.
What ensue was a simple request from coach Steve to paddle alongside the floating pontoon turn around and paddle back. Simple. It gave us as coaches an opportunity to gauge what skills were available and what would be worthwhile working on.
Coach Elaine quickly spotted that one of our group needed a paddle with a lower feather angle on it. This help with presenting the paddle to the water on the non control hand. Everyone else present the paddle perpendicular to the water and could paddle, but both Coach Elaine and Steve could see their were areas that could be improved on, so we spent time working on their forwards paddling. Particularly making use of the full blade face, by improving body rotation.
Next our attention was on turning skills, where both inside and outside edges were experimented with to discover what made for the most effective turn.
By this time we were almost at low water and a change of pace was required – we stopped for snacks and water. After the break it was choose another boat and give that a try. Some did only to discover their new boat displayed very different characteristics to their previous one – which was the point.
It was full on low water and although we stayed within the pontoon area with very little water flowing it gave the group the best opportunity to experiment with very little risk.
The second Sunday was very different with a flooding tide and quite a lot of wind..!
The object of the day was to get the group on the water using the same methodology as the previous week. Group them up and we were destined for Chiswick Mall where we could practice some ferry gliding. We knew they would need this skill to get back off the water with minimum fuss.
Coach Steve told the group to load the boats on the water and using the paddle behind you method of climbing on board. Each of the group helped the other till all were on the water.
On route to the Eyot we practised edged turns as well as full on just paddling to the Eyot against the current, which they all did very well.
Having grouped them up on the bank Coach Elaine demonstrated ferry gliding across the flow. The emphasis was pick you spot on the far side and paddle towards it. We repeated this exercise several time, our students improving all the time in quite tricky conditions. The tide was constant, but the wind was the variable, like always you have to work with the conditions found on the day.
Satisfied that each student could achieve a satisfactory ferry glide across without loosing headway, it was back to the eddy formed at high tide in the corner of the Mall. Drinks and food were consumed, whilst coach Steve informed the group that they had each achieved a standard where they could take part in the club’s easier paddles.
With that good piece of news out of the way it was the final piece of the puzzle to be attempted. Moving sideways. We taught the knifing draw as the go to stroke and despite some odd paddle positioning mostly caused by the use of long paddles, the group succeeded is moving sideways.
At this stage, there was a request to paddle to the far end of the Eyot, which Coach Steve Vetoed. He deemed it no point and wanted to get the group back to the pier house and off the water before the tide changed direction as by now it was almost high tide.
Gathering everyone up Coach Steve issued instructions to paddle to the moored vessels at the end of the sea wall. One couple had good fun bouncing over the incoming waves. Gathering everyone up Coach Steve instructed the group to stay together and head along the the sea wall to the eddy opposite the pontoon.
That would have been an excellent plan if Coach Steve hadn’t of noticed another group attempting to launch and gather in exactly the same spot. At this stage all we could was hold station and wait for the area to clear. There was a little practice of moving sideways towards the sea wall for some whilst others held station in the main flow.
With the other group away Coach Elaine demonstrated a ferry glide to the pontoon and returned to eddy reporting a lot of flow, but the wind was quite strong. After a conversation with Coach Steve it was decided he ( Coach Steve) would land first and assist the group to get off. That left Coach Elaine on the water should anything go wrong.
Not surprising everyone crossed the flow using the ferry gliding technique taught earlier. The ferry glide is a method of crossing the river without loosing headway. Several group members got it particularly when the wind had dropped. They discovered it took very little effort and they literally sailed their boat across the current and if they fell short they could use their moving sideways stroke (knifing draw) to cover the last piece of water.
With everyone ashore, boats where put away and kit was returned to the paddle store and garage.
As Coach’s Elaine and Steve reflected afterwards this group had progress quite a long way into their individual paddling journeys and we both wish them well for all their future paddles.
photos provided by Coach Elaine.