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Rescues and Shepherding

This past weekend was a fair amount of rescues and instruction. On Saturday I taught a small rescue class at my club. 

It was small because, I think, the weekend before was pretty intense – the boathouse was in use nearly twenty-four full hours. People needed time off. Also, I gave short notice – just a couple of weeks – grabbing an increasingly rare open slot on my summer paddling calendar. Altogether I only had three students – which made it a cozy class!

This was good, because I was trying something new – a hybrid class on shepherding and rescues. I’ve decided this doesn’t work, at least not for a day class. Even at three students I had to shortshrift both topics. I’ll have dedicated sessions for each from now on.

I started with shepherding. I like that term better than trip leading, because I’ve seen too many people take trip leading into trip¬†bossing. Shepherding also connotes the actual responsibility of any journey: these are your charges, and you are responsible. Put another way, one of my coaches with a police background used a phrase from that part of his life: there are wolves, and there are sheep. A shepherd’s guide is to protect the sheep – although most of the time the ‘wolves’ are the elements – wind, water, etc.¬†

So we talked about CLAP (Communication, Line of Sight, Avoidance, and Position of maximum effectiveness). I used some simple props in the class to talk about various scenarios: what positioning would work, how to communicate and hand off problems or potential problems, and so on. One of my students is keen on radio communications, which are often impractical for paddling since you need two hands to paddle and one to use the radio. Line of sight, group awareness, and environmental awareness are more valuable than a radio in most situations.

Then, I handed out random secret roles and we went on a little journey, where each of the students was a trip leader in turn, with a different problem to manage. We had the fast paddler, the lost paddler, and the sick paddler. The last of these was so convincing that the trip leader though he was actually sick! We paddled north from Inwood into the Harlem river, coming back as the tide turned against us. I demonstrated belt tows and contact tows, including hand-on-deckline tows. I had the students try these as well.

Then, we did rescues. I started with balance exercises – sit legs out, then on the back deck, paddle around a bit, then get back in. Then we did scramble exercises: only one had trouble, and the rest commented on how a scramble was much easier than expected. 

We relocated to the north side of the river, which worked well in terms of depth and being very sheltered from the current, as well as from river traffic. A Circle Line boat roared past us, creating little relative wake, and we had the depth we needed to capsize and rescue. We did paddle float rescues, both back deck and heel hook, and after one student had trouble securing her paddle, I demonstrated holding it against the coaming and using weight to help keep it secure.

With that, we ended the morning session, and two of them left for the day. After lunch, I worked with the remaining student on various eskimo rescues. What was interesting with her was how turned round she would get. She would find her stability (my boat or my paddle)and somehow reach for it behind her, practically somersaulting the boat length-wise in the process. I got her to get her support in front of her, and also to use her hip flick more.

The best part for me was, near the end, I had her spot me on my own work – and I finally got a re-entry and roll. It needs work, but at least I know for certain that I can do it.

Published in 2014 Backpaddle Inwood Inwood Canoe Club New York NYC

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