It was late March 2011 I saw an advert from a Warrant Officer in the British Army who had an sea kayak expedition to Cyprus organised at the end April but no coach. As one of the main aims of the expedition was for six people to gain their BCU Three Star Sea Award and a further four the BCU Two Star, this left him a little bit of a pickle.
Shelley and I talked it over and decided it could be a good opportunity so I replied. Within hours I had a phone call from a very happy Ollie Olver and I was onboard. My travel was paid for, accommodation was on the barracks, food was included, I wouldnât mind more of this and on Tuesday 26th April I was on the train to join them. The evening before we were on skype talking to Shelleyâs family who wishing me a good holiday. âIts workâ was my reply but they werenât convinced. It didnât help when Shelley opened my bag and the top two items in it were Sandals and sun cream. People still donât believe it wasnât a holiday to this date.
Wednesday afternoon I was met at the station by Noel and little did I realise at the time, he was going to be one of the funniest people Iâve ever met. We travelled then to Bulford Camp, where during the rest of the evening a group of ten other people gradually arrived. It seemed that everyone on the course was a senior rank and knew each other. It turned out they had never met before either, I guess thatâs the just the way of the Army, everyone just gets on with it. There were a couple of other coaches, two were BCU Level Two Coaches, one with a four star sea leaders award, another had recently done the UKCC Level One Coach and another was doing his UKCC Level Two assessment in a couple of weeks time. Ollie had really gotten the bug for kayaking, heâd been paddling white-water kayak a while and had recently discovered the excitement that kayak surfing offers. Steve was a three star white-water kayaker and Noel had only started kayaking the previous week, gaining his two star award on a course in North Wales. The following morning we were up at 0200 (thatâs 2am to you and I) and were travelling to the airport. We arrived in Cyprus late that afternoon, met by a very dodgy looking guy driving a small bus, who took us to the base at Dhekelia. The view from our room wasnât the best, but the weather was warm.
Friday morning we were up at 7am and heading off for breakfast very tired looking as I still hadnât caught up on my sleep from the previous early mornings. A guy I had come to know as âSpeedyâ had been up what seemed like many hours before, they say that the early bird catches the worm and it definitely rang true for the next few days. I have no idea where Speedy went each morning but each day he would return full of knowledge of where to get this, that or whatever we needed. Afterwards we had a briefing about not being in Ayia Napa between certain hours, what to do if we have a road traffic accident and warnings about being ripped of by Russian Mafia in strip clubs. All standard stuff to worry about if youâre in the Army apparently, I just wanted to see what equipment we had to play with for the week.
The kayaking equipment was stored off the base and we were soon on our way down. The stores had to be signed for and responsibility was taken for the equipment. It was all brand new; we were the first to use it. Thereâs something exciting about unwrapping a brand new kayak, even if itâs not yours, the smell of the plastic that has been contained since the rotomoulding process is lovely. There was a fleet of Venture Skyes and Cappellas, ideal for the guys to learn sea kayaking in. Two of us coaches introduced the equipment to the group, before giving them the time to choose their favourite colour and make adjustments to thigh braces, footrests etc. By the end of the day everybody was itching to get onto the water but with sea kayaks that would now fit them properly it had been time well spent.
Friday 29th April and we finally got to paddle. I introduced most of the paddling skills to my group, spending lots of time on edging the sea kayak for turning and manoeuvrability.
It seemed everybody had read many books on sea kayaking and trying to get them to go and explore skills instead of talking about it was hard work to start with. I adopted a method with them of challenging the books and what they had read, with some interesting results. It seems that you shouldnât believe everything you read. We also adapted their rescue skills to be sea kayak specific and spent time on low and high braces, building towards the roll.
Three of the group could roll already, only one reliably and for three others it was going to be new skill. It soon became apparent that meeting the requirements of the sea journey elements of the three star award whilst finding enough time to coach the rolling was going to be a challenge. I decided that the best way forward would be to do two hours at the end of each day coaching the rolling. Those that could roll, even unreliably could spot each other with me inputting tips, whilst I helped the others learn from scratch. Andy was particularly worried about the roll so I focused my initial time with him.
On day two we covered moving sideways, different methods of towing and more rescues. Beyond the syllabus, it was very amusing watching them all try a re-entry with paddle float. I think Andy must have been at it for close to twenty minutes before he was back in. He was offered help so that we could move on but declined it each time. I guess thatâs the Army training in him, it was certainly amusing hearing his calls of âyes, I made itâ, only to fall in the other side yet again.
At the end of the day Andyâs roll was almost there, Speedy and Steveâs were more reliable, Noelâs progress was slower but his bracing technique was very good indeed. Ollie, well he was just flying through everything and enjoying the sea kayaks. A strong onshore wind had gotten up in the afternoon providing some short period waves in the bay, it seemed a shame not to make the most of the opportunity and ride some of them, and so we did.
On 1st May I was glad to be out of the area weâd been using. Weâd left the sheltered bay the previous day during the towing but it wasnât a particularly interesting coastline. We planned a trip from Ayia Napa around Cape Greco to Grecian Bay about 15km. From the maps we had the trip looked like it had great potential for some swell and hopefully some rock hopping. From the forecast weâd be running with the wind and a slight to moderate sea until we rounded the headland where it would be offshore for us but calmer.
There were a few caves and arches along the way giving us some chance to rock hop but not much. The cliffs were a maximum 6ft high and wildlife was scarce, I was starting to miss the scenery of Pembrokeshire. About an hour in I thought it an ideal opportunity to find out where people though we were on the maps. For a group of people who probably have to navigate in unmapped areas whilst under fire and other pressure the replies were interesting. According to one weâd only travelled 500m in one hour! Navigating at sea is certainly different to navigating on the land.
Finding a lunch spot certainly covered the tricky landing part of the three star syllabus, with a gentle swell hitting the cliffs we found the best place we could, the photo doesnât reflect how difficult I recall it. Their teamwork was excellent, but then thatâs to be expected. After lunch the wind seemed to have picked up a little more and the sea state had certainly followed it. Within ten minutes of getting back on we were at Cape Greco in the top end of a moderate swell coming from the stern quarter. The group were coping well and then Andy fell in. Noel had been on a mission and was ahead, he didnât seem happy at having to stop. Steve and Speedy were the first on the scene, Speedy started the rescue and Steve attached an anchor tow. Just as Andy was back in his boat set wave came through and had Steve over also. It seemed he hadnât extended his towline after attaching and the wave took him into the other two and he lost his balance. Theyâd done very well with the rescue but now it was time for me to get involved. The rocks Cape Greco were getting close. With everyone back in their boat we continued round Cape Greco to calmer water where we could review the rescue. Sounds simple enough, but then we saw a large boat coming round the corner, its name âThe Black Pearlâ. It was full of tourists waving and taking photos of us and heading straight towards us. There was no more than 100m between it and the cliff, we waved our paddles in the air the get the skipperâs attention but it made no difference. I think the tourists thought we were waving back. The captain did see us but the boat didnât change its course. In the UK the boat would have headed a little further out to sea but it seems they do things differently in Cyprus. The rest of the trip was uneventful and saw us landing at âMikeâs Beachâ in Grecian Bay. We had a quick coffee and then started the rolling work. Andy succeeded in coming up, six times in a row.
Mayday Bank Holiday saw us plan another trip from Larnaka Bay to Dhekalia. This would bring us past a port so the group should see some buoys on the route. From the drive to our start point it was apparent that the coastline wasnât particularly interesting again so on arrival we decided that once past the port we would paddle it straight across as an open crossing 15km. We would be around 1.5 hours paddling from the coastline at the most. As it turned out, all that the port could offer us in the way of buoys were Port and Starboard, there were some special marks on the crossing itself, but at least it was something in the flesh for them. The conditions were such that we were able to experiment with forward paddling technique, something which the conditions on the previous day had prohibited. The group learned how to paddle on a bearing, using timings to predict position, resections they were familiar with from experience. We had lunch at sea and the group had learned how to wee in a bottle in a sea kayak, particularly Speedy who seemed to enjoying that part so much he went every half hour. We surprised the two star group when we arrived as we were two hours sooner than expected due to cutting across. This worked out well as the group had the chance to practise individual skills once again and gave us plenty of time to look at the roll further.
Out of the corner of my eye I had the opportunity to observe the other group too as I we still had to plan when I was going to assess them for the two star award. It seemed that they hadnât progressed anywhere near as quickly as the three star group, with some of them getting very frustrated in the canoes in the wind. A rethink on the weeks plan was needed.
Andy was being assessed for UKCC Level Two in a fortnightâs time and Speedy was interested in learning canoe as his two star was the old kayak version. With Ollie recently qualified to UKC Level One coach and looking to attend Level Two training soon I thought it would be a good idea to let them coach the following morning. With two UKCC Coaches looking after them the two star group quickly progressed in the canoes.
We organised the use of some general purpose kayaks for the three star group, giving them a rest form the sea kayaks. In the afternoon, I took the two star group in the general purpose kayaks. The three star group were given the task of going through all of the basic strokes in canoe, general purpose kayaks and sea kayaks considering body, boat and blade. The idea being for them to compare any similarities and differences between the various craft. We would all come together afterwards so that the two star group could hear their findings. They were all very surprised to discover that almost all of the techniques were the same and found the exercise very useful indeed.
Wednesday 4th May and the plan was to assess the two star group in the canoes. I let Ollie and Andy run sessions so that I could provide feedback to them on their coaching ahead of their planned courses and also so that the group wouldnât feel like I was watching them to closely during the assessment. Once LJ finally cracked the j-stroke under Andyâs guidance they were all at the level required for two star.
Chris took the remainder of the three star group on a trip up to the âGreen Lineâ, an area that splits the North and South of the Island.
Thursday saw our final paddling day on the expedition, with both groups coming together for a sea kayaking trip around the Akrotiri Peninsular. Weâd read a report from a previous group that had been to island which mentioned this as the best they had found on the island. It was a two hour drive to the start and would see us finishing inside an RAF base. I was getting used to going to places that I wouldnât usually be allowed. The final mile to our launch was interesting; fortunately we had four wheel drive vehicles.
When we arrived at the beach we were staring at a strong onshore wind paddling out through a choppy sea. Perfect for my three star group, but a little intimidating for the newly qualified two stars. After sorting the shuttle the group worked well as a team helping each other to launch and buddyed up to keep an eye on the weaker members of the team. It worked well but was easy to see that some of the two stars werenât totally comfortable.
I knew that one we were round Cape Zevgari that things would be easier for them and sure enough it was. Once we were round we saw a long leg of 100m high cliffs, finally weâd found something worth sea kayaking! There were some rock hopping opportunities and I made sure that the three star knew I expected to see them following me through. The swell wasnât great but it was enough for the level they were at.
We found caves and arches that went through and a place to land for lunch. It was a good paddle. Before we rounded the final headland I set up some âunplannedâ incidents for the three star group to manage. They dealt with them very quickly and efficiently. All but one of them rolled before we landed. Everybody really enjoyed this final trip, it was certainly the best day of the expedition, and there was even some wildlife to see.
Since the expedition all have the group have been in touch about some further coaching. There is talk of a trip to New Zealand. Steve is a member of our team that paddled the canals from Chester to Sharpness in September 2011 in preparation for our Round Wales Circumnavigation in April 2012. Iâm also helping him plan another big trip for 2013 but Iâm not allowed to tell you what it is yet so watch this space!