By Alex Lunn, 6.1
Canoeing. Sunny days. Leisurely trips down a glistening river. Well, this was not the case when 6.1 Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Award students spent a Saturday afternoon in Southampton training for embarking on their Gold Award!
After gracefully getting toggled up in perfectly sized waterproofs, these magnificent vessels were launched on the centre’s placid lake. Our instructor imparted expert knowledge of how to side paddle to turn sharply and where the centre of weight should be, based on wind and current speeds. After all, this will be a true expedition, requiring much stamina! Fearing we might need some more work, the instructor was pleasantly surprised when our group appeared extremely able and it seemed the task would be less of a challenge than initially anticipated.
Soon we were crossing the nearby road and into the nearby River Itchen. Only in England can we enjoy such nature in the midst of train tracks and a small airport. The sludgy river was however much more of a task. Storm Freya, as some of the instructors joked, was in full force. We were being buffeted around and struggling against the wind when the river claimed its first casualties. At this point, some forward sitting people in the front of the canoes learnt the importance of steering into the wind so the boat did not swing around. I could only hope that in the real thing it would not be so squally!
We reached the milestone bridge and attempted to go through, but the wind was too strong. After convening we decided to head back and have some fun. Standing up, the group linked and made an almost successful sail. On the way back, with the wind and current behind us, we all stood up and had a real lark. However, those who wanted a peaceful sit down after the strenuous exercise might have been disappointed in hindsight!
The final bit of the day was capsize drills. If this was to go wrong on DoFE, this would result in seriously damp food supplies. The old saying, ‘he who steps in two canoes will fall in’ came true here. The aim was that a pair would capsize and another would rescue. Credit to the rescuers, they had to haul and offer up their canoe to very bedraggled ‘casualties’. I will not mention anything about sinking. That did NOT happen!
After the capsize drills, the end of the day was nigh. It had been an extremely comprehensive and fun day despite the weather. Everyone showed true grit, and most even enjoyed the slog, although some did prefer the times they were dragged along.
We now feel prepared and ready for Gold award, a daunting task make manageable by this. Thanks to our instructors, our canoe partners (maybe…) and Ruth and Gordon for braving it too. Thanks to Paul. And finally – most importantly – thanks for the warm shower I had at the end of the day!