We Tried That...The Dartmouth Yacht Club Canoe Section
Up until now I have been content to admire the River Dart from the safety of the bank. As a keen walker I’ve explored the river mouth, the busy embankment in Dartmouth, the woods of Old Mill, the stony shore of Dittisham and the creeks of Tuckenhay, plus plenty of footpaths and vantage points in between.
But in recent months I have watched the enjoyment on the faces of other members of the family as they have ventured out onto the water in a variety of craft. Ribs, toppers, yachts and sloops have all been used, but I fancied that one of the simplest ways to do it was in a canoe – no ropes to worry about or boom to clonk me on the head. As the others paddled off I began to be tempted to have a go – how hard could it be? Funny, then, how things escalate. No sooner had I mentioned this out loud than a couple of more experienced canoeists in the family suggested I join the Canoe Section of the Dartmouth Yacht Club for a pool session. Before I could say “Eskimo roll” I was sitting anxiously on the side of the swimming pool in my shorts and tee-shirt thinking there must have been a terrible mistake.
The Canoe Section is a thriving club and well stocked with all sorts of canoes and kayaks, plus paddles, wetsuits, buoyancy aids and everything you need for a safe and enjoyable paddle along the Dart. Members are entitled to use all this gear once competent, it is stored to the rear of the Dartmouth Yacht Club in Lower Street.
Safety is a priority and a team of instructors ensures that everyone receives training when they join. Club nights and accompanied paddles mean members develop a level of expertise before using the equipment on their own. Safety in numbers – and that’s just what I decided on for my taster session, roping in youngest son Finlay to come along with me and keep me company.
Our instructor for the morning was Tim Freeman, an experienced canoeist who has lived in Dartmouth for 45 years and could sense my tension. Finlay on the other hand was brimming with confidence and gung ho enthusiasm. With us were another 10-year-old boy, Thomas, who’d brought his Dad with him, and a lady called Deb who was a lot braver than me, and kept putting her hand up to volunteer while I hung about at the back.
“Don’t worry!” beamed Tim. “I have a reputation for being good with nervous ladies.”
And with that we watched as Deb sat in a kayak, tipped upside down, and made an excellent escape. It seemed the only nervous lady was me.
“It’s quite understandable to be apprehensive, which is why we are in the pool and not in the river,” Tim said. “It is against all human nature to be upside down in water. If you do it first in a pool with an instructor standing in the water right beside you he will be able easily to intervene if anything goes wrong.”
Tim’s right of course. Tipping upside down is a bit of a worry. You don’t want to be trapped upside down under your kayak. You have to be sure you can get out easily if you capsize. As someone who steers clear of water generally and holds my nose in the bath, this was all rather alien. But I could see the benefit in conquering my fears.
For the first few goes we each wore a mask that covered our face, stopping that head filling rush of water up the nose. We had to tip our kayak over, bang three times on the bottom to alert fellow paddlers, pull back the spray deck (the water-tight cover which goes round your waist like a skirt to stop the boat filling with water) and swim out to the side of the kayak before coming up for air. Tim urged us not to rush, to open our eyes and to get comfortable with the sensation of being completely upside down under water. He stood at our side to flip us upright should we not get out smoothly.
Thankfully it didn’t and after a while we were successfully tipping, banging, escaping and bobbing up over and over again. Getting out only took about five or six seconds. Without the mask it was less fun – a blurry underwater view and a head full of swimming pool. But a valuable lesson. As fear was banished we were introduced to nose clips which stopped water going up our noses. Tim also rescued us as swimmers a few times, scooping us onto his kayak and back into ours with ease. All in all a very successful day.
My husband has been canoeing for years and never imagined it was a hobby we’d share, despite his protestations that it wasn’t all white water, and that quietly moving along the river under paddle power was a great way to get a unique view of the water and an increased chance of seeing some amazing wildlife.
I realise that being in the pool is very different from the vast expanse of the tidal Dart, something that must never be underestimated, and certainly wouldn’t be by a scaredy-cat like me, but now I’ve got over this huge hurdle, maybe the river can be my domain after all.
For further information about the Dartmouth Yacht Club Canoe Section email Tim Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org
First Published October 2010 By The Dart