If you read this blog often (which I am sure you don’t), you will have noticed that I have been strangely quiet for the past two weeks. This, however, is only because I have been very busy.
The Shalder returned from the menders with a giant fibreglass plaster in her back hatch and is again watertight (or at least that part is).
Pleased to have her back, I decided it was time for stage two of the upgrade process. New hatch covers and new decklines and elastics.
With the boat all fixed, it was time to prepare for 4*. This involved a mad panic and lots of Ortleib drybags. All of the ones I own, in fact. I got out all my paddling stuff and decided what to take, then I decided what was missing. I must have visited every shop in Kirkwall buying various bits of kit while at the same time having complete palpitations about the whole experience. Despite the stress and initial shambles, I ended up with a range of drybags all packed, each with a key ring on them describing the contents. If it wasn’t in those dry bags, it wasn’t going.
On Friday I set off for Skye, meeting up with two of the Stornoway guys in the Kyleakin carpark. We found Gordon and clients there too and had a brief chat before setting off to the bridge. We played around for a while in the tide, ate some twixes (thanks Tim!) and then headed back for a bit more of a play. We finished with a bit of wet work at the carpark. Rolling, re-entry and rolls and self-rescues. Mark discovered again that his drysuit isn’t dry…..
We convened bright and early on Saturday for 4* assessment and again went out to the Bridge to test leadership skills. It’s a dangerous piece of water out there. There were asthma attacks, dislocated shoulders, sea sickness, lost paddlers, holes in boats, hypothermia……. You name it, it seemed to happen. In between these incidents, there were lots of questions about the emergency services, means of summoning help, coastguard areas and lifeboat stations. I was glad I had brought a laminated chart and compass with romer as I kept being asked to estimate the distance to different buoys…..
I was disappointed with my performance, my boat repair was good and held to the end of the day and my hypothermic victim was having a wail of a time in a group shelter eating twixes by the time I had finished with him but my rescues were sluggish and I thought I answered loads of questions badly. I was ready for giving up on the whole thing by the end of the day.
Sunday came and was just too calm for anything so we were postponed until Monday when a F5 gusting F8 was due to arrive…. Monday came and we got a phonecall at 7.30am instructing us to be at Armadale Pier at 9am. At Armadale Pier it was windy, more than a F4 windy. And it was raining. I don’t like rain.
The assessors wanted to see us performing specific things in sea state 4 so we set off into the head wind in search of waves. Which we found. We were told that conditions were the bottom end of 5*. That’ll do me. We were encouraged to try our self rescues out there too, even though the syllabus only requires them in flat water. Everyone did really well, with Tim only knocked off his deck at the last second by a nasty wave.
I decided I was going to do a re-enter and roll because I thought that would be easier in the conditions. I didn’t come up with the first roll but managed on the second attempt. I was really working hard again to get properly upside down, even though I was floating about letting the air out of my suit before I started! I was really pleased! All that practise, even if it was in the swimming pool, really seemed to have paid off.
Back at the pier, I wanted to try my other self rescue and was explaining to Gordon that it was the only way I can do it at all. He observed and said he did it that way too but that I put my face in the water and he doesn’t. He said he positioned his hands differently too. I said that it taken ages to find a way that worked and I was sticking to it! Then he asked if there was a hole in my drysuit under my arm. I looked, he pushed me in! I rolled up and swore. He said ‘that’s what playing polo does for you’, and pushed me in again…. I rolled up and ran away!
I landed and felt much cheerier about the experience. I had done the things that had been worrying me most and I suppose had been having fun. I felt a bit more positive.
Back at base, it was time for individual feedback. Tim was up first as he had a boat to catch. We waited downstairs before he came in and told us he’d passed. Next up was me. I was very, very nervous but Callum told me I had passed too and that all three assessors had agreed I was at 4* standard. I was in shock! Obviously there were things to work on and improve but after such a long journey, I didn’t quite know what to say.
I’m still in shock that I have actually finally passed my 4*. I keep thinking someone is going to phone up and tell me there has been a great big mistake…..