Let me tell you a story...
When I was 17, I went kayaking for the first time. In the bay off Plymouth, the instructor had a group of us rafting up and running along the tops of each others boats. We played kayak volleyball and then did rescue drills. The idea was that you'd turn upside down, bang and rub the sides of the boat until someone came in close to allow you to pull yourself upright. If that didn't happen, you'd drop out of the boat and wait to be rescued.
I turned over, banged the boat, then rubbed the boat...
...and woke up on the beach with someone pumping water out of me.
After that, I didn't get back in to a kayak for 23 years.
Since I did, I have kayaked across Scotland, I've had a real scare in the lakes and remote kayaking microadventures. In that time, I've never turned over. At the back of my mind has been that fear that if I did, there wasn't a PT instructor on hand that could perform CPR.
So when I enrolled onto a 3* sea kayaking course, as I pressed the send button, my heart-rate was already quickened by the prospect of knowing that at some point on the course, I would have to turn the boat over and get out...
After a day of gentle, but fantastically instructional paddling on Saturday, the time had come. It was time for the rescue drills. Despite being in a P&H Cetus, a boat with a much smaller cockpit than my own, I was keen to finally get this monkey off my back.
As I was about to go, over the sound of my heart pounding in my chest, I heard Steve say "just roll over and you'll fall out". While it wasn't quite that straight forward, it was far simpler than I expected. When given the chance to do it again, I volunteered straight away.
The following day's paddle from Freshwater Bay to the Needles and back was all the more enjoyable in the knowledge that if I needed to, I could get out. On a 3* course, I should be aspiring to the perfect roll and have the ability to right the boat without getting out. That skill will come eventually, but for now I felt indestructible.
The visit to the Needles was like a paddle through a postcard. The perfect weather and blindingly white (Wight?) cliffs were spectacular.
On the way back, we paddled into a couple of sea caves. The waves rolled in to them and crashed against the back wall in a deafening but thrilling cacophony.
In the second cave, I was turning the boat around as the swell lowered. The back end of my boat touched the cave wall just as the wave came back in and lifted the rest of the kayak. The front end was well clear of the water as I lost my balance and was upside down once more. This time, despite being in a different boat again, and struggling with the release of my spray deck, my exit from the boat felt controlled and safe.
Our excellent coach Duncan (who writes the extremely informative website SolentSeaKayaking) was on hand in a flash and aided my recovery and exit from the cave...
...although I would have like to have stayed! The deafening crashes of the waves in the semi-darkness of the cave, the bright sun shining beneath the blue-green waves and swimming after a boat and paddle in the cold November sea made me feel as alive as it is possible to feel; the perfect antidote to the long hours of air-conditioned, fluorescent-tube lit work in the previous week.
Thanks again to Duncan for the instruction, the rescue and the photographs and all at Isle of Wight Sea Kayaking, I hope to see you again.