Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium

After we closed the gallery last winter, with an uncertain future and no real commitments, I applied for and was accepted as an assistant coach for Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium. As it turned out, the timing was perfect to end our busy season here at Old Quarry. We continued to work 70-80-hour weeks until we packed up the car last week and drove up to Canada to catch Bay Ferries Limited St. John to Digby Ferry-- which we boarded with about 8 minutes to spare after we provided entertainment for customs officials for well over an hour ("why do you need three kayaks for two people?").

But the ferry was well worth catching. The crossing-- under three hours-- cut-off the better part of a day's drive around the top of the bay. Not only that, but we started running into paddlers en-route to the symposium who were charged-up and excited- a contagious enthusiasm that made it feel we were part of a pilgrimage of paddlers headed for the southern tip of Nova Scotia.

We camped that first night near Yarmouth, arriving in Argyle early enough on Friday for a paddle. And we ran into our friend Andrea Knepper from Chicago, who joined us for some playtime down at Cape Sable Island.

The symposium brings coaches from around the world to teach in the varied environments near Yarmouth, where the tides rush in and out of the Bay of Fundy and the open ocean rolls-in from the south. There's sandy beaches down at Cape Sable Island, sheltered, island-studded harbors off of Argyle and the glacial till islands of the Tuskets, where the tidal flow squeezes through. In addition to plenty of classes for beginners, the symposium offers opportunities for paddlers to improve their skills in tide races, rocks and ledges, safety and leadership. For me, it was an opportunity to learn from other coaches.

I assisted in several classes, each with different coaches in diverse locales. The steep rocks at Cape Forchu was a good spot for Incident Management & Tricky Landings, led by Jeff Laxier.

The dynamics of assisting also varies greatly - some classes have more coaches than others. Being less experienced than most, I tended to wait for a cue from the lead coach before stepping-in, but the high coach to student ratio makes it easy to paddle aside for a moment with a student to offer individual feedback, which is often the most valuable form of help.

 Multiple coaches also makes it easier to get-in a little of our own playtime.

 We assembled at Ye Olde Argyler Lodge each morning for announcements and class rosters. My classes were always going off to more challenging venues, so we assembled caravans of vehicles car-topping kayaks that snaked down the highways, sometimes about an hour away. At the end of the day we returned for dinner and evening presentations. Gordon Brown led us us in a Greenlandic game that tested our coordination, then, around the campfire, he told us the story of how he'd discovered sea kayaking.

Another evening, James Manke gave a presentation on his trip to the Greenland Kayak Championship. Chris Lockyer & Peter Bojanic told stories about a Newfoundland trip. I was really too tired to do much socializing in the evenings, but in a way, much of the reason we're there is to meet other paddlers.

With coaches visiting from the UK and Germany, as well as all across North America, the symposium has a way of making the global paddling community feel a bit cozier. Despite different languages and accents, we recognize that the ocean - and our chosen mode of discovering it- beckons us like nothing else. The nearly full moon rose over the campfire, reflecting in the calm waters of Lobster Bay. A guitar went from hand to hand and we sang a few songs. (Thanks to Barbara Bellows for these shots- she's Rebecca's Mom, making the trek from Newfoundland to attend the symposium for the second year).

On the charts around Yarmouth there are a number of locations labeled "The Sluice." At one of them, I assisted Santiago Berrueta in an Intro to Currents class, which felt particularly successful, since most of the students had little or no experience in tidal currents, and by the end of the class they'd all learned the basics of boat handling in current. We also had plenty of rescue practice, but the venue is perhaps a bit less intimidating than Sullivan Falls, so it was really perfect for beginners.

Ryan Rushton led a class in Tide Race Play & Safety that took us out into the Tusket Islands in search of a tide race that previous classes had found lacking in lumpiness. But the perigean full moon and strong southwest winds against the ebb did their magic, and we found a proper tide race that challenged everyone.

I'm lacking in photos of people in conditions since I felt preoccupied with my roles of coach and safety boater- and Rebecca had the camera. At the end of each day we all shared our stories about where we'd gone and what we'd learned. With 30+ coaches and 70+ students there's enough variables that the symposium is really a conglomeration of hundreds of stories: trips taken, lessons learned, people met. We return with skills to improve, new friends on Facebook and some new approaches to coaching. But maybe the most significant thing is to connect with all of these people, many of whom, like us, probably go back to their communities where they're seen as a bit oddball because of their obsession.

Of course, we still had the trip home, including a post-symposium run on the Shubenacadie River, a story that will wait until next time. The next Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium will take place in September, 2017; I hope to see you there.

Thanks to the organizers of the event: Christopher Lockyer, Jarrod Gunn McQuillian, Trevor Killam, Trudy Killam, Kirk Dauphinee & Peter Bojanic.

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