We landed on Man Island, a mostly barren hump of rock rising above the bold southern end of the Great Wass archipelago, and the group meandered to the grassy summit, where we gazed out at the broad line of horizon over the open ocean and the late afternoon sunlight coating our surroundings in the oversaturated sort of glow that makes everything feel just a bit unreal. The feeling might have been enhanced by this being the end of our sixth day together – six very intense days of training conducted both in the classroom, on the ocean and in the pool, during which I rarely stopped heaping the students with information and tips on personal paddling skills, leadership and group management, as well as critiques of their newly-learned abilities.
Every trip has its high and low points, and on a trip that doubles as leadership training, those highs and lows are probably more pronounced. This one felt like a high point in both the geographic and psychological sense. On our first day of class we’d demonstrated various leadership styles, accepting that there can be a time and a place for each, but lately I’d needed to use the authoritative or “drill sergeant” style more than I liked. I had needed to be very direct at times, and perhaps not so polite, and yet by urging the group on to this place, I was also hoping that it might help them discover what I like about sea kayaking, and have a little fun with it: a tough balance.
During training, we tend to come-up with a lot of hypothetical situations. We give pre-trip briefings and paddle lessons to the rest of the class, pretending that they haven’t already heard it a bunch of times. We pause at anything vaguely resembling a channel crossing and get the group lined-up in a tight formation. We discuss what all the possible things that could go wrong might be, how we might prevent those scenarios, and what we might do should the worst happen.
The danger in all of this role-playing and make believe is that the students might start to treat sea kayaking as if it is all one big exercise or game, losing sight of the true potential, or simply the fact that we might have a good time out there.
We’d stopped earlier to set-up camp and eat lunch, and before we headed-out for our afternoon paddle, the leader-of-the-moment shared plans for what seemed a rather short and unambitious trip, so I interjected and suggested a few destinations. When we were a short distance from Man Island, which seemed unmistakably awesome, I once again interjected when the leader announced that it was time to head back to camp. I think everyone, including the leader, was pleased. As much as any kayak trip might be more about the journey than the destination, it occasionally helps to find yourself in an amazing place.
I gave the students a break and took over leading along the southern, exposed stretch of the islands, out around the lighthouse, and handed the reins back over in more protected water. Again, I think everyone enjoyed it, and I hoped that it might be inspiring. Of course, over the next couple of days we had plenty of ups and downs, but I hoped that the glimpse of potential might make it more obvious why it’s all worth it, and why we’re out there in the first place.