1343 – ‘Ja Strokers’ – Canada, Petawawa River, Algonquin

The University of Wales Air Squadron embarked on a canoeing trip on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park, Canada. The aims of the trip were to accelerate the development of the University of Wales Air Squadron members by placing them in both physically and mentally demanding situations. Following the personal development theory of the Comfort, Stretch, Panic (CPS) model, students will conduct activities in both comfort and stretch in order to increase their comfort zones and improve their capacity for leadership during stressful times. The week will be prioritised by safety, enjoyment and learning in order to maintain a safe environment whilst achieving the expedition aims.

Here follows some extracts from the Expedition diary to show how members fulfilled these aims;

Day 1 We reached our start point, Travers Lake. The team then unloaded all the kit and got it down to the waters edge. Here we were shown how to correctly load the canoes with kit, i.e to have the canoes on the water before loading kit into them to stop the risk of the hull getting pierced. The team then got on the lake and progressed to our first campsite at the source of the Petawawa. We landed around 1800 and an IC was appointed, who would control the camp and assign everyone rolls.

Day 2 On approaching a set of rapids, they were scouted and found to be challenging due to the fast flowing water, rocks which could pin a boat, and the re-circulating currents. If taken at the wrong angle, these currents could easily suck your boat back into the fast flowing water and keep it pinned there, increasing the risk of injury. Everyone bar one boat got down without a problem. One boat managed to get pulled into a current and pinned against a fallen tree. This was quickly solved by the Instructors and we pushed on down river. We reached our campsite at 1800 and, due to the size of the group, had to split into two camps. The closest campsite was 600 meters away down a portage trail.

Day 3 Crooked Shoot had been scouted out and deemed too dangerous for us to paddle, so we proceeded to portage the rapids. The river was calm for around 2km until we hit the next set of rapids, Upper Thompson. These were much more technical with a vast quantity of hazards present. We scouted it out and found our lines. The rapid was split into two parts with a large eddie splitting them up. The team decided it would be a good idea to unload the boats for the first part as it was rather shallow. We did this and progressed down the rapid. First part didn’t cause any problems. We then loaded the boats back up with kit and looked at the second part of the rapid. This part had a real chance of getting pinned and, sure enough, this happened to one of the boats. Again this was swiftly sorted by the instructors and thanks to the drills we had been taught, it was recovered and we were back on our way. Seeing this hazard it was suggested that the remainder of the team “line” the rapid and we progressed to do this.

Day 4 The first section was flat and calm for around 4km until we hit rapids, which were passed without hassle. The river then went flat for a small part then we hit another set of rapids covering around 3km, no problems here. This then lead into 5 mile rapid, which we covered in no time. We were then notified that we had covered 9km by 1200, which everyone was pleased with. This then left only 3km to cover to hit our target for the day, so a leisurely pace was set. This allowed us to take in the surroundings that Canada had to offer. The rest of the day was a large lake, even here people managed to fall in, which was good practice for rescuing.

Day 5 We were then given a final test of what we had learned by performing a bow cut, this allows you to cut into an eddie with less effort. Everyone managed to perform the bow cut and we pushed on down the river. The remaining part of the river was a flat section with little wind so it was easy going.

With thanks to:

Ulysses Trust

In partnership with:

Nuffield Trust