On the 16th July 2015, 12 Officer Cadets embarked on their most adventurous expedition to date. The group was made up of students from Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde Air Squadron (UGSAS) and East of Scotland Universities Air Squadron (ESUAS). Along with their two staff members, the two sister squadrons travelled to Vancouver Island, off the west coast of Canada to take part in a week of sea kayaking – an activity few of the students had attempted before.
The aims of the expedition included: improving individual leadership skills; developing effective navigation skills; understanding behaviour of tides and currents; gaining proficiency in a basic level sea kayaking; improving physical fitness; developing confidence in unfamiliar environments and gaining experience in living outdoors with minimal resources. Throughout the expedition the team worked alongside Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures, an independent organisation who have extensive experience in facilitating remote sea kayaking tours in the Vancouver archipelago. The organisation provided the equipment and skills required to allow the expedition to meet its objectives, however, all participants were responsible for setting up of camp, food preparation and cooking and route planning for the duration.
The six day kayaking experience began with a 45 minute water taxi transfer from the town of Port McNeill on Vancouver Island to Owl Island, one of the many small islands off the west Canadian mainland. The first task for day one was to set up camp before taking part in initial kayaking instruction which involved exploring the surrounding area, including the remote White Cliff Island. After returning to camp, the challenge was to prepare the evening meal and get sufficient rest for the first full day of kayaking.
The remaining five days followed a similar structure where the group broke camp before breakfast followed by a full day on the water. Each day brought different challenges with a rotation of group leadership. Two students were designated as leaders each day which included a range of tasks: analysing the tidal, current and weather patterns to plan the optimal route to the next destination; assigning daily tasks to group members; managing activities and making decisions as required to ensure the success of the day and maintaining the general wellbeing and morale of the group.
Several challenges were overcome throughout the expedition. One example was when one of the boats began to let in copious amounts of water through a small leak in the base of the cockpit. To resolve this problem the group pulled over to a nearby island to repair the boat with improvised emergency equipment including material to block the damage and adhesive tape. Fortunately, no further problems arose with the kayak and the group were able to continue with little time lost. Other common challenges throughout the week included fatigue, navigation and adjusting to living in the wild.
The group all agreed that the wildlife observed was a major highlight of the week. The area of British Columbia boasts some of the most spectacular sea and land creatures in the world and the group were fascinated to witness many examples. Sightings included humpback whales, porpoises, dolphins, sea lions, bald eagles, bears and many more but the most thrilling sites of all were the pods of orcas. These magnificent creatures passed within close proximity to the kayaks, a thrilling experience none of the students will ever forget.
Another highlight was visiting the original lands of the First Nations – the native local Canadians dating back 8000 years. The group developed a greater understanding of the ways of life of this population, seeing many fine examples of remains of their daily lives including totem poles and dwellings. It allowed the students to understand the importance of this period in Canada’s history and leave with a greater respect for the native people.
This fantastic experience provided the students with the opportunity not only to develop skills and confidence in kayaking, navigating and outdoor survival but also improved their leadership and teamwork skills through the challenges they faced. They all returned home with a new found knowledge and understanding of people, wildlife and environment of the Vancouver area.
UGSAS and ESUAS would like to express their gratitude to the Ulysses Trust for the support provided for the invaluable experience that we had whilst on Ex Tartan Orca. The knowledge, skills and confidence gained through the challenges and experiences of the trip will bring added value, not only to individuals but to the squadrons they represent.