My ACA Level II Coastal Kayak Guide Training

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This is been quite a week. Seven days ago I left for New York City and my youngest daughter's wedding. After five whirlwind days I arrived home late Monday night. By Tuesday afternoon I was to be at Lake Louisa State Park for ACA (American Canoe Association) Level Two kayak guide training. 

I arrived around 3:30 Tuesday after a two plus hour drive.  Somehow I was the first trainee to arrive.  The park ranger at the gate gave me a key and directions to my cabin, home for the next few days.  I found the cabin and with no one else in sight, I let myself in and dropped my bags on the floor.  There were three other guys assigned to the cabin and I didn’t want to just claim a space without some discussion.  My only condition was that I did not want to sleep on the pull-out couch because of my recent back surgery.  This “cabin” was pretty luxurious for a state park facility.  It was finished in varnished natural woods and white wall board.  There was a full kitchen, a large bedroom with a queen sized bed and private bath, a second bedroom with two single beds and adjoining bath, a comfortable living room with an uncomfortable pull out couch and a large wraparound screened porch with a picnic table and rocking chairs overlooking a meadow and distant lake.  

I wandered outside and ran into Liz Sparks, the sponsor and organizer of this event.  Liz is the Paddling Trails Coordinator for the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails.  This event was Liz’s way of finding trained volunteers to certify park rangers as kayak trip leaders and lead short paddling trips at area state parks.  With Liz were our trainers, Russell Farrow and Carl Ladd.  Russell and Carl are good friends as well as excellent trainers.  They decided they wanted to be in the room with two beds in my cabin.  That left the queen size bed and the couch.  Our fourth occupant had not yet arrived and I didn’t want the couch, so I moved into the room with the queen bed.  

We all gathered at Cabin #20 for hors d’oeuvres and an opportunity to meet the other participants.  One couple was absent, camped some distance away, with another woman not joining us until the next morning,  Will Smith, the fourth man in our cabin joined us after a six plus hour drive from the Panhandle.  After introductions and food, we had a short orientation focused on our training and volunteer expectations, led by Liz, Russell and Carl.

Wednesday, the next day, was our first full day of training.  We spent two hours reviewing course work on the porch of our sister cabin and then proceeded to the lake where we spent about five hours on the water learning and practicing strokes and rescues.  Carl, the lead trainer, had a quiet way of asking us to paddle and demonstrate a few strokes while he assessed our various abilities in a most non-threatening way.  After observing us for a while, he and Russell would demonstrate some strokes and make suggestions without singling anybody out, then send us off to practice what we had been shown.  Then he and Russell and Wayne would coach us individually.  Then it was time for the rescue training.  

We were all directed to capsize and self rescue.  I have an awful time getting into unknown, maybe cold water for the first time.  So I stalled and stalled and stalled some more until I was the last person upright.  Finally I capsized, released my spray deck and came up beside my boat with my sinuses full and ears plugged.  The rest of the self rescue didn’t go any better.  Much to my chagrin, I was not able to do a self-rescue using the techniques demonstrated that day.  Actually, not that day or the next day either.  However, I was able to do an assisted rescue as the rescuee using the heel hook technique and assist in several rescues as the rescuer.

An excellent demonstration of the heel hook SELF rescue.  Much clearer than my description.

There were two important things I learned during the rescue training.  The first involved the heel hook.  If you are unfamiliar with this technique it goes like this.  The rescuer lifts and empties your boat, then pulls it parallel to his/her boat with the bow facing in a direction opposite to his own.  He then stabilizes the rescuee’s boat with his body.  The person being rescued lays parallel to and outside of their boat.  In one quick move, the rescuee throws their leg up and into the cockpit, hooking their heel under the front cockpit coaming while grabbing for a handhold as they pull themself face down onto the rear deck of their boat.  At this point I was struggling badly until Wayne quietly said, “Straighten out your leg”, meaning the leg hooked under the coaming.  “Once you straighten that leg it will give you the leverage you need to get yourself up onto the rear deck.”  Viola! It worked!  That time and every time thereafter!

A good depiction of an assisted heel hook rescue.

THE SCOOP: The other important thing I learned (important to me) was the Scoop Rescue.  I have struggled for years with how I would rescue my wife in a capsize.  She is a small person with a spine fused from her neck to her waist.  The heel hook isn’t going to work for her and I have been afraid of injuring her by dragging her back into her boat.  The Scoop will do it without injuring her and can be used with anyone who is disabled or unable to reenter their boat using other, more conventional ways.  

Here is a good demonstration of the Scoop Rescue.

Here’s how it works.  The rescuer (me in this case) brings the rescuee's  boat parallel to his own as was done above, but this time without emptying the boat of water.  The rescuer tips the rescuee’s boat onto its side, cockpit facing out, away from him and asks the rescuee (Lisa in this example) to slip her feet into the boat until her feet touch the bulkhead beyond the foot pegs.  She remains on her belly, hugging the back deck of the boat.  Then I would grab Lisa with one hand and pull up while pushing down on the raised side of her boat with the other.  The boat easily slips upright with Lisa in it.  Then I steady her boat while she pumps it out.  

I learned the most today from the rescue training. I learned that I have great difficulty with self rescues and may be using the wrong technique. I was able to participate in assisted rescues both as the person in need of rescuing and is the rescuer. I received some good advice on how to do the heel hook reentry in an assisted rescue and was taught a new rescue called the scoop.

Thursday was more practice of the things learned on Wednesday.  We expanded on some of our strokes (draw stroke, side scull, low and high brace, stern rudder) and focused more on torso rotation in the forward stroke.  Our trainers began to assign us roles as leader and helper and had us guide the group to various points on the lake.  

Random pictures and videos from my training at Lake Louisa.  I was too busy to shoot many photos!

On Friday, we packed up, as we needed to be out of our cabins by ten o’clock, and headed back to the lake for more time on the lake.  We all sat down to share a lunch about noon, had an exit interview with the leaders, and headed for our various homes around the state.  We wouldn’t know if we had achieved our level two certification until some time later when we received something in the mail from the ACA.  I got my certification.

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 © Don Yackel 2020