Four Star Training

Ok, well this weekend Four Star Leader Training weekend…with the epic Steve Mackinnon…

DAY ONE: After a morning of theory, coffee and cakes, we headed out onto the Middle Findhorn to work-through some of the skills and techniques required to pass and become ‘trained-to-lead’ leaders…

I’ll not going into the detail of it all, because I’m knackered and you can download the syllabus from the SCA and BCU websites for yourself to get a flavour, but it was a good laugh; just mighty cold!

Yes, despite the last few days of warmth, sun and BBQ weather, this is Scotland after all, so we had a full-blown blizzard and freezing temperatures to contend with…here’s hoping tomorrow will be a little more on the tropical side of brass monkey!

DAY TWO: After an early start due to a moment of maddness when I put my clock two hours forward rather than one (!), I arrived in Nairn with plenty time to get a coffee, read the paper and prepare mentally for the day ahead; swim and resuce practice day!

For varying reasons, the group had reduced to just me and Jo, so we did a little theory in the morning and then headed to the Findhorn to run Wade’s Bridge down to a few drops below Randolps Leap…

The river had dropped a bit from the day before, but it was still a nice level. We put in above Carnage Corner and ran it cold. Nice wee surf on a wave river-right, then we headed down the river…

Jo and I took turns to lead the ‘group’ down various sections; eddying-out, inspecting rapids, scouting, running as a group and/or paddling ahead and setting up safety…I think we both learned a lot, but plenty room for practice before the assessment!

As we arrived at the normal get-out above Randolp’s, we decided to push on through the stone ‘gate’ which channels the river towards Randolp’s Leap itself. We’d toyed with the idea of running it earlier on if the levels were right, but thought better of it after inspecting from the bank! Munch, munch, munch…

So, we walked round and paddled down a wee bit further to the designated ‘swim & rescue’ spot. As we all had dry suits, it wasn’t too bad…however, after gloating about remebering my neo-gloves, I remebered I’d forgotten my neo-hat, so Steve kindly lent me his…thanks Steve!!

So, after a scramble back up the banks and a de-brief back at the house, I’ now a trainee Four Star Leader…or something to that extent…prepare to be lead!

Wavesport Diesel 75 (Review)

The hype from the maker:

“The SUV of kayaks. Smooth and stable, quick and maneuverable, capable of going “off-road” when you are ready, the Diesel has become an instant classic. Surfing, river-running or steep creeking, the Diesel is ready to roll. (And easy to roll, for the record!)”

The spec:

Length: 8′ / 240 cm
Weight :41 kg – 19 kg
Width: 25.5″ / 63.75 cm
Cockpit: 33″ x 19″ / 82.5 cm x 47.5 cm
Volume: 75 gal / 283.8 L
Deck Height: 12.75″ / 31.9 cm
Paddler Weight Range: 140 – 240 lbs / 45.4 kg – 90.7 kg




So, does it do exactly what it says on the tin? …in my humble opinion, yes! This is most certainly the best boat I’ve paddled to-date. WaveSport have dubbed it the ‘SUV’ of kayaks and I’m not going to argue with that…

It’s a reliable, predictable river boat with plenty of volume to make to you feel safe on bigger water and enough bite to punch through those sticky holes; but it still has a nice playful flat hull with good rails to aid turning and surfing.

The manufacturer says it’s a creek boat too, and while perhaps not enjoying as much rocker as some proper creek boats, the 75 will still perform well on tight, drop-filled rivers and, according to those in the know, boofs with relative ease. It paddles well in a straight line, turns with relative ease and has great secondary-stability as well, so when you’re hard on edge you don’t feel like you’re about to go visit the fishes!

There’s plenty of room inside which makes it a comfortable fit (negating the need for wee neo-socks in place of proper boots) and it provides loads of room in the back for dry bags and kit; you won’t need to compromise on bouyancy bags either! It might be a little heavier than some of its competitors, but it’s still not going to break your back on one of those epic walk-ins…

While many lighter paddlers may prefer the Diesel 65, I’m only 11 stone and I feel the larger boat is still fully manouverable and handles well; it doesn’t swamp me unlike some other larger models on the market. This is no doubt aided by the excellent outfitting, including an adjustable seat, a robust ratchet backrest, customisable hip pads and solid ‘wrap-around’ thigh braces…oh, and while we’re on the subject of fittings & fictures, the grab loops (inc. two just behind the cockpit) are made from solid metal, not tape, which make them ideal for attaching karabiners in rescue situations…

In terms of the spray deck sizes, you’ll need a Palm Roto 5, Elephant Mammoth or similar, but the cockpit seems to fit most larger decks snuggly and the well-designed lip provdes just enough seal to keep the water out, while also gripping enough to fend-off implosion on bigger water.

The only small gripe I have about the Diesel is that the bulkhead foot rest is a little small for those of us who need to pull it right up, but that can easily be sorted by retro-fitting a different model or strapping on a strip or two of foam under the plate to raise it up; job’s a good’un!

All-in-all, I think this is a great boat and well worth the money. I’d recommend it to any one, and with the new range of Diesel 60s, 70s and 80s out this year, you may be able to grab yourself a cheap bargain while stocks last! Go on, what are you waiting for?!

…and is it easy to roll? Yes! I’ve even managed the odd back-deck rodeo roll in it; which, for me, is saying something!



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Lower Findhorn

I don’t know about you, but I hardly slept a wink last night…that’s because today was my first trip down the Lower Findhorn and I spent the few preceding hours working out how I could suck oxygen out of my bouyancy bags if I got pinned by a tree in some meaty stopper!

As ususal, the mottley crew met at 10am and headed down to Randolph’s Leap to hook up with the others. The sun was in the sky and river levels were reasonably low; which was good for me as I didn’t fancy a flood water run for my first trip down this section of the Findhorn!

River Grade: 3/4
My Boat: WaveSport Diesel 75
Group Size: 12

After lowering our boats down the cliff below Randolp’s, we were ready to set off the river. Just as we were about to head off, Ron & Co. arrived by the bank and decided to follow us down in due course…

The first few kilometres of the paddle was reasonably easy going. A few drops and trickier sections, but a good warm-up for what was to come and no real situations; save me taking someone else’s advice of not eddie-hopping a wee technical section and ending up paddling too fast, missing my line and going down a small drop backwards after narrowly avoiding being pinned!

Anyway, I survived that near miss and woke up to the challenge…and just in time too as the walls of the gorge began to close in and we came upon Tripple Steps…the first of the big rapids…

The first drop was a little tricky, but we all got down without too much trouble and hopped out of our boats to inspect the second drop. This was a lot more technical; begining with a 1.5/2m drop into a grabby stopper, followed by an eddie out round a large rock, a quick break-in and then a second drop into another stopper.

A few of the top guns shot down first and made it look easy. They were then followed by Stewart Young who gently floated down the first chute into the stopper and then spent at least a minute paddling like the duracell bunny on speed trying to avoid being sucked back into the hole!

So, with all that happening before my eyes, I was beginning to brick it big style! I waited for the good-to-go signal, lined up and paddled hard. I managed to punch through the hole and carried on down to the next drop, eventually arriving safely at the bottom.

If it wasn’t for Stewart’s run before, I’d probably have ended up doing the same as him and getting stuck…so the moral of that story is let someone else go down before you and watch their line!

…although this didn’t work for Dave Young, who copied his wee bro by getting stuck…but then paddled like his life depended on it, side-surfed, back-surfed, supported high and low and eventually broke free; all to compliments from the experienced pros…well done Dave!

The next big event was Corkscrew. This rapid is a tricky wee number with a twisting central line and a lot of boiling water, holes and pillow waves. At today’s low level it seemed to be harder than many people in the group thought it normally should be…great!

Ron showed us all how not to do it in style, by taking a left-of-centre line and boofing sideways over a semi-submerged rock. He might not have planned it like that, but it looked spectacular! Needless to say, I decided not to follow this line and headed down the middle without too much of a problem…another biggie struck off my to-do list!

Pete probably provided the best moment of the day by coming down Corkscrew on edge, then performing the world’s slowest capsize followed by a roll with an imploded deck, a semi-pin on a rock and then 5 minutes of bailing out his boat on the bank…classic…but not caught on camera sadly…

A few paddle strokes further, and we arrived at The Slot. It’s an impressive looking narrow gap, through which the river channels with massive force. Looks relatively simple if you get your line right and avoid the recirculations at the foot of the drop; however ever since a girl lost her life in the deep under-cut, most people opt to portage this one…we were no exception…

A few other interesting waves, including a sweet play hole just beyond The Slot, and then we were home and dry; well almost…we still have the monumental cliff-scramble get-out to deal with…it was a cracking day out and a great first experience of the Lower Findhorn for me. Definately one to do again!