Well, maybe not the weather. At least not all the time. But definitely the concept.
Ben Lawry, Ginni Callahan, and Peter Casson partnered with local coaches Ron, Gerry, and Carolyn to create an opportunity for 24 paddlers to play and learn for 4 days. Our playground was the northern part of Long Island Sound, from near Mystic Harbor up to Narragansett, with our home base a camp near Stonington, CT.
The first day we paddled on the lake on the camp property, splitting into three random groups to make Team 1, Team A, and Team Alpha. Each group spent an hour and a half with each coach. Ginni worked on rudders, Ben on sweep and forward strokes, and Peter on rescues. It was a good level setting session for all, and there were definitely some aha moments for me. The effect of posture on rudders (being a sack of potatoes is not helpful), keeping the top wrist aligned, the power linkage from boat to blade on forward and reverse strokes.
At the end of the day we had a team competition that involved forward and reverse strokes, maneuvers, rescues, towing, and a wee bit of following directions (no, you were not required to paddle around that island). The first group to return to the beach was declared the winner, and the prize was being first in line at dinner. (I would humbly mention that Team Alpha won this competition.)
One might think that the sole purpose of the event was to entertain the coaches based on the amount of laughter that ensued, but I suspect they also used it as part of the day's sorting exercises. The last activity of the day was splitting everyone up into one of 3 groups of 8. Each group would spend one day with Ben, one with Ginni and one with Peter, while one of the three local coaches stayed with each group to provide some continuity.
My group headed off to Stonington the second day. Forecast was for intermittent thunder storms and 15 - 20 knots of wind with gusts to 25 plus. We had planned to head out to Fisher's Island, possibly playing in the race between Fishers and Wicopesset Island. With the possibility of lightning, we decided to stay in areas where we could get off the water relatively quickly, paddling along a breakwater and eventually ending up on Napatree Point. It was helpful to be part of discussions of options in bigger conditions, and we found games to play along the way as we paddled into the headwinds. I was thoroughly entertained by the sound of the horn on the breakwater. Don't have one of those on Lake Calhoun.
After lunch on Napatree, we were past the lightning risk, and headed off to Fishers. First we paddled by the Molars (no, they didn't look any more appealing than the name sounds), then crossed to Fishers with the wind off our port side. The ebb current from our starboard side and the wind nearly cancelled each other out. The waves were probably 2 - 3 feet, with fairly frequent waves well above the horizon line (4?), so it was a fun place to be.
The ebbing current created a race between Fishers and Wicopesset, opposed by a stiff wind. The plan was to paddle through it in pairs, with David and me in the lead and Peter with us, then the rest of the group following behind. There was a needle to be threaded between ugliness on the right and ugliness on the left. In theory, if anything happened and someone came out of their boat, we would get flushed through the race and come out on the other side.
Dave and I paddled up a couple of pretty big waves (5 footers? I don't trust my memory) with bigger ahead when Peter said "Turn and run." Excellent example of a clear and unambiguous command! We "made it so"! Regrouped, ducked around the corner, and stopped for a break and a debrief on Fishers. Bottom line was that nobody wanted to be doing rescues where we were in the race, and if we had gotten through we still would have had to return.
We paddled back to Stonington after that. Lots of marine features to soak in. Big reminder about the need to orient to your chart before you start out and keep oriented -- e.g., we're going to paddle by these three buoys and here are their numbers, then we'll paddle east of the breakwater and there's a light on the end. We paddled by more fog horns and/or light signals. It was cool to have one horn to the left and another to the right and hear the sounds change as you moved between them.
We stopped for coffee/beer at Noah's in Stonington, then headed back to camp to hear about the other groups' days. One group had stayed on the camp lake while the other had headed up to Rhode Island. Happy energy filled the room as we ate dinner.
On day 3, my group went to the Narrows in Rhode Island with Ben. The third day of a camp or trip is always the one I feel tired on, and I was pretty much done after one of Ben's high energy warm ups. But wait -- there was more! Next we worked on exercises we would use in the surf. The goal when we catch the wave is to stay on top of it, not bury our bow in the trough and our stern on the wave. So we worked on a pivot and acceleration to catch the wave, braking to get into position, on stern rudders to steer, and getting off of a bongo slide. And then off to the waves. Nice green ones until later in the day, when they started to dump a bit. Good place to play and learn.
At the end of the day, a stop for beer or coffee was by now a hallowed tradition (must follow tradition!), and doubly so when the storm that had been threatening finally arrived and the skies opened up. We enjoyed a lovely round of Guinness as the rain pelted down, then drove through another cell on our way back to camp.
One of the other groups had been less lucky and had been in the direct path of the storms. They holed up a couple times while paddling, then dodged lightning while tying on boats.
That evening, Sergio showed slides from Nova Scotia. Definitely a paddling destination for the wish list.
Day 4 was another forecast of gray and windy weather, and the groups did a bit of re-sorting and winnowing as people made plans on when to head for home, and then came together to discuss what we wanted to do on our last day. Our group was down to 5 as we headed with Ginni to Esker Point, west of Mystic Harbor. We did some navigation planning, picking some rocks to go find a la scavenger hunt.
We started with a paddle along a measured mile to get a sense of our pace. After that, each of us led or swept a leg of the trip. It was fun to be paddling on another windy day as a tight group, just a few feet from each other.
We had paused in the lee of Ram Island and heard thunder, and decided to land and have lunch despite this being a private island. The dogs, horses, and sheep were good with that, and we didn't see any people.
Ginni did a nice job of leading a discussion on paddling as a group and how it's everyone's responsibility to keep the group tight. Opportunities for missed communication had been plentiful on a fairly short paddle, and we found many of them.
After lunch, Dave suggested that we head out into a race we could see off the south end of the island. An ebb current was flowing over Ram Island Reef, with the wind opposed. I was up for the paddle, but was having a hard time visualizing what to expect. Turned out to be hugely fun, and the ferry angle was almost straight across, as the opposing wind and current again balanced each other out. The waves weren't very high, but we did a bit of surfing on the way back.
On to Gate, then the north end of Ram, then by Mouse, keeping an eye on intertwined channels marked by red and green buoys. Much easier to pick out the channels looking at a chart than on the water.
Coming back through a sailboat buoy field there was a chance to do some slalom turns (funny thing ... same feedback as Day 1 on the rudders -- posture!) My roll had temporarily gone AWOL and we got that sorted out before we called it a day (funny thing ... lifting with the lower knee works better than lifting with the the top knee).
It was an excellent 4 days. Good learning from terrific coaches, as well as from the other students and the marine environment itself. Splitting into 3 groups of similar skills made the camp accessible to a big group of people, but provided learning tailored to where we were. The accommodations were not luxurious, but we were comfortable, and having hot breakfasts and dinners and showers was a treat. All were tired at the end of the camp, but I think everyone went away a better paddler with bunch of new friends. Doesn't get much better than that.