I’ve wanted to retake my kayaking course for some time now. I guess I should say ‘retake’ lightly as the first course I took in 2004 was not a certificate program through Paddle Canada and was only an 8 hour course, but, I did learn quite a few of the items that were on the list for the Paddle Canada Sea Kayaking Level 1 course.
A few weeks ago I began researching a few places to take the course and after some easy convincing by James Roberts, a legend in kayaking, I was sold on taking the course at the Ontario Sea Kayak Centre in Parry Sound . I was ecstatic and with the course being in Parry Sound, which is now only a little over a half hour from my new place in Port Carling, it was an easy sell.
After advising James I would be blogging about the course, he recommended I have the full experience and also stay the two nights at the Harmony Outdoor Inn. After viewing the website, I could not wait to leave after work Friday to explore and write about this beautiful place! I am a lucky girl indeed! I can’t even express how special I felt when I pulled into the parking lot and saw the above sign with my name on it, welcoming me to the Inn! Details are so important and I would see repeatedly, the time and care that people here have put into the little details at the Harmony Outdoor Inn.
I got out and stared exploring immediately, like a kid in a candy store, I was in awe!
I was greeted by the lovely Innkeeper, Sasha, along with the Inn’s dog, Molly, who took me on a tour.
The first thing you see when you leave the parking lot is a huge screened in pavilion. It is built out of wood and gorgeous to look at. When you go inside you are greeted with chalkboards full of information, how to access the wifi and several areas set up just for the guests of the Inn. There are two fridges, a microwave, a coffeemaker, coffee, tea and a cabinet full of utensils, dishes, pots, pans and pretty much anything else you might need. There are several picnic tables where you can sit and enjoy your meals, without swatting at bugs, or have a group meeting or a class presentation.
When you go out the back door of the pavilion, there is an open deck complete with a barbecue and two cook stoves. There are kettles to heat up water for a warm drink and all the propane and accessories are also provided. How amazing!
Across from the deck there is what I call a wet station. It has a large double sink, dish rack and dish soap, a mirror and a few dish towels. On either side of the building, there are gorgeous doors that will take you into a lovely shower area, the perfect place to warm up after a long day on the water, or rinse off after a day of adventuring.
Nearby, you will also find a beautiful modern day outhouse, complete with a composting toilet and decorated with kayaking photos and cute little outdoorsy type things. This is not your everyday outhouse!!
From the pavilion area, there is a trail heading away from the parking lot. At the fork there two beautiful handmade signs, one trail will take you to the tents, the second will take you to the beach.
The beach area is magical. There is a huge wooden deck to lounge on, or do yoga. There are hammocks hanging everywhere and over by the river, there is a huge firepit just asking someone to sit around it and roast a marshmallow!
I would’ve liked to stay longer, but I wanted to see my tent, so after my quick tour of the beach area, I took the beautiful trail up to the tents.
The trail is lovely with local rocks and boulders used as stairs anywhere possible. Solar lights adorn the trail and I was anxious to see it lit up at night as well. At the very top of the trail, I found what would be my home for the next two days and I couldn’t have been more thrilled with what I saw!
And located not too close, but just close enough, was another cute outhouse with a composting toilet, lovely decorations and lots of toilet paper! They even thought to put a bottle of hand sanitizer in each outhouse. Once again, the attention to detail was so apparent.
I walked around and visited every tent as I needed to see what they all looked like! Each was unique but all were awesome! My favorite next to mine was Ironwood.
After I dropped my bag off in my tent and finished checking everything out, I went to the pavilion to make my dinner, a delicious rib eye steak and fresh asparagus. I seemed to be the only one around, and I had the facility all to myself. It was incredibly peaceful and I already felt at home.
After dinner I took a walk along the Hobbit Trail which was a neat little trail. It had a lot of twists and turns and more perfectly placed natural rock and I really enjoyed how nature played such a bit part in the landscaping here.
When I got to the bottom of the trail, I was rewarded with a few gorgeous glimpses of the river and setting sun.
I walked over to the beach as I had been advised by Sasha that the sunsets here were perfect and I wanted to get a few photos and check it out for myself. She was definitely right and I relaxed in a hammock and enjoyed the view.
It got dark eventually and it was time for me to enjoy some down time in my tent. I walked along the path lined with lights and once again, felt so privileged to be staying here.
I read for a little while using the awesome lights inside the tent. All the tents had solar charged power packs (not 100% sure on the technical term?) and they provided enough energy to light up the tent and you could also plug in a usb cable to charge your electronic devices. Very impressive!
After a bit of reading, I was super sleepy. I let down the flaps on my tent to help keep the warmth in, and then cozied up in my comfy bed destined for a great nights sleep! Tomorrow would be an awesome day and I was really looking forward to it!
I woke up and felt amazing! I had such a wonderful sleep and I was pumped for my kayaking course today! I got dressed, brought what I thought I would need for the day with me and headed to the pavilion to make some breakfast and get my day started!
Shortly after breakfast, people started arriving for the course, and at 9am sharp we were on our way to hopefully getting our certificates!!! We started off introducing ourselves to each other, telling everyone our paddling experience and meeting our instructors for the weekend. Everyone seemed wonderful and I knew it was going to be a great time!
We headed out to the boat rack to pick the boats we would be using for the weekend and were taught the proper way to carry a kayak by Craig. We then took our boats down to the beach where we learned about water safety, the things we had to have with us and how to properly put on your PFD or life jacket.
Kyle explained the proper names for all the parts of the kayak and then Craig showed us the best way to get into the it without falling into the water.
After adjusting our foot pegs and ensuring we had all our safety gear and PFD’s on properly, we hit the water and were ready to learn the basic strokes.
We were quickly taught how to ‘raft up’ and did it many times throughout the weekend for various reasons. After learning the basics, we broke for lunch and were told afterwards, we would do our wet exits, which some were a bit nervous about. Now it would be my turn to pay attention to details!
After lunch we met back at the beach and Craig explained skirts to the class. Then he squeezed into his and told us to go get ours. It was time to do wet exits!! Here is mine with a huge thank you to Liane for filming this for me, in slow motion…. without me asking her!
After our rolls, we had a history lesson on kayaks and saw this beauty. Craig explained about Greenland paddles and how they worked and came to be. I actually tested it out later in the weekend and was surprised at how easy it was to paddle with and how much water you could push with such a slim paddle surface.
Following our history lesson, we learned about, and how to perform assisted rescues. Kyle and Craig demonstrated how to do one and then we were broken off in groups of two’s to do them as well.
One of the teams, Maryanne and Randy were not able to do the normal assisted rescue, so they were taught another way to do it. I didn’t get photos of the whole process, but basically they rafted their boats, and Maryanne climbed onto the raft until her boat was emptied out and then climbed back into her boat. It looked pretty cool and we ended up trying something similar at the end of day two, just to see how it worked.
After our assisted rescues we had free time to play around with the instructors close by. We tried getting out of our boats unassissted and sitting on the back of the seat area, then sitting on the back of the boat and paddling that way. I fell off after a minute or so and then my challenge was to get myself back on top of the boat without help. It took me twelve attempts, and lots of bruises and scratches, but I eventually did it. I was exhausted, but proud and I was happy to call it a day at this point. I headed back to the beach and said goodbye to my classmates for the night and had a nice hot shower and changed into dry clothes. Then I made my dinner, followed by a hot chocolate with baileys and relaxed at the beach and enjoyed the quiet.
I relaxed in the hammock until it got dark. The mosquitos came out around sunset and were eating my feet to the bone. I had taken off my shoes to lie in the hammock and had no protection on them. Eventually, it was too much to handle so I headed up to my screened in bug free glamping tent. It was just after ten and I was pretty tired so I snuggled up in my lovely bed and headed off to dreamland, where I would dream about paddling all night long… in the rain! LOL
While we slept the rain came and it didn’t stop. I heard it pouring on my tent from just after I went to bed until I woke up the next morning around seven. I put on my raincoat and went to visit the outhouse, then laid down for a bit longer. I would have to cook my breakfast in the rain so I figured there was no rush. LOL. When I couldn’t wait any longer, I finally got up and put on my rainpants and raincoat on top of my swimming stuff and a few layers, as it was also somewhat chilly out. I made my breakfast and my classmates started to arrive and we chatted about the day before and what everyone did after they left the Kayaking Centre last night. Class started promptly at nine and as we had gotten so much done on the water yesterday, we would only need to venture out this afternoon to do a few things. For the morning, we would be learning about gear, which was presented to us mostly by Craig in the pretty pavilion.
We also talked about navigation, weather, when to go and when not to go, and a bunch of other things required by Paddle Canada to complete the course. Craig and Kyle thought we were bored, but we were all greatly enjoying learning as much as we could from our experts and personally, I enjoyed the entire course, indoor stuff included.
Myles spent some time showing us a chart map and explaining how it worked and all the details you could use to help navigate and plan your trip. Then we talked a bit about Level 2 and basically we were done the morning session. We broke for lunch and most of us were dreading getting wet as it was so chilly and dreary out, but we didn’t have a choice so we prepared ourselves the best we could and met at the beach after lunch to learn how to do an unassisted rescue. This was something I wanted to pay very close attention to and do several times as I paddle quite a bit by myself and knowing how to get back into my boat in deep water is a requirement for me.
Big thanks to my weekend paddling partner Cathy for taking these great pics of me performing my unassisted rescue. I appreciate it greatly and love that I have step by step photos of what to do as a reminder for future practice. After our unassisted rescues we were told we could practice anything we felt we needed to with the instructors help and go over anything from the weekend or ask anything that wasn’t covered. Again, every detail was covered both in and out of the water, in and out of the course, and I saw over and over again this weekend how that was a consistent part of the Inn and the OSKC course. I once again went through my unassisted rescue with the help of Kyle to ensure I really understood what to do and then shivering with cold, I headed back to the beach. I couldn’t have been more happy with this weekend in every single way and I was so glad I took this course at this particular facility, learning from these specific instructors and staying at this incredible Inn.
I asked everyone to pose for a group photo and was so glad I did. It’s always nice to have a shot with everyone in it to reflect back on the weekend and to remember all the wonderful people who helped you along the way. I headed back up to the main area to have a hot shower and change into some dry clothes. I personally, was still shivering and felt so much better after I’d changed into dry clothes and had a hot steamy shower. We were told to meet back in the pavilion after we were changed to get our certificates and hear a few final words.
I was sooo happy to get my certificate and to find out that everyone in the class passed the course. I had no doubts as with such great instructors and such an incredible facility, how could you not pass? Sadly, the weekend had come to a close and it was time to say goodbyes. I felt like I couldn’t say thank you enough and did my best to personally thank everyone that made my weekend such a huge success. But just to ensure I didn’t miss anyone…..
A HUGE thank you to James and Dympna for hosting us and creating such a wonderful place to learn and relax in and to Sasha and Molly for making me feel so welcome! A MASSIVE thank you to my amazing instructors, Craig, Kyle and Myles who paid attention to detail just as much as the amazing innkeepers of Harmony Inn. And last, but not least, a very very LARGE CONGRATULATIONS to all my classmates, Maryanne, Randy, Cathy, Liane, Sid, Lori, Kat, Angie and Sophie! It was a great pleasure paddling and learning with all of you and I hope to do it again one day soon!
Thank so much for reading my post. I hoped you enjoyed it and will return soon! I also hope that if you do kayak, that you look into taking this course and ensure you know as much as you possibly can so that you and others you come across will benefit from the skills you learn. Even though I have been paddling for over 15 years and kayaking over 10, I still learned a tonne and the confidence you gain, will make a huge difference, as I believe it has for me.