I have always wanted to take a canoe skills course but just never got around to looking up the info and actually committing fully to doing it. A few months ago my friend Sam sent me a message to advise she wanted to take hers also and had found a good course with Judy Kirkwood of Kirkwood Canoe in Huntsville. She sent me all the details, I checked out the info and told her I was in. I was super happy to not only be finally taking my canoe skills course, but also to be doing it with my good friend. I had realized that this was the first course of all the courses I’ve taken (which is quite a few at this point) that I wasn’t taking alone and it was nice to have someone to share it with.
I arrived at the Yearley Outdoor Education Centre around 8:45. My friend Sam just happened to pull in right behind me. We met Judy and D’Arcy, her daughter, who would both be teaching our course and then got a quick tour before others arrived.
The Yearley Centre was very nice. They had a full kitchen and eating area, complete with fridge, stove, microwave, dishes and cutlery. We headed over to see where we’d be sleeping. This was an additional charge to the course if you chose to use it for $20.00 for the night. Amazing.
Across from the bunkhouse was a nice washroom, complete with 2 showers.
Stellar. After the tour we all gathered in the dining hall to introduce ourselves and talk a bit about why we were there and what we wanted to learn over the weekend. It was very interesting to hear everyones reasons for taking the course.
Once we chatted a little about what the course would entail, ensuring everyone had safety gear and lots of bug repellent, water, etc, we headed outside to get a paddle if we hadn’t brought one.
Above is D’Arcy’s paddle that she made herself when she was little. Super cute.
Judy went over the different types of paddles and how to ensure you picked the right size for you and then I got my paddle. We gathered all our belongings and then headed down to the small pond to hit the water!
We were told all about the canoes, the different names for the parts, which some of them I had not known.
Once we went through all of those types of details, we partnered up and were shown how to carry the canoe down to the waters edge.
The pond was absolutely gorgeous with incredibly clear water. I had never been to Tobermory, but from looking at pictures, I was reminded of the same type of views. Judy explained how to properly put the canoe in the water with your partner and then get in without getting your feet wet.
She demonstrated the techniques with a partner, and the we were all told to repeat the process ourselves and get onto the water, which we eagerly did. The bugs were very pesky and were all over us on land and I was hoping once we got onto the water and in the open a breeze would combat the issue.
We paddled around for a bit and then once everyone was on the water, we began lessons. The pond was perfect, crystal clear, calm and great for learning strokes without having to worry about being pushed by wind or major currents. This also kept the bugs on us, however.
We went over many things. How to do a proper stroke, j stroke, hard j, rafting, going in reverse and a few others.
Around 1pm we broke for lunch and then got right back to it afterwards, being advised we would be heading into the big pond after lunch and would be getting wet to do rescues. I put on my swimming stuff under my clothing and bug pants and shirt and back down we went.
The afternoon began with us learning several techniques on how to properly portage a canoe, some which were new to me and some Judy had revised specifically for women, who are shorter and have shorter arms and legs as I did. I had always had trouble reaching over to the other side of the canoe, but she showed me a different way to do it so it worked for me, which was great!
After portaging the canoes and/or suitcase carrying them to the big pond we did some more practicing on the strokes and then did the rescues.
I really enjoyed the rescues, except for the fact that I was totally unprotected from the bugs, only in my bathing suit and pfd and I think that is when they got me good. But otherwise, I really liked doing the rescues and was reminded a lot of the rescues that I have learned during my kayaking courses.
Judy took some videos of the rescues from which I got these screenshots. Thanks Judy for taking the videos! So awesome! Here are a few pictures of Sam and I doing a rescue.
When we finished with them, we got the canoes out of the water, put the back where we’d gotten them from at the start and quickly ran up to the buildings to seek shelter from the bugs. I was also cold and wet, so I had a shower and changed into some dry clothes and then met up with Sam to have our dinner.
I was pretty bitten up on my neck and face but after seeing some of the others, I didn’t look bad at all. Judy, was totally covered in bites and her face looked like she had the chicken pox. I honestly wanted to cry when I saw her, I felt that bad, but Judy is a super woman. She just shrugged it off and said she was fine and continued about her business. Amazing woman indeed!
Sam had brought a lasagna to heat up in the oven and I had brought garlic bread with cheese. It took a while to heat up but it was totally worth the wait. We were both starving by the time it was ready and ate hungrily talking about all the things we learned throughout the day. t dinner I was advised that we would be moving day 2 of the course to downtown Huntsville due to the bugs. Algonquin Outfitters would be providing us with some extra canoes we’d need and we would be using the docks behind their store.
I braved a walk to the water after dinner to see if I could get some good photos, but the sun had already dropped. After that I stayed inside and could hear the bugs buzzing all around me even once I was no longer around them. I was having post traumatic bug disorder. lol. We sat with Judy, D’Arcy, Sam and Jenna and chatted. Judy showed us the videos she’d taken that day of the rescues and shortly after we all went to bed. Everyone was exhausted and ready for sleep, so off we went.
It was tough getting up the next day to get ready to go, but we all managed. I got dressesd, bugged myself up, had some breakfast and said see ya to the Yearley Centre. We followed each other to River Mill Park in Huntsville, helped unload the canoes and gear and got onto the water as soon as we were able to , to get tested on our skills that we learned yesterday.
Our first task was to go in between the docks and do a pivot turn, one in each direction and not hit the dock. We then got our cards to get punched and went through all the skills we learned yesterday, showing them to Judy and Darcy and getting them checked off our lists.
We continued through the morning, working on doing this until lunchtime. Then took a break enjoying the scenery, the nice weather and the total lack of bugs. It honestly, was like night and day. I don’t think I got one single bite on Sunday and was amazed how different the bug situation was here compared to yesterday.
During lunch I went to get my food and stopped to visit my friend Jon from Algonquin Outfitters. He let me do a quick interview with him on how AO saved the day and helped outfit Judy with the canoes we needed to do the course here instead of at Yearley. Jon helps with the rentals at the Algonquin Outfitters Huntsville store and is super friendly and knowledgeable. If you need to rent a boat or get some gear, go visit him and you will see what I mean. Thanks for the picture and all the assistance Jon! I really enjoyed meeting you!
After lunch, it was time to do the solo portion of the course. Judy showed us how to get in, the various ways you can sit and how the strokes we’d all just learned were used in a solo boat.
We then each got into our own tandem canoes, solo and tried to apply the strokes we’d learned but just with one person. It was very difficult and I had a really hard time going straight.
Eventually, I got better at it and we went for a paddle down the river. The sky began to get darker but it didn’t dampen our spirits. Everyone was eager to learn and we continued on applying our new skills, now doing them solo.
And some people, like our instructor Judy, showed off her skills. Here she is above, doing a hand stand in the canoe. HOLY SMOKES!!! I can’t even do one of these on solid ground. I was constantly in awe of this woman all weekend and this move just put the icing on the cake. WOW!
We paddled back to the docks and worked on one more skill. Once it was checked off, we were done and passed our Levels 1 through 4 Basic Canoe Skills Course. I was super happy, but also exhausted and ready to enjoy a bit of rest before work tomorrow.
As the rain started to fall, we were told we completed our training and got the canoes off the water and helped pack everything up. We were each called one by one to get our certificates.
Here is Sam getting hers.
And me getting mine.
We said goodbye to the new friends we’d made and all wished each other well.
Me and my newly earned badge went to the Nutty Chocolatier to get myself a delicious reward, peanut butter cup ice cream, which was super yummy and then headed home to take a nice long hot bath and get some rest.
Thanks so much to Judy and D’Arcy from Kirkwood Canoe. I am so happy that Sam found you and asked me to take these courses with her. You are both top notch and wonderful instructors and I can see why you are so successful in what you do.
I hope you enjoyed this weeks post. If you have any questions, comments or just want to say hi, please send a message.