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Could we do it and would we be allowed to?

"Where shall we go next?" is a question that comes up whenever HBWATG staff get together, but this time it was “What shall we do to celebrate the millennium?”. We had climbed trekking peaks in Nepal and visited various places in Europe but now we wanted something different

About four years ago someone said “How about a Canoe trip?” so that was one decision taken. Next question - where? Barry Ellis, suggested Canada, where he was still in touch with Duncan Mackay, an old school friend who now worked with the Ministry of Natural resources in Northern Ontario. We made contact with Duncan, who was very willing to help. 

The plan was coming together. We wanted to Canoe a river in Northern Ontario, Canada where we expected to canoe water at around grade 3, so it was time to talk to Headquarters Air Cadets to get their approval for the trip.  In August 1998 Allen Cox and John Smith went to RAF Cranwell and discussed their plans with Squadron Leader Bob Abbott, the Corps Adventure Training Officer. Squadron Leader Abbott gave the expedition his support, subject to seeing a detailed itinerary and training programme for all participants, and to the experience and qualifications of the leaders being acceptable

At that stage, we had no instructors qualified to teach open canoes. We had instructors qualified for kayaks, and they had plenty of experience in open boats including several trips on the Wye and the Ardeche, but now they needed to add the qualification for open boats. We contacted the British Canoe Union (BCU) who are the governing body for canoeing in the UK, and they advised on the steps needed to obtain the open canoe coach qualification.

Allen Cox, John Smith and John Gafney were the most experienced canoeists among the expedition leaders, so they set about getting the qualifications, starting with the BCU 3 Star, which they achieved during a two-day residential course at Woodmill, the Southampton Council Canoeing Centre. This was followed by a Canoe Safety test held at Longridge, the Scout Centre on the River Thames. First aid certificates were brought up to date with a special one-day course attended by all expedition members, then Allen and the two Johns completed a two day Coach Training course back at Woodmill. There followed a period of consolidation where a minimum of 20 hours of instruction had to be logged. (Thanks to the Air Cadet Centres at Llanbedr and Windermere for help with this). The final hurdle was a one-day assessment where their personal skills and teaching ability were assessed.

 In July 1999 Allen Cox and John Smith made a reconnaissance visit to Northern Ontario to meet the people who would outfit and assist the expedition, and sample the canoeing with a short trip on the Steel river. This trip confirmed all the assumptions we had made about the trip, and enabled John Smith and Allen Cox to go back to HQ Air Cadets and gain the formal permission and diplomatic clearance that we needed to do the trip

 Following much hard work this was given and the trip could take place

(by Allen Cox)

Wing Adventure Training Officer: Flt Lt John Smith RAFVR(T)       Web site by: Flt Lt Geoff Bowles RAFVR(T)       Last updated: 17/05/2003