Outward Bound: An Inward Journey   1 comment

July 7, 2011

By: Paul Lamoureux, Program Director

Student and parent orientation with Course Director Will Carlson

Summer expeditions have begun on Thompson Island and three crews of 12 & 13-year-old students are at the beginning of what promises to be a transformational experience. Ten young women are participating in the Connecting with Courage (CWC) expedition and 18 young men are embarking upon two separate Passages expeditions. All of these courses are 12-day kayaking expeditions that will depart from Thompson Island after approximately 2½ days of training. As part of the course, students will paddle among and camp on numerous islands in the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area. Students will learn kayaking, navigation and camping skills; however these technical skills are only the tip of the iceberg on a Thompson Island Outward Bound expedition.

All Thompson Island Outward Bound expeditions are based upon the Outward Bound Pillars of Compassion, Service, Physical Fitness, Self-Reliance and Craftsmanship. Unique to Thompson Island’s CWC and Passages courses are additional instructional objectives that address issues of early adolescence. Course curriculum addresses Courage, Responsibility and Emotional Freedom, as well as Finding One’s Voice (for CWC) and Positive Masculinity (for Passages).

For the early part of course, all three kayaking crews are working to establish roles, responsibilities, course structure and guidelines. Much of the time during the initial days on course is focused upon safety training and teaching students the important skills necessary for kayak “pods” to travel through the waterways of the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area.

Gear safety check

Kayakers learn how to don and fit all of the safety gear, including paddle jackets, personal flotation devices (PFDs), spray skirts, hats, footwear and sunglasses. Students are also instructed in the use of whistles and signal mirrors, as well as the miniature flashlights and strobe lights that are affixed to each shoulder. Crews learn about the various parts of the kayak from cockpit and deck bungee to hatches and rudders. They also learn about parts of the paddle and conduct dry-land practice on how to use the paddles effectively to move the boat through the water.

"Wet exit" practice

Prior to any significant paddling practice, instructors ensure that students are comfortable in the water and in their kayak. Water comfort assessments are conducted, as well as the “wet exit” assessment. In the wet exit, students learn to exit their kayak in the event of capsize. In this assessment, instructors are positioned in chest-deep water at each end of the boat, and the kayak is rolled. Upside-down students “clap” the side of the kayak three times (to show that they are not panicking), remove their spray skirt, push out of the capsized boat and rise to the surface.

Assisted rescue practice

Students learn to get back into their boats in an “assisted rescue” scenario, then how to use hand held pumps to remove water that has collected in their cockpits, and finally how, while floating, to reattach their spray skirts.

After all students have become comfortable with this process, paddling skills are taught. These include the sweep, forward and back strokes as well as braces to stabilize a boat in choppy seas. It is also important that pairs of students learn to work together as all youth are assigned tandem kayaks.

Practice pod formations

After students become more maneuverable in their tandem kayaks, instructors begin to move the groups around in a pod. Instructors facilitate the group management and indicate to students the necessity of remaining in close proximity during paddling so that effective communication can be maintained.

When all of the preparatory safety and skills training is completed to the instructors’ satisfaction, the kayak crews prepare to depart Thompson Island.

Preparing for departure

The CWC crew did a remarkable job of getting to bed early on the second day of their expedition and waking the following day at 4:30am for an “Alpine Start.” After eating breakfast and cleaning up, the young women completely packed their kayaks with all of the group’s gear. This is an impressive undertaking in itself. All of the tents, tarps, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothing, cooking gear, eating utensils, stoves, spare equipment, med kits and numerous bags filled with water and food must fit into the kayaks.

Final route review before launch

The crew conducted a morning circle-up on the beach and after a review of the Harbor Islands chart, a discussion of the day’s navigational route, planned island stops, possible bailout locations and a timetable, the CWC crew hits the water for the first day of serious paddling.

The CWC instructors have been impressed with their crew’s drive, ambition and group cohesion thus far and have indicated that they seem to have a very high functioning group. Today, however, should be challenging as the day’s paddling itinerary is the most ambitious of the course and represents a 6 ½ mile paddle to Bumpkin Island.

On a 6 ½ mile paddle on the first day of group travel, I am sure that there will be significant hurdles for the young women. The challenges, which are an integral part of an Outward Bound course, will create significant discomfort for many. The true test will be how individuals within the group deal with (and learn from) the day’s challenges. As I see CWC depart Thompson Island, I wish I could be a fly on the wall for their evening debrief. I can picture them sitting in a circle in the dark with their tents pitched behind them, on the remote wilderness of Bumpkin Island, talking about the day’s issues and challenges.

Heading to Bumpkin Island

The process of discovery and transformation has begun for all of the kayak crews. It is my hope that these students face and overcome obstacles and challenges of all types. That they face their fears and continue on despite them and that they return to Thompson Island not only with lasting memories, but tools and life skills that will help them overcome any of life’s challenges. Perhaps they will have developed more compassion or confidence. Perhaps they are more service-oriented or self-reliant. Perhaps the notion of emotional freedom is not foreign to them. Perhaps they are more responsible and see themselves as role models or as the next generation of leaders. Perhaps they have found their voice and are not afraid to use it.

After all, this is not simply a kayaking trip. This is an Outward Bound expedition and inherently an Inward Journey…one of self-discovery and transformation.

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One response to “Outward Bound: An Inward Journey

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  1. Paul,

    This is excellent!

    Sandy McGinnes

    Sandy McGinnes

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