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A Bad Swim – A Reflection

On the 2nd Jan 2014 Rory Woods ran Cauldron Snout on the River Tees (UK) and ended up taking a bad swim. Having successfully tackled the class V+ Cauldron Snout on several previous occasions Rory broke out of the top eddy and ran the Snout. Here are Rory’s unedited thoughts on what happened when it all went wrong.

A Bad Swim
Photo: Ben Johnson. Paddler: Rory Woods.

For context, the level is a bit higher than Sam (click to view video) ran it, with overspill on the dam as well as both pipes. I’ve run it a few times before, but always lower. It shook me a bit, and I hope I will learn from it. I’ve always believed in safety coming from the certainty that you will get the moves right, irrespective of the consequences. Of course, if the consequences are bad enough, you need to leave some margin in your level of certainty. Over lots of years of very gradually paddling harder and harder stuff, I really thought that my judgement of what I could definitely do was pretty accurate. I’ve always been a bit proud of my ability to get on and get pressure moves right without headgames getting in the way once I’d made a decision. It shocked me to go back and look at the rapid and think that maybe I’ve been fooling myself for a while in my desire to run stuff.

A Bad Swim
Photo: Ben Johnston. Paddler: Rory Woods.

I don’t think I’m a particularly safe paddler. I really like running stuff blind (or I should say on-sight really), again trusting my judgement to say something is safe based on limited information. This is definitely a bad habit. I get carried away, having fun when I’m paddling well and do silly stuff, and always thought this would be the cause of an accident if anything ever happened to me. Not a rapid I had properly looked at from every angle and calmly decided I could do.

Photo: Cauldron Snout from a previous run by Martyn Butler. Paddler: Ben Johnston.

That is the first properly bad important decision I think I have ever made on the river. I shouldn’t have run it. I’ve had plenty of silly swims and got away with some stuff but in every other case when I’ve properly looked at something dangerous for a while and then decided to run it I’ve got it right. I thought I trusted myself to get stuff right when it really mattered. Every time before when I’ve looked at a must make move, and known I would make it, I have made it.

I was very confident I would get this right. So I didn’t make the boof on the ledge drop. I came out of the hole at the bottom of the slide forwards and upright, but the speed of the pool took me by surprise, I didn’t make it to the centre like I’d planned on the ledge and there was a weird seam thing on the lip that made much more difference than I thought it would. All of this seemed much more obvious on the walk back up. I think I relaxed a bit, thinking I had made the move I was really worrying about, there is a pretty chunky hole at the bottom of the slide at this level.

Photo: Cauldron Snout from a previous run by Martyn Butler. Paddler: Ben Johnston.

Retrospectively I think the chances of stalling or backlooping in the ledge hole even with a good boof were pretty high. I was upright in the hole for a bit but not really in control and didn’t give the nod for the rope. I tried to paddle out upright and then upside down, then couldn’t roll and couldn’t breathe and swam. I’ve never been any good at taking a beating when I can’t breathe, maybe the biggest weakness in my paddling (except over confidence?). I had decided there was no way I was leaving my boat in that hole without a rope in my hands.

I didn’t pop up properly until right at the lip of the bottom drop, by pure fluke I had washed up against the rock on the right and managed to claw my way out. There was no chance to take a throwbag. While inspecting I had thought that side was the only chance of swimming out, but there really wasn’t any swimming involved, I just popped up there. I think swimming over the bottom drop at this level would almost certainly involve breaking stuff at least. I’m sorry to Ben, Owen and David that I decided to run that without really asking if they were keen. And putting them off their runs (though I think that this maybe isn’t a bad thing). And thanks for setting safety! It would have been nice to have more people for safety, it would have been nice to have a bigger boat, it would have been nice if it was sunny not windy and miserable, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t have run it.


  1. richie

    We set up safty. So if we dont make it on the day. Thay get us.
    We think..wot if.
    And plan for it
    We kayak for the adrenaline and the dopamine.
    If we did not get these high, s
    We would not do it
    Now you have swam. It is just your initiation to the P.P P.P

  2. Neville Lucas

    dont beat yourself up. takes balls to do that fall. youre lucky you got away in one piece but I take my hat off to you

  3. Glenn Tomlinson

    I admire your honesty here Rory. I know that head games can play havoc with my boating, so reading this has given me ‘food for thought’ when I next experience that ‘battle of the head games’!

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