Colombia: here we come!

Myself, Fran Kohn, Dave Hollins and Niamh Stack are just about head out for a month of exploring the rivers of Colombia in South America. Jungles, mountains, big volume, low volume, boulder gardens and the odd waterfall too… plus the potential of some multiday action where we’ll sleep in hammocks. We’re dead excited!

Our bags all packed and ready to go!

I’ll be updating the FlowFree blog, our facebook page and my twitter feed (flowfree_lowri) when I can. We’ve set up a blog specifically for the trip where we’ll all be posting up stories and photos from our adventures, so if you want to keep fully up to date bookmark

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2012 is getting off to an exiting start for myself, Fran Kohn, Dave Hollins and Niamh Stack as we are just about to set off for a month of boating in Colombia. Bags packed and ready to go… I’m taking the new Mamba 8.1 on this trip which I’m really excited about because it seems [...]
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Mission: Free the Everest

Last week a friend of ours had a little mishap on the Mawddach, which resulted in the boat getting pinned so badly that they were unable to retrieve it. Today the levels had finally dropped off enough for myself, Andy Butler and Daz Clarkson-King to go on a rescue mission. Hopefully the video, photos and explanation of what we did posted below will be interesting and useful to others. Of course there are many ways to skin a cat, this is simply what we did and why…

The first thing we needed to do was find the boat! We’d been given a pretty good description but we needed to see the situation for ourselves to work out what we might need to do, if recovery was even possible.

Spot the kayak
Can you spot the kayak?

For those who know the river, the boat was in the gorge between the base of Rhaeadr Mawddach and the confluence with the Afon Gain. It was wedged underwater closest to the river left bank – the opposite bank to easiest access. The group who lost the boat had obviously tried to unpin the boat themselves, and had left a rope attached to the front grab loop which was closest to the left bank (the line had been tied off out of the way of anyone coming down the river).

looking down on boat

The boat had wrapped around the rock so we needed to pull diagonally upstream to create a peel and pull effect; which meant the rope was already attached to the optimum point in terms of leverage.  We identified a suitable anchor which would create the angle of pull we required. We made sure it was strong enough to take the kind of force we were going to be putting through our system. Unusually, in this instance our anchor was a giant pipe!

anchor pipe
The big anchor pipe

Our plan was to anchor the line, then set up a piggyback system to provide mechanical advantage. We chose a piggyback system (rather than a 3-to-1 using the line already attached) because it means the boat won’t float off anywhere once it’s freed, even if your pulling team let go and it allows you to take in the slack, preventing the boat slipping back and losing any progress you make.

rescue andy
Andy heading across to get the line

The pipe was quite a way from the boat so we’d need some extra length on the line, plus we needed an anchor. We used one throwline as both the anchor and to provide the additional length required to reach the line currently attached to the boat (from here on in referred to as the ‘main line’).

Pinned Kayak

rope anchor

We used a bowline to tie the line around the pipe creating the anchor and then a clove hitch onto a carabina at the length which allowed us to then attach the main line to the same carabina using an italian hitch. This set-up allowed us to adjust the position of the carabina so that whoever was managing the italian hitch was stood in a safe place. The italian hitch allows you to take in slack and lock-off as and when you need to. When locked off we tied a couple of half hitches to secure it, both the italian hitch and the lock-off hitches are shown here.

our hitch set-up

Once we had the main line secured, it was time to set up the piggyback system. Firstly we needed another anchor. There was a partition preventing us from putting the second anchor right next to the first, so we didn’t have an ideal angle – but at least the anchors were independent in case of failure. This time we used an open sling tied with a tape knot (aka water knot) to create the anchor.

We then put a 3-wrap prusik hitch on the main line, as far towards the boat as we could. After taking the bag off a good, strong throwline we made a loop by tying a figure-of-8 on a bight and clipped it to the prusik with a locking carabina. The piggyback line was then taken to a locking carabina on the sling anchor point and back through the carabina on the prusik, thus creating a 3-to-1 mechanical advantage (aka Z-drag).

We were now all set, time to start pulling! We had two hauling on the piggyback 3-to-1, while one took in any slack on the main line using the italian hitch.


1,2,3 PULL

1,2,3 PULL

1,2,3 PULL


The line that had been left on the boat snapped, presumably weakened by 6 days wiggling about in wind and water.

snapped rope

So we set about clipping another line to the boat, making sure it was a good condition rope with high breaking point! Once we’d got it clipped and back across to river right, we set up the same system with our new ‘main line’. Time for more pulling…

1,2,3 PULL

1,2,3 PULL

1,2,3 PULL

Hmm, we’re not getting anywhere!

We clearly we needed to change our angle of attack… onwards and upwards! We moved our set-up to a sturdy tree at the top of the river right gorge-side with the intention of rotating the boat by pulling the front end up.

view from top

Try again…

pull from top

1,2,3 PULL

1,2,3 PULL

1,2,3 PULL

Success! The boat came free of the rock but was still pretty much submerged. The boat was being really awkward and floating vertically with only about 20cm of bow out of the water. Turned out the whole back-end was full of rocks!! And this time I don’t think it was Tom Parker playing pranks.

Pulling in the boat

clearing out rocks
Emptying out the rocks. This took a while!

our prize
Daz shows the tattered remains of an airbag next to the warped boat

Feeling proud of ourselves, we hiked back to the car dragging our prize. Time for tea and medals!

If you want to learn more about setting up these sort of systems, check out our Safety & Rescue course dates.

Job done

the everest

bent hull

bent hull

rocks in boat

worn a hole

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FlowFree representing GBR in 2012

Last month I returned to competitive freestyle with a bang, bagging myself a spot on the 2012 GB Freestyle Team. I was particularly chuffed with beating the current World Champ on Sunday’s competition 🙂

Beating the best

The full team has just been announced on the GB Team website if you’re interested. The date and venue of the 2012 European Champs is yet to be confirmed, but I’m stoked to be part of the team and look forward to training with everyone again.

Fran will also be out representing Great Britain next year as the newest member of the GB Ladies Rafting 1st-team. The GB Ladies Team is one of the best in the World so this is a huge achievement, so congratulations Fran!

GB Ladies Raft Team

We’ll keep you updated on both of our progress on the international stage next year.

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Fancy a Dramatic Slideshow?

On February 7th I’ll be talking about a variety of my adventures from around the globe as part of the High Sport Winter Lecture series, based in Shrewsbury. I’ll share tales from Siberia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Uganda, Norway and more… and since I’ll be fresh back from paddling in Colombia I should have some exciting new tales too!

Searching for first descents Money Drop Exploring Georgia

The series is a fantastic initiative to help raise funds for the Youngsters in the Mountains scheme which aims to help youngsters realise their dreams through outdoor adventures. Famous names such as Andy Kickpatrick and Leo Houlding have been involved in the past so I am honoured to have been asked to be a part of it this year.

So if you fancy an evening of tall tales and awesome photos come along! Tickets for the talks, which happen every month between now and March, can be purchased on the High Sport shop.

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Testing the new Palm Element drysuit

When I heard there was going to be a new ladies Palm Element suit, I was really exited. New zip shape and materials to make it more manoeuvrable, drop seat for ladies relief and the same articulated cut and lightweight but durable material as my favourite cag – the Aqua (see this video for more technical details).

Last weekend an exciting parcel landed on my desk: a pre-production model for me to test! I rushed straight down to the Tryweryn, disregarding the fact that we were having the hottest October days on record. Over the course of the next couple of days I played about in my playboat, bashed around in my creekboat and fell out of inflatables trying to splat NRA bridge. I had an awesome time messing about with my mates, and hopefully you’ll enjoy this video.

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Ladies Boating & Biking Weekend!

Paddling and MTB coaching from FlowFree & Campbell Coaching
20-21st August : Llangollen

We have noticed that a lot of women are paddling and getting out on their bikes too. So we thought, how about a female only weekend based around Llangollen where you can get some top paddling and MTB coaching tips from two very experienced coaches in their respective fields?

Ally Coaching

Lowri Davies an aspirant BCU Level 5 coach, former European Champion and owner of FlowFree and Ally Campbell CTC Skills and Jumps & Drops instructor and co owner of Campbell Coaching will join forces to deliver an unrivalled female specific paddling and MTB coaching course. They’ll help you to develop your skills and confidence both on the water and on your bike, but most importantly they’ll make sure you have lots of fun too! Female only courses provide a unique environment of supportive like-minded people as well as inspirational role-models for outdoorsy ladies.

Ally Campbell Coaching Lowri Davies coaching

Ally Jumping

The whole weekend of adventures and expert coaching costs just £195! If you want to join us for just part of the weekend, then get in touch.

Want to find out more info? Contact either company via their websites: FlowFree or  Campbell Coaching

Fellas take note: this would make a great present for that special lady in your life!

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Races, carnage and silly boats – what a great weekend!

TrywerynFest : a weekend of coaching clinics, free demo boats, trade stands and epicly hilarious events. Of course, we were there in force, with FlowFree coaches claiming several podium finishes and running coaching clinics but most importantly having a jolly old time!

Lowri coaching at TrywerynFest
Lowri does some playboat coaching at the newly improved Campsite Wave (aka Super Wave)

Fun in King of the Wave
Fun times in the King of the Wave event

Saturday’s highlights definitely included the Big Dog Freeride event, where you had one minute to impress the judges by doing anything you liked on any part of the the river between the raft take-out and and NRA. Be careful when you say “anything goes” to a bunch of paddlers, you never know what you’ll get!

Impressing the judges?

Big up to Pete Woods for some impressive head stands and somersaults with bells on from an inflatable “orca”. Gez’s seal-lauch into fingers was inspired and there were some funky moves pulled off by Tim Burne and local boys Vito and Beesley but I somehow beat them all to win the “new school” category. There was no competing with the boys in orcas for the “spirit of the games” awards though!!

Pete Woods with Bells!

Saturday also saw a cool new relay race, where teams of 3 had to choose one boat and one paddle that they would all use. The boats were lined up at the top of Ski Slope and there was a mass-start in middle car park, where the first racers from each team ran up to their boat, hurredly pulled on their deck and raced on down the river through Ski Slope, International Wave and Davies Bridge. At this point they had to make an eddy on river left, where racer 2 was waiting. As people piled into the same eddy, trying to get to their team mate, the first racer had to get out of the boat and pass it to racer 2 , who has to run with it to above Davies’ before launching in and racing down river to cafe wave. It was here that the final racers awaited. The field had spread but the small change-over eddies soon had everyone battling to try and be first down fingers and towards the finish banner at NRA. A last minute entry of Tim Burne, Dan Heyworth and Danny Young took the win.

Saturday evening we were treated to a first look at the footage from a recent China expedition which featured some local heros such as Tom McLay, Simon Tapley, Rob Litherland, “Crazy” Dave Thompson and James Shrimpton.  We watched in awe as the guys tackled some of the biggest white water on the planet in cold and remote mountain regions. By the end of the video I think most people were either itching to get on an adventure of their own or glad that they only had to face the Tryweryn tomorrow! As custom would dictate, there were of course a few beverages in a local establishment afterwards.

Sunday morning came with a few weary heads, but also the event we’d all been waiting for after the epic hilarity of last year. The Palm 8-ball race is a boater-x with a difference. You race in heats of 4 with a couple of downstream gates to go around, but watch out! There are “blockers” in various places along the course, usually involving a big inflatable orca, so being in the lead isn’t always to your advantage!

Blocker carnage in the 8-ball
Lowri getting smashed by an orca while in the lead

Blocker at NRA
Another big impact in the same race!

The great thing about 8-ball is that there is a massive random element to it. You never know what’s gonna happen! In the end our own Dave Hollins took the win in the open and Lynsey Evans took the ladies, pipping me to it in the final eddy after a great neck and neck race. Fran was victim to dirty blocker tactics when her deck was pulled, though apparently I’d been the original target… shame I was too speedy for them 😉

Carnage in the Ladies Final

More carnage

The silliness and carnage was not over yet though! It was soon time for the King of the Wave. Choice of craft was tactical: choose a manoeuvrable little playboat or go for a big boat that will wipe out the opposition? I went for the Dagger Green, deciding that the comedy value was well worth the lack of manoeuvrability. Dave Hollins went for an orca, there was a Speeder and a Fusion, all sorts of creek boats and a plethora of playboats.

King of the Wave

Myself and Dave managed to get a couple of classic moments where we wiped everyone else off the wave, but in the end it was the Fusion that won out with Tim Burne at the helm.

Fusion for the win!

All that was left to do now was claim our tea and medals – quite literally.

TrywerynFest is a fantastic weekend of fun and frolics – whether you wish to compete in the events or not, there is loads going on from demos to coaching and a river to paddle for free. But the carnage is definitely worth watching!! Make sure you come along next year, it’s not to be missed. So see you there, I’ll most likely be the one under an orca…

All photos with thanks to Sam Beesley, Alex MacGregor and Palm Equipment.

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After work freestyle fun

After working on the river all day there’s nothing we like more than to play on the river some more! Here’s a little video from a fun after work play session at the Dee earlier this week. Enjoy 🙂

DeeStyler! from Tom Laws on Vimeo.

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TVF birthday freestyle fun

A few weeks ago FlowFree helped to support the Thames Valley Freestyler’s 4th birthday event, held in Cardiff. The day was full of events designed to be fun for all abilities with most prizes and encouragement going to those who gave it their all and made other people smile.

Here’s a short video from the day, for a full write-up check out the organiser’s blog.

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