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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland



28 September 2015

Stepping off the plane in Charleston, South Carolina to a midnight heat of 28 degrees accompanied by significant humidity, gave sixteen members of Queen’s University Officers’ Training Corps a sweaty exposure to their eighteen nights camping in the American South. This made the prospect of spending the next couple of weeks canoeing down the Edisto River even more appealing.

With mixed proficiency levels, the group began their paddling experience with two introductory days on the river. Taking to the water in tandem open canoes, the group practiced the basic skills and strokes that they would be using on the five-day expedition, whilst simultaneously acclimatising to South Carolina’s unusual weather pattern. Learning from initial tent related mistakes, the group grew to appreciate the cooling effect of the almost guaranteed daily downpour, which acted as a welcome cool off before the sun re-emerged. Well drilled on a number of safety procedures should capsizes occur, the group were ready for the 58-mile route that they were about to tackle.

The black water river provided varied settings to paddle through, from areas populated by wooden, porch-fronted homes, to remote swampy landscapes, where the risk of alligator encounters was at the forefront of everybody’s mind. It wasn’t until the last day that the well taught capsize drills were put into practice. Whilst navigating fallen trees that blocked off significant portions of the river, many of the group’s paddling skills were tested to the full, and not all remained dry. The expedition elicited a great sense of achievement amongst the Officer Cadets, whilst also qualifying them for their O2F, Open Canoe Foundation (Army 2 Star) award. 

A day paddle boarding in one of Charleston’s salt water creeks provided an opportunity for Officer Cadets to attempt a different type of paddle related sport. Floating amongst dolphins and even a manatee, this activity offered a chance to encounter some less troublesome wildlife than the racoons that had populated the campsite and helped themselves to day old packed lunches by means of tearing through tents.

Charleston’s rich historic background provided a fantastic cultural package to fill the expedition member’s arm muscle recovery time. Home to Fort Sumter, the site whereby the first shots of the American Civil War were fired, the Officer Cadets were able to walk in the steps of Union soldiers, who had unsuccessfully defended the Fort against Confederate troops, leading them to spend the next four years trying to reoccupy its location. Upon visiting Magnolia Plantation, it was easy to understand why Southern society fought so desperately to defend their customs and lifestyles, as a tour of the house and grounds exhibited stunning architecture and picturesque scenes across the Ashley River.

A visit to The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, provided both Officer Cadets and staff alike with a fantastic opportunity to witness a United States Military Academy in action. The Citadel was of particular interest following the visit to Fort Sumter, as it was cadets from the college who had fired the first shots upon this location back in 1861.  Looks of horror occupied many of the group’s faces as they learnt how first years, commonly known as ‘knobs’ due to the fact that their hair cut causes them to resemble door knobs, are expected to march at all times at 120 paces per minute, and eat every meal by raising their cutlery only between mouthfuls in a square shaped motion. It’s safe to say the group were happy to stick with the Queens’ rules and regulations.

It was with impressive t-shirt tans that rivaled those of the locals’ that the group returned to Belfast. South Carolina proved to be a brilliant opportunity for Queen’s UOTC to push themselves in an unfamiliar and challenging climate, whilst also experiencing first hand South Carolina’s remarkable culture and history in the year that marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. The trip was thoroughly enjoyed by all, and its stories will be retold for a long time.