Monthly Archives: February 2014

Team Darkside Canoes – training day

Well we didn’t paddle Waterside A, but we did get together for a training session and had a really fun day. (I’m starting to get the hang of this fun lark!)

Anyway, all the branded clothing turned up just in time for a team photo call so we all met as Isobel’s house for a “serious” planning meeting prior to going out on the water.

Megan and Isobel had just returned from a cultural tour of Amsterdam earlier in the day and seemed somewhat jaded from all the museum tours and architectural appreciation walks. No, I wasn’t aware that the Amsterdam Stock Exchange is the oldest stock exchange in the world, but hey, wait until I tell all the lads at the pub!

We discussed how training was going, the layered clothing plan and my ideas for a feeding strategy, all based on logic, research and sound analysis. I proudly produced a selection of sports energy bars, gels and drink additives which I have used extensively myself, and invited the girls to try them during training. However, it was not quite received with the unbounded enthusiasm I’d envisaged. Apparently athletes are quite particular about what they consume whilst racing and each item was inspected with suspicion and the list of ingredients examined in detail.

We still have time to reach a consensus on nutrition, but “you can lead a canoeist to an energy bar, but you can’t make them eat”! I think I may have to make considerable compromises.

Megan and Isobel got changed into the new gear and we drove down to Mytchet where we posed for some team photos.

Two elite paddlers and an old bloke.

Two elite paddlers and an old bloke.

Can we get on the water now?

Can we get on the water now?

Eventually we got on the water and I was keen to see Isobel and Megan in action.

Let's do it.

Let’s do it.

It was clear almost from their first paddle strokes that they had the measure of the boat, absolutely no hesitation or uncertainty. A strong and powerful application of the paddle soon had The Darkness skimming along to the point that we almost lost contact with my son who was trying to keep up, running along the bank taking photos.

It felt really good paddling together in our Darkside livery and my confidence soared for our prospects at DW as we moved into a comfortable cruising speed.

The Darkness on the move

The Darkness on the move

It was the first time I’d seen The Darkness being paddled by someone else from the water and I was pleased with the way it performed.

On route to Westminster

On route to Westminster

So we were paddling along at quite apace and then the girls boats came together momentarily. I saw this as an opportunity to make a break and started a racing commentary about an Olympic final and I was about to win gold. Suddenly the mood changed and I witnessed raw and uncompromising competitive spirit as the girls immediately responded, driving the paddle into the water and overhauling my boat as we approached the portage.

The next surprise was that they simply would not yield to each other and contested the portage right up to the lock gate, neither was prepared to let the other get an advantage! They may be good friends on the bank, but offered a sniff of a contest and their racing instinct subconsciously kicks in……………….wow!

Catch me if you can.....oh, you can!

Catch me if you can…..oh, you can!

We also took some video footage and I’ve knocked up an early compilation at the following link:

video link

A good day, great fun and a massive step forward.

Our next target is Waterside A or is it B, no it’s B on the A course. See you in two weeks and don’t get in their way!!

Waterside A cancellation, a huge disappointment

Thanks to the instant communication capabilities of web based social media, the canoeing community were made aware of the cancellation of “Waterside A” very soon after the decision was taken and judging by the reaction there are some very disappointed paddlers including myself.

Based only 15 miles from Newbury I have paddled that section of the K&A regularly over the years so I know how the water levels rise and fall according to recent rainfall within the area mostly by the level of the boat compared with the height of the banks at the portages.

During the recent (and continuing) period of incessant rainfall I have seen the levels rise to those I’ve never seen before and have enjoyed paddling from Great Bedwyn to Newbury achieving my personal best time. The current from Kintbury to Dreweats is particularly welcome and the last lock at Newbury is very exciting.

Even though the outfalls are sucking large volumes of water out of the canal into the River Kennet and contributing equally significant volumes where it rejoins the K&A, at no time have I ever felt uneasy and in my opinion it is a very safe journey for the paddler. There have been a couple of instances where a boat has found its way down an outfall but it isn’t anything like the weirs on the Thames, as the water quickly disperses mostly over fields.

Quite honestly if competitors are reticent about paddling the K&A in these conditions, what chance will they stand on the Thames? Probably best to consider sprinting instead!!

So, if the conditions pose little or no threat to the paddler, why was it cancelled? I suspect it is mostly due to the organisation and logistics of bank support.

I know Waterside and DW is only once a year and we do try to ingratiate ourselves with the local community, but the arrival of a considerable number of people and vehicles at the same time in the same place does impose quite an impact on the local roads and the banks of the K&A and this time both the roads and the canal banks are flooded.

I took a few photographs on Saturday 8th February whilst doing a course recce:

This is the road to Marsh Benham, 10″ deep.

Road from A4 to Marsh Benham

Road from A4 to Marsh Benham

This is Hampstead lock. You can see where the water has destroyed the concrete which is now piled up by the lock.

Hampstead Lock

Hampstead Lock

This is the tow path from Copse to Hampstead. The canal is literally overflowing!

Tow path from Copse to Hampstead

Tow path from Copse to Hampstead

This is the outfall just downstream from Marsh Benham where the Kennet meets the canal. OK it’s a bit more powerful than usual but easily avoidable.

Kennet Outfall - downstream from Hamstead (Marsh Benham)

Kennet Outfall – downstream from Hamstead (Marsh Benham)

This is the other side of it. Best avoided!

The other side of the outfall

The other side of the outfall

I do sympathise with the organisers and I know it is not an easy decision to take, but at least they have let people know in good time and are at this moment, meeting to consider alternatives. I remember being in a similar position a few years back when as the organiser of a cycle time trail, I had to stand up in a packed village hall and announce to 300 riders that the event they were waiting to start was cancelled. I was struck off a few Christmas card lists that year.

This is also a bitter blow to my carefully laid plans for my new sit&switch C1 to make its first appearance at a competitive event. I guess The Darkness will have to stay out of the light for a little longer

DW 2014 fashion. What the best dressed paddler is wearing.

Getting clothing right for DW is a challenge mostly due to the unpredictability of the British weather. This isn’t helped due to Easter not being at the same time each year. As such, the intrepid paddler and their faithful Bank Support crew need to be prepared for every eventuality and adapt in real-time if and when the situation changes to ensure the canoeist doesn’t get too hot, cold or wet and is able to remain comfortable and competitive.

Often the day starts out cold, possibility frosty with an annoying little breeze which chills the fingers. Then paddlers get warmed up, the sun makes a welcome appearance, the breeze drops and it can almost be a pleasant Spring day. Later the clouds may build and we are treated to a rain shower, a little sleet and possibly some hail just to finish it off. As the late afternoon moves into the evening, the temperature starts to drop.

If a paddler gets too warm, they need more fluid, too cold and they burn calories trying to keep warm, too wet and they can become uncomfortable, miserable and cold (and cross!).

So how can a clothing system be defined which will cope with all these demands? A layer approach is clearly the best solution. This has been popular in most adventure sports for some years and there are some amazing “integrated layer systems” which work really well but are jolly expensive.

But the principles are straight forward allowing the athlete to choose the type of garments which are appropriate, affordable, comfortable and don’t make their bum look big!

As a racing cyclist I’ve amassed more outfits than Cindy over the years and cyclist have a huge wardrobe to choose from for every type of racing, weather, terrain and conditions. The big pockets on the back of cycling jerseys bulge with arm warmers, leg warmers, knee warmers, gilet, wind proof top, waterproof top, gloves, over-shoes and ear-hole warmers and a mobile phone (to beg for collection if it becomes too nasty!).

M.A.M.I.L. in action!

M.A.M.I.L. in action!

As a fully signed-up member of M.A.M.I.L. (middle aged men in lycra) I can personally vouch for the versatility of the fabric and I use similar garments whilst canoeing.

For this DW and Waterside, I have designed a number of clothing items based on typical cycling attire into what I hope will be an affective layer solution for Megan and Isobel.

Base Layer

As this is next to one’s skin it is very much a personal choice. However, it needs to be close fitting and have good wicking qualities to promote removal of sweat away from the skin to the outside of the garment where it evaporates quickly. I’ve started using compression tops which squeeze the torso in specific places to aid blood circulation around the muscles. It is also very good at flattening ones tummy!

Mid Layer

This helps trap a layer of warm air within the base layer and I have defined an option for warm weather and one for the cold. The warm option is a short sleeve lycra cycle top made by a German company; owayo custom sports. They are close fitting with a three quarter zipped front.

Darkside short sleeve top

Darkside short sleeve top

The pockets in the back are for fluid and emergency rations.

The cold weather option is a long sleeve lycra top but with a fleecy lining.

Darkside long sleeve top

Darkside long sleeve top

This also has some big pockets at the back. It can go over the short sleeve top if necessary.

Top Layer

The top layer is the weather proof one, something to keep out the wind and rain or both.

These wind jackets have a full length zip which enables them to be put on or taken off very quickly and will also go over a buoyancy aid.

Darkside wind jackets

Darkside wind jackets

They do have a small zipped pocket.

The option for rain at the moment is a gilet. As a sleeveless garment it should not impede paddling too much and should keep the majority of the rain out. I did suggest an umbrella but surprisingly this was not enthusiastically supported.


Let’s not forget the legs and I’ve opted for winter paddle leggings from Flatwater Essentials. Close fitting, comfortable and very warm.

Darkside leggings

Darkside leggings


I’m leaving this up to Isobel and Megan but I see the need for a peaked cap if it’s sunny, fleecy warm hat for the cold and wet, and perhaps an ear warmer for in-between. However I do put my foot down on any hat which has kayak branding!


Seventy seven portages across the four days, ranging from a short dash around a canal lock to the long run at Croftons. The mud at Fobney, the bridge run at Marsh and slippy rollers at Sunbury, Molesey and Teddington to name but a few. Ideally shoes equivalent to the multi functionality of a Swiss army knife are required.

The Darkness footrest

The Darkness footrest

The choice for kayak paddlers is somewhat restricted as they have to get their feet under the deck and need to be able to feel the tiller bar (except the rear K2 paddler of course). A lot of racers opt for bare feet so they can really emphasise with the boat through the footrest. This is fine but you do get cold feet and risk injury on the portages.

A canoe has an open cockpit so feet size is not really an issue.

In my opinion the ideal compromise is the minimal running shoes which are quite popular at the moment. I don’t mean the ones with the individual toes, but the shoes with very little cushioning and support, with a good grip sole and a mesh upper. Trouble is they are so expensive.

So, in summary we have a top-to-toe clothing strategy using lessons learnt from competitive cycling. Let’s see how it works in “the field”.