Monthly Archives: March 2014

Less than three weeks to go….yikes!

At this time, in three weeks’ time, we’ll have completed day one of DW 2014, blimey!

We do however have the small issue of Waterside D to consider between now and then and time to contemplate what was learnt from “C”?

Well one thing is to ensure any cameras or other valuables are safely stowed before moving off, or invest in a waterproof model. Despite days on a radiator and immersion in rice, my daughter’s camera refuses to work. Luckily she has spotted just the one to replace it with, though I don’t remember it costing quite so much before!

I managed to pop the light on the front of the boat on the portage before the tunnel and apparently it was quite helpful with steering and Megan emerged unscathed.

The Darkness emerging from the darkness (getting bored with this joke now)

The Darkness emerging from the darkness (getting bored with this joke now)

I’m still struggling with not trying to help (interfere), however with two paddlers on the water, this is unlikely to be an issue. I’ll just have to let them get on with it.

I will remember to wear my crash hat on the bike and avoid low branches across the tow path. Also, to take a spare inner tube or two.

Must learn some Cornish jokes to share with the Fowey crews, maybe some classic Jethro perhaps, gosh, how they’ll laugh! (Actually, I’ve just discovered Denzil Pemberthy’s twitter account) However one cannot dispute the recovery properties of a pasty bought from the “genuine” Cornish pasty shop in Newbury (especially flown in earlier that day).

Home from home?

Home from home?

I will put some lemon and lime energy gels on the shopping list.

Unfortunately Sam won’t be racing on Sunday next as she’s saving herself for the big event, so that will not be a distraction.

So, onward to Devizes. Clocks go forward this weekend so an even earlier start, oh joy!

Double Trouble (but in a good way!)

Fantastic News!

On Sunday 6th April, both Megan AND Isobel will be paddling Waterside D. I am so pleased at the prospect of having both boats on the water for the last race in the Series.

Goodness knows how I stand any chance of supporting them both at the same time. I’m counting on the formidable reinforcements from Cornwall and Hampshire.

So, two elite athletes, the very best of friends until the first paddle stroke. Let the fun begin!

I’m off to do a lot of worrying, but in the meantime, please enjoy the short video Chazz collated from footage taken at Waterside C:

Waterside C – a day to remember

Well it was quite a day but we muddled through, had fun and learnt some more.

Actually it started on Saturday after I’d picked up my new car only to discover that my existing roof rack didn’t fit the new car. I could have sworn that the roof rails looked the same………..apparently not. So, plan B, use the other (very much smaller) car.

Megan travelled up from Cornwall with the Fowey contingent and spent the night in Bradford on Avon. She met me at Pewsey wharf at 08:15 hrs. It was quite cool although the sun was shining. We had two bikes following, me supporting, Chazz chief photographer, plus John, our trusty (or is that crusty?) driver.

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

She lined up with the early boats and crossed the start line at 09:15 hrs. Tom Barnard in one of the other C1 class boats (and only rival for the Series) was already underway and Sam Rippington in the high kneeler C1 started a couple of minutes later.

Megan was soon into her stride and paddling strongly towards Wootten Rivers. Before the start, she and I had debated (argued) about which of the locks to run. I always run the first, but Megan runs the third. Obviously I was right, but she “begged to differ” and being as she was paddling the boat, she would make the decision!

Strong, fast and efficient

Strong, fast and efficient

Just before we got to the first portage, Sam caught us. I chatted to Sam as I rode along the tow path and smacked my head straight into a low branch, drawing an impressive amount of blood!

The superior speed of a high kneeler meant that it was inevitable we’d be caught, but no way was Megan bowing to convention.

Sit&Switch versus High Kneeling

Sit&Switch versus High Kneeling

This girl can portage! Many crews commented on the speed, dexterity and “assertiveness” in which she attacked each one. Megan looks ahead for the best get-in point and made some excellent on-the-spot decisions based on those crews who could potentially be in her way and where the gaps are.
Go Megan, go.

Go Megan, go.

Sam put the hammer down and by the time The Darkness disappeared into the darkness of the Bruce tunnel, Megan was managing the gap at about 500 metres. At Croftons, she got rid of her top layer and ran two of the pounds.

I sustained a rear wheel puncture and cycled to Marsh Benham with a flat tyre. Here I excused Chazz from his “paparazzi” duty and nicked his bike.

Soon Megan was overtaking other dark side paddlers, exchanging banter and apologising for some steering difficulties, women drivers eh!

Dark side paddlers

Dark side paddlers

After Croftons, Megan caught Tom Barnard who was going strongly in the Wenonah Advantage.

Whilst bending down to indicate a good get-out point, my daughter’s digital camera fell out of my rucksack into the canal. I saw it disappear towards the bottom and just managed to grab the strap. It will not be the same again and I sense an imminent trip to Cameras-R-Us in the not too distant future!

Catching Tom

Catching Tom

By Kinbury, Megan had caught Sam who had paused to put on warm clothing after the hail storm, and was starting to slow as she had missed her support crew. Megan was making time on the portages but slipping back slightly on the water.

Megan scoffed at the idea of additional layers even though I offered a selection of fashionable garments. However, we now know she likes lemon and lime gels and we managed to get her to consume about four over the event.

Sam met her support crew, and the food intake obviously had a good effect as once again she opened the gap as Megan tired from chasing all day.

At Newbury I thought it would be a good idea to remove Megan’s fluid container from around her neck. Trouble is, I didn’t warn her and nearly throttled her in the process, oops!

The last portage was very congested, not that it affected Megan who popped the boat over the deck of a K2.

Last portage, shift that boat!

Last portage, shift that boat!

The K2 was a bit too over eager to finish and capsized just downstream before the finish.
Hard luck lads

Hard luck lads

Megan crossed the line in 4 hours 12 minutes 54 seconds, an outstanding time and well within our target of four and a half hours. Sam was just five minutes quicker.
You can stop paddling now

You can stop paddling now

It was a tough day but Megan rose to the challenge and with Tom Barnard now over an hour behind, we are looking good for the C1 Series.

Isobel, we miss you, please try to make D!

Waterside C – ready, willing and able

This Sunday 23rd March is Waterside C, twenty three miles and thirty five portages. Once more into unknown territory as Megan and Isobel haven’t paddled this far in C1 before.

So what’s a realistic goal? I completed WS C in 2010 in 5 hours 44 minutes, but those who may remember that year, we had to run the first 8 miles due to a frozen canal and then had to endure a steady, cold headwind to Newbury! In 2011 I recorded 4 hours 48 minutes, both years in early C1 prototypes.

Unfortunately Isobel is stuck at work this Sunday and it’s up to Megan to bring The Darkness home. The flow on the K&A has lessened since WS B so I estimate a finish time of 4 hours 30 minutes.

The weather forecast for Sunday is a cool 6 degrees rising to 8, dry, with a 14 knot North Westerly tail wind, so pretty much perfect (if you can believe the BBC!). There is a slight chance of a shower towards the end.

The mandatory buoyancy aid rule has been lifted and hopefully the additional portages will not be necessary.

WS C does throw up a couple of challenges en-route. The first is initial pound to Wootton Rivers, the high exit at the portage and the long run to the next lock. Luckily on WS C the time in the boat is only 30 minutes, so the bum is not too numb and the legs should still be working!

Next comes Bruce Tunnel, cold, dark and just over 450 metres long. A piece of cake in a K2 with a trusty buddy, but a little more daunting in a solo boat. In all the times I’ve paddled through, the thought has always been far more formidable than the event, but I was always glad to emerge unscathed out the other side.

Bruce Tunnel (not a bit scary!)

Bruce Tunnel (not a bit scary!)

I have experimented with a couple of techniques, the first being a light on the front. This was a total waste of time because there isn’t much to shine on and even though it was a bright front cycle light, any luminance just got lost in the gloom.

So I tried the sunglasses trick. Wear a really dark pair of sunglasses until you are well into the tunnel and drop them into your lap. The theory is that your pupils will be wider and you can see better in the dark. I’m not sure that it had much actual effect other than psychological.

However, I do know that in order to steer a C1, you need to be able to spot the front of the boat, and with a black boat it’s hard the see “The Darkness”, in the darkness. In a kayak, the paddler can quickly adjust direction with the rudder, but in a canoe, steering is by anticipation not reaction.

In order to help overcome this problem, I will pop a small light on the front of the boat on the last portage before the tunnel, secured with the help of a bit of velcro. As long as Megan keeps the light at the end of the boat, pointed at the light at the end of the tunnel, she should be able to maintain direction and avoid the walls.

The light at the end of the boat.

The light at the end of the boat.

Next up is Croftons and the age-old debate over whether to run, paddle or do a bit of both. In the “old days” there was no choice as many of the pounds didn’t have any water in them! Nowadays, the pounds are full and the get-out and get-in places are in excellent condition. However, I am firmly in the run camp, having timed both options and discovered that for me, running is seven minutes quicker than paddling.
Doesn't seem far on a map.

Doesn’t seem far on a map.

After Croftons it’s pretty much the Waterside A course, and we’ve already been there.

So, see you on Sunday.

Waterside B – what did we learn?

Now all the excitement of Waterside B is over, it’s time for some quiet reflection as to what lessons can be learnt from the event.

The first is clearly our prospects regarding performance. Our expectations were erring on the side of caution mostly because we had nothing to go on, but I seriously underestimated the speed that Megan achieved both on land and water, and my carefully laid plans for support and sustenance became redundant from the start!

Waterside C on Sunday 23rd March is 23 miles long and incorporates 35 portages. This time we will plan a little more realistically.

The second is that we really felt the absence of Isobel especially as we had such fun on the water together, though goodness knows how I would have had any chance of supporting them both.

It was a mistake to try to support and take photographs and video at the same time and I ended-up doing a poor job of both. The pictures are not great and I neglected my responsibility on the support front. For Waterside C, I have enlisted the help of my son Chazz to take pictures so I can devote all my attention to Megan (loud groan is heard from somewhere in deepest Cornwall!)

I also forgot to look after myself. The weather was warm and after two and half hours on the bike with no fluid and no food, I paid the price in terms of recovery for two days following. What a fool, especially after all those wise words and planning for nutrition and fluid intake. No excuses, I just got carried away with the event and simply forgot. I can’t afford to make the same mistake on DW.

I was a little over-protective when a fast K2 approached Megan from behind and I “reminded” them to kindly offer a courteous warning in future. Megan assured me that everything was under control and to but-out! Couldn’t help myself there, Megan is younger than my own daughter and maybe it was instinctive. However, lesson learnt and I will seethe in silence next time.

Even though Megan was super-fast over the portages, there is one area we can improve on and that is getting back in. The Darkness has a thwart in front of the paddler specifically positioned to hold on to when raising and lowering on to the seat. I’ve even covered it with cycle handlebar tape for comfort and grip. I will remind her to use it and help make re-embarkation even slicker.



We also made a mistake at one of the portages and got back in next to the inflow. The force of the water pushed the back of the boat out and there’s a limit to the size of gap that one can bridge!

Mind the gap!

Mind the gap!

For someone who has had very little sit&switch paddling experience, she has a fluid and efficient style. However there is always room for improvement and one small area is the position of the paddle blade at the end of the switch. If it is further forward it is immediately ready for the next stroke, rather than forcing it forward and then making the catch.
Push the paddle forward, ready to catch.

Push the paddle forward, ready to catch.

“The aggregation of marginal gains” Sir Dave Brailsford would be so proud!

We need to crack the feeding issue; a girl has got to eat. Now I’ve delegated my responsibility for filming, I can concentrate on getting food into the paddler. Anything, no matter how small, just something little and often (and that especially goes for you too Isobel!! 🙂 )

So, all-in-all a successful day and a great result. Hopefully the mandatory buoyancy aid rule will be lifted for “C”, the weather will be cooler and Megan will be resplendent in Darkside branded paddling kit.

The Darkness takes on Waterside B

Or to be precise, it was Megan who rose to the challenge.

It was the first competitive race for the boat and the first for Megan in a canoe. The event was only confirmed earlier in the week and the recent flood conditions meant that additional rules were applied. Megan had to wear a buoyancy aid and there were two extra compulsory portages.

There were so many unknowns and I had planned a three hour schedule which we thought reasonable, erring on the side of caution, but quite honestly, we simply didn’t know.

The only benchmarks we had were my two previous Waterside A races at 2:52 and 2:47, but they were in early prototype boats. I had paddled the course twice in January in the new boat and recorded 2:43 and then 2:27 with kayak blades.

So, under three hours for a women who had never raced a canoe seemed about right. As Isobel was unable to paddle, we had one simple objective and that was to finish the race.

So, the day dawned and I’d agreed to meet Megan at Great Bedwyn to bank-support by bike. I had this mental image of taking lots of pictures and video, calmly recording times for each section and providing a selection of refreshments and drink as required, and then a leisurely cycle to the next lock.

Megan and The Darkness

Megan and The Darkness

As the weather turned out to very warm, Megan elected not to wear the thermal leggings and just a short sleeved base layer. So much for my specially designed clothing!

Megan had been allocated a 10:15 late, fast start which fitted in with the contingent from Fowey Canoe Club who travelled up from Cornwall that morning. So John (the bank support car driver) and I casually made our way to the start for about 9:15, only to get a text saying “where are you, I’m here and I want to get on the water”.

Megan digging the water

Megan digging the water

Of course, time seemed to accelerate as we made ready to race. And then it just got faster as Megan crossed the start line at about nine thirty five.

The first three portages were a blur. I had just not expected Megan to be so fast and committed across the locks, I mean, aren’t portages an opportunity to rest? My carefully planned feeding scheme was right out of the window and I only got her to eat a piece of energy bar, a piece of banana and a gel (which she said was disgusting!) over the whole race.

Megan pushing off

Megan pushing off

Megan did consume most of two 500ml bottles of energy drink.

The pattern was set, and Megan’s speed over the portages meant that catching K2s had to repeatedly overtake her on the water as they were left standing at the locks.

Megan on the dark side

Megan on the dark side

She ran the short pound at Froxfield, was well past Hungerford on the hour and was in Kintbury half an hour later.

I cycled ahead to checkout the early portage at Dreweats and the additional one just after Marsh Benham. There were a group of watching ramblers who stepped hurriedly aside as they weren’t expecting Waterside racers to be quite so assertive!

We saw very few other boats on the water and were only overtaken by a couple. With the warm sunshine and high water, it was a great paddle. Not so easy on the bank though.

Megan finished in the incredible time of 2:25:28. To compare this with a “normal” Waterside ‘A’ time you could add on another 5 minutes to get through Newbury lock to the wharf, not forgetting the added portage this year.

Crossing the finish line in 2 hours 25 minutes

Crossing the finish line in 2 hours 25 minutes

She won her class event and was quicker than forty five other crews including seven K2 seniors.

In the words of Victor Meldrew..

I don't believe it!

I don’t believe it!

Just seen on Facebook that buoyancy aids are to made compulsory for all paddlers on Waterside B (on the A course) This is ridiculous, the K&A is a CANAL for heaven’s sake.

Most of the Waterside paddlers are vastly experienced athletes and several months into training for the Devizes to Westminster. Many have paddled this canal section during the floods. They have also paddled far faster and more challenging stretches of water on their own.

So come Sunday when there will be marshals, bank support, hundreds of other paddlers and many people on the bank, competitors have to wear a buoyancy aid. This smacks of Nanny State and H&S for the sake of it.

OK, it’s fair that Juniors have to wear them, but it’s Megan’s first WS as a senior and she was so looking forward to not having to wear a BA.

But far worse than that, the BA will obscure all my darkside branding and strap lines! 🙂 All that commitment and investment to promote the brand and it will all be covered up! It’s too late to get branded buoyancy aids, didn’t think we’d need them.

For those who choose to wear a BA, that’s your decision based on your own risk assessment, but we are all grownups and are capable of making up our own minds.

What is the world coming to!

A race on the dark side, at last.

A thousand blessings on Newbury Canoe Club as they have arranged the Waterside B race to go ahead on the Waterside A course, hurrah!

So this weekend, Sunday 9th February, The Darkness will be raced in anger from Great Bedwyn to Newbury, 13.5 miles with 21 portages. Actually it will be 20 portages, as the race will finish up-stream of Newbury swing bridge with a compulsory portage through Newbury town centre. That should be interesting for the Saturday shoppers.

The girls have been testing a selection of sports energy bars over the last week with mixed reactions. The jury is still out but the banana flavour (or isoamyl acetate to give it its proper name) is showing strongly.

Waterside A - feeding plan

Waterside A – feeding plan

Hopefully it will be equally appealing during the race because I have a feeding plan for Waterside A which I hope will keep the paddlers sufficiently fuelled to the end. I discussed this with Isobel and Megan during our training day recently and I’m still not sure that they are convinced.
Hopefully I’ll be able to persuade them to eat the things they need little and often by providing support by bicycle, and the things they prefer at the static support points.

Unfortunately Isobel is unable to get the time off work so is not able to participate in the race. However, Megan will be making the trip up from Cornwall with a contingent from Fowey Canoe Club.

She has been allocated a “fast group” signing-on time which is a bit puzzling as the C1 is probably one of the slowest boat types in the event. This does mean though, they’ll be lots of boats to chase but the portages will be carnage by the time we get to them. I have advised footwear with substantial grip!

The weather is looking promising with next to no rain forecast for this week and hopefully into the weekend, because after what we’ve put up with, I think we deserve a break.

So, I’ve just got to get through this week and not worry too much as although I’m not even racing, I’m as nervous as an expectant father. (wish I smoked!)

If you see Megan on water, please give her your support and if you see her in the water, please give her your help.

Go girl!