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.
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.
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.
After Croftons it’s pretty much the Waterside A course, and we’ve already been there.
So, see you on Sunday.