The last day dawned bright and sunny, with a mere 4 mph breeze, perfect!
The tideway is often discussed in hushed tones by DWers. Few crews get the opportunity to practice on the tidal section of the race, because of the need for a safety boat. It’s “only” 17 miles but it holds the greatest fear for paddlers.
The biggest challenge is the waves and washes from the river cruisers refracted off the vertical sides of the river. Canoeists often wish they had opted for a more stable boat at this point. But it’s the unpredictability of the tideway which means that the worst case scenario has to be planned for with belts, braces, buoyancy and spray decks.
Just after yesterday’s race, I had replaced the seats in the boats with low profile alternatives, thus lowering the centre of gravity slightly. I had also fitted the new spray decks.
All the boats were checked, and the senior singles started to gather in the marshalling pond at Thames Young Mariners, ready to be called forward for the mass start. Some paddlers were warming up, others were collecting their thoughts or engaged in quiet conversation. The mood was subdued.
This was the first time we had seen Sam during the whole race and she had constructed some defences to deflect the waves if they came over the front deck.
The safety boats launched and it was time to move out.
If we were going to stand a chance of getting a parking space at St Thomas’s hospital, we had to leave early and off we sped. As luck would have it, we got the last spot without having to go into the underground part.
Once again, I jumped onto my bike and cycled up-stream. Due to the development work at Battersea power station, I got hopelessly lost in London, but eventually found myself on Albert Bridge and anxiously scanned the river for single blade paddlers. But that river is big and the boats are so small.
Aha! A C1 in the distance, must be Megan. But no, it was Robert Campbell paddling strongly.
A while later, another C1, this time Tom Barnard. “Have you seen the girls?” I shouted. “They slowed down when it got rough” was the answer.
I can imagine the grin on those two guys faces when a flotilla of four river cruisers caused a large wash which meant the less stable C1s had to brace rather than paddle. Sam must have found it particularly difficult which certainly increased my respect for her courage.
At last I saw the bright red spray deck of The Darkness as Megan came into sight.
“Where’s Izzy?” I shouted. “Don’t know”.
Isobel appeared and I started to relax………..a bit.
The turbulence had certainly scared her but she had overcome it and was looking good (except the hair!)
By this time Megan was way down-stream so I decided to stay with Isobel. I had to cycle fast to get in front of her as the flow on the Thames was phenomenal.
In the last mile the swell on the water grew, and both Ruth and I looked down on Isobel battling with the waves. She adopted a J stroke to avoiding switching and crossed the finish line ten minutes after Megan. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
It still wasn’t over for Isobel and she had to adopt of huge variety of paddle strokes to stay upright whilst she waited for her turn to disembark.
Ardent competitors on the water, great friends on dry land, the joy of seeing each other at the finish was palpable.
The medals were collected and we lined up for the obligatory pose in front of the Houses of Parliament.
The final results of the C1 class:
750 Megan Middleton, Fowey River CC – (Tideway – 02:23:16) 22:17:03,
732 Samantha Rippington, Brigidine School – (Tideway – 03:03:10) 24:19:00
723 Isobel Smith, Basingstoke Canal CC – (Tideway – 02:33:45) 24:19:05
708 Tom Barnard, Independent – (Tideway – 02:19:13) 25:20:42
754 Robert Campbell, Bedford School – (Tideway – 02:16:45) 25:32:51
Megan Middleton became the first women to win the Devizes to Westminster senior C1 class. The margin was over 2 hours. After 125 miles and 4 days of racing, Isobel Smith just missed second place by 5 seconds.
Samantha Rippington became the first women to complete DW in a high-kneeling C1 and only the third person to do so. She deserves huge respect for this amazing feat.
Big Ben chimed and the fat lady let rip, and it was all over…………until next year.