Waterside D 2014, last, longest and hardest in the series

Sunday 6th April was a big day today for Darkside Canoes with both Megan and Isobel paddling The Darkness C1 from Devizes to Newbury, 34 miles with 35 portages. The first time a female C1 paddlers have competed in the last and longest stage of the series.

So, the day before, Saturday, I had phoned Isobel and received assurances that everything was under control and she’d meet me at Devizes wharf ready to start at 07:00 hrs.

I’d also spoken with Megan and arranged to meet her parents Terry and Rosemary so I would recognise them on the bank. We met at the Travel Lodge at Leigh Delamere services on Saturday night and went to “The Star” in Hullavington where, would you believe it, they sold Doombar ale from Rock in Cornwall. (almost as good as a Cornish pasty from Newbury!).

It was raining early Sunday morning on the way to Devizes but had stopped when we arrived and we managed to avoid getting wet the whole race. The wind was gusting predominately from the south west, but frustrated the paddlers as the canal twisted and turned on its journey to Wootten Rivers.

Megan was setup and ready and was one of the first boats to set off, benefitting from clear water. Isobel started 8 minutes later and I also commenced my bike ride to Newbury.
Those 8 minutes meant that the chasing pack of K2s were soon passing.

I have always found the washes a difficult encounter in a C1. The longitudinal waves seem to cause the most instability and it often occurs just at the vulnerable switch phase. However Isobel had not a moment’s hesitation and was rock solid as armadas of K2s slowly overhauled the C1.

This was a new phenomenon for Isobel who was more used to overtaking pretty much everyone on the water.

Isobel in the wash

Isobel in the wash

The camaraderie and banter of crews on the Waterside is a lot of what makes it special, and many crews offered words of encouragement as they caught Isobel. However, I had to smile a one exchange as the identical clothing, boat and distinctive hair colour caused some misidentification:

Catching K2: “Keep it going Megan”
C1: “I’m not Megan”
K2: “Well done Naomi”
C1: “I’m not Naomi”
K2: “Looking good Isobel”
C1: thinks……hallelujah!

It was time to chase down Megan who had the training advantage of the previous two Watersides races whilst Isobel was stuck at work.

Megan at work

Megan at work

The last two races she had managed to finish before the rest of her Fowey team, but it’s a long way to Wootten Rivers and time enough to be caught and it is so difficult to wash-hang in a C1. No doubt there was some Cornish banter exchanged!

Then I had my first puncture and by the time I was back on the bike, both girls were well gone, but I knew that they were being well looked after by their established bank support teams.

That first long stretch is a killer on the bum and legs and many crews were jumping out for a “false” portage to ease the discomfort. Megan also ran for a while but was really suffering as she approached Wootten Rivers and nearly portaged again with 1,000 metres to go.

Meanwhile, Isobel had dropped about three minutes but was still paddling strongly. She too stopped to stretch her legs but simply stood up in the boat at the bank side.

Surprisingly the Honey Street swan was rather subdued and just glared at the boats muttering under his breath.

What a relief to get out for the first portage and Isobel made the most of it by running the first lock.

Isobel running with The Darkness

Isobel running with The Darkness

Again I chased after Megan in order to pop a light on the front of the boat before the tunnel. Isobel had already put light sticks on her boat.

The first pound had taken its toll on Megan’s back and a couple of pain killers were required to ease the pain.

Time for another puncture and the last of my spare tubes. The wheel was very muddy so I washed it in the canal before fixing it, not realising that the end of the skewer had fallen in the water. This meant that I had to ride the bike with no fixing on the front wheel just when the tow path became muddy. A quick phone call to my wife and a spare wheel was waiting for me at Great Bedwyn.

Try doing this high-kneeling!

Try doing this high-kneeling!

We were soon at Hungerford and then onto Dun Mill where the “professional” bank support were waiting.

At Kintbury, Megan took on some energy bar and paddled off to Marsh Benham and the next and last feed point. I went back to find Isobel who was in great spirits and exchanging banter with all the male crews!

Isobel paddling on the dark side

Isobel paddling on the dark side

At the last lock in Newbury, I foolishly tried to be “helpful” again and asked the K2 crew to go long, totally ruining Isobel’s planned put-in strategy, I will learn to shut-up, honestly!
Now that's not something one sees very often

Now that’s not something one sees very often

Fired-up from the previous two races, Megan’s performance was phenomenal. She finished first in 6 hours, 42 minutes, 41 seconds, fast enough to come second in the Ladies K1 series by only 10 minutes, in a C1!!
Megan crosses the finish line

Megan crosses the finish line

Isobel finished 16 minutes behind in 6 hours, 58 minutes taking second place. It was her longest session in the C1 by far and an outstanding time of sub-seven hours.
Isobel finishes second

Isobel finishes second

I was also pretty pleased to have finished, it had been a long day.
Pleased to be at the end

Pleased to be at the end

In November last year, we set out with two objectives. Number one was for a female paddler to complete the Waterside series in a C1 for the first time. Not only did we achieve that goal, but Megan won the series. Isobel also showed that the longest and most difficult stage was easily within her capabilities and if it wasn’t for work commitments………
Waterside 2014 series winner and D 1st and 2nd

Waterside 2014 series winner and D 1st and 2nd

Obviously I would never tell them, but I was so proud of their achievements. Not only for their athletic prowess, but their positive attitude and boundless enthusiasm, they just get in and do it.

I did manage to capture some video footage which I’ll put together later in the week.

We all know what the second objective is!

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