Monthly Archives: May 2014

Onwards and Upwards

After ten sessions, I’m now getting it! It seems that the more one “commits” to a proper stroke, the easier it becomes.

Obviously I started with caution and great reticence, remaining static and upright, just using my arms. Now I’ve started to reach forward. This means that the boat doesn’t veer as much from a straight line, the stroke is longer, so the paddle stays in the water longer thus providing more support.

I’m not exactly “burying” the blade yet, but my hips go forward as the front knee bends and I pull through the stroke ending up with more weight on the knee. This has also improved the comfort, although I still have trouble getting out of the boat and un-bending the trailing leg.

I’m using a different paddle with a smaller blade surface, also lent by Craig.

different paddle

different paddle

This seems to be a good paddle, but I’m not sure about the top grip. However, it seems to do the trick.

Up and running

Up and running

Still up

Still up

Nothing to it!

Nothing to it!

Got my K&A section down to 5:25 now (there was a bit of a tail wind though!).

The next innovation is an integrated high-kneeler/sit&switch configuration. This will allow a quick change from high-kneeling to sit&switch (and back again).

The philosophy is that in a race like the DW, there are sections where it would be faster to paddle high-kneeling, and other sections where sit&switch would be quicker. By taking both types of paddle in the boat, the paddler could change between the two as appropriate.

I’ve tried this by cutting out a section of the seat to allow the leading knee to rest on the high-kneeling block.

High-Kneeling/Sit&Switch integrated seat - version 1

High-Kneeling/Sit&Switch integrated seat – version 1

It’s early days, and the first version certainly needs some modifications. It’s fine for high-kneeling, in fact it improves the amount a contact for the knee, but I do miss the back of the seat.

Anyway innovation is fine, but it’s time on the water I need now.

Making progress….slowly

The first change I had to make was the kneeling block. I needed some high density foam, but a Google search returned so many different variants. A lot of options had trade names and others described the material composition. I eventually found some blocks on Ebay (where else!) described as “High Density Closed Cell Foam Block Buoyancy Canoe Kayak 285mm X 185mm X 75mm”. At £6.99 each and free delivery, I bought two.

So, how does one scoop out a knee and shin shaped hole? How deep should it be?

Whilst my wife was out, I used one of her best dining knives to start it off, making sure I cleaned it and put it back before she returned. It has a fine serrated edge to the blade which cuts the foam really well.

I then used my Dremel grinder to gradually improve the shape making the knee bit deeper than the shin support, which slopes downwards towards the front.

Kneeling block development

Kneeling block development

I thought a flat surface on the “floor” along the length of the boat would be required. What I hadn’t realised at this point, is that racing high-kneeling C1s need this because they don’t have a very flat floor to start with.

So, I decided to remove the flat floor and benefit from lowering the centre of gravity by a few centimetres. I used better quality Velcro on the floor of the boat to secure the kneeling block, and grip tape also stuck directly to the floor for the leading foot.

Removing unecessary complication

Removing unecessary complication

I designed a much simpler board to support a wider trailing foot stop and did away with one of the securing brackets.

This really improved the stability and I discarded the wet suit, but not the BA.

I have started to use the pound on the K&A just upstream from Marsh Benham. It is a short section with good portage points. There is no sewage outfall and it is reasonably easy to get out if necessary.

I’ve got the time down to 6:45 minutes but progress tends to be a big stroke forward and then I loose most of the forward momentum regaining balance with support strokes and straightening the direction. However, it is improving and I haven’t got wet………..yet.

I am clearly leaning too far forward as the pain up the outside of my leg all the way up the thigh increases during a paddle. I can ease it by putting more weight on the knee, but there is so much to think about at the same time, and multi-tasking is not something blokes are particularly good at.

Getting in and out is also a challenge. It’s not too bad when the bank is on the paddle side of the boat and you can push off, allow the paddle to drop on to the water surface and put in a stroke. However, when the paddle is on the water side of the boat, how can you push off and hold the paddle at the same time?

I expect that a competent paddler uses a fluid motion of stepping from the bank into the boat and using that momentum to push the boat off, but I need to establish balance first.

The same applies when approaching the portage, and I sort of launch myself at the first convenient secure surface on the bank and hold on.

Unfortunately there is no substitute for practice, and there is no point being coached or advised until you have mastered the basics. I am hoping for a long, hot summer.

High-Kneeling, where to start?

Just to declare my high-kneeling credentials first, I have never high-kneeled or even attempted to do so.

So, clearly the first thing to do is to look at how other paddlers have approached it and how they configure their boats. I’ve been doing this for a while, most recently at a mini-sprint regatta organised by Sam and again at the Haslar finals in Reading last year. Trouble is, there aren’t many high-kneelers about.

There seem to be basically three points of contact:

1. A flat surface at the front for the leading foot
2. A piece of high density foam to support the knee and shin
3. A footrest at the rear to brace the trailing foot against

A degree of adjustability is required for different shape and size paddlers.

C1 high-kneeling configurations - 1

C1 high-kneeling configurations – 1

C1 high-kneeling configurations - 2

C1 high-kneeling configurations – 2

C1 high-kneeling configurations - 3

C1 high-kneeling configurations – 3

That all seemed fairly straight forward, so I set about designing something similar for The Darkness.

I manufactured some curved pieces of aluminium, covered with rubber inner tube and fixed them to the seat flanges using stainless steel bolts and wing nuts. Pointing up through a hole in the centre are two addition bolts.

Adaption for high-kneeling - 1

Adaption for high-kneeling – 1

I then constructed a flat platform to go along the bottom of the boat.
Adaption for high-kneeling - 2

Adaption for high-kneeling – 2

This had a flat area for the leading foot covered with grip tape. A right angle foot stop was bolted from underneath in one of a series of evenly spaced holes to allow for adjustment.

Two strips of Velcro would hold the kneeling block in place.

The next problem, where does one get the colourful, multi-layered foam from? I know, I’ll improvise. I had some spongy type foam left over from a C2 seat project, should do the job. I wonder what shape it should be?

Adaption for high-kneeling - 3

Adaption for high-kneeling – 3

To be fair, Craig and Ross didn’t laugh, but simply improvised a little! Anyway, they showed me that The Darkness makes an excellent entry-level high kneeler and a good stable platform for beginners.

Well I’m a beginner, so let’s have a go at this high-kneeling lark then.

Next I needed a paddle. A long shaft with a symmetrical blade at one end. As it happened, I had an old pair of wooden Kober slalom paddles. I bought these in 1976 when I did slalom. They cost me £65 which was a lot of money in those days, and they were “the thing to have”.

Anyway, I chopped one of the blades off and fixed a T piece handle, bingo!

Make-shift paddle for high-kneeling

Make-shift paddle for high-kneeling

So, I was sorted and went off to Bull Lock on the K&A where no-one could see me, and had a go. I put on a wet suit and a buoyancy aid, just in case. I got in and with the paddle firmly braced on the bank, I tested the stability. It was not as bad as I thought it would be and eventually the boat drifted so far from the bank, I had to let the paddle drop onto the water.

It was not pretty, but I managed about 10 metres with tentative forward strokes and loads of support ones. After repeating this about five times, my leading leg was “on fire” and the sweat was pouring off me.

The ideal location for testing would have a two firm portage points about 40 metres apart. The water had to be clean and the bank had to enable one to get out in the unlikely event of a capsize.

So the next day I was at Dreadnought Reach paddling from one pontoon to the other. Craig spotted me and kindly offered the loan of a proper paddle.

Proper high-kneeling paddle

Proper high-kneeling paddle

What a difference! Top tip number 1: Always use the proper kit. Top tip number 2: Get a mate called Craig.

Life after DW

So that’s it then, all over for another year, it’s going to take that long for me to recover! I wanted to blog earlier, but I felt so “flat” after the race. A huge weight lifted when Megan and Isobel appeared at the top of the steps at Westminster and my shoulders ached for two days as the tension started to ease, and I wasn’t even paddling!

During my London marathon running days, I’d often warned people to be prepared for the massive “down” one feels after achieving a goal, after so much training and preparation. I should have heeded my own advice.

I look back to September last year when I posted a “wanted” request on a web forum for lady C1 paddlers, to today, several weeks after three female C1 canoeists crossed the finish line at Westminster for the first time, two of them in The Darkness, and I realise how far we have come and what those women achieved. They made history and no-one can take that away.

During the floods earlier this year, I was concerned that the race may be cancelled and all our hard work would be to nought. And then Waterside A was cancelled which put at risk the much-needed portage practice and familiarisation for Megan. Then Isobel couldn’t get released from work and it was all down to Megan to complete (and win) the Waterside Series, although Isobel thankfully did make it for Waterside D which was important for her confidence.

I think back to my over exuberant bank supporting, just trying too hard to be helpful. I cringe when I remember when Megan got out at Crofton, after the tunnel on Waterside C. For some reason I picked up her paddle and she stood there with the boat looking at me. “What?” I said. “I need the paddle!”. “Oh yeah, you do don’t you”. What on earth did I think I was going to do with it?

The Waterside win was a bonus. Our objective was for the first women simply to complete it, but Megan had other ideas! Isobel’s second place on WS D was also gratifying as they are the only women to have completed that race.

I left it to the last minute to get the bespoke spray decks designed and manufactured by Marsport, who responded brilliantly.

Then the start was delayed due to the body in the canal. Even though it was almost a carnival atmosphere on the Devizes wharf in the warm spring sunshine, I was pacing like an expectant father!

But apart from a few minor issues, the whole event couldn’t have gone better. Megan and Isobel had fun and completed the race in fine style. So, what was there to worry about? (not that I was for one minute).

It was the first time I had bank supported and I now have a healthy respect for those people who fulfil this vital task. I’m not sure how useful my exploits on the bike were, but I rather think it was for my benefit than the girls. I would have found it very difficult to wait at each support point and then react to the needs of the paddler. With real-time monitoring on the bike, I was able to keep the Bank Support up-to-date and also warn of any requirements before they reached the portage. I also lost 3kgs in weight, so it was good training.

So what now? I’ve got the boats back and am planning to get as many people to have a go as possible and hopefully, win a few sales.

There’s no escaping the requirement for high-kneeling as that is the ultimate goal for a C1 paddler, so I’ve started to look at configuring The Darkness for this most challenging method of propulsion. I know it has potential as Ross and Craig have both paddled it high-kneeling and found it “very stable”. However, this is on a high-kneeling scale of stability!

Unfortunately, there seems very little help and advice on how to get started.

Therefore, I will continue this blog and document my exploits into high kneeling and promoting The Darkness as a commercial venture.