Monthly Archives: July 2014

Wokingham Haslar – 2 races for the price of two

I got to try my new paddle out in “anger” last Sunday 13th July at the Thames Valley Circuit Hasler.

A couple of days before hand, I had requested a demotion for C1 from Div 6 to Div 9. I was granted a compromise demotion to Div 7. OK, fair one! So I entered Div 7 for C1 and Div 6 for K1, the theory being that the four mile C1 event in the morning would be a good warm-up for the Div 6 K1 event in the afternoon.

It cost me £11 (late entry fee) to enter each, but I didn’t want to travel all that way for a single race.

So, The Darkness and I, plus a single blade, paddled up to the top turn “Tesco” turn for a recce before the start. With no rocker along the hull, the boat took some turning, but after about one million sweep strokes, I made the turn.

Wokingham Haslar - course map

Wokingham Haslar – course map

I headed down to the start along with thirty six K1s. I opted for the far left side to try and stay out of trouble, because without a rudder, it’s hard to steer the boat in big wash. And boy was it big!

When that nice Mr Ralph said “go”, thirty seven paddle blades dug in and the water boiled. It was like being in a washing machine (I expect), or the Henley straight on a bad day. My paddling style went right out of the window as the kayaks blasted away and I was left in the wash.

The Darkness was rock solid, not one support stroke, and actually it was quite good fun. The bow and front deck disappeared into the wave in front whilst I “surfed” the wave behind, it was cool!

There were a couple of K1 capsizes. I soon got into a rhythm and actually past a couple of K1s, although two of them re-past me at the turn as I struggled to bring the boat round. Then it was the up-stream section.

I was surprised to see a Lightning class turning in front of me and was unable to avoid colliding with one of them and I lost half a minute or so getting going again.

I managed to overtake a few more boats before the top turn where I only lost one place. I finished in 30th place but “won” the C1 class.

We had to get out about half a mile down-stream and then I had to leg it back to the car to prepare for the Div 6 event. I was bit tired!

So, a quick protein bar, change the number and go to the briefing. It was made very clear that we had to keep to the right side of the river both up and down, and that Marshalls would be watching for paddlers cutting the corners, and they would be penalised! Will let me tell you, I was the only competitor in the Div 6 event to paddle around the outside of the bend loosing time and places, and I don’t recall anyone being reprimanded. More fool me!

Anyway down to the start, one of 24 boats. The only change I’d made to The Darkness was to change paddles. I had a nice chat with some of the lady paddlers who seemed to recall that the boat had already been raced that day.

Once again I took the left hand side of the start line and made an excellent start, thus avoiding the main wash. By the time we got to the portage at Sonning lock, quite a few boats has past me. I then went into “Megan Middleton portage mode” and past about six competitors on the run.

I eventually finished in 16th position, 10 minutes down on the winner who was promoted to Div 4 and 8 minutes down on 2nd who was promoted to Div 5.

I have since been informed that entering two races in the same event is not really allowed. I got away with it this time as no haslar points were awarded, because I’m not in a club. Quite honestly though, I was really knackered at the end of it all and probably wouldn’t attempt it again anyway.

At the same event was James Prowse. James won the DW C2 event this year and has been testing The Darkness with the Hemel Hempstead canoe club. After a few weeks putting it through its paces, the general consensus seems to be that it is the quickest C1 he’s paddled.

Anyway, he decided that as it had been a couple of years since he’d paddled a k1 in a Haslar, he’d have a go. Well, James won the Div 5 event and also beat the entire Div 4 entry, and was promoted straight to Div 3.

Whilst he was at the event, he showed me his paddling technique in The Darkness.

James Prowse in The Darkness

James Prowse in The Darkness

He uses a paddle from Zaveral Racing Equipment (ZRE), an American company. “This paddle is curved through the entire paddle blade, and slightly concave on the bottom power face for a quick catch”……apparently!
James's paddle - 1

James’s paddle – 1

James's paddle - 2

James’s paddle – 2

It’s certainly a nice paddle, which I had a brief go with, but the Wokingham haslar was neither the time nor place to give it a proper assessment.

I had a look on the ZRE web site ( and was amazed by the choice of configuration for the paddle. How on earth are you supposed to know which is best unless you try them all?

We both use the same length paddle, which is strange as James is significantly taller than me. I think I adopt more of a kayak type technique and sweep the blade away from the boat a bit more than James who seems to submerge more of the blade.

Well, each to their own, but I don’t think I’ll challenge him to a race!

Wings don’t make ME fly!

I returned to canoeing after 25 years of doing other stuff in 2008, and took my Jaguar K1 out of mothballs. I also found my trusty Mark Gees 220 wooden paddles.

Mark Gees paddles - 1,042 grams

Mark Gees paddles – 1,042 grams

I then discovered that the majority of sprint and marathon paddlers had all adopted wings as the paddle of choice, and assumed that they would be just what I needed to be competitive, and thus purchased a set of Lettmann Nordic 220 carbon blades from Marsport.
Lettman Nordic paddles - 875 grams

Lettman Nordic paddles – 875 grams

I knew I had to adopt a different paddling style and watched many fast paddlers intently to see how it should be done. I also studied videos on youtube to get some hints. However I never felt comfortable or became efficient enough to get the best out of them and felt that I was simply pulling the blade through the water, instead of pulling the boat past the paddle.

I even capsized a few times during Waterside races as the paddle unpredictably wasn’t giving the support I expected.

So, after six years of frustration, I tested a set of “conventional” asymmetric paddles and could not believe the difference. All of a sudden it felt right, like falling in love!!!

So I bought a set of Werner Corryvrecken carbon blades from Marsport. These are marketed as touring paddles and even had drip rings at each end. They were immediately removed!

Werner paddles - 798 grams

Werner paddles – 798 grams

I tested them on my benchmark paddle on the Dreadnought Reach section of the Thames. I have used this stretch for a number of years and always use the same distance and course for timing, it’s about five miles. This allows me to measure any differences I’ve made to the boat or paddle, and to gauge my current fitness level.

I was astounded to see an improvement in performance of three minutes over my wing paddle. Not only that, they just felt right. I opted for 215 cm length which is slightly less than I’m used to. As I’m older, I need all the help I can get!

The paddle has an adjustable ferrule connection and I set the feather to 45 degrees rather than the 60 degrees on my wings.

Werner paddle connection

Werner paddle connection

Why I didn’t do this a few years early, goodness knows. I was probably influenced by my peers.

So, an old dog hasn’t learnt a new trick, but has simply reverted to something he never should have changed in the first place. If it ain’t broke…………..

Another pull bar

Well the Nelo pull bar foot rest was a great success, ensuring that my feet were always in the right position and didn’t move across the width of the footrest. This is particularly advantageous for portaging as my feet “naturally” slipped under the pull bar when I got back into the boat, immediately ready to go.

It is reminiscent of my bike pedals where the shoe is clipped into the pedal allowing power to be exerted on the up stroke. Being clipped-in means that the foot is always in the optimum position.

The only problem with the Nelo configuration is the weight. By the time I’d added a couple of pieces of plywood to support it on the footrest flanges, it weighed 1kg. This is ok when trying to add weight to meet the ICF C1 sprint weight of 16 kgs, but not beneficial for portaging in a marathon.

Anyway, as it happens, I spotted a Wey paddler offering another K1 pull bar setup on facebook and I was lucky enough to get it.

Pull bar Mk II

Pull bar Mk II

This is made of plywood and much simpler. It doesn’t look as impressive as the Nelo one, but I have fitted and tested it and it is just as effective and 250 grams lighter.

The pull bar also appears to improve stability especially in choppy water as I feel more “part of the boat”.

Now that I’ve proved the concept, I’ll have a go at designing a bespoke model for the C1.