The conditions for Waterside C were excellent, eight degrees, no overnight frost and a slight tail wind.
The finish window at Newbury had been put back an hour in order to try to deter the faster crews starting too early. If they arrived at Newbury before the finish window opened at one o’clock, their time would not end until it did.
I started at 09:30 hrs and proceeded towards the first portage at Wootten Rivers. I was using my big paddle and quickly got into a rhythm. Many of the K2s which were slightly faster than me had delayed their start, and soon I was being overtaken by fleets of them.
The wash really disturbed my paddling as I had to compensate for the steering effect when my C1 moves through the wash. First, the boat is “sucked” towards the overtaking craft, and then pushed away as I drop off the back of the bow wave. I have tried many times to wash-hang these boats, but with no rocker or a rudder, it takes too much energy to try and stay on.
I made Wootten Rivers in a disappointing 30 minutes, I know I can do it in 28 and have often done so.
Undeterred, I leapt out at the portage, shouldered the boat and ran the pound. I always run the first lock because it get the legs going after being sat down for so long, especially on WS D and DW.
I paddled the next and ran the one before the Bruce Tunnel stretch.
Here I switched on a small bike light which I’d fixed on the front deck at the bow end. I need this in the tunnel so I can see where the front of the boat is so I can steer.
I like to get to the tunnel a fair distance behind the boat in front so the water will have calmed down a bit, and a reasonable distance in front of the boat behind so they are not tempted to sprint to get into the tunnel just before me.
All seemed well, there was a large groups of K2s in front, but they should go straight through. WRONG! There was a massive log jam of boats at the half way point, it was worse than the M25!
It was pitch black and we just had to sit and wait whilst it was sorted. I couldn’t see the water and dare not risk switching the paddle across, so I paddled on one side until I reached the end. Not nice!
Next up was Crofton’s and I ran the whole stretch overtaking a lot of the K2s which had passed me earlier. I also passed Sue in The Darkness and David Whitby in his prototype C1.
At Great Bedwyn, I did the same time calculation that I’m sure many crews do, and simply added my WS A time to estimate when I would finish. Actually I was in good shape.
So, on towards Hungerford.
I ran the first Froxfield pound and was pleased to go faster than the crews who elected to paddle. I was keeping track with a lot of the K2s which were quicker than me on the water simply because I could portage easier.
At Denham Mill, the handle of my paddle came loose and I changed it for my Wenonah blade. This has a significantly smaller blade surface and the difference was profound. It was like using a stick! However, my cadence nearly doubled and the strain on the muscles was much less.
I was passed at this point by Tom Fryer and a little later by Marcin Ponomarenkow in his high-kneeler.
We were stopped by the Marshalls at Kintbury due to road traffic and I took the time to chat with a few fellow paddlers. I also found I’d caught Chris Hotchkiss in his J203. When the road cleared, it was like a mass start as everyone competed for a place to get in. Luckily there’s lots of room at Kintbury.
Onwards to Newbury and a glance at the watch showed that me that any chance of a good time was slipping away. Foolishly I didn’t take my caffeine gel at Marsh Benham which may have perked me up a bit. Lesson learnt!
I finished in 4 hours 22 minutes and 47 seconds, nearly 2 minutes behind Pete Jones who is challenging my third position in the Series. Worst still, it was over 10 minutes slower than Megan’s time last year! Even with the delays I’d encountered and the high water levels last year, it did not add up to 10 minutes.
The final results were:
1 Marcin Ponomarenkow 3:44:55
2 Tom Fryer 3:53:16
3 Peter Jones 4:20:59
4 Nick Adnitt 4:22:47
5 Chris Hotchkiss 4:41:49
6 Tom Barnard 4:52:52
7 David Whitby 4:57:00
8 Lyndon White 5:14:42
9 Susan Digges la Touch 5:31:50
Marcin is running away with the Series lead and Tom is pretty safe in second place. My lead over Pete for third is now down to a few seconds if that. All to play for at D, could do with some ice stretches!