John and I have decided not to participate in the Waterside race series this year as the sheer intensity of the events doesn’t fit in with our training plans. This is especially so for Waterside D, as a six to seven hour paddle, ten days before the start of DW is something we won’t normally contemplate due to the time required for us old guys to recover.
However, when I got an offer from James Prowse and Mike Thornton from the Hemel Hempstead club to paddle The Darkness Duet (hereafter known as “The Duet”) on Waterside A, it was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.
These guys have a legacy of single blade paddling success from rafts, canoes and outriggers, in both sprint and marathon.
James paddled The Darkness C1 to victory in the Thameside races and won last year’s WS A C2 event in a time of 2:07:01. James won the DW C2 event in 2014 with Tim Penson in a time of 19:46:41.
Mike won the WS A C2 event in 2013 (there was no event in 2014) in a time of 2:04:29. He went on to win the DW C2 event with Shirine Voller in a time of 19:11:58.
I had made some changes to the seat positions to suit their leg lengths and removed one of the thwarts. A was a huge risk to race in a completely unknown boat, but they set off for a quick practice paddle before the start and quickly adapted to the canoe.
Starting ahead of them was the formidable partnership of Tom Fryer and Tom Stafford, a highly experienced and strong crew. I watched them shoot off from the start in a blur of blade activity. They were going to take some catching but would provide a useful “hare” to chase. (Boat 358 finished in 2:08:11)
Then the Duet was off for its first competitive race. (Boat 250 finished in 2:16:50)
I followed the race by car and bike. The paddle speed was high and James and Mike really attacked the portages.
On some portages they picked the boat up by the gunwales and turned it upside down and slid it along their shoulders to the ends, in one fluid motion. On one portage, they overtook four K2s whilst the crews were still getting in their boats.
They were really focussed on catching the Toms, but no way were these guys going to make it easy.
Gradually they closed them down. I shudder to think what would have happened if they had caught them, because neither crew would yield. “Luckily” James and Mike ran out of canal as the Toms crossed the line less than a minute ahead.
James and Mike finished in a time of 2:02:37, PBs for both paddlers, the second fastest on record and frustratingly, less than three minutes from the record of 1:59:56 set in 1994 by Pete Jones and Steve Windmill. (Pete and Steve finished this year’s race in 2:14:27 and third place)
The two Toms finished in second place in 2:07:40.
After every race, athletes often review their performance and ask “what if”.
Would James and Mike have gone faster if they had spent more time in the Duet before the race? – PROBABLY
Would they have gone faster in the ICF C2 in which they have spent hundreds of hours? – PROBABLY
Would they have beaten the record? – POSSIBLY
We’ll never know the answers to those questions, but what we do know is The Darkness Duet is an equal to the ICF C2, and only many more races will determine if it’s better.
There’s a GoPro video on YouTube. It’s not great quality as there was rain drop on the lens, but it gives a reasonable idea.