The Devizes to Westminster 2016 international canoe race starts on Saturday 26th March and I think we are about ready.
As John is retired and I have managed to get time off work, we have been training like pros. We are lucky that we live within easy access to the DW course and all our training runs have enabled us to better learn the course and also practise the portages.
The Waterside and Thameside race series did not figure in our race lead-up as we know those parts of the course so well, and being in a race environment doesn’t really add any value. There are also the risks of injury and potential for damaging the boat.
During the last few months since the maiden voyage on December 11th, we have gelled as a crew and our paddling technique and fitness has improved immensely. We have tried a number of different things such as spray decks, drink systems, clothing, food, portage options and bank support. If we fail to finish, it won’t be due to lack of preparation.
I changed the rear footrest for a more substantial model which still keeps the pull bar. The pull bar is great for ensuring that your feet are always in the same place on the footrest.
We have canoed all sections of the course several times and we paddled from Aldermaston to Teddington in the dark in preparation for the night time. We really enjoyed paddling the Thames when it is “on red boards”, mostly because the boat is so stable. The difference in times can be a factor of twenty minutes in twenty miles.
We have set a schedule for sub-twenty hours and have tested our real speed against our anticipated speed on the canal and river sections. The tideway is being left to chance as we don’t have access to a safety boat or other crews during the day. But quite honestly, we’ll be so tired at that stage, we won’t really care.
Our main objective is to finish. We both need one more straight-through towards qualification for the 1,000 mile club. This is also a great opportunity to test The Darkness Duet C2 in the race for which it is primarily designed.
Our start time from Devizes is very much influenced by the water conditions and the weather. If we can get some decent rainfall in the week leading to the race and the Thames rises, we may delay our start. We were hoping for a light tail wind and cool conditions (about 10 degrees) to Dreadnought Reach, and then an overcast sky, no wind and temperature no less than 8 degrees all the way to Westminster. However, we’ll cope with whatever is thrown at us in the knowledge that it’s the same for everyone.
From the weather forecast, it now turns out that Saturday will be dominated by strong southerly winds from mid-day until Newbury. It is also likely to rain for some of the time, but at least that should prevent freezing temperatures. It should all calm down as night falls and we may even have a tail wind up the Henley straight.
We have found that a good cloud cover far better reflects the light than a clear sky. Also, a clear sky usually means low temperatures and the possibility of ice.
The boat is marginally slower in the dark and we take extra care on the portages at night, which has a small impact on timings. The water level fundamentally transforms the nature of the get-outs and put-ins at the portages as the drop to the water changes. Sometimes the approaches to the rollers at Sunbury, Mosely and Teddington are underwater and we end up with wet feet.
We will start with a full spray deck at Devizes (the one I made). This will reduce the impact of the wind on the boat and keep us warm and dry. At Wootton Rivers it will be removed to expose the small spray deck underneath. This should keep out most of the rain and the water from switching the paddle.
The small spray deck will stay on until Dreadnought Reach. Here it will be removed and replaced with another full spray deck which has been manufactured by Marsport. It takes a little time to un-zip at the get out and zip-up at the put-in, but it’s worth it.
The picture below shows the professionally made spray deck on the left, and my home-made one on the right. The main differences are the fit around the cockpit rim, and fewer seams on the Marsport model.
Our emergency mandatory kit will be secured by bungees under our seats. This makes it easy to remove for inspection and is above any water swilling about in the boat.
We’ll also have a spare paddle secured in the boat, under the spray deck.
This will be moved to above the spray deck for the tideway.
I have a small torch secured to my buoyancy aid. We’ve tested the light sticks and were surprised that they didn’t affect our night sight.
We have a small torch integrated into the front portage handle. This is wrapped with cycle handlebar tape and is secure and comfortable.
An even smaller torch is integrated into the rear handle. This shines towards the ground in front of me when the boat is being carried upside-down, so I can avoid trip hazards in the dark.
For fluid intake, we have opted for the Marsport front bottle holder and bottles with the short tube. These are mounted on the front of our buoyancy aids.
We are planning one stop for substantial food intake, and a complete change of clothing as we go into the night. We may also change our tops depending on how wet and cold we get. It does take time to do these things, but the benefit is worth it.
We have a detailed plan and schedule for the race, plus mobile access to the DW real-time tracking site at:
We are boat number 357 in a C2 category of 18 boats. There are some considerably experienced and fast crews, including some “super stars” from the USA, so we are realistic about our race chances and our gaol “just to finish” remains our number one objective.