Tag Archives: C1

Boat to Brissy

I follow a FaceBook site which was setup by the canoeists in Australia called Australian Canoe Racing https://www.facebook.com/groups/AustrlianCanoeRacing/. It is fascinating to see all the similar sort of things we do in the UK, being done on the other side of the world.

I did noticed some familiar looking boats and I realised that a guy called Frank Harrison developed a similar sort of boat design to The Darkness C1, but many years earlier. In fact it took a few posts to convince the Ausies that I didn’t pinch his ideas!

There are some differences as there are some national canoe design standards for Australian touring canoe racing, but the concepts are the same.

To cut a long story short, an Ausie digger has ordered one of my boats and I’m now in the process of shipping it to Brisbane.

So, what on earth do I know about exporting canoes to Australia? Well not much, but I’m learning fast.

I’ve found a shipping agent who is prepared to transport the boat, but first it has to be crated. No problem I thought, pop down to B&Q, buy a few sheets of plywood and knock a big box together. Not so fast! The timber has to be heat treated and certified for import to Australia. If you ever watch those fly-on-the-wall documentaries about Australian customs, you’ll know they are pretty strict about these sort of things.

So the shipping agent recommended a packing supplier in Eastleigh and I started a dialogue.

I estimated that the boat would easily fit in a crate measuring 5.5 metres long, 65 cms wide and 45 cms high and I was quoted £170 (inc VAT) for the timber. Blimey, one hundred and seventy quid for a plywood box! It wasn’t until I collected the timber that I realised why, I had a complete construction kit for a fork-lift ready, palletised crate.

Flat-pack crate.

Flat-pack crate.

The suppliers had given me some vague verbal instructions, plus I managed to take a few pictures of other crates in the warehouse. So I called my mate John in order that we could figure it out together.

The timber was cut to precise dimensions which should fit together in a specific way.

So, first off we constructed the base. (The picture shows the underside)

Underside of the base

Underside of the base

After that, we worked through the ends, sides and lid. It was only when we attempted to put the components together that we realised we’d made a few mistakes. Luckily we’d use screws so it was fairly easy to rectify it.

A BIG box.

A BIG box.

It was certainly a big box, but was it big enough? Only one way to find out.

The Darkness C1 fits with room to spare.

The Darkness C1 fits with room to spare.

Yep, plenty of room in there for loads of packing, should be nice and safe for the passage to Australia.

Does my bum look big on this?

So, just got back from an hour’s paddle on the Basingstoke canal using the wider seat. It was unexpectedly uncomfortable!

Having more bum area in contact with the seat actually felt more stable, especially in combination with the pull bar. Also having more area at the back of the seat enabled me to push back into it. But the pressure points seemed to be in the wrong place.

One factor compared with a C2 setup, is that the height of the seat is significantly lower in a C1 than a C2. In the C2 I have set the seat height to 20 cms, where as in the C1 it’s set at 12 cms. This may make quite a difference, which I can test once I get my boat back.

Those of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now, but I’ve taken some photographs to illustrate the point.

The first picture shows a standard British bottom on a standard K1 racing seat. Neither the back nor the sides are supported. However, this may be because there is so much movement due to the paddling action.

Standard K1 racing seat.

Standard K1 racing seat.

I wonder if it’s the same principle as in cycling, whereas novice cyclists are often convinced that their sore bums would benefit from a big, wide saddle, where in fact all racing cyclists tend to use narrow saddles which support the bits which matter most.

So-called cycling comfort saddle versus cycle racing saddle.

So-called cycling comfort saddle versus cycle racing saddle.

Now compare the area of support with my new wide seat design. Much more bum area is supported.
New wide seat design.

New wide seat design.

I do wonder whether the seat would benefit from sides in the same way as sports car seats are designed.

Yes I know they have sides to prevent slipping out of the seat due to the G-forces during turning, but are they more comfortable?

The seat I use at the moment is a bit of a compromise in that it doesn’t have hard edges and allows the “excess baggage” to overflow.

Current C1 seat.

Current C1 seat.

For DW, John and I used Zastera seats with two layers of foam. They seemed comfortable to us, even on the long pound to Wootton Rivers, but it’s the additional height which seems to make the most difference
Darkness Duet DW seats.

Darkness Duet DW seats.

I need to get some wide seat prototypes out to the Duet paddlers.

Marsport Demo day

Paul and Craig were kind enough to invite Darkside Canoes to show The Darkness at their demo day on Saturday 2nd August, outside their shop at Dreadnought Reach in Reading.

There was a large array of kayaks and a rack of high kneeling canoes. I setup two of my boats right next to the sit&switch boats from Wenonah, an American manufacturer. These boats, predominantly made from Kevlar, have pretty much been the only available option for sit&switch racing canoes.

Marsport demo day - just look at all those toys!

Marsport demo day – just look at all those toys!

It was interesting to make a direct comparison with the J203 solo canoe which according to the Wenonah web site: “With the J-203’s fast acceleration and effortless speed, and drafting ability, it is no wonder that this hull has dominated the men’s category in canoe races since its introduction in 2000.”……………….. but hopefully not for much longer!

So let’s compare the business part of the boat, the hull.

Hull comparison

Hull comparison

The J203 conforms to the United States Canoe Association (USCA)

“Canoe width shall be a certain percentage of the overall length of the hull, at a point within one foot of the center of the hull length, measured at the 4 inch waterline, not including a keel. The minimum width for a Formula 14 canoe is 14.375 percent of the length. The minimum width for a Formula 16 boat is 16 percent of length.”

The maximum length for the boat is 18’ 6” which is 222”. 1% of 222” is 2.22”, therefore a formula 14 boat must be at least 31” wide and formula 16 boats should be 35.5”.

The J203 is 18’6” long so the minimum width has to be 31”, 4” above the water line. The ICF does not specify a minimum width for a canoe, so a USCA boat is at a distinct width disadvantage but compensates with significant stability. However the ICF does specify a maximum length of 17” so the J203 has an additional 1’ 6” in length.

I would also presume that a lighter paddler would be faster on the J203 as the boat would float higher on the water line and may not be influenced by the additional width which is 4” above the water line.

But, at-the-end-of-the-day, the J203 is not ICF compliant, so is excluded from most European races.

Meanwhile up on deck, the gunwales of the J203 are significantly higher than The Darkness. This reduces the risk of water coming over the side but can be susceptible to the wind.

Deck comparison

Deck comparison

USCA regs state: “The minimum height at the bow shall be 15 1/2 inches. The minimum depth for the rest of the canoe shall be 11 1/2 inches”

Although the gunwales on The Darkness are lower, it does benefit from deck sections at the front and rear, plus a “lip” around the gunwale which will support a full spray deck.

In the grand scheme of things, both designs have had to make compromises to meet specific regulations, but also to meet the needs of the paddler in terms of speed and stability.

In a straight race on a “level playing field”, my money is on The Darkness.

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.

DW 2014 – Day 3. Marlow to Ham – 38 miles, 13 portages

Day three started at Longridge Activity Centre at Marlow and I was at the start before Isobel and Megan. I fitted the light weight spray decks in front of, and behind the paddlers as we expected rain today. I also covered the seats with fresh plastic bags and taped some energy gels to the gunwales, as we would not see the girls very often due to fewer portages.

The third day is Isobel’s favourite, and she set off with a smile on her face which didn’t diminish all day.

Isobel sets off

Isobel sets off

Megan was later starting, and I left with my trusty driver (and wife!) Rowan to get to the first portage at Cookham, after nearly five miles.

I haven’t Bank Supported before, so we’d spent the previous evening carefully planning the access points, with a view to using car and bike in combination. In my haste I lost track of time and as soon as we got to the car park, I jumped on my bike and zoomed off towards the river. It was a very (unnecessary) convoluting route to the lock and those who were there before me, assured me that the girls had not gone through yet.

And so I started to wait (and worry), wishing once again that I smoked! To pass the time, I walked up-stream as far as I could and watched the boats approach. I even wished Liz Murnaghan and her junior partner Max a “Happy Easter”.

Isobel and Megan were in good spirits as they portaged the lock in their usual effortless style and set off down to Boulters.

Knowing that Bray and Boveney were out-of-bounds, we drove to Romney, parked in the station car park and cycled down to the lock where there were “hundreds” of supporters, and a friendly lock keeper who told me he was known as the “Rottweiler”.

The paddlers portage path was designated on one side of the lock and the supporters were restricted to the other side. This meant that you had to time your support with care otherwise you would be on the wrong side at the get-out or put-in if the locks gates were open.

Eventually Isobel turned up, deep in conversation with a K1 paddler.

Sorry, I have to go now

Sorry, I have to go now

The portage was faultless and I phoned Ruth to report progress. Megan’s parents turned up, so I didn’t wait before we set off for Bell.

We parked on a large grass car park next to the river. The weather broke and the rain fell, accompanied with thunder and lightning………..great!

I rode up-stream, found Isobel and shouted some encouragements.

Isobel in the rain

Isobel in the rain

I’m never too sure if paddlers do find it encouraging hearing from their support. I had a very limited repertoire of things to say:

“Keep it going” – Well I’m hardly likely to stop.
“You’re doing well” – Based on what?
“You’re looking good” – Have you seen my hair?
“Go, go, go” – As opposed to stop, stop, stop?
“How do you feel?” – Is this a serious question?
“Do you need anything?” – Apart from a G&T, my bed, a rest and a tail wind, no not really.

And my favourite….”keep paddling”!

Megan at Runnymede

Megan at Runnymede

Soon afterwards, Megan appeared out of the gloom.

Leaving the other support teams to go to Penton Hook and Chertsey, we headed off to Shepperton and watched both Isobel and Megan make up several places in the length of a lock.

Isobel portaging Shepperton

Isobel portaging Shepperton

Megan portaging Shepperton

Megan portaging Shepperton

The last place we saw the girls was just before Molesey, where Isobel took on food, but Megan decided to carry on trying to catch Isobel. But Isobel was “on fire”, it was her favourite day and she had eaten well. Megan started to tire on the last section and wasn’t able to close the gap.

We waited in the increasing rain at Thames Young Mariners for them to finish to rapturous applause.

Isobel passes the finish line

Isobel passes the finish line

Megan completes day 3

Megan completes day 3

At the end of the third day, the C1 class times were:

750 Megan Middleton, Fowey River CC – 19:53:47
732 Samantha Rippington, Brigidine School – 21:15:50
723 Isobel Smith, Basingstoke Canal CC – 21:45:20
708 Tom Barnard, Independent – 23:01:29
754 Robert Campbell, Bedford School – 23:16:06

Megan has extended her lead to 1 hour 22 minutes, a comfortable cushion for day 4. Isobel had pulled back all the time she had lost yesterday and closed the gap to just under 30 minutes, surely too much to recoup from the 17 mile tideway?

Less than three weeks to go….yikes!

At this time, in three weeks’ time, we’ll have completed day one of DW 2014, blimey!

We do however have the small issue of Waterside D to consider between now and then and time to contemplate what was learnt from “C”?

Well one thing is to ensure any cameras or other valuables are safely stowed before moving off, or invest in a waterproof model. Despite days on a radiator and immersion in rice, my daughter’s camera refuses to work. Luckily she has spotted just the one to replace it with, though I don’t remember it costing quite so much before!

I managed to pop the light on the front of the boat on the portage before the tunnel and apparently it was quite helpful with steering and Megan emerged unscathed.

The Darkness emerging from the darkness (getting bored with this joke now)

The Darkness emerging from the darkness (getting bored with this joke now)

I’m still struggling with not trying to help (interfere), however with two paddlers on the water, this is unlikely to be an issue. I’ll just have to let them get on with it.

I will remember to wear my crash hat on the bike and avoid low branches across the tow path. Also, to take a spare inner tube or two.

Must learn some Cornish jokes to share with the Fowey crews, maybe some classic Jethro perhaps, gosh, how they’ll laugh! (Actually, I’ve just discovered Denzil Pemberthy’s twitter account) However one cannot dispute the recovery properties of a pasty bought from the “genuine” Cornish pasty shop in Newbury (especially flown in earlier that day).

Home from home?

Home from home?

I will put some lemon and lime energy gels on the shopping list.

Unfortunately Sam won’t be racing on Sunday next as she’s saving herself for the big event, so that will not be a distraction.

So, onward to Devizes. Clocks go forward this weekend so an even earlier start, oh joy!

Feeding and fluid replenishment strategy

In order to ensure an adequate amount of energy over the four race days it is important that the paddler consumes enough calories of the right foodstuffs for sustenance over the period. Easy enough, just keeping eating (and drinking)!

It may be just as simple as that and many athletes have successfully completed the race without any thought of a structured feeding plan and just used common sense, experience (not always) and perhaps a bit of luck. There’s nothing wrong with this and if it works for you then great. But I’ve read a number of blogs and talked to paddlers where DW competitors have suffered from not eating the right things often enough and some of this is the result of a casual, hit-and-miss approach to feeding.

One way to ensure that paddlers consume enough food to provide the calories necessary for fuel and energy is to make a simple plan of what they should be taking on, when and where. A written plan would be invaluable to inexperienced Bank Support teams who are often recruited at short notice prior to the race. They are full of enthusiasm and keen to help but need to be instructed on what to do and how to behave. They would be far more effective if they had clear and concise directions on which food to have ready and to ensure that the paddlers had at least the minimum when they meet at each portage.

This is especially important on the senior race. In the wee small hours of the morning, paddlers are sometimes reluctant and can refuse point-blank to eat. The feeding plan can be used as a “weapon” to force the paddlers to eat as they will have “signed-up to it”. If that fails, then direct violence is the only option!

If paddlers run out of fuel then they are in trouble and it’s hard to recover from that type of situation. Most endurance athletes will have experienced “hitting the wall” or “bonking” as we call it in the cycle sport world. (titter yeah not!) It’s a weird feeling, you are convinced that you’re putting in the effort but you don’t seem to making any progress.

“The simple explanation for its occurrence is that long-endurance exercise depletes the body’s store of glycogen, which produces the energy required to maintain performance. When the glycogen depletes entirely, the body has no more fuel and instead burns fat, resulting in a surge of fatigue and a performance collapse.” Source: Bikeradar.com

According to the Science in Sport (SiS) web site, a cyclist needs 60-80 grams of carbs with 500-1000ml liquid per hour as cycling is prone to sweating. I would suggest that canoeing is a harder effort than cycling (unless going uphill) because there is no opportunity to free-wheel so I’ll use the 80 grams upper threshold.

In April we are not likely to be sweating much (although that is not guaranteed), so it’s a case of taking on enough fluid to maintain hydration but not too much that you require the loo too often. This balance can only be determined through experience as we all sweat differently and we hope to use the Waterside series to set a benchmark, but I’ll use 500 ml as a guide.

Carbohydrate is the best source of energy for endurance events and a guideline as to the amount of carbs delivered by certain food products is:

• A 65g SiS GO Energy Bar contains about 40 grams of carbohydrate.
• A 50g Sachet of SiS GO Energy delivers about 36 grams of carbohydrate per 500 ml serving.
• A SiS GO Isotonic Gel contains about 20 grams of carbohydrate.
• 36g of Jelly Babies (about 6 pieces) contains about 28 grams of carbohydrate.
• A medium size banana has about 23 grams of carbohydrate.
• Homemade marmite sandwich, 2 rounds of white bread plus margarine has about 30 grams of carbohydrate.

To create a combination of food stuffs in sufficient quantity to meet the 80 grams/hour requirement seems quite easy, but you have to consider how long it takes from eating and digestion, to the time it is actually converted to useable fuel to ensure it “kicks-in” when you expect and there are no “gaps”. Basically simple carbohydrates are converted quickly whilst complex carbohydrates are more “slow burning”. So there doesn’t seem much point eating complex carbohydrates in the last hour because by the time they are converted to energy, the race is over.

I have devised a simple schematic of a feeding plan. I’m not saying it’s right because I haven’t tested it, but if I can set something up based on science and logic rather than guess work, I at least have a formal starting point to make managed changes based on testing and analysis.

The timeline is for a single seven hour effort broken down into the minimum 80 grams of carbs and the type of carbs required per hour.

Minimum fuel requirement

Minimum fuel requirement

The rationale behind this is:

• Normal high complex-carbohydrate food the night before (pasta, baked potato, rice etc).
• Nothing pre-start due to nerves!
• Minimum 80 grams carbohydrates per hour. At least one energy bar and up to half litre of fluid plus anything else.
• Flip to electrolyte drink in hour three to break monotony, re-hydrate and replenish trace electrolytes.
• Change from bars to gels for the last two hours for faster energy return.
• Caffeine gel in last hour to get final boost before finish.
• Water in the last hour if the paddler is sick of additives!
• Recovery shake straight after paddling plus protein bars.
• Back to normal food to prepare for the next day.

Ideally food should be taken frequently in small amounts to maintain a constant flow of fuel. But the main logistical constraint is the challenge of getting access to the paddler at the portages.

Consider day one of DW, Devizes to Newbury, 35 portages in 34 miles. So that’s one portage per mile isn’t it? NO! There are no portages for the first 15 miles (but there are bridges) and that’s nearly three hours. Some of the locks are so close together they are considered a single portage and those that can be supported are infrequent and not evenly spaced apart.

So based on a 5 mile/hour speed, the number of times a vehicle-based Bank Support team can get to the paddler is:

The left scale is miles and the right scale is hours. Each access point is named plus the distance into the race.

Feeding opportunities

Feeding opportunities

It isn’t many. So the majority of the calorie intake will be through fluid as this is what the paddler can access the easiest whilst paddling through a drinking system.

There is a limit to what the paddler can eat, will want to eat, or have time to eat at the portages where there can be supported. This can be supplemented with paddler self-support but they must be “trusted” to take on nourishment.

On day two there are about 10 access points over 36 miles and on day three about 9 over 38 miles assuming that the Bank Support can get timely access. Obviously the tideway on day four has no access points.

The point of this narrative is to illustrate how important it is to have a feeding strategy with contingency plans to mitigate the potential risks if a feeding stop is missed or the paddler’s performance starts to drop as an indication of fuel starvation.

My plan is to support the paddlers by bike and attempt to feed little and often.

Devizes to Westminster – first female C1 competitors

The Devizes to Westminster (DW) International Canoe Race is arguably the hardest canoe race in the world. 125 miles non-stop from Devizes in Wiltshire to Westminster Bridge in London. In a double kayak (K2) or double Canadian boat (C2)

A kayak is powered using a double ended paddle and has a rudder.  A Canadian or open boat, is paddled using a single blade and a rudder is not allowed.

The DW was first raced in 1948, 66 years ago and the first female competitor completed the race in 1971 in a K2. The DW four day singles event started 29 years ago in 1985 and since then over 1,000 paddlers have completed the race in a single boat including the 2013 event but only 15 of those were in a single canoe (C1).

In the history of the DW, there is no record of a lady paddler ever having completed the event in a C1 and the same can be said about the Waterside Canoe race series which is four races on the DW course leading up to the main event.


Well first reason on the list is clearly because it is “quite hard”. It is THE most challenging vessel to paddle of all race categories and to do it for 125 miles over four days not forgetting the 77 portages where the boat has to be carried around locks and weirs,  is not for the faint hearted.

Another possible reason is the availability of a suitable boat. The current choice is somewhat restricted to traditional family, wilderness and touring crafts which tend to be large, robust and heavy, to the sprint, high-kneelers which are “somewhat” unstable. There are also American boats but they are few and far between in the UK and prohibitively expensive.

That is about to change.

Over the last three years I have developed a lightweight racing C1 which:

  • Weighs 8kgs fully configured
  • Is made of carbon fibre
  • Conforms to the International Canoe Federation (ICF) specification for racing
  • Is paddled sitting down using a sit&switch technique
  • Has a mid-range stability rate of about 4 – 5
  • And looks absolutely stunning!

For the 2014 Waterside series and DW, two of these canoes known as ”The Darkness” will be paddled by two lady competitors who will attempt to make history.

This blog documents the story of this venture and the progress from when I hand over the boats to the athletes to when they arrive at Westminster Bridge on Easter Monday 21st April 2014.

I hope you find it of interest.