Tag Archives: DW 2014

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!

Waterside B – what did we learn?

Now all the excitement of Waterside B is over, it’s time for some quiet reflection as to what lessons can be learnt from the event.

The first is clearly our prospects regarding performance. Our expectations were erring on the side of caution mostly because we had nothing to go on, but I seriously underestimated the speed that Megan achieved both on land and water, and my carefully laid plans for support and sustenance became redundant from the start!

Waterside C on Sunday 23rd March is 23 miles long and incorporates 35 portages. This time we will plan a little more realistically.

The second is that we really felt the absence of Isobel especially as we had such fun on the water together, though goodness knows how I would have had any chance of supporting them both.

It was a mistake to try to support and take photographs and video at the same time and I ended-up doing a poor job of both. The pictures are not great and I neglected my responsibility on the support front. For Waterside C, I have enlisted the help of my son Chazz to take pictures so I can devote all my attention to Megan (loud groan is heard from somewhere in deepest Cornwall!)

I also forgot to look after myself. The weather was warm and after two and half hours on the bike with no fluid and no food, I paid the price in terms of recovery for two days following. What a fool, especially after all those wise words and planning for nutrition and fluid intake. No excuses, I just got carried away with the event and simply forgot. I can’t afford to make the same mistake on DW.

I was a little over-protective when a fast K2 approached Megan from behind and I “reminded” them to kindly offer a courteous warning in future. Megan assured me that everything was under control and to but-out! Couldn’t help myself there, Megan is younger than my own daughter and maybe it was instinctive. However, lesson learnt and I will seethe in silence next time.

Even though Megan was super-fast over the portages, there is one area we can improve on and that is getting back in. The Darkness has a thwart in front of the paddler specifically positioned to hold on to when raising and lowering on to the seat. I’ve even covered it with cycle handlebar tape for comfort and grip. I will remind her to use it and help make re-embarkation even slicker.

Re-embarkation

Re-embarkation

We also made a mistake at one of the portages and got back in next to the inflow. The force of the water pushed the back of the boat out and there’s a limit to the size of gap that one can bridge!

Mind the gap!

Mind the gap!


For someone who has had very little sit&switch paddling experience, she has a fluid and efficient style. However there is always room for improvement and one small area is the position of the paddle blade at the end of the switch. If it is further forward it is immediately ready for the next stroke, rather than forcing it forward and then making the catch.
Push the paddle forward, ready to catch.

Push the paddle forward, ready to catch.

“The aggregation of marginal gains” Sir Dave Brailsford would be so proud!

We need to crack the feeding issue; a girl has got to eat. Now I’ve delegated my responsibility for filming, I can concentrate on getting food into the paddler. Anything, no matter how small, just something little and often (and that especially goes for you too Isobel!! 🙂 )

So, all-in-all a successful day and a great result. Hopefully the mandatory buoyancy aid rule will be lifted for “C”, the weather will be cooler and Megan will be resplendent in Darkside branded paddling kit.

Waterside A cancellation, a huge disappointment

Thanks to the instant communication capabilities of web based social media, the canoeing community were made aware of the cancellation of “Waterside A” very soon after the decision was taken and judging by the reaction there are some very disappointed paddlers including myself.

Based only 15 miles from Newbury I have paddled that section of the K&A regularly over the years so I know how the water levels rise and fall according to recent rainfall within the area mostly by the level of the boat compared with the height of the banks at the portages.

During the recent (and continuing) period of incessant rainfall I have seen the levels rise to those I’ve never seen before and have enjoyed paddling from Great Bedwyn to Newbury achieving my personal best time. The current from Kintbury to Dreweats is particularly welcome and the last lock at Newbury is very exciting.

Even though the outfalls are sucking large volumes of water out of the canal into the River Kennet and contributing equally significant volumes where it rejoins the K&A, at no time have I ever felt uneasy and in my opinion it is a very safe journey for the paddler. There have been a couple of instances where a boat has found its way down an outfall but it isn’t anything like the weirs on the Thames, as the water quickly disperses mostly over fields.

Quite honestly if competitors are reticent about paddling the K&A in these conditions, what chance will they stand on the Thames? Probably best to consider sprinting instead!!

So, if the conditions pose little or no threat to the paddler, why was it cancelled? I suspect it is mostly due to the organisation and logistics of bank support.

I know Waterside and DW is only once a year and we do try to ingratiate ourselves with the local community, but the arrival of a considerable number of people and vehicles at the same time in the same place does impose quite an impact on the local roads and the banks of the K&A and this time both the roads and the canal banks are flooded.

I took a few photographs on Saturday 8th February whilst doing a course recce:

This is the road to Marsh Benham, 10″ deep.

Road from A4 to Marsh Benham

Road from A4 to Marsh Benham

This is Hampstead lock. You can see where the water has destroyed the concrete which is now piled up by the lock.

Hampstead Lock

Hampstead Lock

This is the tow path from Copse to Hampstead. The canal is literally overflowing!

Tow path from Copse to Hampstead

Tow path from Copse to Hampstead

This is the outfall just downstream from Marsh Benham where the Kennet meets the canal. OK it’s a bit more powerful than usual but easily avoidable.

Kennet Outfall - downstream from Hamstead (Marsh Benham)

Kennet Outfall – downstream from Hamstead (Marsh Benham)

This is the other side of it. Best avoided!

The other side of the outfall

The other side of the outfall

I do sympathise with the organisers and I know it is not an easy decision to take, but at least they have let people know in good time and are at this moment, meeting to consider alternatives. I remember being in a similar position a few years back when as the organiser of a cycle time trail, I had to stand up in a packed village hall and announce to 300 riders that the event they were waiting to start was cancelled. I was struck off a few Christmas card lists that year.

This is also a bitter blow to my carefully laid plans for my new sit&switch C1 to make its first appearance at a competitive event. I guess The Darkness will have to stay out of the light for a little longer

DW 2014 fashion. What the best dressed paddler is wearing.

Getting clothing right for DW is a challenge mostly due to the unpredictability of the British weather. This isn’t helped due to Easter not being at the same time each year. As such, the intrepid paddler and their faithful Bank Support crew need to be prepared for every eventuality and adapt in real-time if and when the situation changes to ensure the canoeist doesn’t get too hot, cold or wet and is able to remain comfortable and competitive.

Often the day starts out cold, possibility frosty with an annoying little breeze which chills the fingers. Then paddlers get warmed up, the sun makes a welcome appearance, the breeze drops and it can almost be a pleasant Spring day. Later the clouds may build and we are treated to a rain shower, a little sleet and possibly some hail just to finish it off. As the late afternoon moves into the evening, the temperature starts to drop.

If a paddler gets too warm, they need more fluid, too cold and they burn calories trying to keep warm, too wet and they can become uncomfortable, miserable and cold (and cross!).

So how can a clothing system be defined which will cope with all these demands? A layer approach is clearly the best solution. This has been popular in most adventure sports for some years and there are some amazing “integrated layer systems” which work really well but are jolly expensive.

But the principles are straight forward allowing the athlete to choose the type of garments which are appropriate, affordable, comfortable and don’t make their bum look big!

As a racing cyclist I’ve amassed more outfits than Cindy over the years and cyclist have a huge wardrobe to choose from for every type of racing, weather, terrain and conditions. The big pockets on the back of cycling jerseys bulge with arm warmers, leg warmers, knee warmers, gilet, wind proof top, waterproof top, gloves, over-shoes and ear-hole warmers and a mobile phone (to beg for collection if it becomes too nasty!).

M.A.M.I.L. in action!

M.A.M.I.L. in action!


As a fully signed-up member of M.A.M.I.L. (middle aged men in lycra) I can personally vouch for the versatility of the fabric and I use similar garments whilst canoeing.

For this DW and Waterside, I have designed a number of clothing items based on typical cycling attire into what I hope will be an affective layer solution for Megan and Isobel.

Base Layer

As this is next to one’s skin it is very much a personal choice. However, it needs to be close fitting and have good wicking qualities to promote removal of sweat away from the skin to the outside of the garment where it evaporates quickly. I’ve started using compression tops which squeeze the torso in specific places to aid blood circulation around the muscles. It is also very good at flattening ones tummy!

Mid Layer

This helps trap a layer of warm air within the base layer and I have defined an option for warm weather and one for the cold. The warm option is a short sleeve lycra cycle top made by a German company; owayo custom sports. They are close fitting with a three quarter zipped front.

Darkside short sleeve top

Darkside short sleeve top


The pockets in the back are for fluid and emergency rations.

The cold weather option is a long sleeve lycra top but with a fleecy lining.

Darkside long sleeve top

Darkside long sleeve top


This also has some big pockets at the back. It can go over the short sleeve top if necessary.

Top Layer

The top layer is the weather proof one, something to keep out the wind and rain or both.

These wind jackets have a full length zip which enables them to be put on or taken off very quickly and will also go over a buoyancy aid.

Darkside wind jackets

Darkside wind jackets


They do have a small zipped pocket.

The option for rain at the moment is a gilet. As a sleeveless garment it should not impede paddling too much and should keep the majority of the rain out. I did suggest an umbrella but surprisingly this was not enthusiastically supported.

Legs

Let’s not forget the legs and I’ve opted for winter paddle leggings from Flatwater Essentials. Close fitting, comfortable and very warm.

Darkside leggings

Darkside leggings


Hats

I’m leaving this up to Isobel and Megan but I see the need for a peaked cap if it’s sunny, fleecy warm hat for the cold and wet, and perhaps an ear warmer for in-between. However I do put my foot down on any hat which has kayak branding!

Footwear

Seventy seven portages across the four days, ranging from a short dash around a canal lock to the long run at Croftons. The mud at Fobney, the bridge run at Marsh and slippy rollers at Sunbury, Molesey and Teddington to name but a few. Ideally shoes equivalent to the multi functionality of a Swiss army knife are required.

The Darkness footrest

The Darkness footrest


The choice for kayak paddlers is somewhat restricted as they have to get their feet under the deck and need to be able to feel the tiller bar (except the rear K2 paddler of course). A lot of racers opt for bare feet so they can really emphasise with the boat through the footrest. This is fine but you do get cold feet and risk injury on the portages.

A canoe has an open cockpit so feet size is not really an issue.

In my opinion the ideal compromise is the minimal running shoes which are quite popular at the moment. I don’t mean the ones with the individual toes, but the shoes with very little cushioning and support, with a good grip sole and a mesh upper. Trouble is they are so expensive.

So, in summary we have a top-to-toe clothing strategy using lessons learnt from competitive cycling. Let’s see how it works in “the field”.

Bank Support – the good, the bad and the ugly! (part 1)

I’ve only bank supported Waterside a couple of times and never DW, but even those few occasions have convinced me that the paddlers get off lightly as they “only” have to paddle.

Meanwhile on dry land, support crews scramble to get to the right place at the right time to take the abuse from the competitors. Do they know (or care) what it takes to make it to the portage with a delicious energy bar, carbo drink and jolly banter? I think not.

However, from the canoeist point of view, portages provide a fascinating insight to the approach, behaviour and characteristics of those who commit themselves to support their crews.

A “typical” bank support enthusiast tends to fall into one of a number of categories, and exhibit a set of stereotypical idiosyncrasies.

So let’s consider the type of person who supports Waterside and the four day DW event. Any resemblance to persons alive or dead is purely coincidental…………..honest!

The Yummy Mummy

Samantha is super excited yah, to be supporting Tarquin and his partner Quentin (T & Q) in their little boat on the K&A. She popped into Waitrose for Duchy Originals for the boys on the way and thinks there may be two left in the packet.

Demure and chic in the latest from Boden (new spring/summer ‘14 collection) and green Hunter wellies (which one always wears in the country you know), she parks the four-by-four on a clear bit of road across the front of someone’s drive that no one has spotted. “I’m sure they won’t mind for a few minutes, it is a Volvo you know.”

She and her friend Fiona drove up early from Kensington and once they’ve done their duty, they thought a light lunch in a quaint little restaurant in Hungerford would be a hoot and then a look around the antique shops.

So, what does one do? Samantha (never Sam!) and Fiona make their way to the lock and on to the tow path which seems frightfully muddy. Two chaps with a canoe on their shoulders run past, straight through a puddle. “Do you mind, this outfit is new!”………louts!

Now, where are they? A K2 in the distinctive red and gold colours of Saint Cerils approaches. “it’s them”, “oh come on Tarquin darling, bravo!” “That’s splendid, daddy would be so proud”. The crew run by exchanging glances, it isn’t Tarquin!

After five minutes KBS (Kensington Bank Support) are getting bored and wander over to look at the lock (whatever that is). Tarquin approaches the portage and spots the distinctive pink hoody. He and Quentin shoulder the boat wishing for Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. Too late, Samantha and Fiona are beside themselves with excitement, “hurrah for Saint Ceril’s”…………….“wait Tarquin, wait”.

T & Q sprint for the put-in. “Tarquin darling, mummy must have a photo”. Samantha tugs out her iPhone which apparently has a camera. She struggles to take a picture and waits until lots of boats have gone by to get a clear panorama, she is certain that T & Q can easily catch them up again. “Now one with me in” she says flinging the phone towards Fiona (a proud technophobe).

“Do you have any food mum?” “Food? oh yes there’s some biscuits in the car, shall I get them?

T & Q paddle hard to get away from the shouts of encouragement following them towards Newbury.

“Gosh that was fun, time for lunch?” Samantha and Fiona are surprised that all the traffic seems to have stopped when they return to the car. “Shift that vehicle NOW!” oh what a rude man!

The Coach

Mr Stevens has coached crews from Kimarlauntsey school for the last six years. He takes the youngsters after Christmas and makes men of them by Easter, even the girls. A rigid training programme of paddling, running, circuit training and swimming (or capsizing as it’s known) in the cold and wet soon toughens up the little reprobates. It’s good character building stuff and they’ll all thank him for it one day.

Sergeant-Major Stevens misses his old regiment, but his well-preserved parade voice that has had many a squaddie quaking in their boots is just as effective for the little herberts now under his command. It’s such a shame that one can’t beat children any more “spare the rod, spoil the child” it never did him any harm.

He is rather proud of this year’s team although he’ll never admit it even under torture. They trained well and with the right amount of shouting at, should beat those wimps from Sir Wandsfordleigh. There’s a score to settle from last year, “two minutes, TWO minutes” that won’t happen again during his watch.

Ah, here comes Clegg and Cameron. Took a while to gel these two, but they work well together towards a common goal. They are looking really good, a coalition of strong strokes, excellent timing and a fast pace. “that’s rubbish paddling, I taught you better than that, put some effort in”.

Now here’s Torville and Dean, a mixed crew who have practiced endlessly together even through the snow and ice of February. They’re holding the wash of Sir Wandsfordleigh’s top crew and looking smooth and relaxed. Mr Stevens suppresses a look of pride and satisfaction “get your skates on you two” he hollers.

That’s the whole team through except Kourtney and Khloe (some parents and their stupid names). The girls have such a stylist paddle stroke, hardly causing a splash and certainly not raising a sweat, good speed though. “come along ladies, stop laughing, stop smiling and STOP SINGING” Do they have to wear those shocking pink hats, what’s wrong with the ex-commando skull caps he got for them?

The first timers

Colin and Graham offered to help Jake and Barney after the regular team went down with a dose of the trots (don’t ask!) Away from their computers, Xbox, PS2 and tablets, they only have their smart phones for security and the 4G coverage is rubbish.

They have absolutely no idea what to do, but they’re fast learners. OK, they messed up at Wotton Rivers but it’s not easy to decide between a Jaffa Cake and a Fig Roll so they eat both. Jake and Barney top-crew (JBTC) were a bit cross as they waited whilst TBST (top bank support team) unwrapped a sausage roll and it wasn’t their fault that it fell in the water.

The SatNav app got them to Crofton and although it was a bit of a walk from the car, TBST are ready with an array of top nosh all laid out on the bank. But why are JBTC running past, they don’t seem to want to paddle the short stretches of water between some of the locks?

TBST pile everything into a bag and set off in hot pursuit but JBTC are long gone by the time they get to the end. Key learning point: wait at the put-in point and not the get-out place.

TBST get back to the car and consult the DW-schedule app. They won’t make Great Bedwyn but they should be in time for Little Bedwyn.

Ha, no other support crew at Little Bedwyn only a DW Marshall in a hi-vis vest, he’ll be impressed that TBST made this portage their own. JBTC come storming into the portage and completely ignore TBST! “Are these your support team?” asks the Marshall “NO” says JBTC. “That’s good because this portage is out-of-bounds to DW support crews”

TBST slink back to their car. With renewed determination they plan for Hungerford. 4G coverage is strong and they phone the regular support team for advice.

Hungerford is a triumph. Colin waits at the get-out place and phones Graham as JBTC approaches and legs it to join him. The energy bar is unwrapped and a bite-sized piece is broken off. A new drink bottle is ready. JBTC get in the boat and TBST are straight in with replacement bottles and stuff the energy bar in the crews mouths.

Colin and Graham beam with pride and hit the high fives. “Nothing to this bank support lark and after all, we are the TBST. Onward to Dun Mill!”

More to come, no one is safe…:-)

Megan’s paddling past

Megan is based in Cornwall and trains mostly on the River Fowey. Her move into the sport of canoe racing started at an early age.

What are you earliest canoeing memories?

Discovering paddle sport when I was 12 years old saved and made my life. Sounds dramatic but it’s true, during a sad period, paddling gave me the most wonderful friends, memories and experiences I could ever imagine. It has given me the opportunity to feel free and totally be myself out on the open water racing against the elements, as well as a tremendous sense of challenge and achievement.

It’s a sport I love and will never be without. After completing DW for the first time in 2008 (the year of the blizzard) I felt invincible and was instantly addicted. After the race my coach and K2 partner Brian Greenaway said “Now’s the time you say never again” a couple of people instantly said “Never again!” but I knew I’d be back and just smiled and kept quiet.

How did you first get into canoeing?

A friend of mine told me she had been to a few sessions at Fowey River Canoe Club, based in Gollant on the River Fowey, south coast of Cornwall. I had never been in a kayak before let alone seen a wobbly racing boat, but I thought it sounded fun so I went to have a go as well.

The friend didn’t keep it up very long but I went back every week for the rest of the summer, soon competing in my first lightening race (for under 12’s) which I won. I loved the buzz of racing and winning the first sporting medal of my life (other than the primary school sports day skipping race!).

I was in awe at the faster paddlers in the club who were at the time starting off in marathon division 9 (now those people are in the top racing divisions 1 & 2). Over the winter I continued to paddle a little so when the next summer arrived I was ready to race in real divisions and start training properly.

How did you progress?

Fowey River CC had connections with a club in Penzance who specialized in canoe polo and surf kayaking both of which I tried and really enjoyed, but nothing compared to the athletic marathon and sprint.

We joined the people from Penzance in the summer of 2007 for what would be my first long distance paddle. Twelve sea kayaks set off from their club at Penzance harbour and we paddled for 2 days and 68 miles around the coast, camping overnight on a hidden beach near the Lizzard, to finish at Fowey River CC in Gollant.

After this trip I decided I would love to paddle the English Channel, however it didn’t happen because one of the coaches told me that we had been put on the waiting list just so I would stop asking (I waited for a year before learning there was no such list).

What’s it like to paddle on the Fowey?

Fowey River Canoe Club is located on probably one of the most beautiful estuaries to have a racing kayak club in the country.

There are so many different sections and places to explore. Head upstream for narrow bends and fast flow at Lostwithiel or under the bridge in the picturesque village of Lerryn. Paddling downstream takes you to many more creeks, Fowey Harbour and the sea.

All these places provide very varied water conditions for training, we often take our K1’s out to sea or into the harbour for some waves! The estuary is tidal so fast flow is always to be contended with and can get very fun/scary with wind against tide and can get busy with motor and sailing boats in the summer.

……..to be continued.

Meagn - ready to take on DW 2014

Megan – ready to take on DW 2014

The Darkness – in detail

So what’s going to help propel these women to glory in Westminster at Easter 2014?

The Darkness - racing sit&switch C1

The Darkness – racing sit&switch C1

The first consideration was the weight of the boat. With umpteen portages in a typical marathon and the 77 which have to be negotiated during DW, it is important that the boat is as light as possible to make this easy. So much time can be lost on portages while the paddler picks the boat out of the water, runs the length of the portage and re-introduces the boat to water prior to embarkation.

The Darkness weighs 8 kgs including seat and buoyancy and is quick and easy to get in and out. It also has a comfortable and secure place to grip on the inside of the gunwales.

Carrying grip

Carrying grip

All boat surfaces were considered for reduction especially the parts which are above the water line. As a canoe doesn’t have the benefit of a rudder, it is up to the paddler to compensate for side winds which attempt to turn the boat towards the wind direction in a similar fashion to a weather cock, hence the term “weather cocking”. So the deck area is low profile.

The Darkness - side profile

The Darkness – side profile

Straight line tracking is also an important consideration to reduce the number of times the paddler has to switch the paddle to the other side of the boat in order to maintain the intended direction. The Darkness has zero rocker along the length of its hull thus providing excellent directional stability.

The seating and paddler position is crucial to provide a firm, efficient and ergonomic paddling platform. An adjustable solid platform which supports a moulded foam seat, is fixed with four stainless steel bolts and wing nuts between two parallel rails.

Seat platform configuration

Seat platform configuration

It is 7 cms high from the bottom of the boat. Different sizes, shapes and heights of foam seat can be fitted between the upright seat supports which should be able to cater for most people’s “foundations”.

Cockpit

Cockpit

The seat solution also enables a different foam seat to be used during various stages of the DW. For example, a high seat can be used for the canal section where the water is flat and still. The height allows more leverage on the paddle but it does render the boat less stable as the centre of gravity is higher.

A lower seat may be appropriate for the tideway where the paddler may encounter large washes from the Thames boat traffic plus the refracted waves from the vertical sides of the river.

An adjustable footrest is fitted consisting of two aluminium square profile tubes inside each other to provide a telescopic cross member secured on two rails with stainless steel bolts and wing nuts. It is covered with skateboard grip tape to prevent the paddler’s feet slipping along it.

Footrest and front thwart

Footrest and front thwart

The front thwart provides a really firm and well positioned bar to help the paddler get out of the boat and to lower themselves onto the seat during embarkation. It is wrapped with racing cycle handlebar tape for warmth, comfort and good grip.

Buoyancy is afforded by a 12 litre Palm Infinity airbag in the stern and a 35 lire bag in the bow.

The front deck has quite a steep angle to allow a good sweeping arc for when the paddle is switched from one side to the other and to dispel water if a wave washes over the bow. It rises to meet a flange which forms the gunwale along the top of the entire open cockpit.

Front deck profile

Front deck profile

As well as dispelling water, it also enables the use of spray decks. An ICF compliant open cockpit must be at least 2.4 metres long and the gunwales must not extend in towards the boat greater than 5 cms. This means it is a quite a large open area into which rain, spray and water dripping from paddles can enter the boat. A spray deck front and rear reduces the impact.

Spray decks

Spray decks

I’ve left the most important design consideration to the last; “as everyone knows” to achieve ultimate performance the boat must look cool!

There are some fantastic looking vessels on the water but most rely on pigmentation in the construction to “hide” the imperfections inherent with carbon composite manufacturing processes and they do look pretty. The Darkness is naked of all cosmetic embellishments and is a celebration of the profound beauty of carbon fibre. It is stunningly beautiful and proud of its dark sleekness.

The Darkness - in all its glory!

The Darkness – in all its glory!

Have we thought of everything? Probably not but any short comings will be uncovered during DW.