Tag Archives: sit&switch

Three days to DW and we’re ready

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.

Rear footrest - redesign

Rear footrest – redesign


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.
Red Board river condition warnings

Red Board river condition warnings


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.

Small spray deck

Small spray deck


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.

Professional Spray deck on the left, home-made one on the right.

Professional Spray deck on the left, home-made one on the right.


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.
Emergency survival kit secured under the seats.

Emergency survival kit secured under the seats.


We’ll also have a spare paddle secured in the boat, under the spray deck.
Spare paddle under the spray deck.

Spare paddle under the spray deck.


This will be moved to above the spray deck for the tideway.
Spare paddle on top of the spray deck.

Spare paddle on top of the spray deck.


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.

Front light.

Front light.


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.
Rear torch for portaging.

Rear torch for portaging.


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:

http://live.opentracking.co.uk/dwrace16/

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.

Next step, a boat

The plug has now been taken out of the mold, and I’m now looking for somewhere to store it as it’s my “insurance policy” if anything happens to the mold.

All the “boring” stuff is now complete and the next step is to make the first boat.

We are still contemplating which combination of composites to use for the construction. It’s definitely going to be carbon and probably 3 x 200 grams fabric. We are not going to use a gel coat as this is likely to add an additional 6 kgs, and the key construction criteria is weight. We are still in the resin dilemma of polyester or polyvinyl.

In the meantime, I’ve taken the opportunity to consider the differences between my boat and the Wenonah ICF C2. This boat is the only sit&switch ICF compliant boat available, and it sets the benchmark against which I will measure the Double Darkness (DD).

It’s difficult to find out a lot of detail about the ICF unless of course you own one. It seems to be quite an old design which replicates the style of the Wenonah C2 range, but with an almost “reluctant” acknowledgement of the ICF C2 regulations. It isn’t referenced on their web site and only appears to be available in the UK.

The ICF is completely open. It uses timber gunwales, and aluminium thwarts and seat fittings.

Wenonah ICF C2

Wenonah ICF C2


The DD was designed from the principles of a race boat, strict adherence to the ICF specifications, but incorporating the needs of racing paddlers. My boat is intended to offer a British alternative for DW and the longer canoe marathons.

The first criteria is weight. With 77 portages on the DW, it must be as light as possible especially if it is to offer female crews a viable option. I can’t find any definitive weight specs for the ICF, but a lightweight Wenonah pro-boat comes in at 15 kgs. As the ICF is about one metre longer, it surely follows that it will be slightly heavier. We are aiming for about 14 kgs.

The next consideration is cost. The ICF retails at about £3,400 which is a considerable chunk of change by any measure. I hope to come in at about £2,000.

So what about size and shape? I’ve taken some measurements of the DD, but I don’t have similar data on the ICF. However, I’ve traced the shape and overlaid it on the DD. It shows that:

1. The ICF is about 10 cms wider at the gunwales at the widest place.
2. The bow section pretty much matches the DD.
3. The rear section of the ICF is narrower than the DD.

DD dimensions and ICF comparison

DD dimensions and ICF comparison


So the front paddler’s access to the water is similar to the ICF, however the rear paddler has a few additional cms of width to overcome. The DD being a little wider, seems to offer more buoyancy at the rear.

The front and rear decks should offer better rigidity then the fully open ICF, plus these spaces will house the buoyancy bags. I’m not sure how or where buoyancy bags are secured in the ICF. The decks will also support the portaging handles, and the DD should be more comfortable whilst being carried upside-down on the shoulder.

The DD has a lower profile than the ICF and this is aided by the closed deck areas, as the water will simply run off rather than run in. The ICF has a higher bow to avoid swamping from washes.

The next comparison I made was the seating position of the paddlers. Whenever I’ve seen the ICF being raced, the paddlers always seem to be at the extreme ends of the boat. However, this is where there is least buoyancy. The rear paddler can get quite a long way back, but the front paddler is a bit restricted depending on the size of their feet, and there is no footrest.

DD/ICF comparison

DD/ICF comparison


If I compare the ICF, DD and a K2, I think I have a reasonable compromise whereby the paddlers are closer together than the ICF, but not as close as the K2, and they sit where there is maximum buoyancy. What I’m not sure of, is how high I can get the seats or how the boat will track and steer. The ICF has zero rocker, but the DD has a little towards the bow.

The rim around the cockpit of the DD is designed to reduce the amount of water coming into the boat, and also to support a full size stray deck. This will be quite a beast, with two zipped access areas. Most ICF paddlers tend to cover the centre of the boat with improvised sheeting. A self-bailer is a popular ICF accessory.

The most important part of the boat is the bit below the water line in terms of fluid dynamics and performance. The “trick” is to find the best compromise between speed and stability. This is mostly determined by the hull (wetted area) width and cross sectional profile.

The ICF seems to have a rather flat hull profile with hard chines. This affords good primary stability and as such, Marsport categorise the boat with a wobble factor of 4. This means that the seat height can be raised to (supposedly) deliver more efficient mechanical propulsion because the paddler can “get over the top of the paddle”. I have experimented a lot with this theory and have deduced that the benefits of a radically raised seating position compromises too much on stability. One advantage however, is that it is easier to get up from a raised seat than one which is too low, especially as one gets older.

Wenonah ICF C2 shape

Wenonah ICF C2 shape


The DD has slightly softer chines and a more rounded profile. It also has a more defined central “spine” towards the stern and bow.
Double Darkness shape

Double Darkness shape


There is only one sure-fired way to find out how this boat performs, and that is to get it on the water. I look forward with growing anticipation to this day.