Tag Archives: Waterside A

Waterside A 2016

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.

James in action - Thameside 1 2015

James in action – Thameside 1 2015


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)

Tom Fryer and Tom Stafford dig deep at the start

Tom Fryer and Tom Stafford dig deep at the start


Then the Duet was off for its first competitive race. (Boat 250 finished in 2:16:50)
The Darkness Duet on its first race start

The Darkness Duet on its first race start


I followed the race by car and bike. The paddle speed was high and James and Mike really attacked the portages.
Portage fast or die!

Portage fast or die!


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.
Going for it

Going for it


They were really focussed on catching the Toms, but no way were these guys going to make it easy.
Get out of our way, we're coming through.

Get out of our way, we’re coming through.


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.
Chasing the Toms.

Chasing the Toms.


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)
Catch us if you can

Catch us if you can


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.

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