Tag Archives: Waterside series

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.


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


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!


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…:-)

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.

Developing a sit&switch racing C1

Over the last three or four years I have been trying out lots of canoe concepts in an attempt to identify the optimum sit&switch racing C1 design.

When I first crossed over to the dark side, I bought an eleven foot C1 from Ebay (where else!!). This was my first experience of a C1 and I soon adapted it for sit&switch rather than kneeling. I did try kneeling but I lost the ability to walk fairly quickly.

The boat had too much rocker, was too short and weighed 22 kgs so I sold it on Ebay, although I did enjoy shooting Symons Yat in it.

First C1

First C1

It then occurred to me that the best starting point was a K1 which I could then adapt. So I duly acquired an old touring K1 and cut the deck off and built a C1. This was quite successful but made of fibre glass, it still weighed 20 kgs

Converted general purpose K1

Converted general purpose K1

The next idea was to use a white water racer. I got this from Ebay and set about converting it. Unfortunately it was miles too unstable and I ended up the water on the Basingstoke canal canoe club challenge.

White Water kayak conversion C1

White Water kayak conversion C1

So I got a Marcos kevlar K1 hull and increased the freeboard height with some plastic planks and won the 2010 Waterside series for C1. It was the year where we had to run the first 8 miles of “C” due to ice.

Macros C1

Macros C1

In order to get rid of the planks, reduce the weight and improve the deck, I cut the deck off the white water racer C1 and secured it to the Marcos hull.


This worked rather well and I built the rear deck from carbon fibre. I also built carbon fibre extensions to the hull on the bow and stern to improve straight line performance.

Stern section hull

Stern section hull

Bow section hull

Bow section hull

As I now had some experience with carbon fibre, I built a C1 from scratch using an Espada K1 with lots of foam changes to the shape to wrap the carbon fibre around.

Espada C1

Espada C1

This was a bit of a disaster as the flat hull ended up so unstable but I still paddled it in 2011 Waterside D and won the series.

I build another boat using the Macros hull and a made up deck for the next carbon fibre version. This is the boat I paddled DW 2012.



I had reached the limit to what I could do with the tools and facilities at home so I was faced with a decision, do I quit now or go the whole hog and get it done by professionals. Well I certainly couldn’t go to my grave without giving it a shot, so “The Darkness” is now a full production canoe to the highest professional standards, but more about that later.

A promoter’s paddling biography

I’m Nick Adnitt and the promoter behind the female C1 paddler quest to complete the DW.

I started canoeing in 1972 at about 14 years old after a Youth Club weekend at Nassington on the river Nene. There was a plywood touring K1 which I monopolised the whole time, selfishly not letting anyone else have a go. I then acquired a timber canoe frame, put on a new canvas skin on it and spent many pleasant sessions on the Grand Union canal.

I joined the Royal Engineers in 1976 and completed the DW three times:

• 1978 20:51:25 Adnitt N & Grayson S J Royal Engineers 17th
• 1980 19:12:10 Adnitt N & Heath A Royal Engineers 7th
• 1981 18:56:29 Adnitt N & Heath A Royal Engineers 3rd

I also raced white water, slalom, surfing and many sprint regattas at Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham, latterly for Richmond Canoe Club. I especially liked pacing the K4.

I then left canoeing for 28 years due to domestic, family and work priorities diversifying to marathon running (including 5 x London), adventure racing and triathlon for 10 years and then competitive cycling for the last 15 years, but I kept my Jaguar K1.

For some reason, in 2008 I took it back on the water and paddled the 2009 Waterside series having purchased some new-fangled paddles called “wings” from that nice-Mr-Ralph at Marsport. Not that they did me any good coming 7th in the Veteran K1 series.

I looked around for alternatives and focussed on the C1 class noticing that it was not very popular and even if I came last I’d still be on the podium.

There are hundreds of different models of kayak but far fewer options for C1. It seemed to be restricted to the big family boats, the high kneeling “stick” or an American model such as the Wenonah J203. What I wanted was a K1 without the rudder, a bit more stable and no rocker along the hull so it stayed in a straight line.

Unfortunately no such vessel seemed to exist so for the next 3 years I set about developing a new concept. During this time I’ve tried just about every design permutation in some weird and obscure designs and won the C1 Waterside Series in 2010 and 2011. It wasn’t that I was any good but I was the only competitor to complete all four races. Only nine C1 paddlers have achieved this.

I also paddled a C2 in the 2010 DW Endeavour class finishing in 21:35. This is definitely the way to “race” DW. Four days, no tide to catch, daylight all the way and a very stable craft, very civilised!

DW 2010 C2

DW 2010 C2

In 2012 I entered my latest C1 design in the DW. Unfortunately two weeks before the race I suffered a muscle spasm in my back. Now being only 5’ 8” tall I very rarely get injured so this was a bit of a shock. Visits to a chiropractor, my first ever sports massage and some heavy weight prescription drugs got me on the start line in Devizes.

By the time I got to Teddington at the end of day three I was a wreck. The DW takes no prisoners and has no sympathy for paddlers who are not 100% fit and well. However at 05:00 hrs at the start of day four at Thames Young Mariners I was ready to paddle but I didn’t have the courage to actually get in the boat, but to this day I don’t regret it.

So, I’ve channelled a significant amount of experience mostly through trial and error into a production C1. I only ever wanted a single canoe for myself but it is the same amount of investment for one boat as it is for one thousand boats and if I identified the need for this type of canoe, it is reasonable to assume that others may benefit too.

In order to raise the profile of “The Darkness” and establish some sort of credibility, I’m counting on two lady athletes to get the boat to Westminster next year.

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.