20 April 2006

Devizes to Westminster 2006 report

After two and a half months of training, mental preparation and logistical planning we arrived at Devizes Wharf on Saturday morning, together with our support team, bristling with anticipation for the race ahead.

Mattias and John check in with the scrutineers (click to enlarge)Crews time their start to arrive at Teddington for high tide so the wharf was considerably less busy than the last time we were here, at the start of Waterside D, as many people would already have started or would do so later in the day. None the less, there was a palpable air of excitement as we carried our boats into the scrutineers’ enclosure for a final safety check.

After good luck wishes and a team photo with our supporters we put in and made our way to the start line. At 09:26:30 we set off, just a few minutes after our planned departure time.

Shortly after the start we encountered 'Saddam' the swan. We carefully paddled past the hissing beast and thought we had avoided his wrath but when we had gone about 100 metres I heard an ominous beating of wings behind me. We paddled harder as it grew louder until the crazy bird flew straight into my back. I resisted the temptation to take a slice at his neck with my sharp carbon fibre paddle blade and he clung onto the back deck for a few seconds before finally letting go.

The first support stop at Honey Street (click to enlarge)
There are no portages for the first 14 mile ‘pound’ to Wootton Rivers so we had arranged to meet our support teams at Honey Street (8 miles) and Pewsey (12 miles). The first stop went to plan and we had a slick change of drink bottles.

At the second stop, however, as we reached up to the high wharf to change the bottles Julien and I lost our balance and capsized. We were a bit embarrassed but no harm was done and we quickly dried out as we paddled on towards our first real challenge: Crofton (18 miles).

The Crofton Flight is a series of seven locks spread over about a mile which most crews portage, running with the boat on their shoulders. While John and Mattias are strong runners, Julien and I knew we would struggle with this section and so we had all agreed to paddle a couple of the longer pounds.

After Crofton our next target was Newbury (34 miles). This was the furthest distance that any of us except Mattias had ever paddled in a single day and in my mind I had been thinking of it as the start of the race proper.

After the exertion of Crofton I found the section to Newbury very hard as this is where the portages are at their densest (there are 35 locks in the 20 miles between Wootton Rivers and Newbury).

Portages were never a strong point for Julien and I and at each one we would see John and Mattias leap out and run around the lock, usually paddling away as we reached the put in. We would then work hard to catch them just in time for the next portage where the same thing would happen all over again.

John and Mattias arrive at Newbury (click to enlarge)By the time we reached Newbury after nearly seven hours I was feeling exhausted and emotional. While the support team fed us and congratulated us on our progress so far I just wanted to cry.

Things gradually improved as we continued toward Aldermaston (43 miles) and the last part of the canal section that any of us had paddled on before. The new terrain and the increasing distance between portages helped my morale and Julien and I began to find a good strong pace without the frequent interruptions for tiring portages. It was also, by now, a beautiful spring evening and I thoroughly enjoyed this section.

The next milestone was Reading (54 miles) and the end of the canal. Like most crews, we had planned on a full kit change and a hot meal here and as we got nearer I think Julien must have smelled dinner and he picked up the pace. We arrived at about 20:00 to a mass of supporters and crews all relishing what, for most of us, would be the one break in the race.

Yolanda and Sam, just two of our superb support team (click to enlarge)Thirty minutes later, feeling much more comfortable in dry kit, we set off in darkness on the Thames.

At this stage I felt quite intimidated by the dark and the long night ahead. We are nocturnal paddlers and most of our training in London has been on the Thames and the Regent’s Canal at night but it did not prepare me for the pitch black of the rural river. I was also very conscious of the fact that ninety percent of retirements happen between Henley and Windsor and I viewed this section as the crux of the paddle.

Once again, Julien and I found a good strong pace helped by the slight flow on the river, the deeper water (which results in less hull drag) and the longer distances between portages which were now three to five miles apart. In fact, the portages were now perfectly spaced to be welcome breaks rather than the irritating and tiresome interruptions of the canal and our night time supporters did a fantastic job of meeting us at nearly all of them.

While Julien and I were going from strength to strength, John and Mattias were beginning to struggle, although we did not realise this at the time.

At Hurley (68 miles) we were held up at the portage and they got several minutes head start on us. When we set off we picked up the pace to catch up with them. Despite taking a wrong turn and having to come back on ourselves, we caught them in about three miles and I wondered if they had slowed for us to catch up.

Our pace was now so good and so comfortable that we kept it up and when I turned around at Cookham (74 miles) expecting them to be right behind us there was no sign of them. This was my first hint that something was wrong.

We waited as long as we could but we were starting to get cold as it was now about 00:30 and we set off just as they reached the put in after the portage. At the next lock, Boulters (77 miles), Mattias told us that John had stopped to be sick. I thought nothing of it and assumed he would feel better afterwards.

I will not forget this number in a hurry (click to enlarge)I enjoyed the next leg from Boulters through Maidenhead to Bray (79 miles) as it is very familiar to me and I was happy to be able to give Julien, sitting in front, a bit of steering guidance and even some local history.

At Bray we stopped for some very welcome coffee and waited for John and Mattias. When they arrived Mattias told us that we should activate ‘Plan B’. I was shocked.

From the outset we had planned to paddle the race as two crews together to support each other through the inevitable low points but acknowledging that if one crew had a serious problem we might have to split up.

Julien and I had not appreciated the severity of the problem the others were suffering but John was now dehydrated and being fed dioralyte solution, he desperately needed calories but could not keep anything down and he was cold.

Mattias bravely told us that we should go ahead and that they would slow down and aim for the evening tide at Teddington. Reluctantly, and with a sinking feeling about their chances, we set off alone.

We were now almost at Windsor (84 miles) and over half way through the non tidal section of the river, it was 02:00 and we were both surprised at how good we were feeling. I also realised now that, providing we were careful and nothing went wrong, we should make it.

My focus shifted from getting over the night time crux to reaching Teddington (108 miles). Teddington is the milestone. From here the Thames becomes tidal and one can almost float down the last 17 miles to Westminster with the tide.

I knew, however, that our schedule had slipped a bit and that the tidal barrage at Richmond, three miles downstream of Teddington, would probably be raised two hours after high tide at around 07:00, just as we would be getting to Teddington. This meant we would have a little further to go to catch the tide and an extra portage (after seventy seven one more would be no hardship).

So from Old Windsor Lock (87 miles) I was focused on one thing: getting to Teddington. The next twenty one miles would get harder and harder and I began to feel the first twinge of tendonitis in my right (control) wrist. This is the curse of paddlers and I knew it could become a problem so I redoubled my efforts to fully open my hand on the pushing part of each stroke.

SWE bars. Mattias secured sponsorship for us from a Sweedish power bar manufacturer and they kept us going throughout the raceNow our pace began to slow a little and we were disheartened not to find a support crew at a couple of locks as our fuel was running low. One kind supporter of another crew gave us some coffee and we tapped our emergency supplies of Kendal Mint Cake which kept us going.

When we next met our supporters, Dave and Yolanda, they told us the inevitable news that John and Mattias had retired. They made it as far as Old Windsor (18 hours, 37 minutes and 87 miles). I did not allow myself to dwell on this too much except to think that we had to finish for them.

Dave reeled off the names of the last few portages we had to get through before Teddington, telling us it was only a handful more. I knew he was exaggerating how few portages were left and glossing over how many actual miles were involved but we soldiered on.

At around 05:30 it started to get light and while this gave us a definite lift it also had a downside. After Molesey (103 miles), the last lock before Teddington, the daylight exposed the river stretching out seemingly endlessly in front of us after every bend with no hint of a lock.

By now my arms were starting to tire and I knew I was running out of fuel. Every stroke became harder than the last and I could see that there were many more to go. This five mile stretch from Molesey to Teddington was, for me, the hardest part of the race. Forcing myself to keep paddling took an effort of will I would not have thought possible.

I kept thinking that if we could only get to Teddington I could stop and rest, until the next tide if necessary. In fact, I began to form a negotiating strategy to use with the support team. I would tell them I was going to wait for the evening tide and then let them beat me down to an hour’s rest which I figured was the most we could afford if we were to catch the morning tide.

Finally, we rounded a bend and saw what I almost dared not hope was a lock in the distance. We pulled in to the bank and I dramatically announced that I could go no further. Julien turned around in the boat and gave me a quizzical look. I felt pathetic.

The supporters rallied round and fed me hot soup, power bars, glucose tablets and Nurofen. Yolanda threatened to call my wife, Deborah, and tell her to talk me back onto the water. Then Mattias and a very tired looking John arrived to add their encouragement. I knew I would go on and that I was certainly not going to let everyone down at this stage.

After a few more minutes rest we portaged the lock and set off for Richmond. Julien pointed out that it was now just a Sunday morning paddle and as the calories kicked in my strength returned and I knew he was right.

After Richmond and the tidal barrage we really started to fly and as the sun came out and the church bells rang in Easter Sunday I felt there was no better way to be coming home to London.

Normally when we paddle on the Tideway we keep close to the bank and out of everyone else’s way but on this Easter Sunday morning it was our river and we paddled right down the middle to get the maximum tidal assistance.

The supporters cheered us on at several bridges and, although our paddling slowed a bit in the last five miles, the tide kept us moving fast and soon we began to see landmarks that meant the end was near: Millbank Tower and the London Eye in the distance.

About to cross the finish line under Westminster Bridge (click to enlarge)When Lambeth Bridge came in to view I smiled to myself. We have often paddled here from Wapping in training and always imagined ourselves finishing DW as we paddled the short reach from here back to Westminster Bridge.

Big Ben struck 10:00 as we crossed the finish line 24 hours, 34 minutes and 125 miles after we had set off from Devizes. We had finished a creditable 33rd of the 115 crews who had started the race but all that mattered was that we had finished.

As we were lifted out of the boat by cheerful fellows in dry suits my spirits soared and Julien and I hugged each other and all of our supporters, who had gathered on the beach by Festival Pier.

The knowledge that we did DW is still sinking in and it gives me a thrill every time I think of it. This race is by far the toughest thing I have ever accomplished and I could never have done it alone.

Champagne reception with our support team and Bart (click to enlarge)Thank you Julien. You were a machine. I was just about able to follow your pace but I could never have set it.

Thank you John and Mattias. Without your enthusiasm and camaraderie I would never have persevered through the freezing night time training on the canal and without your planning and organisation we would never have got to Devizes.

Thank you Yolanda, Dave, Helen, Alison, Mishi, John, Sam, Andrew and Craig. You guys were fantastic. There is no doubt that DW is a team event and you were there supporting us every stroke of the way.

Thank you Barking and Dagenham Canoe Club. When we were floundering in our search to find suitable boats in time for training and the race we were taken aback by the generosity of your offer to borrow a pair of stable K2s. They have suited us perfectly.

Finally, thank you Deborah and Bart for putting up with this mad scheme over the last three months.

16 April 2006

We did it!

Julien and I paddled under Westminster Bridge at 10:00 this morning, 24 hours, 34 minutes and 125 miles after leaving Devizes yesterday morning. My body is in bits but I feel elated.

Unfortunately, our other crew had to retire at Old Windsor.

I will write up a more detailed account in a day or two.

Myself and Julien pose at the finish (click to enlarge)

13 April 2006

Training summary

Now that training is over I thought I would carry out a little review of the last two and a half months. I was always a bit concerned that we were not doing enough as the general consensus seems to be that paddling three times a week for three months prior to the race is the minimum training required and we left it a little late getting started. That said, we were all used to paddling 10km at least once a week in the preeceeding months as well as various other activities.

The table and graph below give a summary of what I have done since the beginning of February. One interesting statistic that emerged is that I have paddled a total of 313km in that time. The race itself is, of course, 200km!

Activity Sessions km Time
paddle 19 313 37:41
gym 10 n/a 10:00
swim 6 7 2:55
bike 4 78 3:31
run 4 10 0:55
walk 1 10 2:30
Totals 44 417 57:32

Graph of hours spent on various training activities by date (click to enlarge)

12 April 2006

Race progress online

I thought I would post details of the race progress tracking tools provided by the DW organisers. We will be listed under 'overnight crews' as we are entered in the Senior Doubles event. Julien and I are boat number 346 and John and Mattias are boat number 347.

If the tool works as advertised you should be able to see our split times recorded at various checkpoints en route as well as an ETA for our arrival at Westminster (should you wish to come along and cheer us over the line on Easter Sunday morning).

Our current plan is to start at 09:15 on Saturday and, optimistically, our progress should look something like the table below. Inevitably, we expect some slippage and we will be very happy if we finish within 24 hours!

Location Elapsed time Time of day
Devizes 00:00 09:15
Reading 10:00 19:15
Teddington 19:30 04:45
Westminster 23:00 08:15

11 April 2006


Children's activities at Shadwell BasinWhenever I tell anyone about my Easter plans the first thing they say is "are you doing it for charity". When we conceived this endeavour raising money for charity was the last thing on anyone's mind but the more people asked, the more it seemed like a good opportunity.

We have therefore chosen to support the Shadwell Basin Project by raising funds through sponsorship. 'The Basin' is the outdoor activity centre in Tower Hamlets, East London where our club is based. We have the use of their facilities on a Tuesday night but for the rest of the week the centre is used to run programmes for local school children that include kayaking, sailing and climbing.

If you have been following our progress here and would like to help support this very worthwhile cause (and give our morale a boost at the same time) then please consider sponsoring us through our online sponsorship page.

9 April 2006

Waterside D - the movie

Waterside D - the movie (click to download)Here is a short video shot by Yolanda condensing last Sunday's Waterside D race from six and a half hours down to just over a minute (click on the picture for a 3.3mb download).

Note Julien and I demonstrating that we are good to go for another 91 miles as we cross the finish line at Newbury.

Winding down the training

This morning I had a gentle 1,000m swim to wind down the training programme. Then I went shopping and bought dozens of power bars, sesame snaps and Kendal mint cakes.

This evening we all got together to sort out the food and kit and pack it all away in labelled bags so that by Friday we should be ready to get up and go. We also did some last minute boat maintenance so, bar a handful of outstanding to-dos, we are now about ready. OMG.

5 April 2006

Enough of training - let's do it

John, Julien and I paddled from Wapping to Lambeth Bridge and back tonight in sea kayaks again. We made it there on slack water in 49 minutes and back, with a little tidal assistance, in 39 (13 km round trip).

This may well have been our last training paddle and I am glad. I think we have all reached the stage where DW has taken over too much of our lives and now we just want to get it done.

2 April 2006

Race report - Waterside D

Embarking at Devizes Wharf for the start (click to enlarge)Today we raced in Waterside D, the last of the Waterside Series and the last milestone in our training before DW itself in two weeks time. The race is 34.3 miles from Devizes to Newbury with 35 portages including the dreaded Crofton Flight (seven locks too close together to be worth paddling and therefore portaged in one go - just over a mile).

After finding Waterside C so tough two weeks ago I was more than a little afraid of today's race but it went well and I feel very much more confident about DW now than I did then. We finished 21st out of 42 starters in 6:33:48, Mattias and John were just ahead of us in 20th place with a time of 6:32:05.

About to pass under Horton Bridge, about 3 miles into the race (click to enlarge)In the last race we were competing with each other from the off and this led to Julien and I getting quite demoralised as the others disappeared into the distance. This time we agreed to paddle together collaboratively, as we plan to on DW, and this approach certainly raised my moral and I think helped us all.

The other big difference from last time was support. For the first time we had a support crew, Matt's girlfriend, Yolanda, who did an amazing job single handed. She must have met us half a dozen times during the day, replenishing our food and drinks and cheering us on. I had not appreciated what a boost it is to see a friendly face waiting for you at a portage ready with fresh supplies. I can see that we will be deeply indebted to our support crew as we already are to Yolanda.

Congratulating each other after the finish (click to enlarge)The conditions also helped us today with a strong tailwind blowing all day, the weather was a mixture of sunshine and showers - neither too hot nor too cold. If it is similar in a fortnight's time we will be happy.

The race was not totally without incident: Matt sampled the Kennet & Avon canal at about two thirds distance when he was a bit over enthusiastic embarking after a slippery portage. After that we kept the pace up to keep him warm.

Thanks to Yolanda for the photos. Video clips coming soon.

29 March 2006

A tough paddle on the Thames

Tonight we were only three again as Matt was still resting so we took to the Thames in sea boats for a second night running.

We set off for Lambeth Bridge as before and, although it was not as windy as last night, we were nearer to the peak of the ebbing tide and had to work very hard. Julien set a tough pace and we got there in 56 minutes, returning in 35 (13 km round trip).

Sea boats on the river

Matt's tendonitis is still bothering him so he is taking it easy this week in the hopes that he will be OK for Waterside D on Sunday. That meant that as we were three last night we paddled with the club on the Thames in Sea boats.

We went upstream against the wind and tide to Lambeth Bridge in 1 hour and 5 minutes and back again in 39 minutes, a round trip distance of 13km.

It was my first paddle on the river in daylight for several months but the squally showers darkened the sky quickly after we set off and we were switching on lights by the time we got to Tower Bridge.

26 March 2006

Wet wet wet

Despite my paddling plans for the weekend not working out I managed to get very wet.

Yesterday I persuaded an unsuspecting friend to join me for a 10km hike on the South Downs (in the rain). When we got back I headed out for a qucik 3km/19 minute run (in the rain).

Finally, today I went out for a 20km/59 minute off-road bike ride (in the rain).

24 March 2006

Lost weekend

I had to drag myself to the gym tonight. I was feeling fed up because our grand plan to paddle the (non-tidal) river section of the DW course over the weekend fell through and I have had an especially tiring week at work. All I wanted to do was to sit down in front of the TV with a pizza and a beer. Now, after a weights session and 10 minutes/2,264m on the rowing machine, I feel reenergised.

Matt and I were going to head off to Reading first thing Saturday morning and paddle 27 miles to Windsor, stay in a posh riverside hotel and cover the remaining 26 miles to Teddington on Sunday. This morning Matt rang to say that the tendonitis in his wrist, which has been afflicting him sincce Waterside C last Sunday, was too bad and that he could not paddle.

Since I have no one to paddle with I will have to do some running and cycling over the weekend instead.

23 March 2006

Wash hanging

Last night the four of us, John, Mattias, Julien and myself took to the Regent's canal to practice our wash hanging. Wash Hanging is the art of catching a ride from the bow wave of another boat, rather like drafting on a bike. We plan to take it in turns between the two boats to lead and wash hang during DW.

We tried several different positions and found that it worked best paddling alongside the other boat about a meter and a half away with the front paddler in the wash hanging boat between the two cockpits of the lead boat. When this works well it is amazing what a tow you get and I hope we can use it effectively to share the work.

The session was 14 km and took about an hour and a half.

21 March 2006

Waterside C photos

Paddlepics caught Julien and I in action again at Waterside C but missed John and Matt.

Trying to keep in sync (click to enlarge).
Trying to keep in sync.

Slamming on the brakes as we prepare to portage the Crofton flight (click to enlarge).
Slamming on the brakes as we prepare to portage the Crofton flight.

20 March 2006

Waterside C - race report

Yesterday we competed in Waterside C, a 23 mile race from Pewsey to Newbury with 35 portages. Julien and I finished in 4 hours, 25 minutes and 34 seconds, placing 24th of 35 starters. John and Matt fared rather better placing a creditable 11th in 4 hours, 2 minutes and 37 seconds.

It was a tough race. The wind was a fresh north easterly which we were fighting hard against for at least the first 12 miles and the course included a couple of challenging features.

Firstly, the 460m long Savernake tunnel. Overtaking is not allowed in the tunnel and there were rescue crews stationed at either end. Paddling through was a slightly unnerving experience as one can hardly see the boat or the paddles, meaning that everything is done by feel and it was hard not to wobble a couple of times.

The second feature was much more of a challenge. The 'Crofton Flight' is a set of six locks in close succession over about a mile which most crews choose to portage. We simply did not have the strength to run this distance carrying the boat and so we walked most of it which was tiring and demoralising as crews who might have been slower than us on the water were busy running past us.

It took us until about halfway through the race to find a good pace which then began to make up for the two demoralising factors early on of Matt and John disappearing into the distance, and our struggles with the long portages. By the finish, however, we both felt shattered.

After feeling very upbeat about our DW prospects last week I felt disheartened as our pace over Waterside C would indicate a DW time of around twenty four hours, which is what we have been targeting. Yesterday we found it exhausting to maintain that pace for four hours, never mind twenty four.

This morning I am trying to see things in a more positive light as I firmly believe that mental attitude is the most crucial factor in DW. Yesterday we were battling a headwind and we were perhaps a bit unrealistic in our expectations. It was also the first really long paddle we have done and I think we need to pace ourselves better to be more efficient and less tired. We have a few lessons to take away and I hope we can use them on Waterside D in two weeks time.

16 March 2006

Waterside C fly through

I have made a Google Earth Tour of the Waterside C course to try and get some familiarisation ahead of Sunday's race.

There is no high resolution imagery for the first 12 miles (which I assume includes the first 19 of the 35 portages) so I have only shown way points every 3 miles, thereafter all the portages (locks) are shown in detail.


They say that when a K2 crew gets it together the boat flys. Last night Julien and I found that flying pace for the first time and it has put a spring in my step this morning.

We swapped seats in the boat and I think this was, indirectly, what got us going faster. Up until now I have been in front stroking the boat (setting the pace). When we set off last night at Julien's faster stroke rate I was initially concerned that I would not be able to maintain it but after about fifteen minutes I realised that we were flying along and that I could comfortably hold the pace as, although the rate was faster, the strokes were lighter and it actually felt easier than before.

I should have realised this sooner as I have long known the theory that a faster rate is more efficient (much like a lower gear on a bicycle) but it actually took Julien to sit in front and take the rate up for me to feel the benefit.

We paddled from Limehouse Basin up the Regent's Canal to the last lock before the tunnel at Islington and back, a distance of 13 km. I forgot to time the outbound leg but the return took 43 minutes at the same pace (5.6 mph).

Now we look forward to Waterside C on Sunday, 23 miles from Pewsey to Newbury and 35 portages (almost half of those on the DW).

15 March 2006

The Dome

Last night Matt was not feeling well so we were down to three and therefore went along to the club to paddle on the Thames in sea boats.

Low water (London Bridge) was predicted for 20:12 so we figured it would be best to go down river with the ebb and hope to get some tidal assistance on the way back after the tide turned. Unfortunately, and as previoulsy noted, tidal predictions are just predictions. We flew down to the Dome in 40 minutes but the return trip took 57. Total distance was 15km.

13 March 2006

Weights session and a run

Back to my own gym tonight and a 10 minute row (2,313m) followed by weights. Then a run on the treadmill. I could not believe how slow my pace was until it dawned on me that the machine was displaying miles. I gave up after one ~ 1.6km in about 8 minutes.

11 March 2006

Walk 5, run 15

Back to cold Blighty. A brisk walk up Mill Lane and then a 15 minute run around Partridge Green (3 km).

9 March 2006

Swim 1,500 m

  • 7 x 200 m (4 minutes each with 1 minute rest in between)
  • 1 x 100 m

8 March 2006

Swim 1,000 m and gym

  • 5 x 200 m (4 minutes each with 1 minute rest in between)
  • Weight session as before

7 March 2006

Bike and gym/run

A gentle 18 km ride along the length of the seafront promenade and back with an additional off road section above Papagayo beach. Very scenic but too many pedestrians to avoid in Playa Blanca itself.

Gym session as before with an additional 10 minute/2 km run on the treadmill.

6 March 2006

Swim 1,200 m and gym

  • 6 x 200 m (4 minutes each with 1 minute rest in between)
  • Gym session as Saturday

5 March 2006

Swim 1,000 m

I used to swim competitively years ago in school and it has always been an exercise routine that I can slip back into quite easily so, as I could not paddle on holiday, I figured swimming was the next best thing (and might even be preferable to paddling on a cold canal).

Kidney shaped pools at the Princesa Yaiza hotel

Our hotel had several very attractive kidney shaped pools which are normally awkward for swimming lengths, happily, one of them had a couple of straight edges at opposite ends about 20 m apart, making swimming up and down much easier.

Also, as the water was too cold for most of the other holidaymakers, who were merely lounging in the sun by the edge, I was the only person swimming and had no one to get in my way (normally a big problem in the gym at home or in UK public pools).

  • 280 m warm up
  • 3 x 120 m
  • 360 m

4 March 2006


A week in Playa Blanca, Lanzarote meant no paddling but, fortunately, the hotel where we stayed had a decent gym and plenty of swimming pools (it seems there is an outfit renting sit-on-tops in Playa Blanca but they were not yet ready to open for the season).

Today I did my regular weights session, substituting an elliptical crosstrainer for the rower as a warm up and a lat pull down instead of an upper back machine since the gym was not quite as well equipped as my own.

1 March 2006

K2s on the Tideway

It was low tide this evening so we decided it was time to take the K2s out on the river. We paddled from Wapping Old Stairs to some steps at the end of Emmett Street, near Canary Wharf, as this was the nearest public access we could find from the river to Limehouse Basin. We then portaged the 750m into the basin and paddled our Limehouse Loop route.

We survived the river, despite some ferry wash, but once on the canal Julien and I could not seem to get it together. He felt we were leaning right and I thought we were leaning left. We seemed to be working hard and barely moving while all the time John and Matt were getting further ahead of us.

By the time we finished the loop and carried back to the river for the final 2.5km home against the tide I think we had both had enough and it was the first training session that I could say I did not enjoy. For the first time I had a taste of how we might feel during the long night time portion of DW when we will be tired and cold and wanting to give up and go home.

Learning to deal with that low is part of the mental challenge of the event so maybe tonight was good training after all.

Our total distance was 15km, 5 on the river, 10 around the Loop. Timings were 15 minutes from Wapping to Limehouse with the tide, 1 hour 10 minutes around the Loop and 20 minutes back along the river.

Tidal predictions

Last night we paddled from THCC in sea kayaks rather than the K2s. After a few sessions in a K2 the sea boats felt slow.

Julien, John and I went to the Dome and back, a distance of 15km, taking 40 minutes out and 1 hour and 4 minutes back. The tide prediction we used indicated low water (London Bridge) at 20:15 which would have given us tidal assistance in both directions but it is at times like this that one remembers they are only predictions.

The river was flat calm and I quickly settled into a good rhythm which I felt I could have kept up indefinitely and, for once, I found myself at the front of the group while the others were making hard work of it.

It was a cold night and as I man handled my boat back on to its rack it seemed unduly slippery to my numb hands until I realised that the deck was covered in a film of ice!

27 February 2006

Commitment is...

A 06:30 Monday morning personal training session. My new gym membership included one free session with a personal trainer but this was the only time that he and I could get our schedules to meet.

I have now had an expert design and walk me through a weights and stretching routine as follows.

Warm up
Rowing machine 10 minutes (intensity 1-5 out of 10)
Standing pec stretch 1x15

Bent over rolls 3x15
Chest press machine 2x15
Upper back machine 2x15
Squats (holding ball) 3x12
Shoulder press with dumb bells 2x15
Reverse wood chop 2x15
Tricep extensions 2x15
Standing cable pull 2x15
Standing cable push 2x15

Cool down
Core - Ab routine: front, both sides, arched back, kneeling with one arm and one leg stretched out hold each for 20 secs, lying on back touch shins one at a time then both each x 15.

Stretches - shoulders, triceps, chest.

26 February 2006

Bike ride

Another 20km off-road bike ride today. 50 minutes.

23 February 2006

Gym session

An easy 30 minute weight session tonight with a little rowing for good measure.

Cold night for a swim

Well it had to happen sooner or later.

Last night we again paddled on the Regent's Canal, this time from Limehouse Basin to the tunnel at Islington and back (13.5km). It took 1 hour, 38 minutes but might have been quicker had I not fallen in.

We had been getting quite enthusiastic about our portages, leaping in and out of the boats and running around the locks. At one such exit I over did the leaping out part, standing up too quickly in the boat I felt the hull flex dramatically and, afraid that I was going to put my foot through it, I hesitated, wobbled, windmilled and fell in.

Luckily for him, Julien was already out of the boat at this point so I did not take him with me. Luckily for me, the water was only chest deep and I was wearing chest high dry trousers.

22 February 2006

Caught on camera

I was a little disappointed on Sunday that we had no support crew to get some photos of us in our first race. Today I discovered that Craig Hill of Marsport is also a photographer and covered the event. Flicking through his shots, which give an excellent picture of the race, I was delighted to find he had caught us in action.

Myself and Julien in action at Waterside A

Limehouse Loop

Last night we tried out a new training route around the East End that was suggested to us by BADCC. It is a 10km canal circuit starting and ending at Limehouse Basin (convenient for our base at Wapping).

It offers a very different perspective on London from our usual Thames paddles. Whereas the city makes way for the river, keeping a distance, the canal cuts through and under it at much closer quarters. This makes for a fascinating urban paddle, especially at night.

We started at Limehouse Basin and headed North along the Regent's Canal as far as Victoria Park, where the circuit turns right, running along the southern edge of the park via the Hertford Union Canal. Then it is right again on to the Lee Navigation and, finally, right on to Limehouse Cut returning to Limehouse Basin.

It took us one hour and five minutes from putting in to taking out including several portages, which we ran. As with Waterside A, I made a quick Google Earth Tour of the route.

21 February 2006

Waterside A from the air

Start/finish at Newbury (right click to save the Google Earth .kmz file)I had an idea that it might be worthwhile checking out D-W portages with Google Earth to try and gain some familiarity with the course.

My first experiment was to create this Tour, a virtual fly-by of the Waterside A course we paddled on Sunday, showing all 17 portages (right click to download the Google Earth .kmz file, double click and it will open open in GE - don't have GE? Shame on you. Go get it).

Luckily, almost the entire D-W course, except the first few miles from Devizes, is covered by high resoloution imagery so this may prove a useful (and certainly fun) tool.

20 February 2006

Rankings that can only improve

Today I did about forty five minutes of weight training at the gym followed by 2,000m on the ergo machine, in a time of 8 minutes, 14.2 seconds.

I love the ergo machine for its onboard computer and real time stats but especially for the online community at Concept 2, the makers of, what I gather is, the 'world standard' rowing machine.

The site offers a lively forum, a personal log book and a rankings board. Naturally, I have registered so I can track my rowing and compare myself with other users. Tonight's 2,000m 'piece' - in the parlance - is the most typical standard distance and ranks 993 of 1184, or 84%. It will be interesting to see how I can improve it and I am sure the online logbook and ranking will help with motivation.

19 February 2006

First race

Today Julien and I competed in 'Waterside A', the first of the four Waterside races organised, in the run up to D-W, by Newbury Canoe Club.

We were not entirely sure what to expect but we both thoroughly enjoyed the 13 mile race (including 17 portages). We finished in 2 hours, 18 minutes and 59 seconds, placing 20th out of 27 in our class. Not a fantastic time but it felt respectable for our first attempt.

After the race we both felt quite comfortable and wondered if we should not have tried to push a bit harder but equally we were glad to feel we could have kept going. Of course, 13 miles is only about 10% of the distance we will have to do in D-W itself. Frightening.

15 February 2006

Getting comfy

Tonight John and I took one of the new boats out. We decided we were not yet ready to take it on the river and opted instead for a 400m strech of orphaned canal in Wapping. This proved ideal as we were able to simply spend an hour and a half getting used to the boat, paddling up and down, adjusting seating positions and practicing our portage technique.

By the end of the evening I was feeling perfectly comfortable and I am now looking forward to using it in anger on Sunday at Waterside A.

14 February 2006


We have boats!

Until today, lack of boats has been an ever growing concern as the second hand market seems very tight and the few boats that we have seen have tended to be on the tippy side. New boats were not an option due to both the cost, and the 8-10 week lead time required to have them built.

Between us we have been contacting everyone we can think of to find a solution to this problem and late last week we had an offer from a neighbouring club to borrow a pair of boats. It seemed too good to be true but tonight we went along to meet them and, after a quick 5km acclimatisation paddle, we drove home with two 'Stratos' K2's on the roof of Matt's car.

Barking and Dagenham Canoe Club have been kind enough to loan us the boats. After our brief trial tonight they seem to be ideal in that they are proper racing K2s but with a high volume and stability which will be eminently suitable for novice marathon paddlers like us. We really cannot thank the guys at BADCC enough.

13 February 2006

Ergo interval training

Joined the gym today and got to work on the rowing machine:

4 x 5 minutes
4 x 4 minutes
4 x 3 minutes

12 February 2006

Swim 1000m

Today was a 'rest' day so just a gentle swim to keep the body ticking over.

11 February 2006

Passing ships

Two Kleppers at Canary WharfOut early this morning for another run in the Klepper, this time John and I paddled from Wapping Old Stairs to Greenwich and back. Passing Cuckold's Point we met Matt and a pal of his from Newcastle. They were off on a sightseeing tour to Hammersmith where they planned to fold up the boat (another Klepper) and get the train home.

We made Greenwich in about 50 minutes and back to Wapping in 33. Total distance was 12km.

8 February 2006

The Dome

Millenium DomeTonight we paddled the 16km to The Dome and back, as last night, the wind was against the tide and a lot of effort went into steering through the waves. We held a good pace making it there against the tide in 61 minutes and back with the tide, but against the wind, in 50.

Funnily enough, I felt it most in my legs rather than my arms and shoulders but I think it was down to being a bit cramped in the boat rather than any hard pedalling action.

7 February 2006

Increasing the distance

Tonight we spent a good two hours on the water, paddling from Shadwell Basin to Greenwich and back and then the other way to Tower Bridge and back again. Splits were SB to Greenwich:43 minutes, Greenwich to SB: 35 minutes, SB to TB: 16 minutes and TB to SB: 20 minutes. Total distance was 14km.

The wind was a strong westerly blowing against the flooding tide so the river was quite bouncy and it was very hard to get a decent rhythm going. Crossing the river at Greenwich was very wet and I would not have fancied being in a K2.

5 February 2006

20km off-road bike ride

Probably not as good as running but much more fun. I rode on the Downslink from Partridge Green to Southwater and back and enjoyed a beautiful sunset behind Chanctonbury Ring. It took 57 minutes.

4 February 2006

Tippy boats

Today we went to Marsport in Reading to try some K2s as we wanted to get a feel for just how tippy they are before bidding for one on eBay. I have previously wondered whether I might find the Nordkapp, my dream sea kayak, too tippy. I need not have worried. It is a barge.

Marsport and Kirton, the two main UK manufacturers of racing 'K' boats, grade their craft on a scale of 1 to 10 for tippiness, with 10 being the most stable. We tried a Condor (stability rating 8) and a Toucan (stability rating 5).

I had assumed that the Condor would present no problems but the first time I got in it I felt like I was walking a tight rope. A few minutes later, and feeling a bit more relaxed, I had a second go and found it much more comfortable. After a couple of hundred meters and a portage practice I could see us doing the DW in it (with some reservations about training on the Tideway). We then tried the less stable Toucan, again this felt very wobbly at first but I imagine I could get used to it.

Our biggest problem now is getting hold of two boats, never mind choosing what we would like, as there seem to be precious few secondhand ones available. Even if we were to order new ones there is a ten week lead time which means we would only have them in time for Waterside D, a mere two weeks before DW.

3 February 2006

Walk 5, run 10

Pathetic I know but I am no runner. I hope to build this up over the next few weeks to running 20 minutes three times a week so it is a start.

Let the training commence

Last night was my first proper training paddle for DW and the beginning of a new routine. We do not yet have K2s so our training vessel was a Klepper (this is how the early crews did the race when it started in the 1950s)!

It was my first time paddling in a double and the Klepper is hard to move, especially against an ebbing spring tide. We made it from Wapping Old Stairs, by The Town of Ramsgate pub, to Lambeth Bridge in a respectable 57 minutes and back with the tide in 27, a distance of about 5.5km each way. This was only slightly further than our regular Tuesday night paddles (10km) but it felt like much harder work which I guess is the difference between doing it in a sea kayak and a Klepper.

On the way home the endorphins kicked in and I began to feel like an athlete in training for something big.

Doing the DW

I remember hearing about the Devizes to Westminster canoe race when I was about fifteen and thinking it would be a fantastic challenge. At the time I was obsessed with paddling but I was miles away from either Devizes or Westminster and I simply did not have the logistical resources or support to do it.

Since taking up kayaking again on the Thames it has been in the back of my mind and last year I got as far as downloading the entry form. This year, however, over a few post paddle pints, four of us from THCC hatched a plan to do it for real. I was not ready to commit to it just then but over the following few days I could not get it out of my mind and last week I made the decision to do it.

I am both terrified and exhilarated. It is an absolutely daunting prospect, 125 miles non-stop paddling through the night taking twenty four hours or more. We have a very short time to prepare, the race is run over the Easter weekend (15/16 April), and there is much training and planning to do. If we can pull it off though it will be one of life's great accomplishments and the fulfilment of a twenty two year ambition.

Needless to say, I will be blogging our progress.