12 October 2010

Temple Steps

HW LB 17:22 6.5m

Six boats, ladder launch, departed 19:25. Strong ebb. Big wake following a Clipper through Arch 2 of Blackfriars Bridge as Arch 1 closed. Reached Temple Steps c. 20:15. Returned Shadwell at 21:05, some headwind on return leg.

20 November 2007

Slow out, fast home

Ten of us went to Greenwich tonight taking it gently on the way and then splitting into two groups of five for the return leg. We in the 'fast' group kept a good pace and the return took about 25 minutes compared to 50 minutes on the way out (mainly due to having the tide with us).

There was a lot of traffic and we encountered some quite choppy conditions on the way back in Limehouse Reach as two fast ferries passed at the same time in opposite directions.

9 October 2007

There and back again

A relatively unremarkable paddle tonight. We set off from the beach by The Prospect of Whitby with the water fairly low and headed up river against the last of the ebb. We crossed the river at Tower Bridge and paddled as far as Gabriel's Wharf before turning around and returning to Wapping and a muddy landing just around slack water.

Paddlers: 7
Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

2 October 2007

Ladder launch

High water London Bridge at 18:39 meant no beach to launch from so we launched, one at a time, via the step ladder just outside Shadwell Basin. It took nearly fifteen minutes to get nine boats on the water and it was 19:15 by the time we set off up river.

We crossed to the Surrey side in front of Tower Bridge enjoying a good ferry glide across the quickly building ebb tide. The pace was leisurely, at least for the regulars, as we regrouped several times to let everyone catch up.

We picked it up a little on the way back as the tide made easy going for everyone and returned to Shadwell Basin at about 20:45.

The gentle pace meant I had plenty of time to chat, look around and enjoy the view.

25 September 2007

Canary Wharf and a tsunami

A lovely paddle on the Thames tonight from Wapping past Canary Wharf to Greenwich and back. The moon was spectacular and the river seemed calm and serene until out of nowhere the tsunami hit us.

I heard a shout of 'wave' and looked over my shoulder to find Canary Wharf obscured by a wall of water. The wake from a fast ferry had reared up suddenly over the shallows while we were idly chatting but, for the sake of the one member of the party who it got the better of, we'll remember it as the Canary Wharf Tsunami!

Moon over Canary Wharf (click to enlarge)

Six paddlers, 10km, 1hr30.

29 August 2007

Standing waves at London Bridge

I have heard that at certain states of tide a standing wave forms just down river from London Bridge, where the river is shallow. Until now, I had never seen much more than a single small wave near the bridge's support columns but last night was the real thing.

A group of seven of us set off from Wapping at 19:00 and headed towards Westminster, as low water London Bridge was predicted for 21:34. At Tower Bridge we crossed the river to the Surrey (south) side and as we paddled close to the bank from Hayes Galleria to London Bridge we noticed significant waves in the centre of the channel. There was a lot of river traffic about, however, and we assumed this was just wash. We continued our trip as far as a small sandy beach just shy of Waterloo Bridge where we usually stop for a five minute break before turning around.

When we paddle back with the tide we usually keep a little further out in the channel to make the most of the flow so when we came under London Bridge we found that the waves we had seen earlier were still there and we were right in the middle of them. We enjoyed a roller coaster ride through a wave train from the bridge to London Bridge City Pier that was rather like paddling through a small tide race.

The time was about an hour before low water and there was a slight easterly wind which probably helped to hold the waves up.

18 July 2007

Gabriel's Wharf and the Taj Mahal

Six of us turned out last night for a hard paddle into wind and against a fast ebb to Gabriel's Wharf. The wind was in the south west so we crossed to the Surrey (south) side of the river at Tower Bridge and found a bit of shelter but still had to work hard against the tide which was about and hour and a half into the ebb from a 6.9m HW level, so quite strong. We reached our destination in 46 minutes strung out like Tour riders on a mountain stage and were ready for a rest.

We encountered some strong gusts on the way back and I had to clench my fists and hang on to my paddles a few times.

As we approached Tower Bridge we noticed it was raised but didn't quite get there in time to pass underneath the open span, although we did see an old Thames barge come through.

Tower Bridge closed just before we got there (click to enlarge)

The journey back took 26 minutes but would have been a little quicker had we not been held up waiting for traffic before crossing back to Wapping. One of the things I love about paddling on the Tideway is that no trip is the same and one always sees something a bit different. Tonight it was this replica of the Taj Mahal being towed down river. It was a puzzle at the time but when I went home later in the evening I saw it again on the news and learned that it was a promotion for the start of the India Now festival taking place over the next three months.

Taj Mahal replica floats down the Thames to promote the India Now festival (click to enlarge)

4 July 2007

Thunder storms

Yesterday was Wimbledon weather so only four of us turned out ready for a paddle on the river. It was a strongly ebbing tide and quite hard work paddling against it to Temple Steps. It was not made any easier by the heavy river traffic and wash although this did add some excitement, particularly as a police launch sped by - the river is not exempt from security alerts - creating very turbulent conditions.

We made Temple Steps in 44 minutes and the return journey took 26 (10 km round trip).

Thunder storms over Canary Wharf

23 May 2007

Lovely evening on the Thames

The City from the South Bank (click to enlarge).
The City from the South Bank
Last night was a beautiful early summer evening and perfect for a jaunt up river to Waterloo Bridge. The tide was ideal as it had just started to ebb as we set off at 19:10 giving us very little flow to work against on the way out but increasing in time to help us home.

The summer weather brings out the river traffic and we had plenty of wash to liven things up and even a few little surfs.

Paddlers: 13
Time out: 50:00
Time back: 30:00

8 May 2007

Windy paddle to Temple steps

I have not been out on the river for a while and tonight was as windy as I can remember it so the paddle to Temple steps and back felt like a good work out.

On the way back we investigated a cruise ship, Vistamar, moored in the Pool of London.

Cruise ship, Vistamar in the pool of London (click to enlarge).

Seven of us made the trip which took 52 minutes out against wind and tide and 27 minutes back for a round trip distance of 10km.

3 April 2007

Sea trials

Tonight I tried out a new boat. A couple of months ago I picked up a bargain basement sea kayak, a Valley Nordkapp. It is the boat I have always fancied but it was by accident that I came across this particular one at 20+ years old and in need of some TLC. It was going cheap so I took a punt on it.


After a little tidiyng up, including new hatches and decklines, I took it for a test paddle on Shadwell Basin. I still have some work to do on it but I was pleased with both the handling and the lack of any major leaks.

The evening had been set aside by the regular sea kayakers in the club for rescue practices and I was happy to join in but , boy, is the water cold.

13 February 2007

Rainy trip to Greenwich

A tough paddle against the tide tonight to Greenwich. The weather was wet and the river was rolling with some sizeable swell. Passing Deptford we were overtaken by a large tug and this produced the biggest wash I have seen on the river. I was afraid that the resultant clapotis might catch out some of the group, who were hugging the bank to cheat the tide, but they were fine and seemed to enjoy the thrill.

Eight of us made the 10km round trip.

25 January 2007

Never too cold

The phone rang just as I was heading for the river on Tuesday. I answered it but explained that I would have to call back as I was going kayaking. My friend on the other end was incredulous: but surely its too cold? on the Thames? at night? is that safe? I often get this reaction and sometimes I have to push myself to get out paddling on a cold winter evening but it is always worth the effort.

Tuesday was no exception, eight of us paddled from Wapping to Waterloo Bridge and back. We were well wrapped up for the cold but by the time we had expended some energy working against the tide to Tower Bridge we already felt over dressed.

On nights like this, when the tide is ebbing strongly, we often cross the river here to paddle against the slower current on the inside bend rather than sticking to the river right convention (we are small enough and close enough to the bank to keep out of the way of other traffic). Ferry gliding across the powerful current in the flood lights of Tower Bridge was exhilarating and soon we were sneaking along the south bank close to the shore where the water is slack.

After a good workout we paused just shy of Waterloo Bridge. A few minutes of inactivity reminded us of the freezing temperature and we promptly set off on the tidally assisted return journey.

Paddling back under the red glow of London Bridge, slipping past HMS Belfast unnoticed like Cockleshell Heroes and leaving the City through Tower Bridge I relished the experience of winter kayaking in this unique location.

10 January 2007

Windy trip to Gabriel's Wharf

After a low turnout last week we were back to full strength last night when a group of nine from THCC set out from Wapping towards Westminster into a strong head wind and ebbing tide. We crossed to the Surrey (south) bank in front of Tower Bridge, ferry gliding across the powerful current to the more sheltered water on the other side. It was still hard work battling the wind and tide and it took a good fifty minutes to reach Gabriel's Wharf. The return journey flew by in about half that time.

3 January 2007

New year's paddle

Convoys Wharf redevelopmentLast night was the first paddle of the year and a good start to 2007. Despite a low turn out at THCC, four of us were game for a trip to Greenwich and back.

We set off against what London VTS rather poetically described as the 'young flood' and made Greenwich in about 45 minutes. On the way I noticed that part of the rather decrepit Convoys Wharf appeared to have sunk since I was last there. Apparently it is about to be redeveloped by the Richard Rogers Partnership. This is good news for us as it should mean more yuppies and less stone throwers!

We powered back to Wapping in about 30 minutes and I felt as though I had made the first steps in overcoming the Christmas bloat.

7 December 2006

Christmas paddle

Tuesday was the annual THCC Christmas paddle to Tower Bridge. This year we had a total of 55 boats on the water which was quite an impressive sight.

Two groups set off from Wapping, the first comprising those experienced enough to make the trip on their own (21) and a second larger group (34) with all the club's coaches and more experienced paddlers shepherding the novices. It was quite an organisational feat and, despite a little bit of a delay getting started, everything went smoothly and we all enjoyed mulled wine and mince pies on the beach in front of The Tower. We then caught the last of the ebb for an easy ride home.

Total distance: 4km
Coaching hours: 2
Coaches: 2 x L3, 5 x L2

11 August 2006


Tuesday's tidal prediction indicated low water at 20:08 so we expected tidal assistance in both directions on an extended trip to the Dome and back (15km).

Unfortunately, while we had a good strong flow to help us get there, the tide did not turn in time to help us back. At least it was a good workout.

Ten of us made the trip which took 45 minutes on the way out and an hour to get back.

26 July 2006

Back on the river

After a few weeks absence I was glad to get back on the river last night. Five of us paddled to Temple Steps and by the time we got as far as Tower Bridge we were all out in a sweat, despite being in our lightest paddling gear. The hot weather had also fuelled the growth of green algae so water quality was not great.

The Thames is one of the best places to be in London on a beautiful summer evening like last night and the riverside pubs of the South Bank were overflowing. I could sense a lot of people watching us as we paddled past on our way back to Wapping and, as well as the usual curiosity, I suspect there was more than a little envy in their gaze.

7 June 2006

Sundown behind the City

Last night was a beautiful evening for a paddle on the Thames and, as it was a neap flooding tide, we took the opportunity to invite some of the club's newer 2 star paddlers along to gain some river experience. Two groups, totalling 16, made the trip from Wapping to Greenwich and back - the largest number I can remember for a regular Tuesday night club paddle

We paddled leisurely, savouring the privilege of being out on the river under our own steam and taking about an hour to get to Greenwich and forty five minutes for the return leg of the 10km round trip.

On the way back we enjoyed the spectacular site of the sun going down behind the Swiss Re tower and the skyline of the City. We were also shamed by a small boy whose football had fallen into the river below a high embankment. Despite many attempts, no one had a strong enough throw to get it back up to him. More polo practice is definitely required!

30 May 2006

A good workout

Tonight was a tough paddle for three of us against a strong wind and tide to Westminster (Savoy Pier). We had to work very hard on the way, particulalrly under some of the bridges, taking 50 minutes to get there. Julien set a fast pace on the return journey and we encountered some sizeable waves between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. The tide and wind certainly helped us though as we made it back in only 25 minutes.

23 May 2006

Busy river

A large group of eleven of us made the trip to Greenwich. On the way we met another of our club members who was out on the river with some children from Deptford who he was teaching to handle a RIB. After a brief chat they made several fast passes in front of us to try and generate some waves but the boat seemed a bit under powered for the job.

The river is getting busier as summer approaches and on the way back we had to steer clear of a number of ferries, dinner cruises and our own sailors from Shadwell.

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.

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.

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


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).

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!

23 February 2006

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

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.

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.

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.

3 February 2006

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.

1 February 2006

Temple Steps

Last night eight paddlers set off from THCC to Temple Steps, we took it leisurely and made a few stops on the way taking 50 minutes to get there. On the way back we had a slight headwind, it was not strong enough to slow us down much but it did feel very cold. The return trip took 30 minutes.

25 January 2006

Two Star river trip

I normally leave work at 6:00 pm on a Tuesday evening to be in good time for my weekly club paddle. Last night, at around 6:15 pm, I realised that I was artificially busying myself with 'urgent' calls and emails that I had been subconsciously putting off all afternoon so that I would be too late to go paddling on this freezing cold evening. Mentally giving myself a slap in the face, I grabbed my kit bag and ran for the bus, as always, it was worth the effort.

I was on coaching duty and not looking forward to a lot of sitting still on Shadwell Basin. Luckily, nobody else fancied that either and, as all those who wanted to paddle were of at least Two Star standard, we decided on a river trip instead (our club rules were recently relaxed to allow 'Two Stars' to paddle on the Thames providing they buddy up with a 'Three Star').

A group of five regular river paddlers set off ahead of us leaving eleven including three 'Two Stars' for whom it was their first time paddling this far on the river (the 10 km to Greenwich and back took us two hours). They all seemed to enjoy the opportunity to do something other than practising strokes on the Basin and I think they gained confidence paddling on the Thames in the dark and cold, which can be an intimidating environment.

18 January 2006

Temple Steps

Last night was unseasonally mild and nine of us took to the river to paddle upstream against the ebbing tide.

Passing Tower Pier we were hailed by an RNLI lifeboat man and I stopped for a brief chat. He turned out to be a kayaker but confessed that he had not had his Nordkapp in the water for nine months, I suspect he was a little envious of our excursion.

Once we reached London Bridge we began to feel the full effect of the fast ebb and there was even a standing wave of about 40cm a little further up river, under the centre of Cannon Street railway bridge. I found a good paddling rhythm and made steady progress but I was ready for a breather by the time I reached the eddy behind Temple steps.

While we waited for the last members of the group a police launch passed on the other side of the fairway heading down river at speed, anticipating the wash and the clapotis from the wall that runs along the north bank of the river all along Kings Reach, we instinctively moved away from the steps. Our instincts were correct. The rebounding wake resulted in some very dramatic clapotis giving us a little entertainment before we headed back to Wapping.

4 January 2006

Seeing in the new year

The first paddle of 2006, last night, was a gentle run up to South Bank returning on the Middlesex (north) side of the river to get a slightly different perspective than usual. The weather was mild for January and numbers were down to the lowest for quite a while (5).

7 December 2005

HP source

Last night we paddled against a strong ebbing tide a little further than normal to the London Eye, affording a superb view of the flood lit Houses of Parliament. I really enjoyed the trip and found myself getting a very efficient and comfortable stroke rhythm going which I felt as though I could have kept up for hours.

Afterwards I enjoyed ham, egg and chips with HP sauce, of course, in the Prospect of Whitby!

6 December 2005

The Swale

Map of the Swale
Saturday saw a group of eleven paddlers from THCC get out on the Swale estuary in Kent.

The forecast was for quite strong south westerlies with showers and the risk of a thunderstorm. On the whole the location was quite sheltered but we did experience one ferocious squall as we headed back up the estuary to the Harty Ferry Inn on the Isle of Sheppey for lunch. We were paddling into a force 3-4 already and we could see some menacing dark weather coming towards us. All of a sudden the squall was upon us and it was as if a switch had been thrown. The waves quickly grew in size and white crests appeared all around us, we battled ahead straight into the wind barely moving forward, despite some tidal assistance. After about ten minutes the squall passed as quickly as it had arrived and we were rewarded with a hearty lunch!

In the afternoon the sun came out and we explored Oare creek, returning to the very convenient access point at Harty Ferry South just before sunset.

23 November 2005

Winter sport

I felt cold last night setting off from Wapping towards Westminster but after ten minutes paddling against the tide I had warmed up and was taking off my hat and unzipping my cag.

It had been a cold day and my colleagues were aghast seeing me head off to paddle on the river after work but one of the great advantages of kayaking is that it is a year round pursuit (unlike some of my other hobbies). In fact, if I ever feel it is too cold to go out paddling here in London I have only to think of Nigel Dennis et al in South Georgia and it will feel a bit warmer!

17 November 2005

Well timed tide

Tuesday saw a great turn out on the river, despite the falling temperature. Fifteen of us made the trip to Greenwich and back, all but one of us in sea boats. We had the tide with us in both directions as it turned, very conveniently, at about 19:40 just as we were arriving at Greenwich making for an easy paddle in both directions.

14 November 2005


Margate sunset
On Saturday a group from THCC headed for the north Kent coast and after a bit of car shuffling set off from the beach in front of the Continental Hotel in Whitstable at 12:15. We could not have asked for much better weather, given the time of year: the wind was a gentle south westerly of about force 2 and the sea was calm. We also had the ebbing tide helping us along and made quick progress despite an unhurried pace.

Our first stop was to explore the remains of the pier about 1 km off-shore Herne Bay, we then paddled on, landing on the beach just to the east of the ruined church towers at Reculver for lunch. After lunch we made for Margate and got there in the dark at about 16:45 having enjoyed a spectacular sunset behind us with the silhouette of the ruined church towers adding a dramatic element to the view.

Total distance was about 25km.

2 November 2005

To The Orient

Last night we paddled a surprisingly calm river all the way to the eastern hemisphere - not quite as far as it sounds.

There is a dramatic green laser beam shooting over the river at Greenwich marking the meridian which has apparently been there since December 1999 but its the first time I had seen it. Trying to paddle underneath it was a bit like chasing a rainbow but we did eventually get past it and across the meridian.

22 October 2005

On Baker Pond

Lower Baker Pond, NHLower Baker Pond, New Hampshire at 9:15 this morning - perhaps not the most exciting spot to paddle but it was delightful none the less. The temperature was just below freezing and there were wisps of fog blowing over the surface of the water as the sun tried to break through. We paddled around the pond exploring all the nooks and crannies, drinking in the cold crisp air and the beautiful fall colors all around us.

5 October 2005


As we set off from Shadwell Basin towards Westminster London VTS advised us to steer clear of the morning's diesel spill at Cherry Garden Pier, halfway between Wapping and Tower Bridge on the Surrey (south) side of the river. We were actually eager to see the wreck but there was not much visible, the smell of diesel though was apparent all the way to Gabriel's Wharf and back, or maybe it is always there and we were just more sensitive to it.

2 October 2005

Level 2 coach training

I spent last weekend doing this training course with Kayakojacko on the Thames at Chiswick. I was not quite sure what to expect but hoped it would be fun and I was not disappointed.

We spent Saturday morning going over our own technique and getting an introduction to how to teach others the paddle strokes which most of us do without thinking. The instructors gave us some useful tools for breaking down the strokes and for working with novices to pass them on. For example, the 'IDEAS' framework whereby the coach gives an Introduction to the stroke explaining when it is used and why it is important followed by a Demonstration, an Explanation of the components of the stroke, some practice Activity for the students and then a Summary. It sounds obvious but it very quickly gave us a template that helped develop teaching routines for each of the strokes.

Over lunch we talked about some coaching philosophies including the complimentary use of coach centred and student centred learning with an emphasis on the value of the later, for example, by setting up a game that helps to teach the student a technique on their own.

In the afternoon we tried some scenarios involving coming up with ways to teach a stroke to a blind or deaf paddler which gave us some insights about how to use sound and touch in creative ways.

After the obligatory rescue practice, we got warm and dry before sitting down to plan a coaching session for the next day. We had no real novices to coach, so the plan was to split into groups with each group taking responsibility for planning and running an hour's worth of training for the others with the emphasis on safety, fun and learning.

Our group was on first and had the job of getting people kitted out then doing a warm up and safety briefing before getting them on the water and giving some instruction in forward paddling. I think we were all a little nervous but the previous day's planning really helped to give us a structure to work to and the session ran smoothly. After everyone had taken their turn at running a different part of a marathon coaching session we had lunch and a debrief.

The debriefing took the form of a group session followed by individual sessions for each of us with the team of instructors and it proved to be a very valuable part of the course, particularly the peer feedback on our coaching performance. I think we all learned a lot that might otherwise have taken many coaching sessions working on our own to figure out.

Before the course I had wondered how I was going to learn to be a coach in a weekend and was unsure about how I could teach good technique without a lot of technical knowledge. I have come away with a greater confidence in my own technique and a lot of tools to use in my coaching. I can now see how, over the next few months, I can use this experience to become a coach.

Many thanks to Jacko, Julie and Chris for their enthusiasm and commitment to coaching which made for a first class course.

14 September 2005

Dark river

I paddled to Greenwich and back last night. By the time we got there it was fully dark (at least to the extent that it gets dark in London). The river seems very different at night and I enjoyed the change of scenery but no doubt the novelty will wear off once the temeprature dops.

11 September 2005

Canoe Safety Test

The BCU's Canoe Safety Test is a prerequisite for doing a training course to become a (Level 2) coach. I had some practical difficulties in getting a test organised but was very pleased with the guys at Southwater Watersports who were able to run one for me at very short notice.

Doing the course one on one meant we were able to zip through the training, much of which was quite familiar, and get on to the assessment which involved a few rescues and dealing with an 'emergency' (rescuing a kayaker with a dislocated shoulder).

Despite the familiarity of most of the material I did learn a bit more about safety equipment including the, sometimes tricky, art of using a throwline.

3 September 2005

Mud and shopping trolleys

A gentle paddle in the sunshine today from Wapping to Greenwich with a detour up Deptford Creek.

The creek is said to be only navigable a short way up and then only a couple of hours either side of high tide, of course kayaks can probably get in on anything but a spring low tide. Having done it once though I would not rush back. The tide was low and the creek was half mud, half stagnant oily water dotted with navigational hazards like shopping trolleys and abandoned bicycles poking out of the mud.

When we got back out on to the Thames the river felt positively clean by comparison!

31 August 2005


Deptford sphere sculpture (click to enlarge).An abbreviated paddle this week, to Deptford as we were taking some newer paddlers on the river in short boats.

We stopped at this sculpture which I have paddled past many times before, always meaning to find out more about it. According to one of the more knowledgeable members of the group last night it represents Sir Francis Drake's circumnavigation in 1577-80, the route of which is marked with red dots (only visible to us kayakers who can paddle right up to it). Drake was knighted at Deptford Docks by Queen Elizabeth I.

A little Googling reveals that the sculpture is by the artist Chris Marshall.

24 August 2005

Spring tides

Yesterday's paddle coincided with the middle of the powerful ebb tide on springs and made for a good workout. As usual when the tide is ebbing we paddled against the flow to Temple Steps and back with it to Shadwell Basin.

The outward journey took us 43 minutes and the return 24 minutes (the distance is 9.5 km according to Google Earth).

10 August 2005

Shadwell Basin to Temple Steps

Paddled to Temple Steps and back again last night. We were against a strong-ish current most of the way but it was especially noticeable how this varies from place to place.

Under the bridges is always a good spot for a strong flow: Tower Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, London Bridge - to a lesser extent - and, most notably, between Canon Street railway Bridge and Southwark Bridge. Perhaps it is because these later two bridges are so close together and the river is quite constricted but the flow was very strong and produced some big waves.

3 August 2005

Nutter in a bath tub

Tim FitzHigham rowing a bath tub (click to enlarge).
During a leisurely paddle to Greenwich and back last night we met Tim FitzHigham rowing a bathtub. He said he had come from France and that he was on his way to Tower Bridge. We were skeptical at first but a quick web search this morning confirmed it.

20 July 2005

See The World - at Greenwich

Residential cruise ship, The WorldEnjoyed a good paddle to Greenwich and back last night. Despite being a large group, we paddled fast and I was able to get into a really good rhythm.

I have been experimenting with different paddle blades and finding that a smaller blade with a faster stroke rate suits me well so I am looking forward to trying the Greenland paddle that I am currently carving.

The residential cruise ship, The World, was tied up at Greenwich. I think if I had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a luxury apartment on board I would demand a more exotic berth.

18 July 2005

Solent crossing

Lepe to Newton Bay (click to enlarge).
On Sunday we made a crossing to the Isle of Wight, setting off from the beach at Lepe and landing at Newton Bay. The conditions were even calmer than the previous day and I enjoyed overtaking yachts which were drifting with the current with all sail up hoping to catch a breath of wind!

On this trip we practiced using tidal stream vectors to navigate across the Solent taking into account the tidal stream of about 1.6 knots. To my surprise, paddling on the calculated bearing brought us to within ten metres of the buoy that we had selected as a destination.

After a leisurely lunch we paddled back across to our launch point, again using a bearing to offset the tidal stream and with similarly accurate results. We then spent some time getting wet practising rolls and rescues and enjoying the warm water before packing up to face the traffic back to London.

Total trip distance was 16 km.

Calshot to Buckler's Hard and back

Calshot to Buckler's Hard (click to enlarge).
It has been ages since I had a chance to get off the river and paddle at sea but at the weekend a group from our club made a trip to Calshot, near Southampton.

On Saturday we paddled from Calshot out into The Solent, past Lepe and on up the Beaulieu River, where we stopped for lunch at Buckler's Hard before heading back the way we had come.

Coffee break at Lepe (click to enlarge).
I normally think of sea kayaking as a way to get away from it all but this was certainly not the case in The Solent on a sunny Saturday in July! We kept clear of the shipping channel and most of the yachts but inevitably suffered from a bit of jet ski and power boat noise pollution.

The trip was mostly a very gentle paddle but we did enjoy catching some waves on the way back as the wind had increased to a Force 4.

Total distance was 28km.

13 July 2005

Bumpy river

The river was behaving strangely last night as we paddled from Shadwell Basin to Temple steps against the current. It was only an hour or so after high tide but there was a very strong flow and the water seemed to be quite confused with waves coming at us from all angles. It made for quite a challenging paddle, at least on the outward journey, and we were able to catch a few waves and surf now and then.

At Temple Steps the river police pulled over to say hello - one of them is a club member so knows us well - they then cut across the river at speed just as we were crossing in a futile attempt to tip us in!

As usual, under such conditions, the return journey was a breeze and we flew home with the tide.

8 July 2005

New York paddling

Chelsea Piers from the Hudson (click to enlarge).
I missed my regular Tuesday paddle on the Thames this week but made up for it by paddling on the Hudson river in New York City instead.

A few months ago I heard about the Manhattan Kayak Company in a podcast and made a mental note that if I ever found myself in New York on business with a spare evening I would look them up. That is what happened this week and I was delighted not to miss out on paddling, as I normally do, because of a business trip.

The paddle itself was a little slow paced and we did not get very far down river from MKC's HQ at Pier 63 as their trips are open to anyone and we had some novices along. I did not mind that too much though as it was such a novel experience to paddle in New York.

We were a bit unlucky with the water quality as there had been some thunderstorms on Tuesday night and another just before we got on the water. Eric Stiller, the owner, told me how the Manhattan drainage system has a limited capacity to handle rain water and in these circumstances drainage overflows into the Hudson bringing with it all manner of gunk, debris and foul smells. He reassured me that this was about as bad as it gets and that the river is normally very clean. It all sounded too familiar.

If I had more time in New York I would like to take one of their longer trips, perhaps out to the Statue of Liberty. Next time.

30 June 2005

Thunder and lightning

We witnessed a spectacular storm on Tuesday night during our regular club paddle from Shadwell Basin to Temple Steps. The wind and rain made the conditions a bit more interesting than usual and we all enjoyed the unusually large waves resulting from the wind against tide as we returned through The Pool of London.

22 June 2005

Summer solstice paddle

Twelve of us enjoyed a paddle to the South Bank just short of Waterloo Bridge last night. The tide was surprisingly strong given that it was only an hour before low water, so the outbound journey was relatively hard work but it did make the return very easy going. The Druids in the party even managed a stop off at the Founders Arms, by the Tate Modern, for a pint to celebrate the solstice.

15 June 2005

Gabriel's Wharf

Gabriel's Wharf (click for more)Eleven of us paddled to Gabriel's Wharf last night, having crossed to the "Surrey" side of the river under Tower Bridge (we normally follow river rules and keep right). We had a brief rest on the small sandy beach that was exposed there, the tide being just after high water, and salivated over the smell of pizza from the two restaurants immediately above us.

The journey back seemed to fly by as we paddled with the current, or maybe it was just the new club paddles making things easier!

1 June 2005

New boats

Christened the club's new plastic Avocet last night on a river trip to Greenwich. It was nice to paddle and felt very manoeuvrable, I am looking forward to trying the new Aquanaut too, maybe next week.

25 May 2005

Strawberries and champagne

Another leisurely paddle last night, to Temple Steps this week. On the way back we stopped off next to the Golden Hinde to celebrate Alison's birthday with a picnic of strawberries and champagne on the river bank.

18 May 2005

Greenwich cruise

MS Deutschland (click to enlarge)I enjoyed a gentle outing to Greenwich last night. The neap tide meant that it was easy paddling on relatively smooth water and the eight of us who made the trip from THCC enjoyed a beautiful clear and sunny spring evening on the river.

On our way to Greenwich we passed two tugs towing the enormous white hulk of the cruise liner, MS Deutschland, up river. It is amazing to be on the water so close to such a massive vessel and the low light reflecting off the hull made it a magnificent backdrop for our brightly coloured kayaks. It would have made a great photo had someone had a camera to hand.

11 May 2005

Sea kayaking skills course

View from Vauxhaul looking down river towards Westminster (click to enlarge)
I did a sea kayaking skills course at the weekend with Shadwell Basin through THCC.

We spent Saturday morning on the basin learning some skills and strokes specific to sea kayaking before a classroom session over lunch introducing some navigational and trip planning considerations. We then spent the afternoon getting wet and practicing rescues.

On Sunday we kitted out our boats and headed up the river from Shadwell Basin to Vauxhall, stopping to practice some backwards ferry gliding in the strong current under London Bridge. On the way back we tried some towing (hard work against the tide). We finished with an all-in rescue practice back at Wapping and then a wet exit, swimming the boats in to the steps as the high spring tide meant there was no beach to land on.

The course has made me realise that my paddling skills, learned on white water twenty years ago, need more updating than I realised and it has given me several areas to work on. On the plus, side I felt I had really got the hang of edging by the end of the weekend and was able to use this technique very effectively to make minor course adjustments without the need for corrective strokes.

6 April 2005

Seeing Greenwich

Paddled to Greenwich and back last night and the daylight held out until we got there. There was so much to see that has been shrouded in darkness for the last few months it was like paddling a completly different river.

29 March 2005

Rainy day

Paddled up river from THCC to the steps just east of Waterloo Bridge against a strong current. The switch to BST at the weekend meant it was my first daylight paddle (the first half hour at least) for months. Having said that, visibility was somewhat diminished by the mist and rain.

Wallbrook Wharf, photo � Mike StevensIn the daylight I was aware of many more of the potential hazards along the route that I have not been seeing lately in the dark. I am always a bit nervous of all the things one could get caught up in in the event of a swim when there is a powerful current running. The scariest being the two enormous barges moored at the Corporation of London's Wallbrook Wharf refuse transfer station (off Upper Thames Street). You need to give these a wide berth as you pass them on your right heading up river against the current as you really do not want to get too close in front of them.

Paddling back with the current, as ever, was much easier and there are fewer hazards to watch out for on the south side of the river. I particularly enjoyed the last section of the paddle back to Wapping from Tower Bridge as by this stage the rain was full on and quite refreshing.

23 March 2005


After a two month absence I got out on the river again last night and enjoyed a good club paddle to Greenwich and back.

I found it hard work keeping up, especially on the way there against the flooding tide. Coming back we stayed well out to make the most of the current (and to avoid the kids throwing stones at us from the bank) and cruised back. We also met some paddlers going the other way who had come from Vauxhall.

The warm weather makes it much more appealing and from next week we should even have a bit of daylight.

12 January 2005

Windy Thames paddle

Against wind and tide a missed stroke is a backwards stroke.

That was what struck me on the weekly club paddle from Shadwell Basin to the Oxo Tower last night. We did not have anything like the 100+ mph storms experienced in Scotland and the north of England but it was blowing a good force 4 from the south west on an ebbing tide as we battled our way up river. Not having paddled for a few weeks, I was struggling to keep up and all I wanted was to stop for a breather but I could not afford to go backwards!

London Bridge lit up in redThe exertion was rewarded though. The return paddle was almost effortless as the wind and the last of the ebb carried us swiftly 'home'. On the way we enjoyed the spectacular lighting currently adorning London Bridge which cast a beautiful blood red glow across the river under its span. Its one of the sights of London at the moment and I'll try and get a picture.

Update: Thanks to Andy Roberts for the use of his photo.

5 September 2004

Cwm Pennant Festival - Abersoch trip

Abersoch mapWe pushed off from the beach at Sarn Bach, just south of Abersoch, in scorching sunshine with the dark mountains of Snowdonia looming up across the bay to the east. We were the last group of paddlers to set off and, led by Dave Evans, about twenty of us paddled south, around the cliffs towards the headland of Trwyn yr Wylfa and around to the beach at Porth Ceiriad. On the way we spotted a porpoise, easily distinguished from a dolphin (after the lecture we had received on Saturday) by its triangular dorsal fin. The conditions were ideal with little wind and calm, clear water but we did experience a lot of wake from the numerous jet skis and speed boats.

landing at Porth Ceiriad
Despite being the last to set off, we were the first group to arrive at the beach as the others were making the trip around St Tudwal's Islands. There was some breaking surf on the beach and those who landed first stood by to help the rest in. Having hauled the boats up on the sand we sat down to enjoy our picnic.

If the other people on the beach had been surprised to see twenty kayakers arriving, they must have felt they were being invaded, when, twenty minutes later, the rest of the paddlers began to arrive. From our picnic spot we were entertained by some spectacular surf landings and soon the number of boats lined up on the beach had grown to sixty five - an armada!

While the others were finishing their lunch I had a refreshing swim and we all then got back in to our boats and headed off to explore St Tudwal�s Islands, the site of the sixth century saint�s hermitage and a well known seal colony.

Setting off after lunch
We paddled past the southern end of the west island and across to the east island where we rested for a few minutes to explore the caves and admire the scenery. I saw only one seal as we rounded the south east corner of the island.

The eastern side of the island is evidently a popular spot with locals as lots of boats had dropped anchor there and people were swimming or lazing on deck reading the Sunday papers. We paddled through the boats and straight back across the channel, delighted to find that an ice cream van had arrived at the car park!

Total trip distance 11km. More pictures of this trip are available here.

4 September 2004

Cwm Pennant Sea Kayaking Festival

When I first read about sea kayaking symposia I was so intrigued by the concept that I booked myself in to the next one on the calendar, at Cwm Pennant mountain centre in North Wales.

The format was a weekend of paddling and lectures and I was particularly looking forward to trying some proper sea kayaks which were provided for demonstration by several manufacturers.

Saturday morning started off with a lecture about the Lleyn Peninsula and Sarnau Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which gave some guidance on identifying the various forms of wildlife we could expect to encounter and then challenged us to consider how, as kayakers, we could help with the conservation project.

We then set off for Pwllheli where a sheltered beach (accessed via the marina) was the venue for trying out some kayaks. The sea kayaks I had paddled to date have been plastic tubs so I was delighted to get my hands on the real thing and tried several:

P & H Quest - this boat came with a lot of good recommendations from people who said it was both fast and stable and sitting in it the first things I noticed were the comfort of the seat and back rest assembly and the quality of the construction. The boat was certainly stable and there was no evidence of the tippiness that sea kayaks are famous for. It paddled well but even with the slight breeze in the sheltered bay I had to use the skeg or the odd corrective stroke to keep it in a straight line across the wind (I am sure it would have handled better with a load).

P & H Capella - this boat felt very similar to the Quest with the same comfortable seat and good build quality but it was harder to keep in a straight line with a much greater tendency to weathercock (I paddled the large version of the boat and the foredeck seemed very high).

P & H Sirius - this was not a demo boat but a six year old kayak whose owner kindly let me try it out, despite its age, it looked like new and had the same creature comforts as the demo boats. Sitting in this kayak I immediately felt at home in the snug fitting cockpit and the ride was the most positive and straight running of all the boats I tried. The boat was also the most tippy and I can imagine that to be confident twisting around to get a camera out of the day hatch, for example, might require some improvement in my balance.

P & H Bahiya - I only had a very brief paddle in the Bahiya which, in spite of its narrow hull, felt very stable. It also went beautifully in a straight line and seemed very popular with all those who tried it. My only reservation was that I do not like the idea of having to sit on one side or the other of the hard chined hull in anything but calm water.

Nigel Dennis Explorer - this was the boat I ended up paddling all weekend and as a boat to paddle I loved it. It went nicely in a straight line, it did not have a skeg , nor did I ever feel the need of one, it was fast (I always tended to find myself at the front of a group without any particular effort), cut through waves cleanly and, although it was slightly tippy, it gave me plenty of confidence.

I did have some problems with the comfort of the boat though. The seat and back rest were nowhere near as comfortable as in the P & H boats and I found that my size eleven feet were a bit cramped under the deck (this might have been partly due to the custom positioned forward bulkhead which was obviously made for a shorter paddler). Finally, the build quality did not seem to be quite up to the P & H standard although, unlike the P & H boats on demo, this one was not new so that may not be an entirely fair comparison.

There were also some Rockpool kayaks on demo but I did not get a chance to try one out. I had an interesting chat with the designer and founder of this new company who started his career with Nigel Dennis shaping the Romany. The boats are designed for a more ergonomic paddling position which is somewhat akin to a racing kayak but, apparently, without sacrificing stability. Those who did try the boats seemed impressed.

Sea kayakers setting off from Pwllheli
After the boat demos and lunch on the beach we split up into groups to work on paddling skills and rescues and the bulk of us went out on a paddle westward up the coast.

Unfortunately, I had set off in a hurry with the Explorer I had just borrowed and after only about twenty minutes my right leg had gone completely numb and I was suffering painful pins and needles. I decided to head in to the beach and pick up the group again on their way back. This gave me a chance to try my first surf landing which worked reasonably well. Once out on the beach I found that there was in fact a thick piece of foam wedged up against the front bulkhead and when I removed it there was just enough room for my long legs. I had a walk on the beach and rejoined the group on the way back timing my first surf launch perfectly.

After paddling we headed back to the centre for a very welcome dinner followed by a couple more lectures.

The first talk was by Dave Evans who runs Cwm Pennant and is also the chairman of the BCU Sea Touring Committee. He showed us some slides of a recent trip to Brittany and we were all envious of the beautiful scenery and fine weather.

The second lecture was by John Ramwell who talked about his experiences setting up large scale expeditions for organisations such as British Schools and Operation Raleigh. He told us how satisfying he had found introducing young people to sea kayaking and encouraged us to consider doing the same.

Following the evening programme we gathered around a bonfire to share kayaking tales and beers.

7 August 2004

Seven Heads trip

Earlier in the week I had made arrangements with Jon Hynes of H2O Sea Kayaking to join him and four other paddlers, Noelle, Gerard, Rob and Susan on a weekend expedition. The provisional plan was to paddle around the Seven Heads on Saturday, camp and go on towards Clonakilty on Sunday. On Friday Jon rang and asked if I had been watching the weather forecasts as the tail end of Hurricane Alex was stirring up a storm due to pick up from the south east at some time on Saturday afternoon. He suggested we get started as early as possible on Saturday to make the most of the available weather window but accepting that we might have to pull the plug at any stage.

Map of The Seven Heads.We set off from Coolmain beach and made directly for Barry�s Point across Coolmain Bay. The crossing was sheltered by The Old Head of Kinsale as the wind was in the south east and the small waves made it possible to paddle together in twos or threes chatting but we could see larger breaking waves � a sign of things to come - on Horse Rock as we approached Barry�s Point.

Once past the point we regrouped head to wind and swell, to discuss the next section. Jon explained that we would paddle across Seven Heads Bay towards Vregira Point, then past another couple of headlands to Leganagh Point. From there, he explained, we would have about two kilometres which he described as the crux of the trip in that there was no landing place and we would have to keep paddling.

We made good progress across Seven Heads Bay with the swell growing as we lost the shelter of The Old Head. Now we were paddling directly across the waves having to lean into them as they approached the side of the boats and adopting a longer paddle shaft on the windward side to counter the wind and swell that was tending to turn us towards the shore.

As we rounded Vregira Point we passed a yacht going the other way just outside us, we exchanged waves and I imagined how mad they must think us to be out in what were now developing into quite adventurous conditions. From Vregira Point and beyond we found the waves increasingly large and confused around each headland with evident clapotis. This made it ever more difficult to predict which direction the next wave might strike from and heightened the need for constant observation all around one (while I was busy watching the waves Rob managed to spot a sunfish as we rounded Illaunbaun).

After we passed Reenreagh we again regrouped facing together into the waves and paddling slowly to hold our position. Jon checked how everyone was doing and I told him I was a little nervous of the growing swell and that I was suffering from a stiff right leg (I was afraid of cramp and had been trying to stretch and straighten it whenever the waves did not seem too threatening). Jon explained that we were now entering the crux and that once past the next headland (Leganagh Point) we would keep going quickly towards Dunworley Point which we could see adorned by a fortification set back from the tip of the promontory.

Fortification above Leganagh Point as seen from Dunworley Point.
By the time we rounded Leganagh Point the swell had grown to about 1.5 metres and was coming from behind us across the windward quarter, this made things quite tricky as one could not see what was coming. Despite frequent glances over my left shoulder, there were inevitably some bigger waves that hit me unsighted requiring swift corrective action. At one point, a large wave broke right over me. I instinctively made a strong low brace into the wave on my left hand side and stayed steady while the water crashed over me. Jon and Noelle saw this and congratulated me on my brace. I had not seen the wave coming, as perhaps they had, and did not think it noteworthy but was glad that I had not lost my instinctive paddling skills.

I found the next section, the crux, much more threatening. This was not due to any immediate danger, but rather, to the intense and sustained concentration required to paddle a course, stabilising the boat as necessary, while watching out for waves from behind and keeping in contact with the rest of the group.

By the time we reached Dunworley Point I was longing for a break, not because I was physically tired, but just to be able to relax my concentration for a few minutes.

Rounding the point was again quite an anxious moment as the sea state had been steadily increasing and we were now very exposed. We were past the crux as we could have got in to Foilareal Bay but Jon had decided to go another 1.5 kilometres to Dunworley Bay which was a preferable camp site.

Channel between Bird Island and the headlandOnce around the point we cut across the small bay and made for the narrow channel between the headland and Bird Island. Jon went in first and found a position facing outwards where he could hold station and call the rest of us in one by one whenever there was a break in the waves. When my turn came my adrenaline surged as I paddled like mad for the calm water beyond the rocky gap, silently uttering a prayer that I would get there before the next wave.

I negotiated the channel safely and passed into the sheltered water behind Bird Island. Finally, I was able to relax and I drifted gently for a minute with my paddle resting across my boat feeling slightly giddy as my nervous energy dissipated.

Channel between Bird Island and the headland
When the whole party was safely through we laughed and congratulated ourselves and found an even more sheltered spot in a sea cave where we were able to stop, admire the scenery, share some coffee and take pictures.

After a little rest we paddled out of the cave and into the calm water of Dunworley Bay taking time to explore another dramatic sea arch on the way in to the slipway beneath our camp site. Again, Jon went in first calling us each in turn onto the slipway, between the bigger waves, from where we carried the boats up to some conveniently located picnic tables for lunch.

Breaking waves at Dunworley beach on Sunday morningOur total distance travelled for the day was about 14 kilometres.

On Sunday morning the sea state had risen substantially and Jon made the decision to abandon any further hope of paddling as launching, let alone landing, through the surf would be too challenging.

Additional photos from this trip are available here.

1 August 2004

Old Head of Kinsale trip

Map of The Old Head of KinsaleI had booked a beginners' sea kayaking expedition with H2O Sea Kayaking in Kinsale to coincide with the start of a family holiday in Cork and persuaded my wife, Deborah, and her sister, Imelda, to come along too.

We met our instructor, Noelle, at Sandy Cove and, after getting us all kitted out, she gave Deborah and Imelda a brief paddling lesson before we set off.

Once out of the shelter of Sandy Cove Island the calm water gave way to a smooth oily looking swell of about 0.5 metres, the clear water giving good visibility to the seabed below through waving fronds of kelp.

The moving water gave us all the chance to get a feel for the handling of the boats. Deborah and Imelda seemed to enjoy working together in the double while I found my extremely wide boat rather unwieldy and bracing my knees on either side of the gaping cockpit felt like doing the splits. Despite my reservations, the boats did at least make good progress and we soon rounded Hake Head where we spotted cormorants perched with wings outstretched drying in the sunshine.

We paddled towards a secluded beach for lunch and the appeal of sea kayaking began to sink in. This isolated spot could barely have been reached by any other means as it was nestled beneath cliffs with no access by land and even small craft would have difficulty getting in close.

After a leisurely lunch we headed across Dooneen Bay for Blackhead, the swell was larger now but the sea surface retained its oily smooth quality. Even in these benign conditions I was aware of the vulnerability of our boats on the open sea as we left the shoreline about a kilometre off to starboard.

Noelle showed us the entrance to a dramatic sea arch at Blackhead and I paddled in to explore and take some photos, unfortunately, the tide was too low to paddle through.

Double kayak setting off after lunchWe rounded Blackhead and found ourselves in a slightly heavier swell of up to 0.75 metres and we paddled for the castle visible above us on the cliffs at the narrowest part of the peninsula. Under the castle are three sea arches which go right through the headland and we explored each in turn hoping to find a way through.

Paddling into the middle, and largest, arch was the highlight of the trip. Our arrival roused the colony of nestling terns perched on every nook and cranny around the entrance creating an awful squawking din. Also notable was a strong smell of fish, presumably the birds� leftovers.

Sea arch under The Old Head of KinsaleOnce inside the arch the water was shallow and clean and we saw shoals of sprats swimming beneath us and small starfish clearly visible on the seabed. At the far end the sun shone in as if through a Gothic cathedral window. We clambered out of the boats at a stony beach halfway through to explore the exit. We carried one boat over the rooks and Noelle went to investigate the far entrance but felt that the breaking surf might make it tricky for Deborah and Imelda and so we returned the way we had come.

On the way back we saw a seal in one of the other arches and as we paddled back along the coastline we saw more cormorants perched in rows along a series of rocks and apparently observing a strict pecking order with the largest birds occupying the best vantage points.

Once we rounded Blackhead the swell was behind us and we were able to catch a ride from the waves until we got further into Dooneen Bay where the water was more sheltered. We stopped to chat to a family fishing from a small boat who donated some mackerel for Noelle�s supper.

Finally, we arrived at the Quay in Dooneen delighted with our first day�s sea kayaking.

Total distance paddled was about 12 kilometres.

More photos of the trip are available here.