Started conversation Apr 14, 2012
I may be some time…
I never cease to be amazed by how, sometimes unrelated circumstances come together to shape or direct how life changes.
It now seems way back that I was gainfully employed. Reasonably happy in the job that I had done for most of my working life, but many times found myself internally screaming at the frustrations that came up in the course of a day’s work. Sometimes so wound up that it was useless going to bed of an evening until one or two in the early hours. On the plus side when things went right there was a sense of achievement that made things generally seem better and gave a certain amount of satisfaction. But with changes on the job, especially lately, those times became less frequent. Luckily I have usually been able to divorce leisure activities from work and they always provided some escape during the more trying times. Not least, but not only, has been h2.
During the last few years the ’recession’ has bitten deep into most companies resources and mine was not exempt. In 2008 the result was a round of redundancies which I escaped, and a 10% pay cut across the board… which I did not. The company soldiered on and generally speaking, so far, is weathering the storm. But for me the writing was on the wall. In July 2011 a new, universal job tracking system was introduced which is almost incomprehensible and requires more effort to be expended on updating the system in real-time than the job in question. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to teach an old dog…etc
From choice I had continued working past the time that retirement was due. Truth to tell, I have been split between wanting to stay on, or to mosey off into the sunset of retirement. After working all my life, to me retirement seems rather like being judged useless, surplus to requirement or past it. All in all, being of no further consequence. Over the years I’ve seen quite a number of colleagues retire. Almost without exception they couldn’t wait to get away and many counted the days, hours even, before getting their watch. I’ve never been able to accept that attitude as it seems to me to be almost wishing your life away. I feel I’ve seen one too many take retirement and then pop their clogs a short time later, my father included, as the awful realisation of not being of any further use, sets in.
Anyway, during a ‘good time’ period, the management had the foresight to take on a young, virgin trainee in our office as cover against holidays/sickness/leavings, which seemed prudent. But by November last year the firm was experiencing another downturn in trade and the scuttlebutt had it that further cuts were being considered. It transpired that, in the main, those cuts took place in the upper levels of management when a couple of the big earners left, or received sideways promotion. I however was called into the main man’s office and asked what my intentions towards the firm were.
Over this time Mrs D also retired from her job and was keen to see me stop working as well, to spend more time at home in an unstressed condition. So, taking that pressure into account as well as the fact that our department was now considered to be overstaffed, in the end I decided that it was time to call it a day and part amicably. No, I wasn’t pushed into it, but I had the feeling that I would be on the short list for any further redundancies that were on the horizon. In fact the firm was really quite reasonable about it all, so I jumped before I was pushed.
I left work for the last time on New Years Eve, Saturday 31 December 2011. Since then, I’ve jobbed around the house, started to refurbish the rather neglected garden, grown a beard, started and lost interest in several h2 entries, been to the flix, had my teeth fixed, read a lot, started a blog and generally spent time contemplating my navel. Oh… and I’ve bought a kayak.
And so to the second part of the story…
These are my two sons: (LINK)
The two of them got together in 2009 to do the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race. The photo you see is of them at Westminster after completing the 2010 race.
The DW is a race for single or double canoes or kayaks from Devizes in Wiltshire to Westminster, London, and is held annually over the Easter period. The course is 125 miles long, with the first fifty plus miles along the Kennet and Avon canal to where it joins the Thames at Reading. The next fifty odd takes competitors along the Thames to Teddington lock, after which the final seventeen miles is on the tidal part of the Thames to Westminster. But that’s not all, during its course there are seventy-seven ‘portages’ to be negotiated, which is when the canoe has to be removed from the water on upstream of a lock and returned again on the downstream side. It is generally regarded as the toughest endurance race in the country, if not the world. In fact there are two styles of races taking place concurrently, A four day event where the course is divided into four parts, each part completed in a day. Then there’s the ’overnight’ event which starts on the Easter Saturday morning and crews race non stop, through the night, to the finish, usually finishing sometime Easter Sunday. This event is only for two man crews, who are the turbo-nutters of the canoeing world. Each crew is allowed support vehicles to meet them at any point along the course, usually at portages, to feed and water them and provide encouragement when the going gets tough. On the 2010 event I had a minor hand in supporting my sons at two points, Reading and at Marsh lock on the Thames.
The thing is that it’s very difficult to describe the feelings and emotions that are generated during this race. Contestants are reduced to physical and mental exhaustion during the average twenty-four hours it takes to complete. The drop out rate is very high as over a third of the overnight race entry don’t make it to the end, and of those that do, many have to be assisted out of their boat at the end in a state of complete exhaustion. And there’s every possibility of real injury, During that 2010 race I recall for instance, standing at a lock near Marsh at 3am, with a stream of portaging K2s being run past, on my right was a raging torrent of water from the adjacent weir and lying on my left, a contestant who had slipped and broken his leg, waiting for an ambulance. All this in the pitch blackness, illuminated only by torches carried by the competitors. But the psyche of the event also gets a hold of you when you witness it first hand. The sheer excitement and danger as it unfolds draws you in. Incidentally, one of the non finishers in this years race was Sir Steve Redgrave, but I expect he’ll be back next year.
This Easter my eldest son did it again, this time with his old friend who had provided the main support for the 2010 race. He, like me, was inspired to give it a try and this year they finished under some of the most arduous circumstances. I acted as their support between Devizes and Reading, and saw them in at Teddington and at Westminster. It was at the end of the 2010 race, when I took the photo at Westminster, that the ill-formed idea that I might have a go at it the following year, took hold. But it wasn’t to be. Work, and family illness put paid to that, at least temporarily. In fact it took until this year to resolve those issues.
Taking on a challenge like this isn’t to be entered into lightly. I have only ever been in a kayak three times in my life. The last time was eighteen months ago, just before circumstances made it impossible for me to enter the DW for 2011. Truth is, that then I didn’t really have sufficient time to get enough experience to stand any chance at all of completing the race, as work and family commitments would have limited my time to training at weekends and evenings only. It wouldn’t have been impossible as in an earlier time I have run several marathons on the strength of minimal training, but I think that the DW requires, deserves even, more.
So, circumstances, which were mostly outside my control have given me both the time and inclination to try something that three years ago I hadn’t even heard of. At the moment I’m having to aim for entry to the four-day race, as no one in their right mind would want to try the overnight race with a raw beginner. But, I have a full year to prepare for it and at least stand some sort of a chance of making it to the start line. With all this in mind I’ve bought into the kit that I’ll need and reserved a place on a short course on paddling a kayak, which begins tomorrow.
I suppose that what this rambling is all about is an attempt to come to terms with an unwanted situation and an acknowledgement that despite personal wants or needs, nothing ever stays the same. I have no idea if I’ll ever get to the start line of the DW in 2013, but at the moment I’m going to stick my neck out and commit to it because if I don’t do it now, then I probably never will. Either way, I don’t think that it’s going to leave much time for h2, but if I do manage to get to the start line, even if I don’t finish, I will also commit to do an entry to submit for The Guide. That‘s assuming no-one else has already done it of course.
Posted Apr 14, 2012
Oops The Link should have been
Posted Apr 14, 2012
I can understand your feelings about leaving work and the key to feeling worthwhile is to keep yourself busy (my partner has just retired from teaching).
I've just become an "empty-nester" and am currently rearranging my bungalow so I can have a warm bedroom but each room needs work. I have also taken a downhit on my income (benefits) so am having to make improvements gradually.
I wish you and Mrs D all the best for this new part of your lives, having a loving and caring partner makes all the difference to a person's sense of well-being (I know, I've been single/alone most of my life).
with the boat thing (about which I know nothing) and do keep gazing skywards as and when we have clear nights
Posted Apr 18, 2012
Thanks for that.
I've read your posts and I'm really glad that things are working out for you. I'm sure that there's going to be some fun times ahead.
I'm certainly looking forward to a few changes and doing some of the things there's never been time for before. Even as simple as going to the flicks in the afternoon.
Keep watching the skies...
Posted May 6, 2012
What an interesting journal entry! Sorry I missed it for this long, but I'm not really around all this much myself these days.
Deke, would you agree for us to publish this in ?
And we'd be very happy for any follow-up posts, too.
Posted May 6, 2012
Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you found it interesting.
You're welcome to use it for 'The Post' if you think it's suitable stuff. Actually, it was only a bit of 'getting it off my chest' at the time while trying to come to terms with the events since last year. It as quite cathartic.
As it happens I have also started a 'Blog'. Something new for me, but if you think any follow up will be of interest then it'll probably be something like this: http://dekes-blog.blogspot.co.uk/
I don't know if that's going to be of any interest to our readership here but if you think so I can adapt it into h2.
Posted Jun 20, 2012
My first serious foray into kayak world took place on Sunday 15 April. I joined in with five others for our first attempts at 'Paddling' as it's known to those in the 'know'. That's to say with paddles, as opposed to bare feet, rolled up trouser legs and a knotted hankie on the head to keep the sun off. We were duly introduced to kayaks and how to get in and exit them intentionally and what to do when you exit them unintentionally. We all found some rather inventive ways to do that. We also received an insight into which way 'up' to hold a paddle and what to do with it when in the boat and pointed in a generally correct direction.
At first all went reasonably well. The first few quivering strokes had us out into midstream of the Thames at Hampton, and then trying to get back you begin to realise your limitations. We headed for a small side-water in the lea of an island where we could practice in reasonably calm conditions. After about an hour or so I began to find that one of my limits was the ability to sit upright with legs stretched out at front of me. The peculiar ‘L’ shape that you are forced to adopt I found to be particularly difficult to hold, especially as I have in recent years developed a significant Buddha Belly that gets in the way, and after a couple of hours my back muscles were giving way. Eventually the only relief was to lay back against the rear of the cockpit which made for a very unstable condition.
We had eventually paddled up to the weir at Molesey Lock and were practicing a slalom course around three or four mooring posts in the water. It has to be said that ‘slalom’ is probably the wrong word for the course that most of us described. It was supposed to be an easy snaking in and out of the posts, but in most cases it was more like three-point turns, and it was at the exit to the second attempt that I came unstuck. I was trying to fend off a rather large branch in the water that was heading my way, with the paddle when I overreached and capsized.
At least I didn’t have the ignominy of being the first to have capsized, two others had their moments occurring on the way up.
Now the capsize drill was supposed to have been done at the end of the day’s events, in shallow water where you can stand up on the river bed. Although we had talked the drill through, I seemed to have premeditated that in the deepest part of the river and the weir was only about twenty-five meters away. It’s surprising just how cold Thames river water is deep down, and it fair takes yer breath away. I was towed back to a handy pontoon jetty and struggled to get out while clinging onto paddle and boat. Resurrected, we carried on back to the shallow end to carry out the drills, this time intentionally.
The second outing on the following Sunday concentrated more on paddling technique and staying dry. We had dropped one member of the course, he was the second guy to go in the drink the previous week so we were now down to five. This time we headed upstream to Walton lock and ‘portaged’ (carried) our boats through the rollers there. Now the boats we were using are the stable kind, being wide and flat. What they gain in stability is at the expense of increased drag, and consequently speed through the water. It takes a lot of effort, or really good technique to get the things to move, especially against the current. Coupled with this I was also having difficulty getting the thing to go where I wanted it to go, or at least keep it in a straight line.
Although during the intervening week I had tried doing some stretching and exercises to improve the staying power of the back muscles, and dieting to reduce Mr Buddha, I was still unable to hold the upright ’L’ position as muscle fatigue set in. All in all my lack of abdominal strength spoiled my ability to pick up the lessons in the latter half of the day. Although we did do more than double the distance to the previous week I was glad to finish the course and still be dry. We all duly received out BCU one-star awards but it didn’t really feel to me as if I had deserved it. Nevertheless we were all offered club membership and ‘improvers’ sessions so we could go do it all again.
Where there is tea there is hope, but I’m going to need to practice... a lot.
Posted Jul 7, 2012
In April the weather clamped down and more or less wiped out any opportunity to get back out on the river. Heavy rain meant a much increased flow to the point where red warnings were posted on the river authorities website warning against taking out any form of boat. Taking a visual, the water was certainly higher and faster than I've seen it before and was clearly dangerous to venture out on. Wind was another problem as it was blowing straight down the reach in front of the clubhouse. But by the beginning of May the conditions had abated enough to be deemed safe to venture out on, although it still looked pretty dicey to me. Nevertheless three of us turned up for the 'improvers' group on the first Sunday evening of the month.
Things didn't go too well. Initially I had trouble setting up my usual boat as the foot board had been left loose by some previous user and it couldn't be refitted securely, so I had to pick another boat and eventually ended up on the water in the only other one that was serviceable, but even that was without a seat at all. The plan was to head upstream and circle around a small island to get into the quiet backwater in the lea of the main stream. It soon became obvious that despite exercises my weight and lack of fitness was telling against me. Added to that my inability to cope with the tiller and get the thing to go in the direction I wanted, meant that the others were soon pulling ahead.
It was once said of American President Gerald Ford that ‘He couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time’. (Actually it wasn’t even as complimentary as that, but that’ll have to do for h2’s purposes). My problem was that the exceptionally fast flow continually pulled the boat’s nose around if I wasn’t headed directly into it. Consequently the over-corrections resulted in an erratic course as I tried to concentrate on the paddling while keeping an even stroke and stay upright. So, while the others seemed to be coping Okay with the conditions, I fell further and further behind with only the company of one of the helpers, giving support and advice as we tried to make progress. Eventually, after sweating pints inside my waterproofs, I had to give it best and head back to the clubhouse after only completing about two-thirds of the planned course.
The distance covered going upstream against the flow and the wind in the hour we were out, took only ten minutes to return. Even holding the paddles up at head height kept us bowling along as we were blown downstream but at least it was a rest. On arrival I was able to carry out a really impressive handbrake turn onto the home pontoon and finished up without having taken a swim.
After that disappointing performance I wasn’t looking forward much to the following week‘s foray. But as the week went on, we had a few balmy evenings without wind or rain, and the river conditions seemed to have settled down to manageable proportions. Checking in on the Sunday evening along with the one other guy left in the improvers group, I felt had felt quite optimistic for a productive session. But checking the river soon put paid to any likelihood of that. Apparently the authority had opened the sluice gates upriver to relieve the build-up of water and likelihood of flooding, and it was rushing down past our stretch of the river just as fast as the week before. All this mind you, in an area that has a drought warning and a hosepipe ban for gardeners in force.
Anyway, we set off again, this time with me in yet another boat, but with much the same result, although I managed a slightly straighter course at times, mainly by leaving the tiller alone. But having to fight the conditions instead of practicing technique was getting me nowhere. After another hour of this, the tension in my leg muscles resulted in a seizure in my left knee as I tried to straighten my leg. God, how it hurt, and I was unable to move or do anything about it in the cramped cockpit. I managed to pull over to a pontoon and spent ten minutes getting my leg muscles back into order, and then headed back for home, more or less just letting the current carry me back.
So, fourth time out, still in the oyster shaped learner boats and two weeks with no real improvement. At this point I decided that I needed time to review the situation. With two weeks holiday away in the offing, I gave it best and put it all on the back burner for the time being.
Posted Jul 7, 2012
I really need to bookmark this journal. And to check out your blog. Sorry, but I haven't been around a lot lately, family matters took priority and h2g2 took a back seat.
I'm going to lift the whole journal for and you may want to enter the <./>create</.> July challenge with the last part?
Posted Jul 7, 2012
I realised that you were occupied elsewhere. I hope the problems are getting to be resolved for now.
It's fine to take whatever you think may be appropriate that you can use. I can always start another journal for July's challenge if necessary.
Thanks for your comments
Posted Jul 7, 2012
You can do a new journal, but once it's in the Post it's fine for the challenge, too. After all, you only wrote the last part today.
I've been to your flickr album and have nicked a copy of your kayak to go with the articles.
Posted Jul 7, 2012
Posted Jul 7, 2012
Thanks Bel, I'm glad you could get something out of Flikr as well. I can probably get some better photos than those of the boat later.
Lanzababy, thanks for your comments. I'll try to keep it interesting and I'd be honoured to be on your friends list as well.
Posted Jul 13, 2012
The weather of the last two weeks of May and most of June took a decided turn for the worse. Wet and windy were the order of the day and the river wasn't looking very friendly whenever I went to take stock. Coupled with this, the improvers group seems to have petered out with no other takers for the late Sunday session. So, as Mrs D and I were off on holiday for a couple of weeks, and that I didn't want to be the sole ''improver' inflicting my own brand of ineptness on some poor soul from the club, of a Sunday evening, I decided to give the whole thing best until our return from holiday.
Unfortunately, things weather-wise didn't improve while we were away. We heard weather reports which told of storms and heavy rainfall causing flash flooding and flood alerts on rivers across the UK. When we got back we found that it was all true, and worse. The poor weather continued through June in much the same vein with the overspill into the river keeping it high and flowing fast. So, instead of chancing my arm out on the water, I concentrated on a little jogging to try to reduce the fat and increase the muscle around the waist. This is still a work in progress...
Much about kayaking is to do with confidence. Confidence that you won't fall in the water, and if you do, that you can extract yourself without a great deal of difficulty. So taking to engorged, fast flowing rivers unaccompanied is not a good idea. Beginner's boats are designed to be as forgiving as possible so that you can stand some chance of staying upright even when doing something stupid. They are wide and flat-ish at the cockpit so that as the boat rolls, a larger area of the hull comes into contact with the water's surface, which gives an increasing resistance to the roll. Of course this only works so far, and a tipping point is eventually reached beyond which the boat and occupant overbalance and continue to roll inverted. Confidence comes from knowing where that tipping point is and what to do if you go too far. And that of course, comes from practice.
At the beginning of all this I had invested in a new kayak which I intend to use in the DW. I have also apparently, committed the cardinal sin of buying a boat without trying it out first, which apparently, you should never do. You should at least learn to paddle first, then try out various boats to get the feel and select one that you are comfortable in. I, however went ahead on the assumption that since I had almost no prior knowledge of what to look for, anything could be got used to eventually. Mine is a 'Laance' (Yes the spelling is correct), made by a company in Reading. It's also designed as a racing boat which means that it doesn't have the same stabilising broadness of beam that the 'oyster-shaped' beginners boats do. Racing kayaks are graded for ‘tippyness’ on a scale of one-to-ten, where the most stable are rated a 'ten' and the least, a 'one'. In deference to the inviolate rule, I had conceded that a 'ten' rated boat would be the best choice, and as the Laance is an attractive boat, rated ten, that would be the one for me. As it is somewhat more 'tippy' than an outright beginner's boat, it means that I need fairly calm conditions to try it out and get used to it. Consequently it has sat in the back garden since February, waiting for suitable conditions for it's maiden voyage.
With this in mind and to get the master-plan restarted, Mrs D and I took a morning out to look for a shallow part of the river that I could use to practice in, where if upended, I'd be in shallow enough water to be able to stand up and recover the kayak. So, armed with an eight-foot long, bamboo garden cane, we visited various spots, and much to the amusement of various onlookers, 'dipped' the river to gauge its depth. At the club's pontoon, the usual place that I've launched from, six feet of the cane disappeared without touching the bottom. Other places between Hampton and Kingston were much the same. The last stretch we tried was along the Canbury bank near Teddington, a long ,curving sweep of the river which has several landing stages and a low bank. This looks the most promising as it's only a couple of feet deep, three or four feet out from the bank. Although it probably shelves steeply a few feet out, it provides a recoverable situation.
Meanwhile my son came up with a rather better suggestion. The River Wey near er... Weybridge, which is shallow and has barely any flow to speak of. So, with this encouragement we took the boat to this calmer location while Mrs D came along as official photographer to capture the moment and, like as not, one of those £250 moments for 'You've Been Framed'. Your's truly eventually squeezed himself into the rather thinner cockpit than he is used to, only to find that adjustments were necessary to get his legs in as well. Once that was straightened out we took a Zen moment to calm and settle in. Rarely have I been more tensed up as we all contemplated the tremor waves emanating from my central core, that radiated through the boat and out in all directions across the water's surface. But, after a few minutes, I finally gained a modicum of balance and tentatively pushed away from the bank.
I had been expecting, and was fully prepared for, a half-roll out of the boat as soon as it was away from the bank. But, to everyone’s surprise, not least mine, I was still upright and moving forward minutes later when the local lock into the Thames, hove into view. At this point I thought it better to grab the bank and consider this rather unexpected turn of events. Getting quite this far hadn't figured in the game plan. Now, not wanting to risk a swim from a three point turn, we retrieved the boat and pointed it back the way we had come. The return trip was still as shaky as the outgoing one, but nevertheless, successfully completed without a capsize.
At this point I decided that it would be better to quit while I was ahead and enjoy the success of not falling in the water on the first outing. That 'pleasure' will no doubt come later. My son likened my efforts to watching his son learning to walk. Looking at the video, what I liken it to is a portly, sad old git having a second mid-life crisis. I had the first one in the ‘80s and know what it feels like. I'm quite pleased with a bit of success for a change, and the boat feels as if it might be manageable with a lot of practice. I was really pleased with the pace I was covering the water, as it was much faster than the oyster, even given that I was not putting any real effort into the strokes, merely trying to stay upright.
Unfortunately Mrs D was cheated out of her £250, maybe next time? I need practice and to get focussed on the task in hand.
Posted Jul 23, 2012
The Wibbly Wobbly Wey
It’s now mid July and it’s still raining. Consequently the Thames continues in flood, and the Thames Authority still has its red flood warnings in force, discouraging any thought of taking the boat out. Since these conditions have prevailed for quite some time, to progress further with my timetable I had resorted to a bit of jogging to get to grips with the lack of general fitness and excess of weight while I waited for the conditions to abate. Initially I took to the local footpaths and bridleways in the area but with the damp conditions found that they have become quite badly churned up into quagmires by the horses, becoming all but impassable in places.
For the last couple of outings I repaired back to an old haunt of mine, Richmond Park and its perimeter track, knowing that whatever the weather, the track, mainly on high ground, is always useable. For a while everything was progressing sweetly and I'd managed to extend the jog/walk out to about six miles. My overall weight was beginning to drop quite respectably, but, needless to say, this wasn‘t to last. The problem that I had in the boat when my knee protested at the cramped conditions by painfully locking up, seems to be re-occurring as I jogged when I increased the mileage. Now, there is a definite pain in the same knee towards the end of a run and an ache that lasts for a couple of days afterwards. Previous experience tells me that this is not good news, so, I’ve had to curtail the jogging activity as well, at least for the moment.
Nevertheless, after savouring the successful launch and first outing of the boat, I decided that I would have to prove to myself that it wasn't a fluke, and go do it all again. This time, with only Mrs D in accompaniment, but sans camera, we returned to the scene of our triumph of a couple of weeks ago on the Wibbly Wobbly Wey. Getting the boat to the water is a bit of a chore. The carrier atop the car is now a permanent fixture there and gives the long mournful sigh of the Sirens at anything over 30 miles per hour, whether the boat is loaded or not. Single-handed loading of the boat onto the rack is also difficult, but lifting 12 kilos of boat to head height, is no doubt, good practice for ‘portaging’ when the time for that comes.
This time the session lasted over an hour as I repeated the same short paddle between a bridge, near which I can park up and get access to the water, and the lock at the far end of the reach, which is a distance of about a quarter of a mile. Much of that hour was taken up by having to get out of the boat to turn it around and point it back up the course for the return trip. The river at this point is only about two boat lengths wide and I haven’t yet risked trying a three-point turn in such a short space for fear of a capsize. I had handled the necessary back-paddling for that manoeuvre during the beginners course quite well, but that was in a more stable boat. That’s got to be the next exercise on the agenda with this boat, as to be able to make a turn without having to clamber out and back into the boat each time I want to reverse direction, will double the amount of paddle time.
One of the lengths was rudely interrupted by the appearance of a new (to me) hazard. As I returned to the start point a houseboat chugged out from under the bridge taking up most of the width of the river. Taking the course of least resistance, I headed for the bank and clutched at the grass overhanging the edge so as to ride out the houseboat’s wake, while he headed downstream for the lock. We exchanged pleasantries as he passed by and I bobbed up and down in his wake. After completing the run and carrying out my EVA to about-face for another go, I found another houseboat, who had exchanged places in the lock with the first one, again headed my way. Once more I hugged the bank to allow passage, but this ‘captain’ just grinned back at me as I wished him 'Good afternoon'.
My messing about at the water’s edge had also disturbed a family of ducks which included three or four half-grown young ones. On the last return trip of the day one of the young managed to get itself between the bank and my boat, at which point it panicked and fled upstream ahead of me in short bursts with a lot of flapping and quacking. This carried on in spurts with young-un ahead, me, then duck-family following on behind. If I stopped, the duck stopped. If I started again, the duck started. Finally after about thirty meters an outcrop of weed against the bank intervened to give ducky a refuge, in which it buried itself.
I finished the day without taking a swim, so the last session wasn’t a fluke. All in all it was quite a productive session giving a good confidence boost. But I am finding that there is an insidious little glimmer of an idea, beginning to take root at the back of my mind, telling me that I really don’t want to fall in the water again. This is starting to make me overcautious and ready to shy away from taking any sort of a risk. Of course, I ‘know’ falling in the water is inevitable, but maybe I should just throw myself in a couple of times so as to get used to the idea.
Posted Aug 1, 2012
Posted Aug 1, 2012
Posted Aug 1, 2012
Posted Aug 3, 2012
A few more thoughts on the DW
So, what is this DW thing anyway? Well, as previously mentioned it's the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race. A race in single or double canoes or kayaks, which takes place over the Easter weekend. It's open to anyone that thinks they can cover the 125 miles between Devizes in Wiltshire and Westminster Bridge, London, using paddle power only. The first 52 miles of the course is along the Kennett & Avon canal to where it joins the river Thames at Reading. The remainder carries on down the Thames to Westminster in central London.
In fact there are two separate races held concurrently. The first one, the one I'm aiming for, is the four day event which sets off on the Easter Friday and is separated into four, daily stages, with overnight stops, covering the whole of the Easter weekend. From Devizes wharf to Newbury is the first daily stage of 33 miles. The second day covers Newbury to Marlow on the Thames, 35 miles. The third day takes the race to just past Teddington lock, a further 37 miles and the last day finishes with a relatively short distance of 17 miles to the finish line at the steps of the old County Hall at Westminster bridge. The other race, run over the same course, but a completely different kettle of fish, starts on the Easter Saturday morning and continues non-stop, the full distance, overnight into Sunday.
Why Easter? Well it's a convenient four-day holiday to accommodate a four-day race. It’s also because after the Easter period and into the summer, the canal section is prone to a heavy build-up of a blanket of weed, that fouls rudders and paddles, and generally slows the boat’s progress. Easter is also the original ‘moveable feast’ and is set to occur on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon. Which as far as the overnight race is concerned, having a nearly full moon gives it’s contestants the benefit of at least some level of natural light, to an otherwise unlit river.
Unfortunately the 125 mile course includes a number of obstacles throughout the race. Not least are the 77 locks which have to be negotiated one way or another. The fastest option is to ‘portage’ the boat by carrying it around the lock, and along the towpath to the other end. Being able to exit the boat, lift it out of the water, run (if possible) with the boat to the downstream end of the lock, and get it back in the water with yourself inside it as quickly as possible, is an advantage. It has been estimated that portaging takes up five miles of the overall distance of the race, so you may see that a light boat is a pre-requisite. My version of the Laance is glass fibre throughout and weighs in at 12 kilos. Already, putting the thing on a roof rack is beginning to become a bit of a chore, and the lightweight Kevlar version is becoming more attractive by the minute.
Near the beginning of the race, a mile or two after Pewsey wharf, is the Bruce tunnel. This is a 460 meter long tunnel under the Savernake forest. It was constructed at the same time as the canal as the landowner through whose land it goes would not permit a deep cut through the forest. Although the tunnel is dead straight, the only illumination is ‘the light at the ends of the tunnel‘, and it is easy to become disorientated in the darkness. There’s also no towpath and little room for overtaking. It’s also open to normal canal traffic, usually houseboats, coming the other way. There’s a safety boat provided by the race, but in the event of a capsize in the tunnel it would usually be necessary to swim/wade your way out.
Just after the tunnel comes the ’Crofton Flight’. This is a series of six locks which span a distance of about a mile. This is more of an obstacle than a hazard as the question arises whether it’s quicker to portage the boat the full mile around all six locks, or return to the water and paddle between each one. Really it depends on how fit you think you are.
There are other hazards in the form of weirs, mainly on the Thames or lock ‘cuts’ which channel the water overspill around locks. Each of these cause cross-currents near the locks (I’ve already experienced one of those) that can take the unsuspecting unawares and deposit him/her in the water. At the eastern end of the canal there are a number of road swing-bridges across the canal which have a clearance of about 2 - 3 feet, depending on the height of water in the canal at the time. These were never intended to have any sort of traffic ‘under’ them and consequently have a number of steel girder ends exposed to the oncoming paddler. The question here is whether to risk scalping (as a number of contestants have experienced) or take the safer but longer route and portage around them.
The DW contains one other ‘very’ major consideration for the crews in the overnight race to think about very carefully before setting, erm, foot on the water. It’s a sting in the tail of the race caused by a celestial influence that can put them out of the race on it’s very last knockings...
But more of that later...
Posted Aug 8, 2012
We are into August now and the weather has improved a bit, but not all that much. We've had a couple of really warm days but they occurred when I was unable to take advantage of them on the river. Even so, I've managed a further couple of excursions to the Wey which have produced a bag of rather mixed results. On the first occasion I went with the single purpose of doing something other than short paddles along 'my' quarter mile stretch and exiting the boat to turn it around.
Once on the water I did find a measure of greater confidence paddling in a straight line, and concentrated on getting the boat to go straight. The main problem with this seems to stem from my balance in the boat. The natural instinct is to clutch on to something, and since my hands are already occupied clutching the paddle in a white-knuckle sort of way, and my feet are steadfastly pressed against the footrest, it falls to my knees to get a grip on something... anything. What in fact they do, all of their own accord, is to press outwards against the cockpit coaming. This is not good. Legs should be relaxed and knees together in the centre. This is supposed to provide a better balance situation as the boat is free to move under your body, whereas when knees/legs have become part of the boat, this effectively blocks the correcting movement and tends to push the boat further into a roll, making it almost inevitable that you're going to go over.
The tiller for the rudder is situated in the footplate and is supposed to be moved with the toes by pushing in the direction you want to go. So when feet and knees are firmly braced, as they shouldn’t be, to move the tiller requires one of your feet to be lifted off the footboard, and that immediately puts you into what ‘feels’ like an imbalanced situation. Up to now, my method each time I come to correct course has been to lift foot off the footboard and quickly kick the tiller over, where it stays until corrected. When the new course is achieved correction then requires the raising of the other foot to kick it back again where it may, if I’m lucky, centralise. If it doesn’t I have to take my eyes off the point I'm heading for and look down to correct it again until I’ve got the heading I want. This is all very well but it makes the whole thing very unstable and erratic and not at all conducive to peace of mind.
So... my analysis of the situation tells me that it’s a bad habit that I’ve picked up already and the ‘knee-clutching’ that is the source of most of the problems I’m having. Hopefully a bit more concentration on that aspect of things and more practice will resolve the problem. However, if this condition is going to persist I have a ‘Plan B’. I’ve purchased a meter length of Velcro into which Mrs D has sewn a quick release loop. The plan is to loop the Velcro around my knees to hold them together while paddling and in the event of total immersion I can release it quickly just by pulling on the loop. Now I really don’t want to use this method of ‘hobbling’ myself, but if practice doesn’t resolve it, I might have to. I’ll see how things go for a couple of weeks before I resort to that. Luckily the Wibbly Wobbly Wey seems to be the ideal spot to practice technique as it’s relatively quiet weather-wise and hopefully not too deep.
At the end of the third stretch on this session I finally took the bull by the horns and went for a three point turn-round manoeuvre. The river at this point is only about two boat-lengths wide, so long sweeping 180 degree turns are out of the question. The three-pointer turned into about a nine-point turn instead, but it was successful. I used the same methodology on each subsequent turn and each time it came off with only a few rock ’n roll moments during the back-paddling. But that was a big confidence boost when it came off and it means more of the time in the session is useful.
As well as all this, the secondary spin-off benefit I’d hoped for i.e. 'getting fit', is beginning to pay off, albeit slightly. My weight still fluctuates around the 14 stone mark and isn’t reducing as fast as I’d like. I’m telling myself that it’s due to the transfer of fat into muscle. In reality it’s still mostly due to the presence of Mr Buddha. Although he is fading away he still makes his presence felt while struggling in and out of the boat but it‘s not nearly so difficult as before. The repeated ins and outs of the boat, which were good practice, are going to have to be replaced with a few more exercises to make up the difference.
At the moment, to try to improve waist and back muscles and put Mr Buddha under siege, I’m managing a daily set of stretches, then ten sit-ups, and ten back extensions, all with holds at the half way point. These were quite exhausting when I first started but have now become a bit easier. Really, that’s not very much to do, but it was all I could cope with and still walk afterwards. Clearly I‘m going to have to up the ante to make any sort of real improvement, but that aside, I have felt some benefit from the exercise, usually the day after.
So, still lots of work to do, but only eight months to go...