Kayaking: Improvements?

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A white kayak.

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 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 practising 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.

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