Kayaking: The Wibbly Wobbly Wey

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A white kayak.

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, which 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.

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