Kayaking for Beginners: Back to the Thames

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The adventure continues.

Back to the Thames

A white kayak.

I had been promising myself that I would make a return back to the Thames when I was reasonably confident that I was managing the boat well enough to cope with the more exposed conditions there, and I had tentatively earmarked the start of October as a good a time as any to try. By mid September it had barely rained in my part of the world for the best part of six weeks or so, and on one particularly pleasant weekend I went down to the river to assess the situation. It was a warm afternoon and the water was beautifully calm with very little flow. It was a picture of tranquillity with the odd Swan and waterfowl doing what they do. There was no wind and the conditions for an exploratory trip in a kayak were as near perfect as it is possible to get. Things looked pretty good for an outing at the end of the month but I determined that I would keep to the plan of a couple of longer trips on the Wey then chance my arm. Meanwhile both my sons also individually offered to ride shotgun on me when I decided to take the (metaphorical) plunge in the Thames.

Almost needless to say that was the signal for the weather to change. At the end of the month the rainfall, especially in the northern half of the country, was reaching record figures with burst river banks, homes flooded out to the extent of some building's foundations being washed away making the buildings only suitable for demolition, and phrases such as 'a month's rain in a day' being bandied about in the news reports. Although the southern end of the country didn't fare so badly as the north, there were still several days of spectacular downpours.

Things just seemed to be beginning to settle down again when at the beginning of October I received an e-mail from the club with which I had completed the beginners course and improvers sessions in April. They had an improvers session listed for the first Sunday in October. This seemed ideally suited for my purposes and I decided to sign up, even if it meant temporarily having to go back to the ultra-stable beginner's boats. Of course, no sooner had I contacted them than the rain started tipping it down again, and by the day before the session the red 'River in Flood' warning boards were up for the complete length of the Thames, and so the session was cancelled. Even the normally sedate Wey managed a couple of closures in places. So it goes. . .

The club has however, also published a list of regular Saturday trips that's planned through each week right up to the new-year. Unfortunately they are all a bit on the long side for me at around ten to fifteen miles each, but from my point of view they would be ideal if I can get somewhere near that mileage during the coming month... or I could just go for it and see what happens. Though that probably wouldn't be very fair on the others taking part if they had to keep on looking after someone who was forever stopping. There are other improver sessions planned by the club so I'll have to see if I can get into one or two of those beforehand. But as usual, frustratingly, it all rather depends on the weather and how quickly I might be able to get up to scratch.

In the meanwhile I've worked out another cunning plan to help with the paddling action. During poor weather when it's not advisable to be out on the water, various clubs in the area use a gymnasium based paddling machine, usually referred to as the 'Ergo'. Really it's the kayaker's version of a rowing machine, except that it reproduces the kayaker's paddling action with the use of a pole for a paddle connected by strips of bungee rubber from the ends of the pole to a turbine that measures and dissipates the effort produced.

I've tried to make my own, rather more Heath-Robinson Ergo, in the back garden with the use of two garden chairs. Set face to face, with one to sit on and the other facing it but set against a wall of the garden conservatory. Two strips of bungee from the ends of an old aluminium pole go through a wooden footboard and are mounted to the chair that's against the wall. By sitting on the one and bracing my feet against the footboard on the other wall mounted one, I can simulate a paddling action with the pole quite effectively. My pull on the bungee will pull the footboard away from the chair unless I brace it by pushing down with the correct leg to keep it in place. Another neat feature is that I can check that my body action is looking good by watching my reflection in the conservatory window glass. Simples.

The first couple of tries with it have worked quite well, although there may be a couple of teething troubles with the length of the bungee cord that I'll have to iron out. It does seem to simulate the action required quite well though, and I hope that this might help without having to rely on getting the boat on the water each time I want to practice.

On the exercise side of things I've had another day's bending, lifting and exerting myself unduly while I laid out the new potting shed wooden base and after erecting the shed complete, manhandling it into place. That's quite hard work but it hasn't been anything like as painful as last time.

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