Kayaking for Beginners: A FOAMIL's Mutterings

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A FOAMIL's Mutterings

A white kayak.

My attempts at trying to insert myself into the club's Improvers sessions haven't proved very fruitful up to now. My first attempt at the beginning of October came to naught when the session was cancelled due to heavy rain, bringing flooding and high flow rate along almost the complete length of the Thames and even to the Wey, which was also closed to navigation for a couple of days. On the second Sunday e/mailing the session leader didn't produce a reply so I was reluctant to go along if there wasn't going to be a place for me. It was unlikely though that the session would have taken place anyway, as warning boards were up on the reaches above our stretch, although the weather on the day was otherwise quite reasonable.

A further inquiry this week produced an invitation to come along on this coming Sunday. The only fly in the ointment being that as of today, Thursday, the river flow is rising again with yellow and red warning boards out for the stretches of the river above ours. And of course what happens upstream today, works its way down to us in a couple of days. So we have to wait with baited breath and the hope that there won't be too much rain between now and the weekend.

It's not only the weather that's played havoc with my schedule. Other commitments like work have taken up most of my free time and they have been keen to extend it further. But I've just worked my last fill-in day and work runs out this week, so there is now a need for a big push and no more missed sessions from now on. On top of that Mrs D has decided to get a dog. So we're now going to take out a further two days after the weekend to travel half the length of the country to look at a litter of puppies.

The upshot of all this is that I've managed only one session on the Wey in the whole first half of October. That's the only session since the trip in which I took a dive a couple of weeks ago. Unless this weekend's session with the Improvers comes good, I'm going to have to write off the best part of a month's training, despite recognising the need earlier to 'get the finger out'.

That lone session was not particularly auspicious. That particular morning dawned quite clear and cold. So cold in fact that there was the first thick frost of the year on the car and lawn which no doubt is a portent of the shape of things to come? Things had warmed up marginally by the time I came to launch from the usual spot, but since this was the first time on the water after a lay-off of about two weeks, I thought I'd better keep it simple and just settled for a repeat of my normal two-mile stretch. At first it was very shaky and it was a surprise just how quickly form and confidence had been lost if the outings are missed. I did manage a few good patches on the return trip so not all had been lost.

It was cold out on the water though. Up until now I've usually settled for a pair of old flappy running shorts and a singlet as my paddling outfit, sometimes supplemented with 'Trackster' leggings, all dragged out from the very bottom of my clothing drawer. None of which fit very well, being tight in some places and baggy in others. But this week I bought my first ever item of Lycra. This is a pair of royal blue, thigh-length leggings which are.. well... tight, and accentuate the double curvatures of the nether regions. Running shorts never looked like this. I have also splurged out on a couple of long-sleeved thermal vests and a rainproof, polyester top. I'm told that this now officially makes me a MAMIL (Middle Aged Male In Lycra), although I suspect it would be more accurate to be an FOAMIL, (Flabby Old Aged Male In Lycra).

The theory behind this is the 'Layered' approach. These types of material don't absorb much water and they dry out quickly to help prevent body heat loss when you have finally extracted yourself from the water after a capsize. I can attest to the difficulty in getting out of the water on the two occasions that I went in when wearing 'normal' materials. In fact, on the first occasion, in deep water I had to be assisted by the instructor and unceremoniously hauled out by the BA straps when I couldn't raise my leg far enough to get a purchase on the pontoon that I was trying to board. The second time when I was wearing the Trackster leggings and had difficulty in wading out of relatively shallow water and having to drain them off as they had filled like water balloons. Another factor with these modern materials is that they form air layers between them that helps to keep body heat in and wind chill out. We'll have to see how well all that works in the future though.

In the meanwhile my Heath-Robinson Ergo has been getting a bit of use. It works quite well but the pull from the bungee rubber isn't right. The paddle stroke in water usually takes an equal amount of pressure as it travels its length in the water. The pressure required is the same at both the start and end of the stroke, whereas the bungee naturally increases the amount of pressure needed from front to rear as it stretches and tightens up. Increasing the length of the bungee has helped and it makes a 'good-enough' simulator to help get the sequence of stroke/foot-pressure/body-twist right. It all looks quite impressive in the reflection in the conservatory window, I just hope it will look as impressive when it's on the water.

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