Kayaking for Beginners: Changing Paddles in Mid-stream

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The adventure continues.

Changing Paddles in Mid Stream

A white kayak.

Last week the Thames was just coming out of flood and the Wey was navigable again as I pressed the button to send in my latest post in this thread's sorry saga. I thought then that the turn in the weather would presage a period of calmness and dryness that would let me get on with things and maybe get back on track. After all, the forecast on the weather website that I use pointed to a full week of reasonably sunny weather with bearable temperatures so I thought that I could look forward to at least a full week of useful exercise out on the water. I thought too soon.

With that in mind I took myself down to the Wey on the Monday morning for a short-ish run to give the wing paddle that I've been gifted a try out. The thinking is that using this 'racing' style paddle instead of the flat asymmetric one that I normally use might just work the Oracle and produce some sort of improvement in my performance for the same amount of effort being invested. In the last outing, accompanied by my son, with both of us in K1 single seat boats things had gone reasonably well although it still showed that my overall speed is quite woeful. Nevertheless I felt optimistic that the new paddle might provide some sort of measurable improvement.

As previously mentioned, to use this type of paddle requires a quite different type of stroke to what I’m used to, but I had been assured that after a mile or so I’d get the hang of it. Initially I tried to get a feeling for the thing by sitting on the bank and paddling on the one side in the water. Once more I managed to make a couple of walkers’ day as they passed by with ‘knowing’ looks. The paddle seemed to have developed a life of its own as I pulled it back through the water and it would shoot out sideways and away from me as the aerofoil shape of the blade took over the force being applied to it. It certainly felt different, although the sideways action was probably magnified due to the fact that I wasn’t moving past the paddle as I would if I were in a boat. Anyway, I felt hopeful.

With the assurance that everything would be okay after a bit of use ringing in my ears, I launched (in the kayak) from the bank beside the lock, which is the easiest place on that part of the river to get into, and after settling in in the usual manner, pushed away from the bank and tried a few tentative strokes. I was paddling against a quite significant flow and into a gusting wind that was bringing up a veritable storm of leaves from the overhead canopy of tree branches. The water was covered in an accumulated carpet of leaves and the flow had washed banks of them up to the closed lock gates where they formed a pudding-like mass in the lock itself. I was also catching clumps of wet leaves and tossing them over myself with the paddle as it came up out of the water. I started off badly. I was all over the place and the sideways motion of the paddle produced a roll sufficient to require me to stop paddling and regain some equilibrium. Luckily my new found skill of placing the paddle blade on the water and letting it plane across the surface helped out here and kept me out of the water.

Restarting again, but this time with less applied effort through the stroke got me a slightly steadier start. Nevertheless the feeling that the paddle was more in control of me than I was of it persisted, and I progressed only slowly and very erratically up the river. After 20 minutes or so I’d progressed about half the distance I would usually have done, so I pulled over to a convenient spot on the bank to take stock. At that point I really felt like picking the boat out of the water and carrying it back the half mile or so that I’d come. After a few minutes rationalising I knew that I had to give it a bit longer than this for a full test and pushed off again.

This time I tried the gimmick that seemed to have helped before and counted the timing of the strokes to get them even. I also found that to get a ‘full’ stroke I had to reach forward further to get the blade fully in the water by my feet, and pull the blade out sideways when it was level with my waist. Leaving the blade in the water longer so that it was withdrawn behind me caused a definite ‘catch’ in the water as it started to come back into the side of the boat. This didn’t cause as much of a problem as I had thought that it might, just as long as I pulled it out early. By the time I reached the end of my usual run at a bit over a mile things were going better, at least well enough to give me the confidence to return in the boat rather than walk it back.

The return journey went quite well with me still counting out the timing of the strokes. In this direction I was aided by the flow and the wind going my way, and I seemed to be getting a bit of a move on for a change. At the finish, although I was exhausted from the extra reaching forward and the back muscles were beginning their usual collapsing trick, I felt that it had been time well enough spent to give it another go on the next outing which I planned for the Wednesday, having allowed myself a day’s rest. Of course this wasn’t going to happen.

Expecting to go out again within a couple of days was counting my chickens a bit too early. Although the weather forecast still showed reasonable, even sunny weather in my locality, for everywhere else it's been a much different kettle of fish. More warnings of heavy rain and high winds for the week were being broadcast almost hourly on the national news and everywhere was battening down the hatches for the forecasted heavy rain and high winds. Sure enough, Wednesday was wet and windy and the effect on the rivers was almost immediate. The amount of rain that had been coming down over the country as a whole has now achieved almost total ground saturation with the consequence that any further rain just runs off the ground, through the drains and straight into the rivers as the already saturated ground just can’t soak up any more water.

And that's the way it's been up to date. I need a Plan B.

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