Hemel Hempstead Canoe Club at Devizes Westmister Race 2009
Al Farrance's Account of his non stop C2 entry
We'd done plenty of training, done well at the run-up races, were well prepared and we had the best support team, so we were pretty happy at the start. Chris and Tom took a photos of us pushing off from Devizes wharf that show us both looking pleased as punch. We'd agreed a schedule beforehand which started with the same pace that we aimed to hold all the way down, so it was bound to feel pretty relaxed at first and for the first time ever on a race it was easy to enjoy the countryside and the scenery. Pretty soon Bob, Andy and Jan appeared on support, quickly followed by Alan and Sharon.
The Tring Rafters team Dave Fryer and Gary had started ahead of us. They were using a faster, tippier boat so it was no great surprise when we were told that they were was 5 min up on us at Hungerford. We weren't too worried about that as Dave had done almost no preparation and he was bound to pay for that. Sure enough we had him in sight by Aldermaston. When we came up along side, Dave tells us that they'd already been swimming but he says that they were going well. Friendly chat aside, we know he's going to be gutted that we've caught him already.
The support team were there all the way down giving us small amounts of food at every lock and lots of encouragement. Hope they were enjoying the day, they sure seemed to be doing everything for us. Then Alan Corner is heard but not seen shouting encouragement from the beer garden of The Cunning Man. We were maintaining our cruise pace and were exactly to schedule at every check. We reached the Thames by evening and couldn't believe that after 10 hours of paddling we were still enjoying it and both felt great. We wouldn't have been so happy if we'd known that our arch rivals, Robin and Chris (also from Hemel club) had been 25 mins up on us at Newbury. Mark Petersen and Steve Hughes (their support) had been goading them on to catch us.
Mike Thornton and Simon May joined us at the Thames, supporting on bikes from the banks, Hugh Davies had been with us since Hungerford. Shouts of "Come Onnnnnnnnn Rafters" drifted up from distant bridges. Pretty soon it was dark and they were lighting up the whole woods with their High Intensity lights. Entertainment for us listening to the swearing as they ran into brambles, fought past gates or occasionally fell off.
Anyway Shirine (its not a race) Voller had told the support team that on no account to tell us how Robin and Chris were doing. So we were keeping the steady pace and as it turns out we were eating into their lead. We don't lose as much time as you'd think on portages. Shirine relies pretty heavily on her stick but we move quickly, we are decisive and slick on the in and outs and the support team shepherd us efficiently through and tell us what to expect next on the river. We accept poorer launching ground than most teams so as to keep the portage as short as possible but its easier to get into a C2 and often we get away in front of K2s that have run past us while Shirine is using the stick. Sometimes we'd hear a squabble break out behind us as a crew made some cock-up in their haste to beat us. Nice.
Again we couldn't believe that we were still enjoying it at 01:30 in the morning as we did the run in to Windsor under the bright lights of the town and the bridge. After Runnymede it was getting pretty heavy but we still maintained the pace and support tells us that we still looked strong. By Chertsey we weren't looking so slick at the portages and it was a struggle to get out of the boat. Back at Marlow something had gone in my right elbow which gave me trouble with the top hand push down so I'd modified my stroke to do more of a cut in and less of a push down. Ibuprfen works well but now at Shepperton, Tom and Sharon are refusing to let me have any more. Arr well, get on with it then.
Poor Dave Fryer had to pull out about this time. They'd swum again, Dave's back muscles were giving up the ghost under the stress of the more tippy boat and he was unable to balance it anymore. Reluctantly he tells his partner they'd have to call it a day. "Don't worry Dave", says Gary "That's music to my ears". They did well indeed, to get so far considering their lack of preparation which, of course, was their own fault, but Dave wouldn't have it any other way.
When we got to Teddington the support team finally told us that Robin and Chris were a minute up on us and to pull the finger out on the tideway. We can guess that Sally Collison would be telling Robin and Chris the same thing. Dawn was just breaking as we launched off the slippery slope and just avoided capsizing. It was spot on high tide and slack water. We started off strong on the final leg but pretty soon I felt I was beginning to fade, but then the tide was quickly running hard and we were picking up speed. Shirine, up front, still seemed to be keeping the hammer down, (bloody hell, good going girl) ,deep breaths from me, focus and stay with her. Its a long, long way down the tideway. We think we've spotted Battersea power station about five times before it really does come into view. Finally we can see Westminster Bridge and Shirine is shouting to "Sit up and look strong", then she raises the pace. Arrrgh, lets go then, and we're over the line.
We've completed the 125 miles in 22hrs 19min and we came 3rd out of 25 open canadian class boats. We were 38th out of 180 overall including the much faster K2 class. A good showing, much quicker than we thought we'd be and we are over the moon about it.
4th were Robin and Chris at 22hrs 26 min. Yeaaaah- got you at the line fellows. Bloody close race though, we'll be arguing whatifs and could've over a beer on that one.
2nd were two good guys from Whitstable in the faster ICF canadian (ICF is the european formula race canadian)
1st were our friends Chris Preston and Tom Fryer (Dave's son) in 21hrs 05min also in ICF canadian. We don't know much about how they got on because Chris was very keen to play his cards close to his chest and wouldn't let his support team give out any information. Anyway, it was a great result, on their first attempt. Well done guys.
As I say we had a wonderful race and I hope that everyone else, especially the support teams did too.
Uncompetitive Al Farrance
- Practice as much of the course as you can - by day, and with at least one night paddle, preferably on the Thames.
- Agree your objectives - one of these should be to have fun, which we qualified by saying 'for at least part of the race'! - and that's support crew and paddlers.
- Break the race down into sections with milestones and focus on achieving one section at a time.
- Take time planning your schedule using Waterside D as a benchmark Al drew up a correlation of our time for WS D with previous paddlers who'd completed Waterside D and then went on the DW Not an exact science, but gave us some idea of what to expect. Being on or slightly ahead of your schedule is psychologically uplifting too!
- Food needs to be something that suits your personal preferences Unlike Robin and Chris who went for the scientific route, Al and I chose stuff we liked and made sure we had a mixture of sweet and savoury - flapjacks, hot cross buns & sandwiches were our staples.
- Hot drinks are a godsend: 2009 was a warm year, but even so it was fantastic to have a supply of warm drinks at portages These complemented our main supply of fluid which was diluted energy drinks. The way this was possible was by having enough supporters that one crew could brew up whilst the other crew met us at the next portage.
- Take part in the spirit of the 'race'. There will be serious crews, setting out to break records, and crews setting out just to finish. Whatever your take on it, bring camaraderie to the event - we certainly felt that our positive and sociable outlook contributed to our excellent result, as well as making the whole thing much more enjoyable.