Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race - Easter 2011

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<flickr>5662601304|medium|thumb|right|Paul C and Geoff before the race start</flickr> In 2011 we fielded two entries into the Devizes Westminster International Canoe Marathon. Paul C and Geoff entered the 2 day, and Paul Yates, the solo 4 day epic. You can see photos from Geoff and Paul's 2 days over at Flickr

Our friends as Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre also entered a team, and you can see a few photos of them also.

Below is Paul Yates' diary of his 4 day paddle.

Paul Yates' 4 day DW

<flickr>5662625054|-|right</flickr> Over the Easter weekend I had originally planned to enter the DW Senior doubles with Matt (lambert), alas it was not to be after he busted his ankle (and boat) sliding down a rocky ditch in Wales. Personally I thought this was quite an extreme way to avoid the torment of the race itself.

So of course I did what every sane person would do and decided cut my losses and try again next year. At least that's what I should of done. But no, stupid, stubborn old me decided to enter the four day senior singles event. And because it isn't difficult enough already *cough* I decided to do it self supported bivvying at each day's finish point carrying food, water and lots of Lucozade Sport each day.

On Thursday night Matt very kindly dropped me off in Devizes and I attempted (and failed) to get some much needed sleep on the hard floor of a Scout hut in anticipation of the early start the next day. Lesson 1, taking a thermarest is not a luxury… but a necessity! After blagging a lift for my boat and I the next morning at 7:00am I was off (unfortunately my last minute kit prep didn't result in my failing scrutineering).


It was always forecasted to be a hot weekend but I didn't really appreciate how hot is was going to be until I'd been paddling the first 15 mile 'pond' to the first portage, Wooton Rivers. Dragging the boat out of the canal with the wieght of my kit and food in the back it really dawned on me what I had let myself in for. It only got worse as I got to Crofton Locks (a series of 9 locks in quick succession), the midday sun was fierce and I was in serious danger of succumbing to heatstroke. Luckily I was able to have a word with myself, take on some fluids and chocolate to crack on with the rest of the day's race. There were a quite a few retirements on Friday evening, a number of "Did Not Finish"ers, and one hospitalisation for Heatstroke. Getting to Newbury was a massive relief and I was very happy to set up my Bivvy and get some well deserved shut eye.


From then on the race didn't get any easier, and some high-(or low) lights from Saturday include:

  • Getting to the (non-tidal) Thames and realising there would be no flow whatsoever, this was a major disheartener!
  • Every time I got my boat out a portage I was sure some sort of masochist was throwing rocks in the back just to make it heavier as I struggled to heave it onto my shoulder.
  • As the race progressed the Camelbak rucksack as I was carrying was cutting into my underarms more and more leaving some quite hefty chaffage!
  • My right wrist slowly starting to ache with the telltale sign of Tendonitis… I eased off on the catch with my right hand and concentrated on driving harder with my legs only to develop the feeling that some one had put a rock underneath my backside, this slowly transformed into the feeling that some one was driving a red hot needle into my right buttock on each stroke, not a very pleasant sensation I can assure you!


After all this I was ready to start again on Sunday and I was ecstatic to get to the last portage before Teddington (Molseley rollers) safe in the knowledge that it was only a 4 mile "bimble" to Teddington and the opportunity to get some more much needed rest. This was the longest 4 miles I had ever paddled in my life, it seemed to take hours and I really was in a foul mood afterwards. That evening Susie and Myles came out to Thames Young Mariners to say hi and grab some food. This was a major boost to my morale and from this point having already covered 108 miles, I knew that it was only a 17 mile push to home the next day.


Monday morning came, another scruitneering session to ensure our boats were safe for the Thames and we were off on the last section. There were some very nervous faces in the paddock that morning, lots of people worried about the busy commercial tidal section of river they were about to embark on. I was quite relaxed at this point. Although I'd never paddled the tidal Thames in a tippy K1, I had been on it plenty of times in a sea kayak. The thought of the other river traffic didn't bother me at all. The one thing I did under-estimate though was the physical toll that the previous 3 days flat water paddling had taken on my body. I had been pushing hard all the way and by this point the tendonitis in my wrist and the literlal pain in the ass that I was suffering was really making life hard. At one point I even contemplated just capsizing and letting a safety boat pick me up… that way it would have all been over and I could be on my way home to bed. I quickly shook that thought off and as I reached the first bridge in London I was glad I did. Seeing familiar faces and hearing familiar voices for the first time in the race encouraging me to keep going really lifted my spirits… Carter and Sue commented on how they could actually see me getting a sprint on as soon as they shouted to encourage me home. In hindsight this represented my biggest challenge throughout the race, not having the support of friends at each portage to provide the much needed reinforcement and support to keep me going, something I hadn't really anticipated being a problem (rather naively perhaps). Hearing the support repeated at various bridges along the way from Geoff, Louise, Myles and of course Susie really lifted my spirits. So much so that at more than one point I'm not afraid to admit that I was welling up.

The finish

My highlight of the whole race was definitely the final push home, after all the encouragement on the way down the tideway (including the obligatory "it's only a Tuesday night paddle now…" the London Eye finally came into view indicating I was close to the finish. At that point I crossed to river right to make the far right arch under Lambeth bridge for the approach to the finish. I met another K1 paddler who was also physically struggling, we swapped a few words of encouragement and declared our delight in seeing the finish up ahead. Where I got the energy from I don't know but from here I dug deep to pull out a hard sprint finish. I managed to overtake a few other K1s and keeping up with quite a fast K2 I crossed the line at around 11:20am, taking just over 2 hours and 20 minutes to make the 17 mile trip down the tideway.

My total race time for 125 miles and 77 portages was 28 hours 40 minutes and 57 seconds. The theory is that a K2 should be 1.2 times faster than a K1, so based on that my target time was 24 hours x 1.2… in other words 28 hours and 48 minutes. To say I was happy as I climbed the steps at Westminister to be greeted by Susie, Carter, Sue, Geoff, Myles, and Louise is an understatement… even if it did take me some time to be able to form a sentence to such effect.

Undoubtedly this was the hardest physical challenge I have attempted in my life, my body is in all sorts of pain at the moment, but also the most rewarding. I have my finishers' medal hanging infront of me on my screens as I type this and still have that high from completing the race. I will be back to attempt the straight-thru without a doubt… but for now I'm going to relax and enjoy some mich needed alcoholic based therapy.

I hope this gives just a snippet of what it was like to take part in the 'The Canoeist's Everest'. In doing all this I hoped to raise some much needed money for the Charity I was supporting, Shadwell Basin. I want to thank everyone who has already kindly donated… for those of you who would still like to (and it would mean a lot, especially after going through all that ^) then you can do so at:

Thanks, Paul