Sarah: “Is that a turkey I just saw?”


The weekend comes round again and what else could we do but get up before dawn and get the train out to Reading. We figured that after our first session with Paul at Marsport it would be good to get in a repeat check of our paddling health, now we’d had chance to practice what we learnt.

We got the train to Reading nice and early, popped the boat together by the station and paddled down to Marsport, which worked well. It was a nice early paddle, and it meant that we were ready warmed up and ready to go. First back to the ergo and after a good workout, back on to the water to look at what we actually do in the boat. Our Pakboat has some limitations which are affecting how we train. We have no foot rests, which are essential for full body power, as would be the corresponding foot straps. Add to this that our boat is wider and slower and we are finding it harder than things would be in a sleek 18ft Jensen Clipper.


After Paul put us through our paces and gave us a cup of tea, we had to get back onto the river as we had a target for the day – Bisham 15 miles away. We did have a bit of a treat for ourselves: avoiding a lock with a paddle round St Patrick’s Stream as it seemed that we were just within the closed fishing season. It was a nice fast stretch and made us practice steering. It also tested the observation skills somewhat as one of the houses there was keeping a full grown turkey on the back porch. Looking at the size of it we guessed that it had become a family pet before Christmas and so missed out on its inevitable fate. No photos as we were too surprised.


As we came through Henley the wind really picked up. It was a real battle to paddle against it. However we would not let it win and tried to get a picture of the wind picking up the water but couldn’t really do it justice.

Some of the day felt like a hard slog, so we were glad to be pulling up to our stop for the night in Bisham, a former rectory where the garden goes down to the river. After negotiating the chicken wire to stop the geese pooing on the garden, we were ushered inside for tea and cake, which was most welcome. We were slightly paranoid about the damage we could do to the cream carpet but all was well.


Dinner time was a time machine. If you are ever looking for a trip back to the 70’s on the Thames we recommend the Old Bull at Bisham – where hedgehog garden ornaments are trapped in the walls.


On Sunday we put on to a gloriously sunny day with tolling church bells and started our progress on to Staines – 23 miles. There were lots of rowers about, who can blame them when the weather is so nice. Though I do still find it strange that people would want to get on the river to be shouted at by someone.

We were also passed by some kayakers who were clearly practising for something. With the Devizes to Westminster coming up in a few weekends, it could have easily been that.


As we paddled on Dan’s shoulder was playing up, which was a shame as it had been behaving well. We swapped ends to try and see if the difference would help. Turns out that my front paddling does not help at all. In fact, in the run up to Windsor we had to change back as if anything it was making things worse.
On the plus side over the day Dan did a great job of working through the pain in his shoulder and we kept going to the end.

On the minus side we had our first in-training in-boat argument. Fortunately the sunny day and great weather meant that it was all smiles at the end of the day. The boat was soon away under the watchful eye of the residents of Staines and it was homeward bound on the train back to London.

Next stop for training is the river Wye and then we hope it’s time for camping paddles on the Thames.



Sarah: Oh Kingston Town


After paddling a couple of rivers with nightmare numbers of portages and really horrible portages I was more persistent about the Thames. The portages aren’t hellish and you may even get to just bimble through a lock.

We planned a route from Datchett to Hampton Court or Kingston – a bit shorter than the days when training in 2013 but we didn’t start those big long ones to March. After suffering from a trapped nerve in my shoulder in the middle of the week, I wasn’t sure how the day would go.

We were on the water at 9.30am. Not many February mornings where you find yourself down to a t-shirt. The weather was good, and we had packed gorgeous pasta for lunch that Dan had cooked up the night before. This was our first time out with both of us using the nifty bent lightweight carbon paddles and its much easier to balance the power when we have the same type of paddle.


We did the first 5 miles in an hour with aeroplanes taking off and coming into land above although it made conversation a bit tricky – I think I annoyed Dan even more than usual with my requests to repeat himself.

5 miles in we stopped at a lock for coffee. We paddled another 5 miles, where we had the first lunch. As the river gets busier we hope to be eating and drinking in the locks but for the time being this gets done as we portage.

Despite the great weather the river was still quiet although we did have some fun when the odd river cruiser came past making it bumpy. Other than that there were rowers, who seemed to be behaving well and paddling on the right side of the river.

IMGP6522The lock at mile 15 was displaying a notice saying that the next reach was closed for 3 hours. We had planned on 2nd lunch but after a chat with the lock keeper we discovered that this was for a rowing race. They were happy we had time to clear the reach if we left then. So off we paddled. We are pleased to say we were first across the finishing line and then made sure we had 2nd lunch at the next stop.

We soon found ourselves at the ornate gates of Hampton Court. We were definitely not for stopping there and so paddled on to Kingston. We arrived all too soon, 14.30 in fact. High tide at Richmond was 16.16 and so paddling past Teddington, against the tide, wasn’t something we were up for today. The station at Teddington was some way from the take off so this was the sensible take off. We called it a day knowing we could have managed more.

It was a good day with laughter and good tempers and I was feeling very happy that my shoulder had held though it’s still not that happy. Dan did break right at the very the end with some grumpiness about where to get the boat out, but still possibly a world record for him.

Getting home before 5pm gave us plenty of time for packing away and baths before dinner.

Dan: First training day on the Thames

Every paddle stroke got us a few feet forwards. But as we took the blades out of the water we lost momentum. The boat started to be tugged backwards, like being on a treadmill. I didn’t think that’s how you trained for a canoe race.
the top of the oxford circuitIt’s January and Sarah and I are committing to paddling the Yukon together. We’ve drawn out the training plan for the next 2 months and this weekend was our first training paddle proper. A look at how each of us is doing and what we need to learn. We chose the Oxford Circuit cos it’s a looping route that means we don’t have to worry about where to park the car.

The Thames

We are likely to be doing our training on the River Thames. For most of its length It’s a managed navigation, an adapted river that has locks and weirs to manage the flow. Most of the year it sits at a happy level and boats of all sizes abound. When the river gets fuller and the flows get stronger, yellow boards go up on the locks as a warning. When it’s proper high they put up their red boards and ask people not to use the river unless they know what they are doing.

Red boards for us

We knew the Thames was going to be high. It was probably the fullest we’ve seen it. It was a cold too, so we had the ‘what will make this a safe and good day’ discussion. We checked a few points of the river to know our options. Fast rivers can be fun rivers, but not when you can’t get back to the car. We were happy we had options, but we agreed this wasn’t the day for pace training, we would be working on communication and problem solving instead.

The Paddle

Our first mission was to break into the outflow of a weir – something that usually causes a differing of approaches from the ends of the boat. The front wants a powerful dynamic entry to the fast-moving water, the back wants to gently move into the water lower down the outflow where there is less of a kick. As the front traditionally powers the boat forwards and the back provides the steering, you can see how this may have contributed to frank discussions of paddling ability.
We got it right, you’ll be happy to know. Right meaning talking, trying what we talked about and being happy about the result. Good times; unusual times. So we continued, speeding down the Thames and then turning for the hard slog up the canal that’s a straight run, just two locks to carry around.

Kings Weir – The challenge of the day

Turning off the canal, back to the Thames, we knew the challenge of the day was ahead. Joining the Thames in the flow to Kings lock’s weir, we needed to paddle against the huge flow of the flooded Thames for 100 meters to get us into safer waters. Don’t worry gentle reader, we had several bug-out plans, but we needed to paddle absolutely solidly as a pair to not need them.
It was hard, each step forward was half a step back, but we made it up river to the lock turn off and manoeuvred across the river to the lock channel, never once drifting back panicking or not trusting one another.

Round Two

Portaging Kings lock itself and some wiggles down the fast flow of the Thames got us back to our starting point. We coffeed and snacked at the lock and decided we were good for the second go-round. This time aiming for a time of less than 2 hours.
The second slog up the canal hurt. Aches in my shoulders and back developed no matter how I sat or how much we swapped paddling sides. I can still feel them a day later as I write this. We made it round the circuit in 1 hour 55 mins. Choosing a route down a mill stream to avoid doing Kings Weir again – we knew we weren’t up to it twice.

A new Dynamic

It felt a lot different to our previous paddles. There’s less stopping to appreciate where we are, the cadence is higher, but we are trying to chat more. Listing out puddings, making jokes, creating fun. If I want more communication with Sarah, I’m going to have to help create it. We do go quieter as we get tireder – we’re gonna need to work on that, it’s going to either damn us or save in the race.
Eating and drinking on the move is going to be a challenge too. I could tell I got dehydrated and didn’t eat at the right times. If I’m the engine to get us to Dawson I’m going to need to do that better and build up my endurance. We paddled 14 miles in four and a bit hours. I will need to 8 hours to just cross the lake at the start, and then keep on another 3 days and night down the river.
This is going to take some more work.