January 17th Thames Tidal Trip Report – Peter Loy (Paddler #6)
I returned to the club from a brief paddle to the submerged Sunbury portage on Saturday morning to find Andrew, Dan, Adam, Tony & Barnet preparing for their DW training paddle from Bell Hill to Westminster. The main purpose of the trip was so that they could familiarise themselves with the tidal stretch of the Thames. This stretch of the river from the clubhouse to Westminster is the final 23 miles of the 125 mile ‘DW’ (annual Devizes to Westminster race). Andrew is already familiar with this section of the Thames and was to be their guide.
Barnet & Dan in the slower canoe headed off first and agreed to wait for the 3 kayakers at Teddington lock, if they hadn’t caught up with them before that. At this point and considering the flow I’d just experienced, I was slightly envious of them going on a potentially fast, ‘effortless’ trip to Westminster and after making a few not-so-subtle hints, it was suggested that I join them.
At 10.45 we were on the water. Adam & Tony were in the K2 (complete with bungee to add some resistance) and Andrew and I were each paddling a Cirrus. As we paddled to Molesey Lock Andrew briefed us on what to expect lower on the Thames, especially regarding avoiding the rowing lane on the ‘wrong’ side of the river above Putney. The water at the far side of the Molesey portage was very high, which made getting back into the boats a little tricky but from then on it was an easy fast paddle to the portage at Teddington. Barnet & Dan had obviously also found the flow helped their progress as they claimed to have been waiting some time for the 3 kayakers and the surprise fourth one (me) to join them. Getting back in was particularly difficult as the water was again high, flowing fast and quite choppy. However, despite the conditions, if anybody was going to capsize this was arguably the ideal place to do so as the RNLI were training just behind us. I briefly toyed with the idea of capsizing just to add to the drama of the occasion but I don’t think the others would have thanked me for it.
I don’t know if certain members of our party who are taking part in the DW were already starting to feel competitive but I did notice that we increased our pace somewhat as we passed Richmond Canoe Club. In any case the strong current made us look fast, without us having to put in much effort! We were slowed down around Kew Bridge by the choppiest water we’d so far encountered, a combination of the strong flow and wash from a large barge and from the boats accompanying the rowers. Adam & Tony looked a bit unstable for a minute or two in their slightly wobbly K2 but they managed to keep upright. We stopped briefly at Putney to stretch our legs and grab a snack. Having joined the trip at the last minute, I wasn’t carrying much in the way of emergency rations but fortunately Adam produced a whole tuck-shop of complex carbohydrates (or at least little bars that looked like they came from a specialist mountaineering or space exploration shop) from the depths of the K2.
After Putney the 4 kayakers pushed ahead to Westminster. I’d decided I’d better contribute something to the trip so I took a few pictures in the beautiful weather as we approached Central London. Not as easy as it sounds as it involves racing ahead, getting the camera ready and waiting for the others to approach, leaving only one hand on the paddle to balance the boat. I tried not to make a big show of photographing Adam & Tony as they paddled passed the MI6 building in case that landed us in further deep (or hot) water.
We finally reached Westminster at around 3.00pm and then turned around to paddle back to meet Barnet and Dan who’d got out at Vauxhall, where the cars had been left earlier. After a mild and slightly amusing altercation with a member of staff at a ‘well-known amphibious vehicle tourist attraction’ about whether or not we were allowed to use the slipway (“yes, actually we do own the river”) we retired to the Portuguese café over the road. After four ‘celebratory custard tarts’ and hot drinks we were on the road back to Bell Hill.
Many thanks to Andrew for organising it all and to everybody for their good grace in accepting the ‘interloper’. I’m already looking forward to doing the same trip again, at a more leisurely pace and with frequent stops, on February 28th.
Pictures snapped by Daniel Bownds and Peter Loy