Kayaking for Beginners: Putting in Time on the Water

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The adventure continues.

Putting in Time on the Water

A white kayak.

I got a phone call on the Sunday night of the second week in December and arranged with my son an outing to the Wey for the following morning. The Thames is still labouring under red and amber warnings of fast currents and the weather was cold with frost still hanging around at midday. We started off fairly early from New Haw Lock paddling upstream. As he's a lot faster than me we had an arrangement that we start off together and after the first mile he ploughs on ahead while I try to keep him in sight for as long as I can. Further on, when he runs into Pyrford Lock he turns around and comes back to pick me up to return to New Haw. From my point of view this is quite a good arrangement as it means that I have a pacer to work against, which makes me work harder than I might otherwise have done.

The main stretch from New Haw is in a dead straight line as all good canals should be, and with good eyesight you can in fact see the first bridge at the end of a mile-and-a-bit stretch. This time I was able to keep him in sight until he turned the bend after the bridge as I could see his paddles flashing in the distance as he kicked up spray which was glinting in sunlight. Now it's become a test of effort to see how far up the course I can get before I meet him coming back. He went right out to Pyrford lock and I met him coming back with only a quarter mile to go. The return was much the same effort and this was undoubtedly the best session I've had so far in completing about four miles.

At this juncture in my schedule I’m trying to utilise whatever time I can get on the water as I‘ve got a couple of months loss of training to make up. So, when Wednesday dawned, with early temperatures still below freezing and the frost for three days having turned my lawn to concrete, I didn’t have the time to turn down the otherwise bright shiny day. I had planned to do a longer run this day and that would help to consolidate Monday’s effort. A full five-mile trip to Pyrford was what I thought would be suitable, so having kitted myself out with the Cagoule and gloves, the first time I’ve had to use them in earnest, and a thermal layer under the Cag, I set off from New Haw again after lunch.

I plugged on against the flow, but even then a rime of ice was beginning to show across the water ahead of me. It was really cold, but the Cag and gloves kept the frost at bay. Inside the Cag I was sweating profusely and was getting wetter inside than out. At about two-thirds distance I came across a Heron standing at the waterside. I came across it again on the way back, it may well have been frozen into the water. I reached Pyrford after almost an hour where there is a small marina, and noted that the still water in the marina pan had a thin sheet of ice across its surface. I dug myself out of the boat and turned it around for the return trip to simulate a ‘portage’ but took a fifteen minute break walking up and down the bank to get the circulation in my legs going again.

The way back was with the current and everything seemed to straighten itself out for the return journey. At first I felt as if I was zipping along. The paddle was entering the water cleanly without ‘slapping’ the water as it does when I’m pushing against the flow, and I was getting a fair amount of body rotation, keeping the paddle in the water for a useful stroke. But, I had misjudged the time all this was going to take, and by this time the Sun had disappeared and it was getting quite dark. By the time I slid past the frozen-in Heron and hit the home-stretch to New Haw the only light on the water was from the roadway lights in the distance. Overall, the journey had taken just a few minutes more than two hours. I managed to get out of the boat with numb legs and arms, pulled the boat out of the water, loaded it on the car, and let out a whoop as I punched the air for my little success. I was also really looking forward to getting home to a hot bath and tea. Then disaster...

I usually leave the car’s ignition key locked in the car and take a spare door-lock key with me in a waterproof pouch. As I fumbled in the pouch for the key, my frozen fingers didn’t quite get the grip on it I needed. I dropped the key and it bounced off my foot to somewhere under the car. To cut a long story short, some little while later after scrabbling about in the wet leaves under the car, I had come to the point of seriously considering breaking a window to get to the main keys inside the car when another car pulled into the car park and I caught a glint of metal near one of the back wheels... Lucky!

After two days lay-off I was still stiff and sore in the shoulders from the previous session, which I suppose shows too much use of the arm muscles and not enough waist and torso action. But the weather had turned, the frost had gone and a bearable temperature prevailed, it was time to go again. I set off in beautiful sunny conditions warm enough to just employ a thermal and a tee shirt without the Cagoule Despite some heavy overnight rain the river conditions report showed that the whole of the Wey was navigable, so I set off again from New Haw Lock heading upstream and once again the paddles were slapping with gusto on entering the water, although as I warmed up, digging in at a more upright angle seemed to help mitigate that.

My intentions for this trip was to go about half-way up to Pyrford so as to complete a mileage of about four miles this time and not overdo it. At first the going was quite good, although it soon became obvious that I was paddling against a heavy flow. Instead I had had enough by the end of the mile straight and decided not to push it any further as I still had to get back. The fatigue and stiffness from the efforts of the other two sessions of the week were now showing in the poor form of paddling. Although I was being helped by the current, any semblance of form or technique was lost and I staggered the boat back to the start, only too glad to finish for the day.

When I got back home I rechecked the river conditions only to find that while I was out on the water and in mid-paddle the warnings had been upgraded to ‘Dangerous’.

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