Kayaking for Beginners: Another Lull in the Fighting

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The adventure continues.

Another Lull in the Fighting

A white kayak.

A bit of a lull in the generally poor weather conditions, in particular the precipitation, that has centred large, and taken over my thoughts during waking hours, has meant that I've been on a bit of a roll with paddling this last couple of weeks. From the beginning of December up to mid-month I've managed eight outings on the Wey, averaging one every two days, and they have in general felt pretty good, almost as if I'm getting somewhere. I would probably have done more if it hadn't been for the aches, pains and protesting joints.

The outings have mostly been of the two-mile variety, initially to get back to feeling 'comfortable' in a boat after the recent extended lay-offs, but they have also included a couple of extended (for me that is) trips doubling up that mileage. I've also made something of a transition from a standard paddle to a 'wing paddle' which is now becoming familiar to use, but I have to admit, doesn’t seem to have improved my speed over the water any.

But everything good comes to an end, and the sessions have stalled again. Once more the heavy rainfall across the British Isles has resulted in the Thames and the Wey navigation being put off-limits to boating in general. I took a walk down to the Thames at Kingston to see how things were progressing after the latest warning off. In fact it’s about the worst I’ve seen with a constant flow washing its way down towards Teddington lock. The red warnings have been in force for more almost a week now and the conditions don’t show any sign of abating. Even the local swans were having difficulty making any headway upstream.

My last two outings on the Wey were at the early part of last week, accompanied by Mrs D who now walks our new dog along the towpath. They set off ahead of me while I get the boat and myself into the water. I tend to catch them up at about half way, at which point the dog spies me coming up from behind and tries to get into the boat with me, only being saved from himself by Mrs D. He’s only four months old and hasn’t learned what deep water is yet.

On the Monday I set off on the usual, short two mile trip, but for some indefinable reason it just didn’t feel right. The paddling was weak, even weaker than usual and the stability was wobbly. I got to the end of the run and instead of the usual multipoint turn I got out and lugged the boat out to carry it a few paces upstream to simulate a ‘portage’. Once again that was rather more haphazard than I cared for but it was a slight improvement on the previous week’s efforts.

On the way back the river takes me under a footbridge, a railway bridge and a sepulchral edifice that carries the M25. This is at a point where the Basingstoke canal joins the Wey Navigation and there is a confluence of the water that causes a slight drifting of the boat as you plough through it. It can give you an unusual sideways motion, which can take you unawares as the front end of the boat hits the current when the water is moving faster than usual. I have no idea how deep the water is at this point and having no wish to find out I tend to take this particular patch with a little more care that usual.

I had just passed under the railway bridge and was just negotiating the confluence when I heard somewhere in the distance behind me, an old but familiar noise that sounded like, of all things, a steam engine. At first it didn’t register with me that it could possibly be a steam train as British rail consigned all of theirs to the scrapheap years ago. It got louder and louder until reaching a crescendo, it passed at full chat behind me, creating a few interesting wobbles in my forward passage. Right at that particular moment I could not have turned around to look behind me without falling out of the boat, so I seem to have missed what must have been a very rare event on British Rail. Mrs D and the dog, on the other hand got the full view of a locomotive under full steam drawing a half a dozen carriages across the bridge. It’s very surprising the things you come across while paddling a kayak.

Two days later I went out for another longer run, back again to Pyrford. Once again things didn’t feel particularly right, and I was already beginning to sag on the outbound half of the journey. But it was brightened up by a reappearance of my old friend the Heron, in almost exactly the same spot as last time, and a few minutes later the emergence of a Kingfisher from the bank-side undergrowth. This is only the second time I’ve ever seen a Kingfisher and the previous time was only for a split-second flash of emerald green. This time he bobbed in and out of the undergrowth as we went along, only keeping ahead of me for about fifty yards before disappearing.

At Pyrford I took a longer than usual break and had a chat with a group of ramblers who were taking a break at the pub by the lock while working their way down the river towards Weybridge . I also had a look at the water gushing through the lock’s culvert which was really moving despite the warnings being lifted at the time. At least the return journey was with the flow. On return and packing away the boat, it started to rain again and has continued on and off for almost a week since, with the inevitable result that the rivers are closed and I’m pawing at the ground to keep going what progress that I’ve made. It’s said that a sign of oncoming age is when you can remember in perfect detail events of 50 years ago while being unable to recall what you had for yesterday’s dinner. I feel that’s happening to me as far as kayaking is concerned, as I don’t seem to be able to retain the lessons learned only a few days before if I’m forced into yet another lay-off.

Meanwhile black clouds form outside the window and the forecast is for yet more rain. The water authorities say they have enough water stashed away to last two years. Oh for another hosepipe ban.

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