Kayaking for Beginners: Calculating Risks

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The adventure continues.

Calculating Risks

A white kayak.

I've fallen at the first self-imposed hurdle in that I'm not going to make my target of carrying out a ten-mile long paddle by the end of the December. The best I've been able to manage is a couple of five mile efforts, which weren't done with any real ease or grace at all... but they were done.

Christmas came and went and Santa dropped in a new toy to play with. It's a Garmin GPS watch that tells me where I've been and how long it took me to get there. Its programming is fairly straightforward and records miles, time, pace and calories burned. That last one should be interesting. The only thing is that it shows the outing as a run or a bike ride, and not as a paddle. But I know what it means. Hopefully I’m going to be able to use it to see if the good performances I’m putting in are real or imagined.

At the start of the week I had another look at the Wey which had just had the benefit of two solid days of rain. The parts of the River Wey that run parallel to the Wey Navigation have overflowed their banks and the adjacent fields are flooded. The Wey Navigation was high and running quite fast but not showing too much turbulence so when I got another call from my son to go out we decided to say sod it to the conditions and warnings and at least give it a try.

So, on Boxing Day morning we put the boats in at New Haw and the water seemed quite flat, just moving a bit faster than usual but with a surge across the width of the channel towards the weir near the lock. It certainly didn’t seem any worse than the last time we had been out on it. It was still a hard workout though, pushing our way against the flow. Eventually my son forged on ahead and I lost him to view, but not quite as quickly as the last time. I ventured on a little further past my usual two-mile stopping place but this time I still had to accept defeat, and turned to go back before meeting him on his return trip. He completed the full five miles up to Pyrford and back in under an hour, but didn’t catch me up until we were almost back at the start.

Once again it was a whole lot easier paddling back with the flow and wind behind me. The Garmin showed the awful details and full erratic story when they were downloaded to their site for analysis. I was pleased to find that my calculations on distance and average speed were about right, but it confirmed that the return trip (with the flow) was a little faster and a little quicker overall than I had thought it would be. It also highlighted that my speed at any particular point varied enormously between two and a half and six miles per hour.

We arranged another outing towards the end of the week, but by this time the weather had deteriorated even further. The rain had swollen the Thames to the point that half of the clubhouse car park was underwater and the floating pontoon that’s usually has to be stepped ‘down to’ get on, had to be stepped ‘up to’ instead. Meanwhile on the Wey the water level in some places was almost to the brim of the embankment and a gusting wind was blowing along the length of the two-mile stretch. The water was also rippling along at an apparently fast rate, though that was probably due more to the wind kicking up the surface. After a bit of serious consideration we elected to go out anyway as I knew that I was going to need some practice in these sorts of conditions. Ever since ‘finding’ the Wey at this point last summer I’ve always regarded it as a friendly and welcoming place, but with the conditions from the last couple of weeks and today, it’s come to feel to be a rather hostile place instead.

Once again I laboured against the tide and a wind gusting from zero to 20 miles-an-hour or more, coming at me not only from straight ahead but also sideways through the trees that line the bank, giving a turbulence that was rocking the boat as it caught me. For the outward leg it was of course an awful performance and I was getting nowhere fast. The side gusts felt as if they were going to have me over at any moment and I had to stop paddling a number of times to regain equilibrium, but at least that gave me an opportunity to practice some support strokes.

None of this was helped by the kayaks and canoes from the local clubs that usually use the Thames and had been forced by the downright dangerous conditions out there to use the Wey instead that Saturday morning. By the time I got on the water it was getting crowded and obviously the conditions on the Wey were of no real consequence to them. The majority were not even wearing BA’s. At first I had to pull over to get out of the way as groups of paddlers came at me four abreast. To them the Wey was just a relatively placid place and they were doing reps in groups, at full chat with the wind and flow while I just bobbed around in their wake.

Later, on the way back, even with the gusts of wind giving me the occasional surge forward, I was passed by two old boys who each looked about 90 years old, in very narrow, pointy boats who at least had the humour to say hello. Both of them were as thin as laths without a spare ounce between them, but at least they were friendly. I tried to keep up with them for a while but it soon became apparent that they were working on a different power/weight ratio to me and gradually got well ahead. Just before the finish of what was a thoroughly unpleasant paddle I was passed by another pair which included a lady of uncertain age in another Laance, showing just what a Laance can do in the right hands.

At least taking my chances on the water despite the warning boards being up has proved useful, as the conditions on the Wey are not anything like those on the Thames. I simply wouldn’t take the same risks there. But if I’m sensible about it, it does open up the possibility of using the Wey Navigation even when the warnings are posted, although the traffic that migrates in from the Thames makes it all a bit crowded.

So, despite having a reasonably good start to the month I haven’t made my target of a ten-mile trip by the end of December. If I had done so my target for January would have been a trip of 20 miles, which doesn‘t seem likely now. Although I still labour in the hope that if I can get a period of useable weather and with the wind in the right direction, I might still make a breakthrough.

Entries to the DW open on 1 January 2013

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