DW Canoe Marathon

Devizes to Westminster International Canoe and Kayak Marathon

Tomorrow morning paddlers from RHS will begin the epic 125 mile Devizes to Westminster Canoe Marathon. Two brothers PC and Basson dT share their experience of preparing for their first attempt at this gruelling adventure:

This year sixteen members of the school including ourselves are taking part in the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe and Kayak Marathon. This is a 125 mile endurance race between Devizes in Wiltshire to Westminster in London. There are 77 portages along the way. Portages involve stopping the boat by a lock, climbing out, carrying the boat while running around the lock and getting back in. For some of the more experienced paddlers in the team it's second nature, but my brother and I seem to struggle; we have fallen ill to the dreaded portage many times. Whether it's a 6 foot high wall to climb down into the boat or just a simple flop onto your side and worry about the boat later, we somehow manage to fall in pretty often. There is technique to it, something we have yet to master.

For schools, DW takes place during the four days over the Easter weekend, finishing under Westminster bridge on Easter Monday at the ungodly time of 06:00. It is an unique event that has parents, teachers, alumni and pupils working together to achieve a physically monumental task.

We have been told a lot about the course and what we will encounter from those who have already done it. What we have learnt is this; read the boat navigation signs so you don't end up doing a "scenic detour down the wrong river" adding some extra miles to boast about, or not, as previous wanderers will tell you. Also, more importantly fear the infamous tunnel; 800m of pure dread where you just follow the very small glimmer of light at the end and hope you don't fall in. There is also a mile long section of portage after portage, where on the day, you need to make a potentially crucial, time-saving decision of whether to run the whole mile or pop in and out between the locks?

Then there's the camping at the end of each day. We are not allowed to sleep in a hotel, as part of the DW 'unique experience' we must camp festival style, mud bathing and cooking for ourselves, much like the CCF exercise FIST. What could be better in these weather conditions? We are most looking forward the long energy sapping days of about 6-8 hours of continuous paddling, all the while wondering why we signed up for this.

Now, 125 miles is no small feat. We aren't just rocking up and giving it a crack; we have been doing a lot of training for several months now. This includes weekly monotonous stretches on the river, from Flatford to Dedham and sometimes a distance paddle from Cattawade to the A12 bridge and back, about 12 miles every Tuesday and Saturday. We have been venturing into the gym and even had to go on cross-country runs for fun. As a special Polson treat we experienced a real winter snow Ergo session, where Miss Polson (who joined in too), got us to Kayak Ergo (like a rowing machine but going forwards) outside the old music school and then run laps with our boats around the snow covered green.

We have also taken part in races, such as National Schools Chelmsford Winter Series, The Thameside 2 Race, which was 19 miles long and lastly a 33 mile qualifying paddle in Chelmsford (which was particularly tough last week). The longest day on DW is 38 miles and so we are all now prepared for the long stretches to come.

How do we feel about it? We are nervous of course, but there is also a little bit of excitement hidden under the painful realisation of what we have let ourselves in for. We feel a sense of pride that we can do this together as a team and hope we can complete it without hating each other after 4 days; that will be tough.

PC and Basson dT

The race will begin at 08:00 on Friday 30 March 2018, Miss Polson will be tweeting throughout at @RHSSport. To follow the live progress of the boats and their times you can do so here:


Boat numbers:

138 - Seb G & Ben W
137 - Tom M & Pat V
136 - PC dT & Basson dT
622 - Ami J & Rich Vallance (Alumni)
617 - Mrs Griffiths (Staff) & Mr Russell (Parent)
143 - Pete Russell (Alumni) & Tom Shaw

135 - Harry J & Harry BK
139 - Mark J & Nathan M