Chris Bishop and his team mate Paul Reynolds were sadly thwarted in Chris’ second attempt to complete the Devizes to Westminster (DW) International Canoe Race (125 miles) last Easter weekend after the race organisers decided to stop the race due to high and fast flowing river conditions on the Thames (at a 40 year high).
Chris’ first attempt in 2016 ended at Hurley after 18 miles due to injury and Storm Fiona. This year, in a new team ‘Forget Me Not’ boat, the race was stopped just after Reading at 56 miles on Day 2.
Chris said, “The race started really well on Good Friday at Devizes with the Mayor seeing us off. The weather was overcast and there was drizzle in the air. It was very exciting to be in a new boat that was stable and once we left Devizes we got into our rhythm and everything worked liked a dream.”
After approx. 10 miles into the race, on a wider area of the Kennet & Avon Canal near Honeystreet Chris explained that their first hurdle wasn’t the river but a swan. Chris said, “We came across Sid the psychotic swan who likes to attack canoeists. We saw him and gave him a wide berth and went close to the bank thinking that we had left Sid behind. Then we heard the tell tell signs of his feet on the water and his wings flapping and realised he had unfinished business with us. He proceeded to jump on the back of the boat until he was finally persuaded to get off the boat by Paul. He left us then to choose his next victim!”
Navigating the locks was proving tricky too as the canoeists have to carry their boats around them and the towpaths were starting to resemble a quagmire. Chris commented, “I had shoes with nogrip and you had to be very careful where you were stepping. Twice I ended up with the boat on top of my head instead of my shoulder to avoid damaging the boat. Sometimes the DW resembles a Tough Mudder not a canoe event.”
The first day saw 36 miles completed with a long haul from Hungerford to Newbury with Chris and Paul battling headwinds and driving rain. The first day took the team 8 hours and 42 mins to reach Newbury (about 45 mins longer than planned) due to the headwind and conditions around the portages
After a good night’s sleep and rest in a 4-star hotel, (some people camped), Chris and Paul were refreshed and eager to start Day 2 with the weather looking much better.
Setting off at 7:19am on Saturday the plan was to paddle to Dreadnought Reach (home of Wokingham Canoe Club) that day and although Chris and Paul started to hear rumours about the organising committee reviewing the river conditions there was no indication that the race would be completely stopped at Reading later that day.
With the river levels rising, Chris and Paul were faced with “turbulent, fast flowing” water after Garston and Burghfield locks when crossing the weir channels. Overcoming this, they paddled on to Fobney Lock which has one of the most challenging put-ins on the whole course, as it is underneath an overhead walkway leaving less than 4ft clearance. Chris said, “We chose not to wait for the queue and went to other side of the river. Putting the boat in was fine but after just setting off we bumped into a tree stump and ended up in the water for a bit of a swim! After clambering back in, we then paddled to County Lock which was daunting for some of the canoeists because of the swirling, fast moving water and then took on the rollercoaster ride through the Oracle centre navigating the waves and wash from the side wall, which was exhilarating!”
The race was stopped for all classes at Dreadnought Reach, Reading. Chris said, “A minority of the senior doubles class vented their annoyance at the race being stopped and gave the organisers a lot of flack. Everyone else though agreed with the decision for safety reasons. I am obviously disappointed that we didn’t complete the race but after much consideration, I shall start training later this week for 2019. Easter next year is 3 weeks later so I hope that the likelihood of freezing conditions, torrential rain and storm strength winds are less likely and the saying third time lucky will be true.”
The ‘Forget Me Not II’ boat will be donated to Henley Canoe Club, based at the Eyot Boat Centre on the Wargarve Road where Chris and Paul have been training. The pair have raised over £2,000 for MS UK and Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Henley Canoe Club will be in the Market Square this Saturday (7 April) from 10-2pm to promote the club’s facilities and membership which is open to all ages, and includes a fully equipped gym and an excellent range of canoes.