Sunday, April 8, 2012

Devizes to Westminster Canoe Challenge

An interesting day yesterday as the bulk of the canoeist and their support crews passed through Aldermaston Wharf on their route from Devizes to Westminster whilst participating in the annual Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Challenge.  I had volunteered to assist at Aldermaston by taking boat number and times at the official checkpoint, along with some traffic control.
Any other year, the checkpoint would have been very busy as the canoeists have to get out of their canoes or kayaks above Aldermaston Lock and carry their boat across Aldermaston swing bridge before re-entering the canal downstream.  Most of the time it’s a very busy road.  However this year the road has been closed whilst Network Rail raise the heights of the two bridges at Aldermaston as part of the rail electrification project.
After listening to the other volunteers I now understand the basic strategy of the Challenge.  The aim is to get from the start to the finish in the shortest possible time.  The critical point is Teddington on the River Thames.  At this point the Thames becomes tidal. The objective of the participants is to arrive at Teddington in time to use the outgoing tide to assist them get down the Thames to Westminster.  To achieve this each canoe selects its own departure time from Devizes.  In some cases the fastest crews may start many hours after the slower canoeists.  It’s actually a four day event for most of the slower canoeists whilst some of the faster crews do it non-stop in less than 24 hours.
From a safety perspective it got rather interesting when adrenaline charged canoeists met first time hireboats departing the marina.  Plastic canoes don’t mix well with scarcely controlled heavy steel boats!  That’s why the Challenge officials were present to control the canoeists and support teams.    Actually I would consider the road movements of some of the support teams to be the greater event hazard.
An interesting and enjoyable day with me crawling into bed around 11:30pm dreaming of highly competitive canoeists paddling through the night. Smile

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