Written by Tim McDowell
Having been a member of PaddlePlus for a while now, I’ve got used to the chilled-out approach to paddling and life that its members take. Last Sunday’s trip to the Avon Descent was no different.
At a very unearthly 8.30am, most of us taking part met at LOPC to load the van and take the 2hr drive to Stratford. With entertainment on the journey coming from John Likko in the form of gags aimed at the destruction of one chaps shiny new boat, by the weirs and rocks, the time passed quickly.
Once there we were met by a few more club members, making up a strong 17-man team from the club, the highest of any visiting club.
Normally I compete in bike races, where people have little time for chat and pre-race merriment. The Avon was a totally refreshing change, with lots of help and guidance on-hand from club members and total strangers alike.
With numbers stickered on the boats and kit on, we got on the water in time for a 15min warm-up paddle before the start, but in true PaddlePlus style this turned into a rafting up and p##s taking session. Plus some last minute advice on what a brace position is and when to use it! (cheers Daz)
As the gun went for the final group, the Avon’s still waters started to change, and in no time we were all battling though surf!
Very quickly the strong white water boyz, Owen and Blake, found their way though and were off at the front. It was just over a mile to the first of the 6 weirs. This gave the field time to spread out. A small group of 3 had formed at the front, followed by odd 1’s and 2’s.
With a small crowd gathered on the bank hoping to see their first swimmer of the day, we all took it steady and remained dry. Later on we found out that it was at this point Stefan had about had enough, and fancied getting off the water, much to Andy’s delight, Not!
With that first weir safely negotiated by everyone, the race calmed down and everyone settled down to their own pace. The next weir was shot without problem as well (James may think differently!). The third weir, that we were told in the race briefing was blocked by a tree, was now clear thanks to Anton and Paul (Lammy), who ‘took it out’ with their C2.
However, this was unknown to us and as I landed at the portage spot, John and Stuart in a race long battle for 2nd (in the C2 class) came flying though...Leaving a very angry kayaker in their wake!
Now I’d prepared for this event as best possible by doing long paddles and shooting weirs at every opportunity, however I’d forgotten one important thing - getting in and out of a kayak at speed – the result was an early bath and a drifting paddle…Aghh.
Once back on the water, it was the long stretch between weirs 3 and 4, around 5 miles of flat water. Interestingly there is no towpath of footpaths in this area, which means being on the water is the only way for a behind the scenes look at how the other half live. With helicopters and sports cars in the gardens and houses that look like they are straight out of the grand designs program. It made the stretch rather pleasant.
The last few weirs were the rocky ones we had been warned about, but with the current water level they weren’t as bad as expected, although one or two of our team took a dip.
A brief look at a course map had shown that after the last weir it was just under a mile to the finish. With two guys in front and one at my side, I decided to give it death to the line. With a last ‘all out’ race effort, I pushed on the foot pegs and pulled so hard on my paddle it was flexing. I dropped the first guy easily but the other two, sensed my attack and responded. I just lost out in the sprint finish and managed a respectable 6th (next time eh!)
As people finished, the tales of battling weirs and near misses started and continued all the way home.
In summary I’d say, if you are thinking of doing this event next year or one similar, do it. It was a great day out on the water, with a cracking bunch of people... All looking to descend the Avon in one peace.
A special mention must go to Anton and Paul who won the C2’s and Stefan, who did afterall make it to the finish. 10.5 miles at 12 years old is no walk in the park and not far off the equivalent of running a marathon for someone at that age. Well done buddy, I’m sure you will be back next year, maybe in a double with Andy?