Another Successful Year for RHS in the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Marathon

29 Apr 2013

Throughout the Spring Term and DW training, the RHS Kayak & Canoe team adopted the simple refrain “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!” It was a mantra that would be the team’s saviour!
John Handyside, the British Canoe Union and National Development Coach for Racing, Marathon & WWR, described the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race as the longest, hardest, most challenging Canoe Race in the world. It’s 125 miles long and has 77 portages; it’s on canal, river and the notorious tidal Thames. It goes overnight or, for juniors, over four consecutive days – and just to add a bit more flavour, it’s held at Easter, which is not the most ideal time for weather and water conditions.
Well he wasn’t joking, and this year was no exception. Up until the Wednesday before the start, the organisers were facing the possibility of cancelling the race. Extreme weather conditions and very high volumes of water meant that the Safety Officers and Environment Agency had real concerns.
Two days of dry weather and an improving forecast allowed RHS the opportunity to travel to Devizes and on the Friday all of our 6 crews got on to the water. Temperatures were below zero and the wind was energy sapping, but one by one, all finished the first 34 miles in creditable times. Overnight the temperatures plummeted to -5; so low that most junior teams had problems lighting their gas stoves to cook breakfast in the morning.
On the second day, the weather conditions meant that six junior crews had to be withdrawn from the race for safety reasons. Good preparation by the RHS team had paid off and all continued through to day three. By now parents and supporters realised that this event was more than just a mere race. The Junior DW is the most mentally and physically demanding challenge open to anyone under 19 years of age. Day three was an early rise and although the junior competitors stayed in sheltered accommodation overnight due to adverse weather, the temperature outside was -1 and they still had to cook breakfast.
Blisters had blisters, aches and pains merged into one and wet paddling clothes had to be put back on for the next 38 miles. But despite the odd moan and look of despair, RHS stood out as a well prepared, highly motivated and organised team. And without the invaluable help of our parents and supporters, the race simply would not happen.
On the final day the RHS team coaches and DW veterans, Mr Menday and Mr Thompson (pictured), put the RHS crews on the water at Thames Young Mariners in Teddington, taking time to steady paddlers’ nerves and offer a few words before they set off before dashing down to the finish line at Westminster Bridge to count them all back in.
The RHS teams gained 1st and 2nd places in the CCF Race, 2nd and 4th place in the Schools Race and 3rd and 6th places overall in the Junior Category. Special mention must go to Sophie Murrison and Richard Branch (pictured) who were 1st in the mixed K2 (Kayak) category and Matthew Cantelo and James Rutledge (pictured) who were 1st place in the Open Canoe race and an impressive 12th overall. An Open Canoe crew has never had a top 15 starting time slot on any race day in the history of the race so their’ s is an amazing achievement!
The paddlers will be presented with their trophies on the 18th May in Newbury. These results firmly place RHS as one of the top schools and junior kayak clubs in the country.
Neiline Kay, Chief Umpire Stages Race, Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race said, “Thank you RHS for your incredible team spirit, determination and behaviour this weekend. You are a credit to your hard-working coaches, school and parents. See you again next Easter!”