Saturday afternoon saw a slightly apprehensive group arrive at Wokingham Waterside Centre on the edge of Reading. We met up with the paddlers from Heathfield School, Ascot who we have been working with this term, assisting them in their first attempt to conquer the challenge of the DW race.

The river was calm with a moderate flow and cool, dry weather conditions. With a range of experience and speeds present, the faster crews took the opportunity to practise portaging, paddling ahead of the main body, pulling over and running  back upstream to re-enter their boats behind the other crews.

All crews experienced portaging two locks before we turned and headed upstream, returning to the club and our campsite.

Quick showers were followed by setting up camp, preparing hot food and generally just chilling out before a race briefing and lights out.

Sunday dawned earlier than anyone really wanted it to, and bleary eyed paddlers awoke to find that finally we had some true “DW weather” with light rain and lower temperatures. Breakfast, packing away and transfer to the race start went reasonably painlessly.

An unprecedented entry into this year’s race saw 93 boats set off in two “tranches”.  Cranleigh paddlers coped well with the conditions and attacked the start. Oscar and Freddie did well to stay in their boat after being hit by another competitor and pushed ahead strongly.  (see school media drive for video of all the starts).

The weather had turned overnight and the flow on the Thames has increased, pushing the paddlers downstream faster than some of the bike support crews, battling with muddy conditions, could keep up with.

The previous day’s outing had familiarised the crews with the first couple of portages which were heavily congested as the racers fought to make headway.

The Cranleigh crews worked hard and produced two new school records:

  • Hugo Fortescue and Fred Norton – 2:21:28  (knocking a minute off the previous record)
  • Jess Robinson and Lizzy Paton – 2:48:04  (3 minutes faster)  and 3rd place in their category.
  • Katherine Plewman and Charlie Andrews – 3:03:28
  • Freddie Hamilton and Oscar Stew – just over the 3 hour mark at 3:00:17
  • Mr Mansel Lewis (staff) stepped into the breach and partnered with one of the Heathfield girls and completed the course in 3:02:54.
  • OC’s (2016)  Dan Plewman and Jemima Young came 5th in their category with a time of 2:31:49.