This year’s DW saw a record number of boats take to the water to attempt the 125 mile challenge from Devizes to Westminster. The near perfect conditions coupled with the size of the field led to a highly competitive race in all the categories. From the start, the competitive nature of this year’s race showed as Max House and partner attempted to squeeze their boat past six others at one of the narrowest sections of the river. With few incidents on Day 1, the paddlers arrived in Newbury in good time, set up camp and prepared to feed themselves.
Day two dawned with near perfect conditions again and the crews set off in good spirits heading for Marlow. Congestion at some of the portages (where the paddlers have to get out of their boats and carry them round an obstacle e.g. a lock) slowed things down a little, but all crews remembered to turn right at the T junction with the Thames and the pace picked up a little as they benefited from the small flow on the river. Finishing at Marlow in the afternoon the crews faced a second night camping and fending for themselves, comparing blisters and moaning about aching limbs.
Life for the support crews was a little more interesting, one crew diverting from Berkshire to Surrey; they later confessed they wondered why their sat nav was taking them 30 miles rather than 6!
Easter Day dawned bright and clear. With the crews becoming more tired and jaded and blisters developing nicely, the paddlers set off to cover the longest distance (38 miles) down to Teddington. This proved to be a highly competitive day with Hugo Fortescue and Fred Norton trying to hunt down the leading school boat while staying ahead of Max House and partner who were just behind them. In the Endeavour class, Oscar Stew and Rob Mansel Lewis (staff) were holding onto third position and trying to work their way into second. Our girls (Jess Robinson/Lizzy Paton and Katherine Plewman/Charlie Andrews) were focused on sustaining their performance and producing a third excellent days result.
A pre dawn start (5:45am!) on the final day, to catch the ebb tide began the last push to Westminster. This day is one where many of the paddlers focus on staying in the boat and trying to avoid the wash from the huge river barges, ferries and other river users. There is little the support crews can do other than wait at the finish for a sight of their crew. All Cranleigh crews arrived safely and were whisked off for hot showers, dry clothes and food.
Although we were too small a group this year to be competitive in the “team” categories, all the crews put in fantastic individual performances:
Hugo Fortescue & Fred Norton – 6/91, 2nd fastest school boat. Just missing out on setting a new school record.
Max House & Tim Strickland (OC) – 9/91, the 4th fastest school boat.
Jess Robinson & Lizzy Paton – 8/23 Junior ladies crew
Katherine Plewman & Charlie Andrews – 15/23
Oscar Stew & Rob Mansel Lewis (staff) – 3rd in the Endeavour Class
Also taking part in the race were some OC’s, demonstrating the success of the DW programme at the school introducing students to an “alternative” sport.
Jemima Young (OC – 2016) & Alice Bray – 1st Ladies, 1st Junior Ladies, 17th fastest junior boat
Dan Plewman (OC – 2016) – 22nd in Senior K1 – the youngest competitor in this category, in his first K1 marathon race.
As always, the support crews are key to the success of their paddlers. This year was no exception, with the cyclists averaging 150 miles each, Angus Young (OC) running most of the course and all crews successfully fed and watered and only one real navigation error.
Thanks to all the support crews and those who turned up along the route and at the finish to cheer the paddlers on. Thanks also to Dave Battershell and Chris Carson and the Martin family from the Wey club for coaching and practical logistical support.