Gale force winds with strong gusts greeted us on our arrival at the Thames just east of Reading for the 2015 Schools National Kayak Championships, promising a great day for sailing, but a very physically tough day for paddlers.
The first races got under way at 10am with all boats taking part in a 500m “seeding” race. A couple of early swims placed some of our crews in the “slower” finals and meant our best result was 5th place (Loedolff & B. Strickland).
Following immediately on, the 200m races got under way and proved to be a real battle of attrition with tactics and river position more important than paddling ability in the difficult conditions. With mass starts and a process of eliminating the slowest boats, the crews were whittled down. After 4 runs, with 10 boats left, Cranleigh had 2 crews in the running (Ali Loedolff & Ben Strickland, Hugo Fortescue & Max House). A highly creditable 7th place for Max and Hugo left Cranleigh hopes pinned on Ali and Ben for the final.
An incredibly close race for the last 5 places saw Ali and Ben battling for a top 3 place before overturning centimetres from the finish line. However, due to the intervention of some rather enthusiastic supporters, the marshals and timekeepers were unable to see the finish of the race and it was declared void. A rerun was declared. The second attempt was almost a carbon copy of the first with all 5 boats separated by centimetres until, one meter short of the line, Ali and Ben turned turtle again. Groans from the large Cranleigh support contingent turned to cheers when our intrepid frogmen declined the assistance of the Safety team and swam their boat across the line to finish 5th.
So, the morning ended and the crews took some time to prepare for the afternoon’s marathon, a 15km slog against strong headwinds. After another mass start, it quickly became apparent that three boats were head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Ali and Ben battled for 1.5 hours with a crew from Bryanston and one from Blundells. At the end of 15km, a margin of 4 seconds separated all three boats, with the Cranleigh boat in second place.
In the mixed category, Dan and Jemima came second, with Harry De Blaby and Chantelle Phillips in third.
Despite her paddle partner being out of action, Sophie Thornton-Wood joined us to support the team and found herself in a boat with Rupert Wilson-Harris for the morning sprints and then demonstrated her adaptability by joining a paddler from Kimbolton for the marathon and finishing in 17th place.
Special mention should be made of the Herculean efforts of Hugo Fortescue and Max House. They managed to capsize as the boats were gathering for the start of the marathon. Having been reunited with their boat, they made it 300m down the course before their tiller bar broke. Rapid repairs on the bank put them at the back of the field, at least ten minutes behind the last boats. Despite this, paddling with guts and determination, they not only made up this time margin, but proceeded to overtake 10 other crews to finish 18th.
Overall, Cranleigh came second and fourth in the marathon rankings. Had there been a trophy for swimming, Cranleigh would have won it hands down!
As always, thanks to all the supporters who braved the conditions, to Mr Leggitt for all his admin and help on the day and to Roy Briggs from the Wey Club for his support and assistance with boat maintenance and repair.