Bright and early on the morning of the 25th of March, 12 nervous, but excited, Cranleigh paddlers joined the throng that was Devizes Wharf at the start of the DW Race. More affectionately known as DW, the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race is a 125-mile time trial from Devizes in Wiltshire to Westminster Bridge in London. At junior level, it is split into 4 days of 34, 36, 38 and 17 miles respectively. Cranleigh arrived as returning Junior Team and School Team champions, and were ready to defend their title.
Day 1 saw a strong start for all crews, with Loedolff/Strickland breaking the school record and Phillips/Strickland taking the school mixed record. The crews were fortunate enough to have warm sunshine and very little breeze, leading some to start the day in nothing but a vest! The crews then set up their tents and got started on dinner number 1, which was followed by dinner number 2 just before bed.
New crews were introduced to the “DW Wakeup” the following morning, generally consisting of loud and exuberant shouting that is greeted by some equally exuberant groaning from the paddlers. And alas, sunshine and warmth had been replaced by a chilly wind and rain overnight. Nonetheless, all the crews set out strongly along the canal. They joined the Thames at Reading, and most crews took the opportunity to stop for some good food and a change of clothes at the compulsory portage at Dreadnought Reach. Everyone arrived at Longridge Scout Camp (end of day 2) looking strong after some impressive sprint finishes. Camp routines followed as normal and everyone settled down for a good meal (or two) and some sleep.
Day 3 was a challenging one. Your muscles hurt just that bit more, your hands have just those few more blisters, and the Thames is just that bit bigger and scarier. Add to this some highly variable weather conditions, with howling gales, horizontal, heavy rainfall, hail and everything in between, and it can seem quite a daunting prospect at 7am. Nonetheless, the crews all ploughed on with vigour, and everyone got to Teddington without too much drama. Fortescue/House broke their tiller 6 miles from the finish and started to run, but fortunately were assisted by our coaches, Pete and Roy, who got them back on the water in no time, although they completed the day running through Kingston Upon Thames carrying their boat.
Cranleigh were sitting on top of the team leader board at the end of day 3, with Loedolff/Strickland in 3rd overall.
Unfortunately, later that evening, the race organisers made the decision to cancel the final stage to Westminster due to severe weather warnings. This was obviously a huge disappointment for all the crews, but a necessary one in terms of safety. Nonetheless, all the crews should be tremendously proud of their achievements. Each and every crew performed superbly, and they all deserve huge congratulations.
Final times were as follows:
Loedolff/Strickland – 16:27:44 – 4th (time penalty applied, currently under appeal)
Stew/Norton – 17:54:08 – 18th
Phillips/Strickland – 18:41:06 – 27th
Fortescue/House – 18:54:40 – 33rd
Wilson-Harris/Taylor – 20:30:48 – 51st
Bridgen/Thornton-Wood – 21:19:38 – 64th
Cranleigh Team A also took 2nd place (pending result of appeal, this may be amended to first), and Team B took 8th.
Thanks must go to all the support crews, to Pete Morley and Roy Briggs, to Paul Leggitt and to Linda Baily, without whom none of this would ever happen.