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Devizes to Westminster 2023 soars through Newbury!

Easter weekend brought us a break in the weather and perfect sunny but cool conditions for the marathon 125 miles and 77 portages Devizes to Westminster canoe race that soared its way through Newbury. The Waterside series run by the NCC has been a warm up for this race, getting paddlers, support crews, organisers and marshalls all familiar with this part of the route to ensure a smooth sailing for all. Thankfully Crofton finally opened its lock in time so the extra portage patrol was not required.


The planned schedule and 5 classes were

1. Senior Doubles: Crews of 2 adults who race non stop from start to finish, starting on Easter Saturday, finishing on Easter Sunday

2. Senior Singles: Adult single paddlers who compete over 4 days starting on Good Friday, finishing on Easter Monday

3. Junior Doubles: Crews of 2 juniors who compete over 4 days, starting on Good Friday, finishing on Easter Monday

4. Veteran/Junior: Crews of 1 adult (over 35) and 1 junior who compete over 4 days starting on Good Friday, finishing on Easter Monday

5. Endeavour: A non-competitive doubles class held over 4 days starting on Good Friday, finishing on Easter Monday


NCC had Paul Hayes flying solo and Pat and Rob as a Veteran/Junior crew competing over the 4 days. Unfortunately though, the preceding heavy rains meant that the race had to be cut short by 2 days at Reading for many competitors because of red alerts. Those allowed to paddle non-stop did so at the discretion of the management. I could not imagine how disappointing this must have been for those who had been mentally and physically training all year for their moment at Westminster, but the decision was well understood and accepted.


This was may have been be somewhat of a consolation for our own Rob and Pat whose rudder broke coming up to Reading. If they were doing the whole race they would not have made it to Marlow that day, instead they ran the last stretch to the shortened end point at the oracle. It unfortunately brought them down to 2nd place but they still seemed in good spirits regardless. In the senior K1 class - Paul Hayes finished with hard earned 3rd place and Oscar Griffiths from the Ryal Engineers (who has trained out of Newbury for a few years) won!!


Hanging around with my camera at Newbury lock meant I got to meet lots of people from the canoeing community. At one point I felt very honoured to be surrounded by veteran paddlers who were supporting the Chelmsford crew and had some stories to tell of their own DW experiences in the 1980's.

1980s/90's DW veterans; L-R Ronald Daines who completed the race with Major David Howie in 19hrs;25mins, Roger Price completed in 18hrs;20mins, and Roger Edwards who completed with Ian White in 19hrs 55mins.

I was questioning what was going to happen if the race repeatedly faltered because of the changing climate causing higher water levels. Along with learning about how it is timed around the 4 day Easter break for school children to participate,and tidal and moon cycles, apparently the heavy flow was nothing new. History has shown the race has run on red alert numerous times in the past. It is merely health and safety regulations that now made it falter.


I also learnt that hockey boots were the go-to footwear as there wasn’t the portaging structures we have in place today and so they needed the means to scramble up muddy banks. The term ‘race’ was used lightly, more like a few days jolly with casual chats and picnics along the way. As with most sports today, with the growth of technology in equipment and dress wear, racing has become more about finding ways to lose those crucial 1 or 2 seconds where possible.


A subject matter not usually talked about was about how paddlers manage toileting issues given the duration they were in the boat. Pat reported that there was a point in their race when his dad felt his rhythm faulter because he had become desperate to go but refused to do it in the boat like many others apparently do. Somehow he managed to ‘imagine’ himself going and thus the urge stopped and he got back into his paddling rhythm. Hearing some of these stories made me more hesitant in being support crew if it meant carrying the boat for them!


NCC veteran marshalls in Mike, Ed, Paul and Dave were also out for a marathon session of 10hrs! They were kept company throughout the day by club members bringing supplies. As the lonesome marshall at the swing bridge I think Dave especially appreciated the supply of tea, chairs and red wine provided by Ted from across the bridge. I did wonder if they had peaked too early at 1pm when I arrived to say hello as they were already onto the subject of death! I'm not sure where they could go from there!


Away from Newbury we had Mike sat all day in his boat lifeguarding the tunnel and Ena assisted Pewsey lock. She was abandoned by Kieron for the duration as he travelled the full 24hrs with Phil in the passion waggon as Healthy and Safety. Having felt it wasn’t the same watching red dots on the tracking screen at home Ena came down and joined the party to watch the fast boats come through in real life.


Whilst GPS technology meant anybody could keep a track of the race in the comfort of their home I would highly recommend anybody who wanted a reason to hang out in the sunshine for the day to come down and watch it for real nest Easter. With the new checkpoint location of Newbury Lock a few drinks on the balcony of the Lock, Stock and Barrel certainly helps to pass the time between boats.


All in all it seemed to have been a fun and succesful weekend in Newbury suporting the DW. Thanks to all that help to manage it and played a part in some way for its smooth running.



Results

Out of the 38 that started on Saturday the DW website indicate 29 completed the race.


Provisional results saw Tom Sharpe and Keith Moule winning the non-stop race with a time of 15:19;35. This time beats the long standing record and is a magnificent sporting achievement. All at NCC who helped along the way are pleased to have been a small part of this record breaking effort by two supreme paddlers. The slowest paddlers took coming 26:21:40 putting the record time in perspective.


For all results you can go to the DW website http://www.dwrace.co.uk/



Timings for NCC members.



For photos of all the paddlers coming through Newbury go to https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjAzivW



Report written by Julie Raworth


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