Established in 1948, the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race takes place on Easter weekend. The course is 125 miles long. It starts on the Kennet and Avon canal in Wiltshire, meets the River Thames at Reading and continues downstream to London, finishing at Westminster Bridge. The competitors have to deal with 77 portages on the way. These are locks where competitors climb out and run with their boats. Entrants choose between the stages race, where the course is spread over four days, or the non-stop Senior Doubles race which starts on Saturday and finishes on Sunday morning. Either option is a gruelling test of fitness and endurance.
Owing to a problem with using the traditional finish site at St Thomas’s Hospital, this year’s race was shortened to 108 miles, finishing at Teddington. Leighton Buzzard Canoe Club was represented by two senior doubles crews. Amanda Morris and Bryan Handsley in a K2 kayak and Bethany Goodlad and Mike Martin in another. Both crews trained hard over the winter, participating in many winter practice races. All four of them had completed the race on previous occasions. Whilst the experience is useful, it doesn’t make the race any easier.
Easter Saturday brought clear skies and bright sunshine as the crews completed boat and kit checks and were fitted with their tracker devices. Support crews were ready to to follow them down the course, feeding and watering them at every opportunity. They reached the compulsory stop at Reading as darkness fell. Half the distance done and time to attach lights and change into warmer kit in preparation for the long paddle through the night.
Beth and Mike hit problems after having completed over 90 miles, and were forced to retire. Hugely disappointing for them, but still a massive achievement. They will be back. Amanda and Bryan battled through the night and reached the finish shortly after daybreak, exhausted but very happy. Another adventure over but there will be more to follow.
Fancy a go at canoeing? Visit the club’s website at lbcc.org.uk.