Tales from an Unexpected Journey

During the week or more likely last thing, the procedure from the club is the coaches who have made themselves available are issued with their paddling groups. This Sunday was no exception, however with the particular tide forecast for this specific Sunday it was a high tide paddle I had advised one of my group that it would be a tough paddle and not suitable for someone of their skills level. Harsh maybe, but safety ranks extremely high on the scale of what a coach is prepared to accept.

On the Saturday evening I was informed that there were only two coaches available for the session. This caused me a dilemma another of the people I regularly paddle with I decided wouldn’t be able to paddle against the tide and as such I again advised them it wasn’t a paddle for them, as I had to run support for the rest of the club.

Come Sunday morning the weather was warm and humid and definitely wet. I donned waterproof walking overtrousers which were surprisingly good for the pending trip and a thermal top and I was good to go. It was thus somewhat surprising to find, I wasn’t to be one of two coaches, but one of four! Two late arrivals in the shape of Coach Leon and Coach Michelle, the later having been out sea kayaking the previous day and the former had flown in from Italy just to be there.

With four coaches, the fourth being Sarah D (our chairperson) made the need for me redundant. Brilliant for once I could actually do some paddling. So then two miraculous things happened, I was on the water first in our very heavy and rather slow Novacraft Canoe SP3. At this stage with safety kit loaded the boat weighing considerably more than the manufacturer’s specification, I was away.

Wonderful water and free to paddle was just a real delight and for once reminded me why I paddle. For the joy of the swish of the blade as it slices through the water and the feedback vibration through the paddle shaft. To say it was an easy paddle out would be an understatement. The tide was pushing against me all the way out and provided I returned by circa 2:15pm I would ride the tide back – well anything helps.

So on I paddled, expecting at any stage that the club in there super speedy kayaks would quickly overtake me. Stopping at Dove Pier I encountered a couple of guys in a day boat just setting out so a brief chat ensued. Quickly followed by a further chat with a rower who was emptying his boat out on the foreshore. With him I got the impression of ‘how dare you speak to me I am a superior rower’!

Next port of call was Hammersmith Bridge which is adorned with flags which were a new feature to me. Apart from the Council telling me the bridge will be refurbished, these additional flags indicated that the bridge should remain a care free zone not only now, but for the future. Its such a beautiful bridge lets hope they the council don’t get it wrong.

There was also a day cruiser moored at a haphazard angle beside the bridge. Either it was moored there or it was there after being towed to safety, maybe it was towed there having broken free from further up or down the river. Because the River Thames here is tidal and on this day a relatively small 5.6m tide it could have come from either direction.

On under Hammersmith Bridge and on to the Blue Boat pontoon at Fulham Reach which was loaded with rowing boats and support boats, but no activity as far as I could see. Then on to past the Thames Wharf on the outside into the main flow of the river and then quickly back to the Middlesex Bank to gain as much protection from the flooding tide.

Of course there was the bicycle from on of the hire companies unceremoniously dumped in the river, Note to self I must pick that up and return it to land when I next pass by. Then on to the surprise of the day – two figurines quite small left on the foreshore. I won’t describe them its for you dear reader to find them yourself. Hope they raise a smile when you do.

Now for the tricky bit of the paddle, because of the refurbishment of Fulham Football Pitch and the creation of the Thames Walk there are various barges moored on the river. They create a hazard and there are various markers indicating the safety zone which you must no enter. The bad news was the need to paddle into the full force of the Thames. In a canoe not the best idea in the world.

Solution cross the river to the opposite bank skirting the yellow zone marker buoys and paddle the easier water on the Surrey Bank. As I didn’t have to worry about anyone else I thought lets give this a try. Result it was easy to make headway. I could bore you even more by explaining why, but I won’t here.

In truth I did want to be on the Middlesex Bank so I had to decide when to recross the river and remain outside the safety zone. Like everything on the river its trail and error, this was my slight error. I misjudged the speed of the current and although I crossed the river it brought me alongside the support vessel moored specifically to ward off errant vessels.

As I drew alongside a head popped out and I had a lovely chat with the youngster who was on guard duty. Whilst chatting to Josh, three of our club kayakers finally caught up and overtook me.

They were heading for the stop-off point through Putney Bridge which they were quickly approaching. Quite soon they peeled off crossing the river and paddling into the full force of the Thames through the Surrey side arch. I had other plans.

Freed from other duties, there was little need for me to stop at Putney so I carried on. Still on the Middlesex side of the river passing under Putney railway bridge and on towards Wandsworth Bridge. I had hope that there would be a play wave beside the rubbish centre on the Surrey Bank, no chance the river was to high, so I carried on passed the working for the new super sewer which will connected with Beckton Sewage works.

There are a lot more river side workings than I experienced since I paddle passed last time. Probably that was last year, as we as a club rarely travel as far as this in our two hour slot. Mindful of the time and the fact it was hard work, it was time to turn around and head back to base.

The return journey mirrored the outward leg. The club kayaks joined me just passed the workings at Fulham and quickly overtook me. A part from a group of sailing boats which were taking advantage of a little wind beside Hammersmith Bridge that’s about it.

I arrived back at the club just as the last of the boats were getting off. A quick ferry glide across the water and the guys even gave me a hand getting out of the boat. I must be getting old. With that Coach Leon at one end and Julius at the other they put the boat back into its resting place ready for its next trip.

A simply fantastic days paddle hard work but it restored that feeling that I haven’t had in a long while. Pleasantly tired after a good days paddle on the Mighty River Thames.

Special thanks to our chairman Sarah D for releasing me from coaching duties.

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