There and back again in the dark

This paddling write-up comes to you through the medium of verse...mainly because I couldn't think of anything to say about it other than it was very pretty and quite dark. Also, I've never seen Gary paddle as fast as when he thought we might not make it back to the pub in time for a beer :o)

Thanks to Adrian for the piccie and, as always, to Mike for organising and Gary and Jay for shepherding,


While sunset spread across the lands
Glow sticks wrapped round arms and boats
Twelve set out in groups of four
Soon all that showed were coloured bands
Up the Medway against the flow
Reflections all in silver strands
Through rising mists that hugged the banks
Enveloped in a moonlit glow
On to canoe shoot and to weir
Down the frothing torch-lit slide 
Then back at speed, with flow behind
To reach the pub for food and beer

After January's fun and the cancelled River Mole trip we all woke up to glorious sunshine and a nice paddle from Byfleet to Weybridge. Only 11 paddlers but lots of ducks! We've got the Organiser - Mike, Coach -Jay, usual suspects - Will, Adrian and Sarah, newer suspects - Andy, Vicky, Nick, Lucy, Chris and Simon.

Quite a few trees and some current but we'll all doing fine up until we find the tree of doom....a river wide monster hiding behind a sharp bend preventing all progress downstream? No its a small willow on the side! Eddying up just downstream was followed the sight of Nick, kayak and paddle being escorted by Adrian to a reuniting point and Vickys boat going for a ride by itself before I pushed it into another eddy. Unfortunately on the other side from Vicky, now rescued by Jay and Chris who fished himself out of the same tree. Jay came and fetched the boat and we all carried on to Brooklands Museum for lunch plus a lovely show of Austin and Morris cars there for the day.

There's quite a few signs of the floods down the river with debris all over the place and the odd sunken boat plus one stuck on the bank. Lots of houses down here from tatty through half built to new, modern and very shiny! Not that we were being nosy at all.

Next is the weir, Jays says it's fine to run but there are trees down in the channel below so we all have to portage but we can run the second weir. For some unknown reason Adrian decides now is a good time to try rolling (not the Thames) this actually went quite well (he almost got there) but the rescue saw a slightly popped deck and a boat full of water but a least he didn't swim. Everyone with a suitable boat is game for it and after being lowered down the bank (thanks Adrian) we're ready to go. With everyone down the little drop successfully it was going so well that playing in the wave seemed like a good idea.....Jays says its a bit retentive so Will and Adrian try anyway. Alls going well until Adrian ends up sideways and stuck! Only one way out now, over you go, out you pop and here's a nice bow for you to grab. What a lot of new scratches on your paddle there are now.

Congratulations to everyone who stayed upright especially Simon, you have excellent get and stay in eddy instincts and if you swam now you know why the 'not swimming this timers' were wearing those silly suits....

Just need to sort the video out now and yes it was caught on camera :)

The river Chelmer - discribed as a nice little flatwater paddle with 5 weirs. Early give aways should have been taken a bit more seriously as the locals pointed out the river flooded err yesterday. Whilst the shuttle tried to find a dry road we had tea and cake and got caught for the licence fee. Oh and contempleted the first weir. After some stretching and suggestions for some summer fun (hydrozorbing and stand up paddling anyone?) Jay talked us through the 1st drop. This went pretty well until I went down, over and swimming, almost managed the t-rescue really.

Anyway we all paddled down to the second weir and things got a bit more 'fun'. 3 down and Mike takes it all a bit too relaxed leaving his boat in the stopper for Keith to livebait out. OK we'll all still keen to go and paddle! paddle! paddle! Me next this one didn't go well either so after Jay had pulled me out and Keith got my boat back and Charlotte got retrived from a nice tree the rest proceeded down. One though, two though, Rich not though. Patrick's turn at boat fishing, very nicely done. So three swimmers and an hour later we paddled down to the next weir.

This one has a limbo so Rob got on to the bridge to help us through. Quite a lot of umming and ahing going on here. But the limbo isn't as low as it looks and Jay makes it down. Keith next to join the swimming club and oddly enough no-one seems to want to try it now. Nice spot for lunch though. Which leaves everyone rested for the portage though the waterfilled ditch and down the very muddy field to get round the trees.


Some tree dodging leads us to the next drop which everyone runs ok and onto the next weir. This time quite a few of us portaged round and watched the action from the safety of the bank. No dramas here but there's trees coming up and we're running late. The group get through the first few bits but the current is getting strong and the trees closer together. While we are waiting for the go signal it all goes a bit more pear shaped and Chris loses her boat and paddle. Everyone out and portage this bit hopefully we can get to the get out from here. At the last weir Jay checks for the lost boat but its hiding somewhere else and the light is fading. The last part was paddled in the dark followed by loading the boats and collecting car from the start before we all went for a well earned post paddle pub visit.

Final hiccup of the day the pub had no hot drinks but Chris did have some lovely banofee and chocolate muffins to celebrate Mike's and Dee's birthdays. We arrived back 4 hours late with all paddlers intact. Even though this was Charlotte's first trip we failed to put her off and she's going to bring a friend next time! Although we'd prefer the other Chelmer (carnage free) next time, when are we going back ?

Statistics of the Day

In joint first place with no swims or rescues

Adrian, Ali and Dee

In joint fourth t-rescue only

Jay, Patrick and Rob

Seventh - you swam


Last - twice!!!


Sarah Coomber


As we drove out of Pulborough and along the A283 we could not help but notice that the roadside meadows were no more, water stretching as far as the eye could see. We parked up yards from the White Hart Inn and discovered that the get in had vanished, hidden under a blanket of water.


Rain had been forecast all week but in the event it was a lovely warm and sunny day. Our sixteen enthusiastic members, many of them on their first CAP trip gathered at the water's edge. Chris led a few warm up exercises and a name introduction game that she'd learnt back in the forests of Borneo. Apparently, the Gorilla’s learnt each other’s names by throwing Kayaking helmets at each other  ???


We initially set off up stream towards the navigable end of the river and as expected, as the river narrowed so the current became quite strong. Eventually we turned around and headed back towards the historic Stopham Bridge. It had been my intention, for a bit if fun, to do a sort of waterborne conga through all of it's ancient arches but in the event some of the arches were only between a

few inches and a couple of feet above the surface. Fear not however, many of the CAP team managed to limbo their way under the arches.


A little further on, after slaloming through the trees, we came across the advanced party who were sitting in their Kayaks surrounding a couple of public footpath signs. Ignore the signs, whatever way one looked was just a seemingly endless lake of water. Fun however, paddling through the posh house's back garden, circumnavigating the kids climbing trees and park bench which were just peering out of the water.


The sky was blue, the sun was shining and the wide selection of tall trees, willow trees and indeed just tree trees, reflected in the mirror like waters, hauntingly beautiful indeed. We stopped at the footbridge, that started and finished in the middle of this pop up lake and Chris, Keith, Mark and Rich, decided to jump into the depths from the 15ft high parapet!


Some bright spark, no names mentioned, then tried to mount a game of Kayak polo but with the ball sinking without trace the first time it hit the water !


On to the Weir at the confluence of The River Rother, as we beat our way around the trees the sight of the raging weir towering six feet above the water stood magnificently in front of us. Well actually, no it didn’t, there was no weir, it had vanished under the Sussex flood waters!  As we ate our lunches on the banks of the river we chatted about cheery things such as Weill's Disease, Leptospirosis and Mad CAP disease.


After lunch, we decided to make the most of the small waves created by the Titanic Weir, firstly we had a couple of races over it and then Keith, Gary and Chris stood on the weir and helped newcomers to experience their very first taste of surfing, ferry gliding and synchronised swimming with their Kayaks.


On the way back towards the pub, a couple of the paddlers were disappointed that they hadn’t enjoyed a full descent of the towering six foot weir and therefore decided to make up for it by seal launching off the parapet of the 15ft high footbridge. A deep breath, heart pumping, stomach churning Gary and Mark proceeded to launch from the heavens into the mirror like waters below, stupid or impressive, not sure, but didn’t they do well. That’s about it, we paddled back across the beautiful flooded meadows and headed for the pub.


We were very pleased to welcome Ali, Reiko, Stuart, Chris V and Chris M on their first CAP outing and also Rich who was brave / mad enough to have returned for his second CAP trip. We finished off with delicious home made birthday cakes, which Chris B had made for Keith, Happy Birthday Keith, which was followed by a pint and a good old chat in the Historic riverside Inn.


The Chelmer

It was a dark and stormy night. Actually, it wasn’t, it was daytime - it just looked like night because you couldn’t see through the rain. Still, inches of standing water on the roads and the prospect of aquaplaning all the way to Essex has, I suspect, never dampened Mike’s enthusiasm for a CAP outing, so off we went. After a brief interlude where we lost an entire navigation canal due to a dodgy sat nav cable, we arrived safely.

Since I started coming along to the club’s events, I’ve noticed a few things about CAP trips: in general, they start with a teashop; end with a pub; and involve donning large amounts of neoprene in some pretty odd locations. This was no exception so, some time and a lot of hopping up and down in a car park trying to squeeze into a wetsuit later, I was ready for… well, some hot tea and the world’s largest flapjack.

And so it was from the safety of the teashop, we watched the rain hammer down the weir in front of us doing its impression of Victoria Falls, while some of the others did a shuttle run with the cars. Life was warm, dry and generally good, if you ignored the menacing weir.

The first weir is a sort of horseshoe shape into a frothy bubbling mass of water below,I got to opt out of being the newest and least foolhardy of the troop, and I watched all the others making its descent look suspiciously easy.

The next one I had a go at as it was straight and gently sloping and everyone slid down in style, paddling through the wave at its base with no problems. A wave which proved just that little bit too tempting for Keith, the bow of whose boat is drawn into weirs by some mystical force.

We watched him battle to keep upright for a while, then we watched him give up and bail out, and then, once he’d been safely popped on the bank, we watched him shinning along the weir on the end of a throw line so he could launch himself down it and wrestle his boat free. It all got a bit ‘Steve Irwin’ for a moment, but eventually both of them broke free, sorted themselves out and on we went.

The Chelmer has been described as ‘five weirs with a long slog between them’. But this misses out the beautiful scenery, the peace, the tranquility and the open spaces. It also neglects to mention all the sneaking past grumpy fishermen (and some very friendly ones); portaging boats around fallen trees and slightly-too-ferocious weirs on the muddiest or riverbanks; and all the going round or (more often through) willow trees - forwards, backwards, sideways or the wrong way up.  And through it all, the lilting tones of Ivan (our coach-du-jour) could be heard as he yelled “paddle!”, ‘paddle now!!’, ‘don’t stop paddling!!!’ and the all-important “DON’T HOLD ONTO THE TREES!!!!” with actually remarkable patience as we got stuck in various branches.

So was a good time had by all? Of course it was :o). And the first two minutes was even caught on Rich’s camera, before it decided that rivers and electronics just didn’t mix.

Underground, Overground, Wandling Free

My first CAP outing was to the Arun, in flood; my second was the Chelmer, in flood. I was beginning to see a pattern forming. The Wandle, however, wasn’t flooded even though, given deluges of late, it should have been. But as we headed out the water levels were dropping and there was just the right amount to make the paddling properly fun.

Having experienced on previous trips just how quickly the water can rise in the Wandle, and how fast you can come out of a boat when it does, Mike and Gary had been out the day before checking that it was safe. It was a relaxing paddle, with lots of laughing, chatting, generally avoiding trees and bits of concrete where possible, and paddling through them or over them where not.

Keith had been finding things around the river to keep him entertained all morning and had adorned the front of his boat with a toddler’s scooter. No reason. He just wanted to. Later we found a kayak which had probably floated away from its mooring in all the wind and rain of the previous few days. So he adopted that instead.

Along its short navigable length, the Wandle has weirs, riffles and even a slalom made out of concrete blocks to keep you occupied. Wherever there was an obstacle, like a steeply sloping weir, low bridge or pipe to limbo under, Gary (our coach) could be found beside it watching over proceedings, giving instructions where needed and helping everyone through.

The ‘attraction’ that Mike really sells this trip on is the 700m pitch black tunnel under the Arndale shopping centre. Black doesn’t really do justice to exactly how dark it is in there. As I floated through with Reiko in front of me, I could just see the hi-vi strips on her buoyancy aid slowly fading into nothingness.  And then I could see nothing at all, but I could definitely hear the sounds of the CAP members behind me merrily ramming into concrete posts, paddling into walls and bouncing off each other’s boats. But we all made it out at the other end - all except for Keith’s adopted kayak. Who knows where it is now, silently gliding through the Arndale Tunnels in search of freedom.

And all too soon we were at the end of the river, where it makes its way out into the Thames. There was one more obstacle, though, for those who wanted to: a final weir with a 12 foot drop. Gary wasn’t all that fussed about doing it, having been over it too many times before, but he humoured us, slid over the edge and a little later could be seen lining himself up to help anyone who came a cropper. Keith went next, disappeared over the edge and a little later appeared on the far side. One by one, the others followed, appearing on the other side forwards or backwards as the mood took them.

Having declined some of the weirs on the Chelmer, I decided this was my chance to practice. It was shallow water and the end of the trip - what could possibly go wrong? I paddled over the edge, have no recollection of the drop at all, and got stuck twice in the white water at the bottom. But I stayed in my boat and eventually made my way out, smiling apparently. Had anyone told me that both Gary and Keith had capsized at the bottom of it, I would have run away. But I’m very glad I didn’t.

So apart from all the bizarre changing locations, I have found that CAP outings are characterized by a few key things: Mike will have planned everything out very carefully (his attention to detail is legendary); the conditions and the forecast will have been checked and double checked; whatever you’re doing the coaches and the other club members will be right next to you with instructions and encouragement in equal measure; and, because rivers can be unpredictable beasts, the coaches will be well prepared for the worst (or the best, depending how you look at it).

Then of course there’s the pub at the end of the trip. This time we enjoyed our own reserved table in front of the roaring log fire, a superb Sunday roast lunch and a pint of tasty Wandle bitter.

Thanks, as always, to Mike for doing the huge amounts of checking and organising, Ivan and Gary for coaching/herding. Thank you also to Rob and Gary for hauling us and our boats up the long ladder out of the Wandle; to Keith for providing the entertainment   and, finally, thanks to all the CAPers who have made my first few trips and all the pool sessions in between so much fun and for making me feel so welcome.