Page 91 - The Chapka 2016
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   Waiting at the start Approaching the finish
The Devizes to Westminster Canoe Marathon
During the summer of 2015 I decided to do the “Devizes to Westminster” canoe marathon – or the “DW” as it is known. I wanted to raise money for the hospice that looked after my mother before she died and this was an ideal opportunity. I didn’t realise what I had let myself in for! I hadn’t paddled for 30 years and had only a vague awareness that it’s quite a long drive from Devizes to London. The DW is the longest non-stop canoe marathon in the world...
In the end it was a lot harder than I was ready for, especially the final tidal stretch of the Thames, which is meant to be a dod- dle. Did you watch the 2016 Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race when Storm Katie was blowing and some of the races were cancelled due to appalling weather? We were paddling that same stretch of Thames a few hours beforehand.
My race in numbers:
• 125 miles
• 26 hours 29 minutes and 44 seconds, non-stop (except one
10 minute break)
• Fed and watered 26 times (by our amazing support team)
• 93,000 paddle strokes (apparently, I wasn’t counting)
• 2 unplanned and unwanted swims in the Thames (one after
we had crossed the finish line)
• 77 portages (where we had to get out and carry the kayak,
mainly to get past locks)
• 106 people donated £6,162 for the hospice
The best bit? Several, but crossing the finish line and paddling the Thames by moonlight as the rest of the world slept were very special.
The most surreal? Paddling through central Reading as every- one was going out on a Saturday night. Two different worlds met as we zoomed past, wet to the skin but happy and just a mere 20 yards from Wagamamas, Nandos, McDonalds; surprising people as they smoked outside the pubs and clubs.
The worst bit? The final two hours. I had felt strong until about 20 hours in when we had to up the pace to make the tidal Thames checkpoint (we did, with 3 minutes to spare). We were in a kayak whose intention was to be upside-down (she could be very strong-minded). Once Storm Katie was helping her she had her way and we had a swim somewhere near Putney! We had to ignore the strongest flow in the middle of the river and stick to the edge as we were always on the verge of capsizing. With the many boat users on the Thames creating a wake it was very treacherous. Jon had wrenched his shoulder so was not able
to do much paddling for the final few hours and I was completely exhausted, but just had to keep going. Our speed was right down and I was worried that the tide might turn – that was a battle we would not have won. At times squalls of rain and hail meant that visibility on the river was down to 50 yards. I was extremely happy to cross the finish line opposite the Houses of Parliament. A steward tried to help us out of the boat but caused us to capsize again so we ended up with a final swim. What a way to finish, but the main thing is that we had made it!
If you are looking for an internationally recognised endurance challenge that won’t set you back thousands of pounds (the Mar- athon des Sables entry fee is nearly £4,000 - DW is £95) then this could be the one. I was really well supported by the Army Canoe Union who provided all of the kit and lots of training. This would be a really good event for a unit to put forward a team or two into. It has a strong military history and the Royal Marines, Parachute Regiment and Special Forces are always well represented.
Will I do it again? I’m not ready to answer that question quite yet, but I would be very happy to advise anyone considering hav-
ing a go.
 Major James (Retired) Gasson-Hargreaves

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