Tandem canoeing

On the 26th September, myself and six others took to the River Wye on an open canoe paddling adventure. The trip was in two parts: the first a comforting and pleasant journey from Ross on Wye through to Symonds Yat East; the second, a less leisurely ‘play’ in the rapids at Symonds Yat. Despite having been to Symonds Yat before, this was our first trip in an open canoe and tandeming as two newbies did nothing for mine or Natalie’s nerves!

We had the morning’s paddle to distract us from the impending rapids as well as time to get in some much needed teaching. We began our gentle paddle of disputed distance  (roughly 8 miles…) to fantastic mist-covered scenery. Though our route was mostly flat water, there were occasional areas of terrifyingly tepid water thrown in to allow us to test and discover some tandem skills. Our first few attempts at ferry gliding and breaking in and out of the flow gave us the opportunity to observe the local bank foliage. Luckily our skill level didn’t reflect that of the group and we gratefully received suggestions. We had only really worked towards going in a straight line using the J-stroke, but we were now introduced to other strokes more useful to white water such as the pry stroke, cross bow rudder and bow stern. Unfortunately this involved giving Natalie (at the bow) more steering control, which was not conducive for tandem peace keeping. (There was another useful stroke whose name escapes me, but I will happily give a paddle waving demonstration to anyone who’s interested.)

During a lunch of sandwiches, pancakes, cookies and jelly caterpillars, we sat and watched as several dogs (almost as many as their paddlers) desperately leapt from their canoes and swam to the opposite bank for the relief of dry land and lunch.

After a little more practice we arrived at the rapids, which are only revealed when the boat is at the top and it’s too late to reverse paddle. Fortunately Natalie and myself were keen to test our new semi-dry cags and strap-on shoes (the same rapids took my old shoes a few weeks before). We stayed dry for quite some time until, while myself and dearest Natalie were ferry gliding beautifully across the river, a kayaker hit the side of our canoe so hard he almost ended up in our boat. Our new skills weren’t enough to save us and we were over. This was however a nicer experience than going upside down in a kayak, and our cags were great (though semi-dry doesn’t do much for full swimming). All nearby paddlers helped us to the bank and we were paddling and capsizing again in no time. No-one was to blame for our second swim other than Natalie, who floated quite far down the river before standing still claiming it was “too shallow to swim but too fast to walk”. Thank you Tom for your heroic walking rescue.

By this point we were tired and decided to call it a day. We packed up and loaded the cars, though I could only get partly changed… I had forgotten my dry trousers. Fortunately I had my old Waitrose uniform in the car boot ready for the clothes recycling, not something I ever wanted to wear again!

Thanks to everyone who helped us and we hope to sign up to more open canoe trips in the future.

Words: Carl
Photos: Penny and Ceri

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