Devizes to Westminster 2016

As Easter comes around every year, so does the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race. This 125 mile gruelling challenge is the epitome of adventure for our Lower Sixth pupils and fourteen of them once again put themselves forwards for the challenge.

After team selection in October, and training from January until March, the team assembled the day before the race to check their boats, pack their safety kit and for a few final words of advice and encouragement.

Easter Friday was dry as the crews underwent ‘scrutineering’ and received their race wristbands and boat numbers. The start of a big event can be a little anti-climactic but the huge collection of Dauntsey’s parents, pupils, staff and ODs gave each crew a rousing send off and ensured they were smiling as they crossed the start line.

Day one was notable for the glorious sunshine, which lasted until the evening as the crews made their way along the Kennet and Avon to Newbury, cheered by pockets of supporters along the way. They all looked remarkably fresh at the campsite as they settled down with 140 other paddlers from other schools and clubs.

Easter Saturday dawned dry but cold and the paddlers eased aching bodies out of their tents and into the boats for the second day. By the time they joined the Thames at Reading the wind had picked up and gusty conditions were making progress challenging. The flow from the river gave the crews a lift as they headed down the Thames Valley and Milly and Abbie were the first junior crew home marking a successful but challenging day for all our paddlers.

Easter Day dawned sunny but cold and the crews had to muster significant resilience to fold themselves back into their boats and set off. They pass a series of famous landmarks in the first few miles, starting with the impressive sight of Windsor Castle, where one of the crews swears they saw the Queen waving.

Despite the pleasant start, the weather started to turn mid morning and two or three heavy rain showers gradually became hail storms. Gusty winds and developing waves made the paddlers work hard and think fast, planning their line down the river and thinking carefully about the portages. Milly and Abbie once again lead the juniors into Teddington and the rest followed in quick succession. As they climbed out of their boats in the now shining evening sun they could be confident that they would finish DW.

During the whole weekend, team leaders and the DW organising team had been tracking the approach of Storm Katie and, as the evening of Easter Day wore on it was increasingly obvious that it would hit London at the same time as the boats would depart in the morning. Although an obvious decision to make, it was with much reluctance that the Chief Umpire made the decision to shorten the course at Teddington and to end the event there.

There was understandably much disappointment amongst the paddlers and support crews and they retired to the tents wondering what might have been. However as the weather came through in the next few hours, with force 10 winds and buildings sustaining damage, it became clear that the decision had been the right one.

A hurried dismantling of the campsite in the morning in heavy rain and strong winds was followed by a medal ceremony that could best be described as efficient. In order to celebrate the significant achievement of our paddlers in completing 108 miles of the 125, we took them to our breakfast appointment in Westminster anyway and took photos on Westminster Bridge.

It is the nature of adventure that we don’t know what the outcome will be. Despite not getting to Westminster, our paddlers display courage, fortitude, and resilience and impressed staff and parents alike with their impressive display. For some the experience will be enough, for others, they will go back and try again. I hope the weather is kinder to them!

Sam Moore, Head of Adventure - s.moore@dauntseys.org

More Adventure News

Final Times and Positions

129 Mitchell / Sampson 18:00:19 - 19
138 Osborn / Day* 19:23:03 - 38
130 Spooner / Everett 19:39:44 - 42
134 Appleby /Kiff 20:45:11 - 54
132 Sturges / Western 21:04:31 - 61
133 Hickin / Botterill 21:06:38 - 62
131 Ip / Martin-Barton 22:54:43 - 76
135 Wilks /Walton Knight 23:05:29 - 77 

*Devizes Canoe Club

Fundraising - this year's DW Crews have raised over £5,000 for Malaria No More. If you would like to donate please see their just giving page