Although I write lightheartedly – this is a very serious bit of advice so please take it as such.
Firstly, this is only advice, so do not follow it blindly. I can take no responsibility for the choices you make about paddling during the winter. It’s up to you to decide what you are comfortable with based on a good bit of risk assessment.
The advice is based on the following assumptions with which I hope you’ll agree:
- Assumption 1 – DW is in the spring, you therefore need to train in the winter.
- Assumption 2 – In the winter it rains, you therefore need to train when the river is full of rain.
- Assumption 3 – When rivers are full of rain they run faster, therefore rivers can get dangerous if you have to train on them in the winter.
So here we have a dilemma – on the one hand needing desperately to find time to train for a rather long and arduous race. On the other hand, not wanting to end up going face first down an aggressive weir.
If you’re training on the Thames, please look at this site before you go out. It tells you whether each section of the river has stream warnings, and therefore whether or not you should be paddling on it.
In an ideal world, follow the advice and don’t go out on the Thames if there are any stream warnings. This doesn’t mean you need to sack off training, but instead, head to your local canal or a part of the river with less flow.
Unfortunately the English weather doesn’t always co-operate and it’s quite possible that the Thames will be on ‘red boards’ (dangerous stream warnings) for the entirety of the winter, along the entirety of it’s length. It’s also possible that parts of the Thames could have stream warnings during the race itself, but whether the race goes ahead is up to the umpires to decide. Regardless of the umpire’s decision, it is always your responsibility to assess whether you can safely cope with whatever the conditions may be.
In terms of training, we followed these points to stay safe:
- If possible, don’t go out when there are stream warnings.
- If that’s not possible, then check the flow rate.
- Our advice would be that <80 cumecs is easy paddling (hardly even a stream warning), 80-100 cumecs is fast (keep your wits about you and approach locks with a very wide berth from the weir), 100-120 cumecs is very fast and risky (you will have to work very hard to get away from the weir streams), 120+ is idiotic to go out in.
- To put that into context, DW 2018 was looking to set world records on Thursday night when the flow rate was at about 105. It then increased to 115 and the umpires started to think about whether the race was safe to run. By Friday night the flow was up to 140 and it was agreed to cancel the second half. It then went up even further on Saturday to 160 which is pretty much in flood.
- Once you know the flow rate, bear in mind that this is measured at Maidenhead, so it could be higher than this at other points on the river.
- If you do decide to head to the river, look at it! Before you put your boat in the water, look at how fast it’s flowing and have a long hard think about whether you would feel happy capsizing into it – if not, go to a canal.
- If you get onto the water, paddle against the flow for at least a few minutes to check that you are able to paddle against it if you need to. If you can’t, go to a canal.
- Finally, please use your judgement and stay safe.
If you want something to put you off paddling when rivers are flooded, click here to watch a video of our rather damp portaging experience in the 2018 race.
I’ll be posting some more blogs with safety tips, so keep your eyes peeled.