Local canoeists were this week basking in the glory of success in the Devizes to Westminster canoe race, described as the canoeists’ Everest.
For the second year in a row Devizes Canoe Club had the largest single club entry in the race, this time 26 paddlers, most of whom were new to the race and many of whom had started kayaking with the club within the previous year.
Among the novices in the senior doubles race, which runs straight through overnight from Saturday to Sunday, were Steve Bush paddling with Sam Weller, coming 21st overall in 22 hours 12 minutes, a new club record.
Other novice crews were Ray Clements and Jon Paul McCourt, 45th in 23.45, and Paul Sykes and Simon Woddy, 101st in 27.20. Mr Sykes and Mr Woddy capsized 500 yards from the finish and waded through the thick mud – up to their waists at times in water – to the finish at Westminster Bridge.
Neil King completed his first senior doubles race with Mark Bouch, a veteran of two previous DWs, in 43rd place in 23.36, and club chairman Kevin Dobson and Paul Papworth Smith completed their second senior doubles race in a Canadian canoe in 57th place in 25.45.
Mr Dobson said: “Although conditions looked good there was a fairly strong headwind throughout the race, which makes the race harder – not just physically but mentally as you get down on your time schedule and have to fight it all the time.
“The last section of the race on the tidal Thames is a serious challenge. Racing boats are very unstable and designed for flat water, but on the Tideway the strong currents, gusty headwind and quite large passing boats throw up waves and turbulent water which is the last thing you need when you’ve been paddling for over 20 hours non-stop.
“A lot of crews capsized, some of them several times, and to cap it all there was a heavy downpour just when many crews were fighting the wind to the finish. Despite the otherwise good weather, 52 crews retired and 138 crews finished”.
First timers Liza Dibble and Richard Carp completed the four-day Endeavour class in 23.20 – although it is officially a non-competitive class. At one stage they were second and finished fourth.
In the senior singles event, Mark Ball finished 18th in 21 hours. Jill Priday completed her first race in 47th place in 29.18.
Jemima Pitceathly and Henny Lowth were the club’s sole junior entry, and won the ladies’ junior doubles race in 20.59. Along with Steve Bush and Sam Weller (senior doubles) and Mark Ball (senior singles), they also won the Trans Class Team trophy.
Unfortunately, eight club paddlers - Edd Dobson, Gavin Wrobel, Roger Edwards, Ali Little, Steve and Sam New and Kevin Crabb and Derek Tate - were forced to retire, through sickness and injury.
In the senior singles, the oldest man in the race, 71-year-old Bob Norbury, of Burbage, was forced to retire after 15 hours 51 minutes. He had been hoping to become the oldest competitor to complete the event.