Went with Jon to the Docklands Sailing & Water Sports Centre – which is in the Isle of Dogs just south of Canary Wharf. It’s a lovely venue with a huge rectangle of water on which everyone can learn to canoe, kayak, sail and wind surf.
My mission for the day was to learn to canoe and then complete the Olympic distances of 200m, 500m and 1km. Canoeing is quite different from kayaking and involves kneeling in the boat and using a paddle with just one blade. (Kayaking involves sitting and using a double-bladed paddle.)
In canoeing, unlike kayaking, you are also meant to paddle on just one side of the boat. Steering is done by turning the paddle 90 degrees at the end of the stroke so that the blade is parallel to the boat while its still in the water. This effectively turns the paddle into a rudder. When it works, it’s a sweet feeling to both move the boat forward and to steer it with the same stroke.
Steering took me a bit of time to pick up but, with excellent guidance from my coach Philip Holman, I began to the hang of it and started upon my distances. We started with the 200m – which was probably closer to 400m by the time all my inadvertent right angles were taken into account. The longer distances were a battle between my slowly improving technique and my rapidly growing exhaustion. Somehow Philip got me through them all and I literally collapsed onto dry land where Jon got some humbling footage of me floundering around…
I should stress that this was, as Philip put it, a crash course in canoeing. Normally you’d start by focussing on technique and not look to cover any significant distance until your paddling and steering techniques were a little better than mine!