Explorers Connect

Source 2 Sea: Thames part 2

Trip ReportJames Hipkiss

Tuesday My alarm went off at 06:00, I may of hit the snooze button 06:09 it went off again, that's when we got up. More tasty MRE food and hot chocolate in our mess tins (not one of us remembered to bring a mug).

We were on the water by 07:00. Because there wasn't any washing facilities at Shifford we made a quick stop at Abingdon Lock where Kat and John headed off and Theo and I paddled to catch up. Which was probably the best thing that we could have done that day. When Theo and I got to Culham lock we went in the lock with a canal boat called Blue Moon. After a quick chat with the owners, Graham and Ann, telling them about our challenge and Theo talking about how hungry he was, we paddled off ahead of them to catch up with the others. Once we caught up with the other two the Blue Moon had caught up with us. They asked if we had had breakfast then offered us toast.

Since we had been paddling for nearly 3 hours we wasn't going to turn down food. Over the next few miles Graham and Anne supplied us with the best marmalade and toast I've ever had. They even used their entire loaf of bread, it was a massive morale boost! Graham and Anne, if you are reading this thank you very much. Just after we passed Days lock we stopped at the next pub for food and to break up the 6.5 mile paddle to the next lock. Turns out we had only travelled a mile by the time we got there. If that wasn't bad enough after stuffing my face with scampi and chips and a huge chocolate ice cream sundae I was ready for a nap. John and Kat headed off early again with me and theo catching up, since he felt the same way as me we weren't catching up anytime soon. It took us 2 hours to get to the next lock. We spent that time paddling 50 metres then chilling and chatting, then paddling again. 11 miles later we caught up with the other two after paddling like animals from Benson lock to Goring lock. We started to get into a routine about stopping at 20:30 to eat an MRE meal, fill up water bottles if we could and get our night paddling kit on. We paddled to to a spot we found between Sonning lock and Shiplake lock where we camped up in a file between two canal boats. We paddled just over 40 miles that day in 16 hours.

Wednesday - This was our longest day. I set the alarm for 05:00 since we weren't supposed to be where we were so we were on the water by 05:30 on our way to Shiplake Lock to cook up and other admin. Once we were fed and watered we headed off with the aim to get inside the M25 by the time we finished nearly 50 miles away. We managed to get some more sponsorship from the owners of a boat called the Polar Star, just as we were heading into Bray. There's no surprise that as we headed into London we were going to some massive houses but Bray took the biscuit. The properties were HUGE! And we saw Michael Parkinsons house, he never came out to say hello though. We paddled on to the halfway point where I left my car on Sunday, so I could drive John back to his and bring it back to the halfway point. Once we were in the road back to Cricklade, we had a little hiccup.

My engine management light came on. My heart sank an I even toyed with the idea of leaving my car at Cricklade and worrying about it at the end. Luckily, even though it was at a steady pace both of us made it back to the halfway point. We had to stop off at KFC on the way back though. When we asked how the women was who was serving us, she told us she was hungry. John and I just looked at each other and laughed. We had wasted a lot of time with the driving so John did really have the time to eat his 14 piece bucket. So he water proofed it and took it with him. Once we got back on the water we kept paddling tallying off the locks into Windsor, where we bumped into a couple of kayakers. I remember that she was telling me he had her first skydive that day, she was pretty intense too, I found it quite funny. Here we met Johnnys parents, sister, niece and nephew.

Doesn't take long to realise why he is a nice guy. He even handed out his precious cargo of waterproofed chicken and cold chips. I cant remember at which point Johnny and Kat paddled off first but I do remember that Theo and I spent a lot of energy trying to catch them. We paddled hard down through to Chertsey where we finally caught up with them, slightly tired and sweaty. From there we paddled as a team to Shepperton Lock. After 17.5 hours kayaking we camped up.By this point of the trip the sun had been assaulting my fair skin without relent. I was pretty damn burnt and suffering a little. I heard sad new yesterday that a kayaker died going over the weir at Shiplake yesterday, my condolences go out to his family. It goes to show how inherently dangerous this trip was. Thursday Another early start to get off the lock and down to Shepperton marina.

Here we cooked dinner and for the first time all week, had a hot shower! Which was another big morale boost. Coupled with the fact that by lunch time we were going to be on tidal Thames. So we pushed onto Teddington lock. You can tell when you're in London, everybody gets miserable. Even the lock keeper begrudged opening the lock for us. Just past the lock we stopped for a snack on the first stretch of beach we could find. We talked to a couple there and then pushed on against the tide toward Richmond lock. At first going against the tide was quite easy, as we closed in on Richmond it was a different story. Each stroke of the paddle would barely move the kayak forward a metre!

We decided that we would stop at the next pub for lunch. After an hours rest the tide changed and we had a 6 hour paddling window that we took advantage of. We paddled from Richmond to Greenwich in one hit. It was also the highlight of the whole trip in my eyes. Kayaking through all the sites, coming up against Thames Clippers and other tourist boats, helicopters taking and landing over our heads. Even a man in a suit tearing around on a speedboat! We stopped just the other side of Charing Cross Bridge while everybody looked on at us.

Paddling next to the H.M.S Belfast was amazing. Pretty much felt like a small fish in a massive ocean the whole time. After this there wasn't much more excitement as the river widened making the waves a lot calmer. We pulled up at around 20:00 to rest up before the next high tide at 00:20. We had dinner in Frankie and Bennies where our fatigue really showed. It took me minutes to work out simple Math and I didn't really feel with it. After that we needed to find a place to bed down for a few hours, so we stacked up our kayaks and slept up against the side of FBS. We had a few funny looks from passers by but at this point we really didn't care. Friday Once again I set an alarm and it didn't go off, but I woke up at 00:40. After accepting the fact that I was cold and tired, John suddenly woke up. We then woke up the others and started getting ready to get back on the river. Only this time made doubly sure we were visible since this part of the river was much busy, and the ships were a lot bigger!

Just before we set off John rung through to the Thames Barrier to get permission to go through. We started down the river at about 01:30, it was easy paddling since the tide was pulling us out. We did have a close call with a ship that we didn't see coming up behind us until the last minute. After that we stayed very close to the right. We also had a tug boat and barge pass us creating large bow waves which, since we were close to the right, bounced off the sea wall and came back at us from the other side.

Getting through the barrier was drama free, and that thing is huge too! After that the paddling was quite easy. We did come across a couple of night workers on a barge who were showing there bewilderment at 4 kayakers on the Thames at 03:30. We paddled on till about 05:00 where we started looking for somewhere to sleep, and after quite a hunt we found a set of muddy steps leading to a footpath. I managed to snap a good sunrise photo.

We thought nobody would use this foot path since its in the middle of nowhere so we set up camp, using a kayak as a windbreak and sleeping in between the kayak and the wall. Turns out quite a lot of cyclists use that path We got up and cooked up at around 10:30, which would have been a great lie in if we didn't go to bed 4 hours earlier. Once we got back on the river we had Dartford bridge in our sights. Foolishly I said it must be only a mile away, 2 hours later we stopped for a rest underneath it. This is where I witnessed on of the funniest moments of the trip. Johnny trying to put his Spraydeck on, he would out the back on and as he hooked the front over the back would ping off. This carried on for a few minutes, I had tears in my eyes by the time he had sorted it. Once we got past the bridge the waves only seemed to get bigger and closer together even though we should have been moving with the tide at this point. So we battled on against the water, again. We were passed by the Greenpeace ship, which we all decided wasn't very green. When we got towards Greenhithe there were a few more currents which would just point the kayaks in any direction in seconds, there were a couple of spicy moments there!

At one point after a brief rest I paddled straight into a current that almost sent me into a jetty! I recovered and had another go, this time successfully. After that it was riding big waves all the way to the end. I think we were all glad to get out of the kayaks, and for it to be done. We were exhausted and the beer on the beach was well deserved, possibly the few other beers I had after that were deserved as well. We all through our Wilsons back in a celebratory ritual, even though they all went into the mud. Eventually they would have been carried back up the river for the next team to pick up. Id like to say thank you to everybody who helped us out either with sponsorship, teaching, advice and logistics. Without you guys this trip would have been fruitless.

Well that's a brief outline of our adventure. I think the team has bonded well and this will not be the last adventure I have with John, Kat or Theo. But until then I've turned my eyes up to the three peaks in 2 months.

Yours in adventure,