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Through 'Hell on High Water'

This Easter Weekend, Cokethorpe kayakers took part in one of the toughest endurance races in the world. This challenge was described by an adventure athlete as ‘hell on high water’; ‘just about the toughest thing you can do’, and with Storm Katie battering the UK, this year the statement was truer than ever. Paddling from Devizes in Wiltshire over a 125 mile course to Westminster was never going to be an easy challenge, yet they all got through it. After training at 7:00 am every Sunday since September, as well as the usual Monday and Wednesday sessions, the whole team were pumped up and ready.

'The course threw many challenges at all the teams, though there were moments of sunshine (pictured!). The challenges really started with a gruelling 1.3 mile run with the boat at Crofton lock, after 18 miles kayaking, due to the pump for the canal being broken. Torrential rain, thunder, hail and lightning as well as winds as strong as 70 miles per hour, held the team back. The kit didn’t behave either; Mat Turner (Fifth Form, Feilden) and Matt Dray (Fifth Form, Gascoigne) were the first to suffer on day one after they dropped their boat and ended up with a broken rudder, losing them precious minutes in a tight race.

Day three saw problems for the other crews, Chris Singleton (Fifth Form, Queen Anne) and Arthur Alden (Fifth Form, Harcourt) suffering from a broken rudder which catastrophically impacted their time. James and Louis capsized due to strong winds at one of the widest points of the river and faced a 50m swim to the bank, in clothes, lugging a boat, after kayaking 27 miles.

Each evening the team had to set up their tents and cook their own hot meals with their hands covered in blisters, having kayaked 38 miles each day.

After arriving at Teddington, London, the worst news hit us. The race was cancelled. This was the first time it had ever been cancelled on the final day in 69 years, having only ever been cancelled twice in its history. Severe weather warnings had been put in place for Westminster and the tidal Thames, due to hurricane force winds. The health and safety team and the Port of London Authority, which consisted of twelve motor ribs were therefore not prepared to provide cover to 80 junior crews with no banks to get out on. However, the event continued till the morning which meant the teams still had to camp out all night and as the storm approached, the campsite changed from a field into a flood as torrential rain poured down, not to mention the winds and having to get out of bed to re-peg the tent at 1.00am. However the race finished at Teddington and we had completed 108 miles of the 125 which is a significant achievement, given the hurricane force ten conditions. Although it was cancelled, the race technically finished at Teddington, therefore we still all completed the Devizes to Westminster Race 2016, just in a completely different style to other years.

On the final day, the main headline on the BBC website read ‘Air passengers terrified as storm Katie batters the UK’!'

- James Bennett (Upper Sixth, Swift), Captain of Kayaking 

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