It has been some time since I have posted a blog. In fact I have only blogged once before about my exploits on the water. I have had A couple of health issues recently that I am under investigation for but when we heralded in the new year I heralded in a new me! I let myself go a bit, put on a to of weight and also became a bit lethargic. So a radical weight loss programme that includes a great deal more exercise. Part of the regiment is to get the board out every week, whatever the weather, and have a paddle for at least a couple of hours. I have done so at my usual paddle spot in Christchurch, Dorset and it has been one of the oust dramatic, changeable and challenging paddles I have done.
I am still very much a novice and have so uch to learn, but the good news is I am getting to know my board and how it reacts I different types of water. On Tuesday last week I caught a break in the weather and a forecast of light winds and lovely winter sun. Signs were good, tide was on the turn and I pumped up and got on the water. What I had not accounted for was rain water run off. The amount of rainfall we have had o the south coast has not been as severe as the poor folks in the North of England, not by a long shot, but the increase in volume of the Stour made low tide like high tide and the speed of the water was quite remarkable. I tried to paddle up stream, but after 15 mins and getting about 500 metres I finally turned the board around and headed out to the bay behind Hengistbury Head. It could not have been different, once away from the river mouth the water changed from a torrent of run off to a mirrored glass, it was perfectly still, no wind at all and the clouds and sun were perfectly reflected in the water. Sometimes I can be philosophical and floating in such a perfect place of peace and tranquility brings in to sharp relief what is happening in ones life and in ones own world. People often speak of getting back to nature and to realise that they are just a small speck in the world at large. I did feel insignificant, just another of natures creatures enjoying some time alone. Lost in ones thoughts. Relaxed I decided to return home.
The return journey was not pleasant, nature decided to show me that for every peaceful Monet one enjoys there is a stressful one just around the corner. The tide should have been I o the turn and I should have had a relatively straight forward paddle through the river out hand back to the slipway. Yeah….right! The rain run off into the river no the increase in water volume meant that a very strong current was still flowing against the tide making the approach in to Christchurch choppy and like paddling through treacle. I battled hard against the torrent but it was exhausting, it was incredible the war of the water, just a little bit and how much it would effect the board and the paddler. I had to get to the side of the river and beach just to get my breath back. It was so difficult my inexperience showed in reading the river and underestimating my ability, especially after a month and a half lay off. I waited about 5 minutes by the side of the river watching as the flotsam and jetsom whipped by out towards the sea. I tried not to get panicked and tried to find a route that I could walk the board back but there was too much in the way, reed beds and deep water. I examined the river closely and saw that the reed bed on the opposite side of the river had a greatly reduced flow so I pointed the board across the river and tried to mount the board.
Top tip: point the board into the current paddle across and angle the board slightly a let the current take you across. Do not do what I did and point the board 90 degrees to the river bank into a strong flow and have it flip over. I got a bit wet, but thankfully was wearing a winter wetsuit and didn’t get too cold.
I managed to get myself back to the river bank and pointed the board into the flow and got to the other side. The water flow was greatly reduced and I made my way up river towards Christchurch. Getting the last 200 metres was hard with the strong flow, but exhausted and 140 minutes after I set out I was back at the slipway and to my car. I packed up the board and went home. Once I had washed the board off, rinsed the wetsuit and got a cup of Tea (never underestimate the awesome restorative power of a good hot cup of Tea), I sat and reflected on the close call. It really was a near miss and a very valuable lesson to learn.
Lessons learned: always be mindful of what the water is doing. Never assume what the river is doing as it might just do the opposite. Never overestimate your ability, you could end up looking like a prick, and that could be the best case scenario. The worst is you get into some serious life threatening situations beyond your ability to get out off. I was a tyke bit scared and I have definitely learned my lesson. But, I am not discouraged, I will just be a bit more mindful of the conditions and take greater care.
So, what’s next well, the tide times are favourable to attempt a new SUP. Keyhaven to Hurst castle, a paddle that demands a high tide as there are a lot of shallows and sand islands. But, Hurst Point and the castle is a fantastic place, a true bastion of history and a delightful day out. It seeps history and catalogues the advancing warfare through the ages from the age of sail to steam, to modern naval power whilst also standing like a beacon of the importance the UK put in commanding and defending the oceans. I have, many times, walked the mile long shingle bank to the castle and I really want to take the board and approach from the water. That is the plan for this week to come.
Mayors Mead slipway, Christchurch, Dorset, UK.