Written by Mark Pearce
The day before was lovely warm sunshine, I could feel spring in the air. However, after a couple of people asked “have you seen the forecast for Sunday?”, it made me look…then I saw not warm & dry, but 20mph winds and heavy rain all day. Great. Perhaps I was defeated before I started.I first raced “WS B” in about 1985 (youngsters, no that was not the dark ages!). I was a junior, in K1. My late gran came to cheer me on, and in the end she had to force me back in the boat to complete it, I would happily have gone home after 9 miles, but I couldn’t let her down then and the thought often keeps me going now. In truth I hated “WS B” way back then, and its far from my favorite now!

When it comes to encouraging LON to enter this series next year I shall say how wonderful it is and how you should definitely give it a go, but actually of all the races WS B is the “Marmite race”, people either love it or hate it.

(BTW : If you remind me of this article next year then I will just say, you need to do “B” to appreciate the others!)

So Waterside B is “out & back”, from Newbury to Aldermaston, 17.5miles in total and about 20 portages (there are a couple of low bridges, so they become compulsory additional portages when the water level is up).

Although each Waterside race can be done selectively, its a great challenge to do the whole series, in which case you can’t miss a race. This meant that Maddy & I (LON’s Vet/Jun K2 Crew) were ‘committed’, ready or not we needed to complete the task.

We bumped into Connor on his way to check-in – very upbeat and looking forward to this one (clearly a Marmite lover) – entering mixed K2 with Bronte Holden of Norwich. Alan (Vet K1) was on the water already before us, keen although a little more reserved than Connor. Ian was on the bank offering morale support, entered but through illness would not be starting this one. The next LON contingent was Will, who gave us a shout from the bank when we were at the start line, looking full of energy (him not us) and, as he has proved in both previous races, looking on top form. I didn’t see them on the day, but we also had Steve Backshall and Helen Glover racing for LON.

Called to the start at 10:32, we were away.

A blow-by-blow of long distance races is a little monotonous, but suffice it to say we were quick for the first 6 miles, 1 minute up per mile on our schedule, catching crews every few moments and portages, that come every 1 mile, came rapidly and we handled them smoothly.

I then started to suspect we’d gone-off too fast, because from 6 miles in things just ‘felt’ average, there was not the normal ‘fire’ and the boat didn’t come ‘alive’. Time it wrong and the last mile to the turn and the mile after are notoriously choppy, it is a straight section of canal with wall-to-wall canoes & kayaks. We timed it wrong and it was like being on the sea. ‘Fun’ but zaps the energy.

Heading back, over the 8+ miles the water switches from sections of canal (with no flow) and flowing lengths, as the River Kennet feeds in & out; add a 20 mph headwind and that is why it is a hard race. Next mix in hundreds of boats, nose-to-tail heading upstream, it gets hard pushing over the wash, one after another. We dug deep. By 14 miles we had dug a little too deep, and illness brought the boat to a stop. I wasn’t allowed to quit 30 years ago, so no quitting now. Recomposed and settled stomach, we made steady progress to the end. Pleased we made it, glad it was over.

On the series result we dropped from 15 seconds to 2min 20secs behind 3rd place, disappointing but hopefully with 24 miles to play at WS C, then we have a chance of clawing something back again in two weeks time.

WS B Results (provisional) for LON:

Connor Peters (with Bronte Holden (Nor))(mix K2) 2:26:13 (1st)
Will Scammell (JM K1) 2:30:39 (2nd)
Steve Backshall & Helen Glover (mix K2) 2:54:33
Mark Pearce & Madeleine Pearce (V/J K2) 2:59:06
Alan Archondakis (VM K1) 3:28:17