Gloucester Hasler – K1 Kayak Racing

Following on from my baptism of fire in the Tewskesbury Hasler a few weeks ago I thought it was time to give it another go. This time at the Gloucester Hasler. I don’t think two races quite make me a kayak racer but it’s a start.

I had at least now paddled a K1 a few times and was getting a feel for my boat. That didn’t of course mean that I was any better in a kayak, didn’t mean I was any faster in a kayak and didn’t even mean that there was any guarantee that I would stay in my kayak. I was however a little more confident of the latter and having seen that other people also fall out of their kayaks during such races I was a little less worried about making a fool of myself if I did go for a swim.

A Successful Weekend

We made a weekend of it and a successful weekend all round too. First stop was the Apple Store in Cribbs Causeway to get Morgan’s iPhone fixed. Actually, we went to Pizza Hut first, but then headed to the Apple Store for our Genius Bar appointment and were pretty impressed with the service. The ‘Genius’ was a nice guy and soon had Morgan’s phone back up and running.

We then headed off to do a bit of shopping and then went to my parents house. Saturday morning was spent on a nice easy bike ride with Jay, Harry, Ian, and a couple of other people. I say bike ride, but I think we spent most of the time at a coffee shop in Portishead overlooking the harbour watching the world go by. The sun was shining, the temperatures were in the mid 20’s and all was good.

Meanwhile Anna was out clothes shopping with my Mum and my sister – a successful shop was had too.

We chilled with family all afternoon – 4 generations all relaxing in the garden, and then stayed the night as well.

Gloucester Hasler

It was only a 25 minute drive to the banks of the Sharpness Canal in Gloucester so we arrived at 8:45am just as sign on was due to open.

The Sharpness Canal
The Sharpness Canal

There was no need to be there quite so early really, but that’s the way I prefer to do things. I’d found out the evening before that Cliff (a friend from the world of Quadrathlons) was racing today as well. He’s an old hand at kayak racing so was explaining a few of the finer points of the ranking system and giving me tips via Messenger the evening before. I think they were tips anyway, or maybe he was just trying to measure me up and see if he could beat me.

The Ranking System

We were both due be racing in Div 7. I’d been in Div 9 (the lowest division) for my first race but put in a time that saw me promoted to Div 7 for this race. The system seems to work quite well and ultimately means that you are pitted against people of similar ability and speed regardless of age or gender. This leads to some close racing whatever level you are at. If you have a good race and do well then you get promoted, and vice versa, a bad race results in demotion. The promotions and demotions are based solely on time rather than position. This means that as well as being a race against the other people in your division, each race is also an individual Time Trial against the clock. At least, it is if you are looking to get promoted, but it does seem as though some people aren’t necessarily aiming for that and would rather stay in the same division where they have a better chance of winning.

Cliff was there with a friend called Ian and I soon found them and had a chat. We all got into our boats for a little paddle and then stood around chatting. Ian was doing his first race for about 30 years and was due to be racing in Div 8.

The race schedule saw the kids in the lightning class off first. They do a relatively short course but still give it their all. They all use the same ‘Lightning’ boats so it all comes down to ability rather than equipment which is good to see. We stood on the bank and cheered them on. They seemed to enjoy themselves even if it was hard work.

Next on the schedule was our turn.

Time to Race
Time to Race

The lower Div’s 7, 8 and 9 all do the same 4 mile course so are on the course together. They are set off at minute intervals though so it’s easy to see who you are racing against. The fact that we all have clearly visible number boards on our boats which start with the div number that you are in helps with this as well. First up was the K2’s, followed by Cliff and myself in the Div 7 wave. The Div 8’s and 9’s then set off behind us. The higher Div’s 1-6 would all be racing later in the day so as to not clash with a pleasure barge that goes up and down the canal at certain times. Div’s 4, 5 and 6 all race over an 8 mile course whereas the top paddlers in Divs 1-3 race over a 12 mile course.

Ian and myself heading to the start
Ian and myself heading to the start

The Race

I had a bit of a wobble whilst waiting for the start. Sitting stationary in a narrow, wobbly K1 isn’t as easy as it might look and there’s a vicious circle that develops when I try to do so. A little wobble results in some tension, this tenseness accentuates the wobble and I tense up more. Within seconds this vicious circle escalates and before I know it it’s out of control. Little ripples move away from my boat as I start to wobble and the wobbles get bigger and bigger. I tell myself to relax but it doesn’t work and there is every likelihood of me going for a swim. I can break the circle quite easily by simply starting to paddle forwards but when on a start line with loads of other boats all around and no way forward that isn’t possible. Thankfully the K2’s started their race and we were all able to move forwards slightly ready for our start. I took one or two slow steady paddles and stabilised things before disaster struck.

The start line was a little confusing as it’s difficult to hear what’s going on from the other side of the river. I was once again towards the back. There was a long line of Div 7’s at the front, all of whom looked perfectly stable whilst stationary. With close to 20 of us racing in this division it was quite crowded and was going to be a bit of a squeeze. There were a few others including myself and Cliff milling around behind the front row intermingled with people for the other Div’s as well.

There doesn’t seem to be a countdown, no 10 second warning and no “Ready, Steady, Go!”. There’s no claxon or whistle. In fact, I didn’t even hear anyone say “Go”. But someone must have heard it as the front line all started paddling in unison and I tried to follow suit. I’m not the fastest off the line at the best of times. It’s not something I’ve practised yet and I tend to start with a few easy strokes so as to keep things stable and controlled. Today this was even more necessary as the sudden activity and surge of energy in front of me meant that the water was now quite choppy. I took a few gentle paddle strokes concentrated on staying upright and then started to pull away. By now most people were ahead of me and I battled through the choppy water in their wake whilst heading to the right hand side of the canal where there was some clear water.

I soon got going properly and was able to start picking up the speed. As I did so I gained several places and moved into the front of the little group I was in.

Moving through the field
Moving through the field

With clear water to paddle in I was now able to put in some effort and start chasing the group of 4 or 5 leaders up ahead of me. I passed Anna and Morgan on the riverside near to the boat-house and started working on closing the gap. I was soon upon the lead group and then started to pick them off one by one. By now we had caught the back of the K2 group as well so were also passing them. We had a few bridges to pass under as we made our way towards the Historic Gloucester Docks. I had managed to move into first place before the docks but could tell that the girl behind me had tried to sit on my wash. I put in a bit of a spurt to discourage her and by the turnaround buoy in the docks had quite a lead.

With such a lead I was able to ease up a little on the way back. I was still pushing hard but wasn’t flat out as I still had quite a way to go. As well as having the lead of the Div 7’s I had caught and passed all bar the two leaders of the K2’s. They were still quite a way ahead of me, but by the time I was back at the boathouse the gap to them was closing which spurred me on a little for the final part of the race. We rounded another buoy which gave me chance to see that I still had a commanding lead and headed back for the final stretch to the boathouse.

I didn’t quite manage to catch the K2’s in front of me but crossed the line to take the Div 7 win and another successful (and dry) K1 Kayak Hasler race.

Behind me Cliff had a good race with some good battles to finish in 5th place. Ian in Div 8 had a good race too, taking the win and gaining top points for his club.

Gloucester Hasler Results

My efforts saw me promoted not just to Div 6, but up to Div 5. That should see me racing with some pretty fast paddlers and not only that but over twice the distance as well. I’d better start some proper training. Ian was promoted to Div 7 as well, but Cliff missed out on the promotion that he was hoping for. It does however mean that he will be racing Ian at the next race and with only 6 seconds between them at Gloucester it could be a close run thing.

The racing was followed by the usual race debrief over hot dogs, tea and cake. The whole event seemed to be running smoothly and I’m glad to see that cake seems to be an integral part of such events. Volunteers and members of the host club seem to donate plenty of home-made offerings which are sold to racers and supporters alike. It’s very much a community affair with a feeling of inclusivity – very much like the Cyclocross Series of events that I’ve been doing over the past few years. Races and race series like these couldn’t take place without the organisers and their helpers so it’s good to see that the people helping out seemed to be enjoying themselves as well.

It may well be an all inclusive event but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some serious racing to be be done as well. As we sat there re-fueling we were able to see the start of the other divisions and see how it’s done. Again, it’s good to see some serious racing from top paddlers all as part of an event that caters for everyone. It really doesn’t matter how good you are, what boat you have, how old you are or if you’ve never done it before, there’s still a race for you. The racing in the lower divs where I am can be quite tough as you are against people of similar speed. The racing at the top is just as hard fought, the only difference is that they are going faster, going further and maybe taking it just a little more seriously.

Unfortunately we had a long 3.5 hour drive ahead of us so couldn’t stay to watch them finish their race, nor could we hang around for the presentations. No photos of me on the podium or medals to be collected therefore, instead it was a long drive home after a good weekend away.

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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